Punk USA: The Rise and Downfall of Lookout! Records

August 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

punkPunk USA: The Rise and Downfall of Lookout! Records by Kevin Prested

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Ah, Lookout! Records. I have a lot of good memories regarding that label. I think Operation Ivy was what brought them to my attention, and it was what kept it for a long time. I wasn’t there “from the beginning”, but I remember when 39/Smooth was the only Green Day record, and I remember the excitement surrounding Screeching Weasel finally signing with them. There weren’t a lot of labels I followed religiously, but Lookout! was definitely one of them.

Punk USA takes us from the very beginnings of Lookout!, all the way through to its sad end. Prested tells us a little bit about all of the major bands that signed to the label, as well as telling us a bit about the scene that drove the start of Lookout!, as well as carried it along. He recognizes that the label was a result of the scene, and pays attention to the ones who were a part of that scene, and how they played a role in the label. It was a small enough scene that almost everyone was a part of Lookout! at one point or another.

Punk USA is a collection of recollections, some told from his perspective, but most of them from those who were a part of the scene and the label. Chris Applegren, an early employee of the label who eventually became a co-owner, tells the bulk of the story, but we also hear from members of the bands who were on the label, including such luminaries as Dr. Frank from The Mr. T Experience and Jesse from Operation Ivy. For someone like me, who followed the label so closely and knew a lot of the bands and names, it was a great insight into a big part of my youth (if you consider college “youth”, at least).

Noticeably absent from the book are any pieces from Larry Livermore, one of the two founders of the label. There’s no intention to it (Larry was apparently already working on his own book about the label, and chose not to participate in this one so as not to duplicate his own effort), but it makes the book feel incomplete. David Hayes, the other co-founder, participated, and from the other participants it’s easy to get a picture of Livermore, but it doesn’t seem right to have a book about Lookout! without having Larry give his own view of events. Considering that one of the key points in Lookout!’s history is when Larry leaves the label, but we never really get a complete view of why this happens.

To his credit, Prested makes sure to give as accurate a view as possible in the book. He takes a “warts and all” approach to the story, showing us how band-centered the label was, but also not avoiding the drama that eventually led to the label’s demise. The feuds between the label and Ben Weasel and Tim Yohannon are discussed, and Prested does his best to present them in the most balanced way possible, considering that neither Livermore, Weasel, or Yohannon participated in the book (though I should point out that Yohannon died in 1998, long before the book was written).

The thing is, the book covers a lot of ground. Lookout! started in 1987, and didn’t go out of business until 2012, so there’s a lot of time to detail in the book. Prested does a good job of giving us a look at each of the bands on the label, even if it’s not comprehensive, but sometimes it feels like we’re only getting a brief look at one small part of the label. It doesn’t help that Prested doesn’t provide breaks between sections, so it sometimes feels like the story is shifting abruptly from one band to another. Add in several typos and a handful of run-on sentences, and you get a book that’s more about the scene than it is in being a good book.

Still, that sounds a bit harsh; for anyone who was into Lookout! back in the day, this book feels essential. It’s not necessarily well written, but it’s a work of passion, and it’s a book that required a lot of hours to write. Prested should be commended for tackling the story and bringing it to the fans to read, but at the same time, it’s only going to resonate with those fans. A well-written book, even about a subject with which the reader is unfamiliar, will engage any reader; Punk USA‘s focus is for a smaller audience. Even readers looking to know more about Green Day will find themselves having to wade through all the other bands to get there.

As such, it’s a perfect punk book. It’s for the fans, by a fan, and it doesn’t care if it’s polished and perfect, so long as it gets its message across. Anyone who remembers the heyday of Lookout! should read it, as should any old punk who wants to relive the days of the scene, even if they weren’t into Lookout!

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