His SPEECH TO THE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS (ICA) “FIGURES OF SPEECH” DINNER, CLIFT HOTEL, SAN FRANCISCO, OCTOBER 25, 2007
SUBJECT: V. VALE, www.http://www.researchpubs.com
For 27 years, I’ve edited and published a music magazine and played in bands in New York City. As a “music guy,” I’m expected to pick my favorite album. Instead, I choose this magazine, published here in San Francisco three decades ago.
I was in high school in 1977, in a staid, vanilla New Jersey suburb, mired in abject boredom. Punk rock was exploding, but establishment media ignored or disparaged it—so I was intrigued! I bought copious records and saw bands like The Clash, Ramones, and Talking Heads play in New York. But since rock radio was stuck on Styx and Boston, I relied on underground magazines like Search and Destroy to open up this secret world. Forget Shakespeare, Darwin, Thucydides, and Geometry, I studied this brainchild of North Beach writer V. Vale instead.
His mag caught my eye because it was named after my favorite Iggy Pop song—a subversive riff on the Vietnam War. It was exciting to learn that San Francisco had a vibrant Do-It-Yourself punk scene, with bands including women, and minorities—which was rare, then. I read about shows at offbeat venues like Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway, a Club For the Deaf—yes!—on Valencia, 330 Grove, and Geary Temple. Or The Sex Pistols’ last stand at the Winterland on Post and Steiner. I also read of and sought singles by new San Francisco bands The Avengers, Crime, Nuns, Negative Trend, Sleepers, Offs, U.X.A., Dead Kennedys, Flipper, and The Mutants—the group pictured here. None of these groups released an album then; no record company would touch them. So if you didn’t live here, the SF scene only came alive in Search and Destroy.
In general, this magazine furthered my ambition to investigate artists whose validity is measured not by commercial success, but by personal impact. In its pages, I first heard of William S. Burroughs and Beat Generation writers who seemed kindred spirits of punk. Within a year, I sublet a flat in New York’s East Village from Allen Ginsberg himself. Search and Destroy also lauded pop artists I knew little about, like Andy Warhol, who I would meet years later in downtown clubs. In short, the magazine inspired me to get out of New Jersey and find a world where diverse things were happening.
More importantly, Search and Destroy fixed the substance behind the original punk ethos in my head forever, where it still sits like an ever-smoldering stick of dynamite. For instance, its interview with Devo is seared in my memory. I had thought this new Ohio band were clowns in yellow jumpsuits and flower pot hats, but the article hipped me to their inspired concept of de-evolution. Search and Destroy was that kind of window. The bands were urban starving artists, living for mad experience while gleefully flouting social norms in thought and dress—with a prime streak of sardonic black humor. Like Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, who ran for mayor here in 1979. (Remember that?) Or The Avengers, with their sharp social critiques like “The American in Me.”
Thus did I learn more about the world through punk than I ever did in school. Ever since, I’ve been drawn to artists that’ve satirized or topically addressed the times, from Moliere to Monty Python; Zola to Steinbeck; Chaplin to Kubrick; Leadbelly to Bad Brains. Today I gaze at this cover and still sense that kick, right down to these mutant eyes worn by the Mutants. (Everybody see that?) And Search and Destroy taught readers how liberating and fun it is to take part in culture, rather than absorbing it passively through endless electronic devices.
These days, free internet news and blog content has had a withering effect on print periodicals. Small, shoestring magazines covering left field artists are disappearing in droves. And I think that’s a shame. This one is an example of how inspiring a small independent print mag can be when vivid culture wins over pure commerce.
Thankfully, V. Vale is still working that cutting edge, having published the RE/Search book series for several decades. Oddly, I’d never met him or had the chance to thank him personally all these years, but I tracked down his number this week and invited him here tonight. So let me do that now, at long last. Vale, if you’d stand up please. (pause, applause, bowing)
Thank you, V. Vale. And the ICA, too, for a chance to convey gratitude to a valiant magazine and to this city’s bands, who spoke to me 30 years ago, saying, “Get involved, be creative, share what excites you.” So I too make a magazine, and I only hope that somewhere a disaffected teenager reads mine, and it has something close to that seismic effect.
Thank you. — JACK RABID, firstname.lastname@example.org [AND THANK **YOU** JACK!!]
[The crazy thing is that perfect condition Search & Destroy‘s are still available from me for $20 each, plus shipping – and each issue is “great” — i.e., packed with ideas on creativity and revolt (when do those 2 “concepts” ever become passe?!) – Search & Destroy]