Readers familiar with Larry Livermore’s writing—whether his columns of yore for Maximum Rock’n’roll and/or Punk Planet, or his excellent and engrossing Spy Rock Memories—will find the pace and style of How to Ru(i)n a Record Label a familiar return to form, and new readers should have no trouble jumping in mid-stream. Throughout, Livermore’s prose is crisp and engaging, and his storytelling is candid, occasionally to the point of inducing cringes (as an example, witness Livermore badgering Sam McPheeters of Born Against to release the band’s CD anthology on Lookout!, with Larry progressively getting meaner and drunker as negotiations go south).
With that said, I wonder how many readers threw this new book across the room around chapter twenty: it appears Livermore’s answer to the titular question is to hire a woman. As Molly Neuman becomes part of the label’s management, we see Lookout! Records come off the rails, acting like a major label, spending ridiculous money on barely-seen videos, putting out more records than it can adequately promote, and dealing with Ben Weasel. Ol’ Ben isn’t happy with the label’s sixty percent royalty rate, and begins demanding ridiculous advances and threatening legal action. Throughout all this, it appears that Livermore is heaping blame on Neuman and the rest of the label’s growing staff rather than taking responsibility.
But that’s the thing—appears. It’s not fair for readers to stop reading as the label’s crash happens. Prior to Neuman’s arrival in the narrative, Livermore spins tales of Gilman Street’s early days, including the heyday of Operation Ivy and Green Day’s meteoric rise both on Lookout! and later the major label realm. Livermore paints himself as an ethical, if scattershot, businessman, what with the aforementioned royalty rate and a contract clause reverting ownership of recordings to bands if owed moneys go unpaid for six months or more. But the emphasis here is on scattershot—what was at first a labor of love turned huge and nigh-unmanageable with Green Day’s success, making the label feel less like fun and more like a job. Livermore does a good job illustrating this change of scope through anecdotes discussing the small bedroom office eventually being moved to a huge warehouse.
Ultimately, Larry does a nice job owning up to his personal failings. Lookout!, after all, was his brainchild. The responsibility to make choices was in part his, but rather than making decisions—anydecisions—he instead let apophasis reign. Choosing not to choose, he says at the end, was both his own and the label’s ultimate downfall, not any staffing or roster choices.
Stick with How to Ru(i)n a Record Label and you’ll find that Larry Livermore’s writing style is executed as if in the moment, which makes his eventual realizations all the more impactful. Recommended. –Michael T. Fournier (Don Giovanni, PO Box 628, Kingston, NJ 08528)