How to Ru(i)n a Record Label: The Story of Lookout Records

August 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

ruinHow to Ru(i)n a Record Label: The Story of Lookout Records by Larry Livermore


I read Kevin Prested’s Punk USA, and was surprised to see that Larry Livermore was absent from the interviews included in the book. How could someone write a book about Lookout! Records without including Larry? Was it because he had removed himself from the label, or didn’t want to look back on what it had become? No, it turned out that he was writing his own book about his time at the label, and didn’t want to duplicate his thoughts. So of course once I finished that book, I had to move on to Larry’s.

If you want to know about the bands and the shows and the tours and the releases, Punk USA is the better book to read, because Livermore’s story is more personal. It makes sense — Prested was looking at the story from the perspective of a journalist, while Livermore is writing a memoir — but the two books pair well together. It’s still hard to tell if the two books comprise the complete story of Lookout! (there are a few contradictions between the two books, and the heroes and villains are portrayed differently), but together they tell a lot more than what a casual fan would already know.

Livermore tells his story in a self-effacing manner, mostly in the way he tells about the conflicts he had with other people on the label. Tim Yohannon and Ben Weasel get as much attention in Livermore’s book as they did in Punk USA, but Livermore relays his feelings with an amount of respect. He admires the people as much as he criticizes them, which isn’t always evident in Punk USA. Prested himself avoids comment, but those he interviews have some choice things to say. I preferred Livermore’s telling of those stories, just because it praised as well as criticized.

Strangely, the key moment of the book — when Livermore decides to leave the label — is told differently in each book. The way Livermore tells it, Chris Applegren came to Livermore when he was ready to have a legal intervention over a disparagement with Ben Weasel (Livermore stresses that it wasn’t suing, even though it was perceived as such) and basically gave him an ultimatum: Drop the proceedings or I quit. Instead, Livermore himself quit and let Applegren take over the label.

It’s clear that Livermore has fond memories of the label and its scene, even as he has no regrets over the decisions he made. As he sees it, the label’s focus changed after he left, similar to how Sub Pop changed when Bruce Pavitt left, and that’s ultimately what led to its downfall. It’s hard to say if Livermore staying on would have prevented the label’s demise (though the way Livermore tells it, it would have), but he does tell the story with reserved judgment. For that part of the story, he’s on the outside looking in, and his hindsight is 20/20.

The most remarkable piece of the story is in his postscript, where he writes about art and the scene and nostalgia, and sums it up in a beautiful way. Livermore is a talented writer, and his poignant look to the past and future is an effective way to wrap up his story. Prested’s book gives a better picture of the label overall, but Livermore’s memoir tells the story the way a biography can’t. They’re inseparable works, and anyone interested in the label and its history should read both books.

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