Iggy Pop, Punk and the Vietnam War.

Iggy Pop, Punk and the Vietnam War.

Above Photo: A Search and Destroy raid on a Vietnamese hamlet.

Since the mid-1970s I have been a massive Iggy Pop fan, and the only time I saw him, at Eric’s Club in Liverpool in 1979, I managed to come away with a haul of swag including silk buttons he’d ripped off his shirt when he came onstage, plectrums dropped by the guitarists and the set list I took off one of the PA monitors, which I still possess today.

Iggy Pop

Incoming: Iggy Pop (© unknown)

What fascinates me about Iggy, as I shall call him, is that he has been in business since the time of the Vietnam War and he’s still going strong, spanning three generations – those who fought in the war, those who were too young and those who weren’t even born when the war finally ended.

My first Iggy album, bought about 1976, although it was released in the US in 1973

Raw Power: My first Iggy album, bought about 1976, although it was released in the US in 1973

His album Raw Power contained a track called Search and Destroy, which he named after he saw an article in Time about such operations during the Vietnam War:

Iggy’s influence on the world of Punk was immense, and, perhaps appropriately, the ill-fated but iconic Sex Pistols bass player, Sid Vicious, also covered the song, live. It’s a perfect live number for Vicious, because he can sing it even when he’s off his tits.

By the late 1970s when Punk Rock took off in England, the US was still traumatised by its Vietnam War experience and was licking (or ripping open) its wounds. The UK was faced with a deadly insurgency of its own, right on its doorstep, with what is euphemistically called “the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and a bitter, deadly war with the IRA.

It is therefore unsurprising, given Punk’s more inward-looking take on life growing up in the UK, that the Vietnam War didn’t really get a look in, although a few bands did reference the war in their songs, especially American punk bands.

I’ll feature my favourite Vietnam War-inspired Punk songs in another post, but for now, here’s the also-ran’s, which failed to make the cut because (a) they’re not punk and/or (b) because I operated a cut-off at 1980, taking the view that anything War-inspired after that date was the musical equivalent of wanking.

At least in 1980 the Khmer Rouge had only just been deposed and the wartime mayhem in south-east Asian jungles was still fresh in the minds of many people around the world.

Alas, that would have meant no inclusion for British singer, Paul Hardcastle’s outstanding ’19’ which was released in 1985. The video contains some raw, dramatic actual footage from the war:

It also meant no inclusion for the Dead Kennedys’ Chicken Farm, released in 1985 on their album Frankenchrist. 

And what about this – even Kate Bush got in on Vietnam War-inspired songwriting with this one, Pull Out The Pin from her 1982 album, The Dreaming. The interesting thing about this song is she mentions how North Vietnamese soldiers could smell sweat on downed fliers and US soldiers they were hunting in the jungle. This fact is referred to in many contemporary accounts.

But back to Wartime Iggy Pop.

I asked Jack Jolis, the CIA’s unofficial and self-declared Head of Rock Music in Wartime Laos, what he thought of Iggy and the Stooges, David Bowie and Lou Reed at the time of the Vietnam War.

Never one to mince his words, he replied:

“I found them all a bit too much “art” and “pose” and not enough actual music for my taste at the time.

In 1969-1970, Iggy + The Stooges, Bowie and Reed’s esteem was pretty much restricted to the New York City (and to a lesser extent San Francisco and Boston) “art house” crowd. In other words, their fans were a small, self-appointed “elite” who the rest of the rock and roll population at large regarded as more “poseurs” than actual makers of good old rock music.”

For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War and Adventure Backpacking into the jungles of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, see: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/backpackers-meet-the-vietnam-war-back-screenplay-finally-finished/

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

For more articles on Punk, New Wave, 1980s Liverpool bands, music, personalities and much more, visit my new website dedicated to it at www.bombedoutpunk.com

© Peter Alan Lloyd

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1 Comment

  1. Jack Jolis (@JackJolis)

    A very interesting and perceptive piece, Peter.

    But it occurs to me that you and I are really talking about two separate and distinctive phenomena, here:

    1/ The music we listened to in Vietnam — that great soundtrack that was the reason why the Vietnam War was accurately dubbed the “The Rock And Roll War”;

    and 2/ Music ABOUT Vietnam written after the war. (Which included a couple of notable contributions by Billy Joel, although he was never your beloved “punk”)

    And the paradox (although understandable, really, if you stop and think about it) is that the music that was listened to by the troops during the 10 years of “Vietnam” and its attendant conflicts in surrounding countries (#1 above) practically never included songs ABOUT Vietnam.

    Indeed, the “anti-war” and “protest” songs of the period were not popular amongst the troops over there, not even amongst the most recalcitrant of draftees, and regardless of the occasional peace symbol that appeared on neck or helmet. In other words, although crap such as Country Joe and the Fish may figure in the generally anti-war films about Vietnam that were made in the mid/late 70s and the 80s, you never heard it coming out of the troops’ tape machines in Vietnam during the war itself.


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