If you have even a passing interest in pop punk, you probably know at least a little about the sad demise of Lookout! Records a few years back.
Remember what a big story it was?
Lookout! made wheelbarrows full of money on Green Day’s back catalogue after the band jumped to a major label with Dookie. Label honcho Larry Livermore was overwhelmed after a time: the imprint he had started as a tiny operation in a bedroom and had morphed from a labor of love into a full-fledged business. It wasn’t fun for him anymore. So Larry handed the reins over to his partners, who mismanaged the label’s coffers to such an extent Lookout! couldn’t pay royalties to its bands. The whole operation folded when Green Day came to collect.
In Smash! Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX and the 90s Punk Explosion, author Ian Winwood says that since departing for the majors Green Day “have honored (their) contract (with Larry) and have made no efforts to reclaim the music released on Lookout! Records.”
This is the exact opposite of what really happened.
I was already deeply skeptical of Smash! by the time I got to the above passage. It’s funny, because in the credits Winwood cites none other than Larry Livermore as a key source. Indeed, there was a whiff of familiarity to a lot of the Green Day stuff herein because I’ve read both of Larry’s books—including How To Ru(i)n A Record Label, which discusses Lookout! having trouble paying bands. This book is about capitalism in punk—how, in the wake of the titular bands’ records sales “anyone forming a punk band did so with the knowledge that in doing so it was possible to become wealthy.” But there’s a cost largely unexplored here. Lookout! threw money around like a major label and paid the consequences—none of which the author mentions, or, if we’re to believe him, even knows about.
Some of Smash! is unintentional comedy, like when Winwood, with no trace of irony, says “if any band in (his) book has been short-changed of the respect owed to them, it is the Offspring.” He earnestly discusses their chances of entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then, some chapters later, actively argues that “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” is not a novelty song.
If your idea of “punk won” is counting money rather than ways in which punk rock empowered marginalized people, created community, and fomented social change, then by all means, dig in. Otherwise, I read this so you don’t have to. –Michael T. Fournier (Da Capo, dacapopress.com)