Search & Destroy #6

At some point last year I was contentedly canoodling around at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, a place I find myself in maybe every 2-3 weeks for one reason or another. While I’d recently scored a few punk-infused Rock Scene mags there, Green Apple’s not generally a place to go looking for oddball zines or paper ephemera, but rather a serious used/new bookstore of much deserved renown. So imagine my surprise to stumble upon a near-complete run of San Francisco’s 1977-79 Search & Destroy magazine there, each selling for 15 dollars. Only limited by my available funds at the time, I was still able to procure seven of them, of which this Search & Destroy #6 was one.

One reason why I think Search & Destroy doesn’t get as much retroactive shrift nor generate as much overall slathering excitement as Slash does among us hoi polloi is because the mags themselves were already beautifully and rapidly compiled into those two Re/Search books in the mid-90s – every single word and image from the magazine’s 11-issue run. I bought and consumed them with extreme prejudice right when they came out. At that point, the mystery and scarcity of Search & Destroy and the relatively undocumented nature of the late 70s San Francisco punk underground was dissipated. The books got a great deal of play at the time; publisher V. Vale and his Re/Search imprint were flying high, as far as these things go. No question the magazine, which was just a tremendously well-done marker of the creativity, passion and rage rising from the subcultural sub-underground, has long been considered one of the all-time greats. It took this recent re-look to really confirm it for me again.

What Search & Destroy had even over Slash (to me, the single greatest underground music publication of all time) was its photographers, and their innate ability to capture the danger, wildness and raw power of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene. Ruby Ray, James Stark and Bruce Conner have been lauded in local galleries and their own books over time, but let’s laud them again here, because their photos in this issue alone were just incredible. When some of these later turned up in the early 80s Hardcore California book, they became my roadmap and totemistic items of longing for a scene I’d missed by being about seven years too young to participate. 

And yeah, LA’s late 70s punk & underground bands were better than San Francisco’s. It’s not really even close. But per capita – Los Angeles County had 7.35 million people in 1978, to San Francisco’s 700,000 – well, I think you can make a strong case that SF stands pretty proud on a per-capita basis with our Dils, UXA, Crime, Flipper, Avengers, Chrome, Tuxedomoon and so on! Search & Destroy #6 is not overtly, over-the-top politically frothing the way I’d remembered, and Jello Biafra is thankfully nowhere to be seen. The essay in support of striking coal miners around the world is right-on, and wow, if you contrast the high-octane urban SF punk scene of the 70s with what was going on at the exact same time in Barbara Koppel’s Harlan County USA documentary, it’s pretty jarring. 

The interview with David Thomas of Pere Ubu is particularly great, especially his pumping for Cleveland pals the Electric Eels and Johnny and the Dicks (!). Vale and the S&D team – as well as the city of San Francisco – were all over Throbbing Gristle from early on, and that’s quite clear here, with John Savage interviewing them in London:

S&D: Have you seen THE CLASH?

Genesis P-Orridge: No, I haven’t met them either, but I have doubts. From the design of their clothes – the Rauschenberg look – and from the fact that they’re a lot more sophisticated than they pretend – I think it’s dangerous for the kids.

I’ll never tire of the “great Clash debates” going on in underground publications at the time. And it’ll be a blast to really dig deeper into those other copies I’d procured one of these days, as – man – 27 years have passed since I last looked into these in those Re/Search books.

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