Debbie Harry by Richard Alden Peterson


Search & Destroy, a visually arresting San Francisco punk zine, began publishing in 1976, and quickly set a standard for D.I.Y. graphics and attitude. Taking its name from a Stooges song and documenting the fledgling West Coast punk scene, Search & Destroy was the brainchild of photographer Richard Peterson and writer and publisher V. Vale. Zack Kopp spoke to both of these publishing pioneers about the zine and the scene for PKM.

Search & Destroy was one of the most magical experiences of my life,” remembers the publication’s original photographer Richard Peterson.

San Francisco’s first and best-known punk ‘zine, named after a Stooges song, and co-founded by City Lights Bookstore employee Val Vale (later to create RE/Search Publications) and Ricky Trance, Search & Destroy began with the help of a $100 donation from Allen Ginsberg, and another in the same amount from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

“Our club was incredibly open-minded,” said Peterson. “There was probably an equal balance of straight and gay people, various races, every orientation, everyone living out their fantasy of who they wanted to be, without anyone telling them different. Between 1976 and ‘81, I met the most extraordinary people and connections, incredible artists, dark, dreamy, a lot of surrealism. People came from all over the world to participate in it. Surrealism was a big part of the paper, a lot of surrealist and dada influence.”

Peterson began in small-town California, slipping out of his body accidentally a few times, as if unable to stand still, and eventually gravitating to San Diego State with plans of becoming a photojournalist, concentrating more on the writing than the photos. He slipped out of his body again during his first acid trip at his girlfriend’s [who became Search & Destroy writer Lynn X] top floor dorm room in Berkeley, sailing right out the window, in non-physical terms. “We took Owsley acid,” he explained.

After meeting underground artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner, with whom he formed a lifelong association, Peterson moved to San Francisco, where he was Search & Destroy’s original photographer. The punk scene brewing in New York reached San Francisco sometime in 1976.

Bruce Conner by Richard Alden Peterson

“The San Francisco punk scene was more like London than New York,” says Peterson.

Vale met him at City Lights Bookstore with his plans to start a magazine. “I’ll be the writer,” he agreed. “The last thing we need is more writers,” said Vale. “Look around. We’re at City Lights Books. You be the photographer.”

Peterson agreed, and, thanks to generous donations from Vale’s Beat elder employer and a friend, Search & Destroy was soon on display alongside Ladies Home Journal in newsstand racks all over the Bay Area.

Says Vale: “In San Francisco, there was one little chain that started up called  Postal Instant Press.  I think they made possible the rise of the cheap punk rock zine. And the tape recorder made it possible to capture a super-accurate transcript of an interesting conversation. With these two inventions, you had someone like Andy Warhol starting his own Interview magazine, and he was sort of a distant mentor to me. You had the rise of punk rock at the same time, and I said, ‘This is where it’s at! This needs to have an authentic voice right from the get-go, right from the very beginning.’ In San Francisco we were late. Punk didn’t start here until late ’76. I thought, ‘I’ve gotta do a clone of Andy Warhol’s Interview.’  The only mistake I made is I didn’t make xeroxes of these checks [from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti] and put ‘em on my wall, or even keep the checks or something. The checks that’d probably be worth a hundred each now or something! (laughs) And so I took that money—and then I actually borrowed some more money—I got a gift from another friend, who was an M.D., of $200, and someone else gave me $25, and that paid the printing bill—of a lookalike to the early Interview magazine.  I just ripped off the specs, everything.”

Vale (ex-Blue Cheer) and Trance were hardcore modern surrealists, says Peterson, who remembers ascending a stairwell full of black balloons to reach the unveiling of a new painting by Thom Burns at Ricky Trance’s flat for an event called Night of the Incubus.

“D.J. Ricky Trance has spent his whole life collecting different musical examples from around the world that induce the trance state. He has this amazing library of all the rarest surrealist books…This group is purist. Like I get in trouble from some of these guys if I post the wrong thing on Facebook. ‘Richard, you know better,’ they say. And it’s like, wait. Isn’t surrealism supposed to be free?”

In 1987, Peterson moved to Denver with his wife, Sydney, to work as Visual Manager (her) and fashion photographer (him) for Printemps, a high-end Paris based fashion store, on South Broadway. The store closed after two years, and Peterson continued working in his photo studio in lower downtown Denver, where he did a lot of creative work.

“The San Francisco punk scene was more like London than New York,”

“It evolved to the point where I now have my studio on top of a hill, in Indian Hills,” he said. “That’s where I still shoot some rock bands, but not that many, Currently I’m working on this punk-related Western Americana band that has elements of the B 52s sound called Voodoo Stingray. All of the members are very well-known natural musicians. One is a very famous singer girl from Sweden, Karin or something. I have a bad memory.”

Says Vale, “The early Interviews were done very cheaply—typed on an IBM correcting Selectric typewriter, which had also recently been invented, and they were very expensive, but City Lights had one, and so I would stay up all night at City Lights typing my little magazine out. I typed them out in columns, then I took them to this Postal Instant Press three blocks away which had only recently come into existence, and then I would make three different xerox sizes of the type. And then we could choose to do a layout based upon how much room we had.  And how much room we wanted to give the photos, etcetera. But see, I didn’t even know anything about this.”

Iggy Pop by Richard Alden Peterson

Backtracking, Vale continued: “I had somehow made friends with someone who knew how to do all this—you always need a mentor—someone who actually worked at a professional local free newspaper called the San Francisco Advertiser, which still exists—so this person knew how to do layout, knew what you needed, and actually this person even did typography for me at his job, and helped me out with headlines, and what you’d call—mostly headline type—and other people who worked at art supply stores started somehow getting me free art supplies. The biggest expense was to get a light-box—that was like 200 dollars—it was some huge amount of money, but I got one, and a T-Square, and then you could do layout—that was pretty crew—pretty accurate, you know.”

Vale showed Peterson the underground dada ‘zines being carried at City Lights Bookstore, and cited that as a huge inspiration for Search & Destroy, also citing the San Francisco Oracle as an important inspiration. Bruce Conner was an artist for the Oracle. Search & Destroy remained in publication until 1979. Vale decided to limit the run to 10 issues as he felt the pure unadulterated element of an art movement could not last longer than that.

Vale’s next move after Search & Destroy was off the racks was RE/Search, known for its uncensored Interview-esque conversations with members of the cultural and creative underground like William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle) and Penny Rimbaud (Crass).

“There were actually 11 [issues] as we were having so much fun.” comments Peterson. “I stayed in contact with a lot of those people. They became the artists and connections that I later showed at the Pink and Pearl gallery in San Diego, named after an intersection of alleyways in San Francisco where I lived with dark Surrealist artist Deborah Valentine. I ran it as a gallery with my old friends, and artists could show whatever they wanted.”

Joey Ramone by Richard Alden Peterson

Among the artists Peterson showed was Bruce Conner.

“He told me that he had just turned down four museum shows who wouldn’t do things the way he wanted, but I had this crazy cool underground punk little art gallery, and he did a show there. It was exciting.”

Peterson is currently working on the photo sections of a book about the guitarist of the Sleepers, Michael Belfer.

Sleepers by Richard Alden Peterson

“He is recovering from a long history of addiction,” said Peterson. “I’m working on that along with San Francisco photographer Ruby Ray, and Sue Brisk, who lives in New York now. Michael was also a big part of Tuxedomoon. And, the Sleepers were one of our core bands we’d go see at Mabuhay Gardens, kind of neo-psychedelic punk. They were a great band to watch on acid at the time. Ricky Williams was the singer.  Heroin was a glamor drug back then. I never did it. A lot of the Seattle bands, bands like Nirvana, used to come down there and see the Sleepers, and Flipper, so both of those bands are core influences of the grunge sound.”

Peterson is also working on a project with the Screamers.

by Richard Alden Peterson

“They were a very intense, very theatrical band from Los Angeles,” he said. “One of the first bands from L.A. to come up to San Francisco. Part of the Germs and Weirdos circle. They never put out a record. There’re some bad videos of them on YouTube. Tomato du Plenty was the singer, and he died of AIDS in the early 2000s. And he was a prolific visual artist, too. So, I’ve been putting together these packages about the Screamers and Tomata du Plenty, putting together a retrospective about the forgotten scene in California. The Weirdos got a little more exposure. They actually played here, at the Lion’s Lair. Nicky Beat, who went on to join the Cramps. Those were amazing bands. So ridiculously creative.”

The punk rock revolution of the 1970s incorporated fashion, music, art and more. Every manner of personal expression was included. On the East Coast, Andy Warhol led the change, by financing the Velvet Underground, who helped inspire that musical attitude into existence. At the same time, on the West Coast, artists like Bruce Conner and Peterson fanned the flames of a comparable rebellion in style.

Modern life is full of scenes and styles, but what really goes against culture in today’s zeitgeist? Peterson says he likes to move from surprise to surprise. His business card is in black on black with a spiral shape with more info in fine print on the opposite face.

“I always look for ways to break the rules, even while staying within the rules,” he said. “We had a 48-year punk reunion and Flipper played at it. I think they did a 9 piece, with like 9 saxophones, and they did the best version of ‘Sex Bomb’ I’ve ever heard. I think that was their first handmade single that they ever made for sale at Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley, the greatest underground record store. Everybody that was traveling through always went there. I went there with Talking Heads, and with Blondie.”

Debbie Harry by Richard Alden Peterson

Peterson has just been contacted to provide photographs for books on the Sex Pistols and Devo. His work has been included in Bruce Conner retrospectives at MoMA and SFMoMA and in several Mark Mothersbaugh museum shows.

Devo by Richard Alden Peterson