When I say Lookout! Records, I’m sure your first thought is music. Well you wouldn’t be wrong, but there’s more to it than that. A lot of musicians to have come from Lookout! grew up to be authors. As someone who loves books as much as I love music, that’s a pretty amazing thing to me.
The weeklong celebration of the label’s 30th anniversary (The Lookouting) did not consist solely of concerts. There were also three library events at the three branches of the Berkeley Public Library throughout the week. The first featured Lookout! founder Larry Livermore discussing the history of the label, the second featured readings from Michelle Cruz Gonzales and Cristy C. Road, and the third featured readings from five different authors.
Day 1: The History of Lookout! Records
The first event took place at the Central branch. Lookout! owners Larry Livermore and Chris Applegren (who took over the label in 1997) were scheduled to discuss the history of the label, but they spotted Patrick Hynes in the audience, another key member of the team from the beginning, so they invited him onstage with them as well.
Chris did the iconic artwork for Green Day’s Kerplunk! and Patrick was a kid genius who would rather make $5/hr working for Lookout! than take his talents elsewhere.
Before heading in to the event, I checked out the library, which had been taken over by Lookout! They had glass display cases with old ephemera from the label, as well as a wall full of fliers from the early days of Gilman.
I’ve heard the story of Lookout! so many times, and it always leaves me feeling so inspired. The DIY nature, the way they did it out of love and passion, yet it somehow bloomed into this larger than life thing… I’ll never get tired of the story.
Before Larry and Chris took the stage, the head of the North Berkeley branch of the library introduced them. He’s originally from Seattle (I believe) and said Lookout! Records was the first thing he knew about Berkeley before moving there. Me too, dude. Me too.
One thing I learned at this event is that The Donnas were on Lookout! I was obsessed with them at 13, so it really shouldn’t surprise me that they were on my favorite record label. A little disappointed in myself that it took me until now to figure that out, though.
Here are some of the best quotes of the night: (mostly from Larry)
“Did you ever think we’d be in the Berkeley Public Library having a historical discussion?”
“When it’s something you really love doing, it doesn’t seem like work.”
“80’s punk was really depressing.”
“They called us Shiny Happy Smart Punks.”
“I appreciated the idea that you didn’t have to be serious or tough to be part of the scene.” —Chris
“Green Day got big. We’re as good as them. We need to get big too!”
“Ironically, Green Day was one of the easiest bands to work with. They never made any demands.”
“If you want Green Day’s success, work as hard as they do.”
“I’d get calls from these talent scouts… They couldn’t go back to their bosses in LA without a pop punk band to show for it.”
“Billie was really concerned about playing after the Mr. T Experience because he was a big fan of theirs.”
“There was some drama because Sam I Am should never have to open for Green Day. Sam I Am is a serious band and Green Day is a goofy band.”
“Neurosis’s album was the soundtrack to the apocalypse, and Green Day’s was ‘La la la, I’m at the library.'”
“You can’t really convince people to like what you’re doing.”
“I wrote it as if these bands were already famous, but they were really unheard of.”
“We had something to say and we were gonna say it.”
“If you were a half decent band and you were in the East Bay, you could be on our label.”
“Nirvana called up and asked if they could play a Sunday matinee, and whoever answered said, ‘Nah, no one would show up.'”
“We probably should’ve signed AFI.”
“The most important thing we did was planting seeds for the future.”
Day 2: Cabronas! An Evening of Readings
The second library event was at the West branch. I walked in the and was immediately greeted by the guy behind the front desk with “Punk rock?” and he pointed me in the right direction. Well… yeah, that is why I’m here. But I like books too, okay!
Michelle Cruz Gonzales, author of The Spitboy Rule, apparently recognized me from the other events that week. She asked me my name and told me she likes seeing me at everything because I’m dedicated. She also asked if I work at Gilman. I wish I had the time to.
Cristy C. Road (yes, the name she uses was in fact taken from the Green Day song) read a passage of her memoir Spit and Passion about discovering Green Day. As you probably know, they’re my all time favorite band and who got me into music as well, so I was right there with her the whole time.
“The more I learned about the Bay and California, the less I liked Florida.”
Cristy’s writing style was more spoken word, poetic. It wasn’t my style, but it was really beautiful. She’s also working on a tarot deck in addition to writing and playing music.
Michelle read a few excerpts from her book as well. She is a super feminist and I LOVE it. She’s basically my new idol. Badass lady punk feminist, musician and writer. Hell yes.
She talked about how Spitboy refused to stay with any one label: “We didn’t want any one man to feel like he owned us.”
I really loved her writing style. Prose, descriptive, not too wordy, and the story was at the forefront.
She also talked about breaking up with punk and ultimately going back to it: “If you’re a punk as a teen, when you go through menopause you’ll find that angsty punk again.”
Day 3: Lookout! Bookout! Bash!
The third and final book event was the biggest. Five Lookout! authors reading from their books at the North branch of the Berkeley Public Library.
Larry Livermore (Lookout! Founder)
Larry talked about first seeing MC5 and the Supremes in Detroit and how that shaped his view of music, eventually leading to his move to Berkeley where he found magic at Gilman.
“If you hadn’t gotten messed up in that record business, you could be retired from the steel mill with a good pension!”
He read an excerpt from his latest book How to Ru(i)n a Record Label.
“Lookout’s legacy will outlive us all.”
Grant Lawrence (The Smugglers)
Grant Lawrence, frontman of the Smugglers, has written three books. One about living in the mountains (much like Larry Livermore’s Spy Rock Memories), Adventures in Solitude, one about being a hockey goalie, The Lonely End of the Rink, and his latest book is largely his Smugglers’ tour diary, Dirty Windshields, which is due out in May.
He read an excerpt about touring in Japan with the Queers.
The excerpt was really funny and I’m excited to read the book once it’s out.
Jon Ginoli (Pansy Division)
Pansy Division has not broken up. They’ve been playing at Gilman for 25 years. They were the first Lookout! band to ask for a contract.
Following Grant’s reading, Jon said: “A lot of Lookout! bands got to go to Japan. We were disappointed we didn’t get to, but we went to Omaha!”
He talked about his experience being in a gay punk band, and how they didn’t quite fully fit in either community yet.
He talked about homophobia from the Descendents and Guttermouth. It was so weird hearing a band talk about bad experiences with other bands, especially when you like all that are involved.
There was also a story about touring with Green Day.
His book is called Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division, and I’d really like to read it one day, although I did not buy it at the event.
Nick Wolfinger (Juke)
Nick Wolfinger’s reading was a bit different than the others. His book is not about his life in Juke, but rather an academic book. It’s called Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos.
The excerpt he read was all a bit over my head, but he made an interesting comparison after reading. He made the point that punk and religion are important for the same reason. It’s the sense of community that really matters, and some find it in religion the way we found it in punk.
Frank Portman (The Mr. T Experience)
Apparently Frank started writing because a literary agent who was a huge fan of the Mr. T Experience really wanted him to write a book. He kept telling him he could sell it if he wrote it, so finally Frank sat down and wrote 30 pages from a teenage boy’s perspective about hating The Catcher in the Rye. Those 30 pages alone were enough for Random House to buy it, even though he hadn’t actually written a book yet.
He hadn’t planned on reading, but everyone else did, so he turned to a random page and read from there. Naturally, the part he turned to had the word “penis” a few dozen times. It was a passage about the shape of the zipper on jeans, and apparently the Smugglers were checking their jeans the whole time Frank read.
What he was more prepared for was playing. This is the tail end of King Dork‘s theme song.
After the last reading, we walked through the library to get to a different room where books were being sold. This library had been taken over by Lookout! too, but in a different way than the first. I loved these pictures.
Then the crew I’d met at the Lookouting invited me out to Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe (Mike Dirnt of Green Day’s restaurant) for lunch. We obviously talked a lot of music, and I told them about following Green Day across the country.
After we ate we tried to sneak into Pixar Studios across the street from the restaurant. “Buncha punks sneaking in Pixar. This is totally normal.” It didn’t work out so well, as you’d expect.
Then it was off to Gilman for Night 3.