4. On Loudness

‘Search and Destroy’ – The Stooges


In Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain’s stunning history of punk, Please Kill Me, it’s not the tales of heroin abuse and venereal disease that stick in the mind – and make no mistake, these are legion. Instead, it’s the story in which Iggy Pop, surrounded by a troupe of adoring groupies, casually gobbles a slick of his own snot. As bandmate Scottie Asheton remembers it, ‘All of a sudden, he blew his nose into his hand and guided it right down into his mouth.’ Where so much of rock’s usual bad behaviour is really a form of pretty traditional vanity, this manages to be shocking by its motiveless obnoxiousness: not even selfish, just antisocial behaviour in its purest form. And therein lies the thrill of The Stooges.

Search and Destroy epitomises this malevolence and how exhilarating it can be. Written in 1972, the song, from the title onwards, is saturated with the imagery of the Vietnam War. But rather than being anti- or even pro-war, it merely revels in the militarised language of its age, redirecting it to its own aggressive sexual ends: ‘love in the middle of a firefight’. Iggy roams the streets with a ‘heart full of napalm’, screaming his stupid/brilliant chat-up line: ‘Look out honey cos I’m using technology!’ A battlecry against the music industry’s self-regarding troubadours, this is a howl instead for the ‘world’s forgotten boy’, for every teenager’s right to be dumb, lazy, obnoxious. Gods, stand up for punks!

Naturally, there’s violence in the arrangement too (if you can call it an arrangement): no space, every instrument, at every instant, battling to be loudest. Once, when I was in a band, we’d scrimped to spend a few days in a recording studio. At the beginning of our stint, the studio engineer had asked us to bring in an example of the type of sound we were going for. I handed him Raw Power. As the first note of Search and Destroy sounded, the EQ on the studio’s vast mixing desk burst into light. Across the spectrum, every level shot into the red zone and remained there, unblinking, for the next three-and-a-half minutes, a perfect rectangle of LEDs, green at the bottom, red at the top. As the final chord rang out, the levels dropped, as one, to zero. The engineer looked confused. ‘I’ve never seen that before. That’s the worst mixing job I’ve ever come across.’ We nodded eagerly. ‘Can you do that for us?’

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