On tour in support of his latest book “How to Ru(i)n a Record Label,” Lookout Records co-founder Larry Livermore delivered a nonchalant conversation at Used Kids Records on Saturday. Dressed in a polo and jeans, Livermore spoke plainly — almost nervously — to the crowd. For one of the most influential punk figures of the 1980s, he was an understated character.
To be fair, most people probably are unfamiliar with Livermore despite being familiar with Green Day or any number of bands inspired by the California punk scene Livermore helped proliferate. His influence on modern music is an understated one: Livermore never achieved fame as a musician, but his record label brought Green Day to the masses and put out important releases by influential punk acts such as Operation Ivy, Screeching Weasel and The Mr. T Experience.
Arriving a little late, Livermore quickly got started with a casual yet confident tone fit for the small record store’s audience. His career-spanning talk offered stories, little known details and a couple readings from his book. Immediately breaking from formality, he began by asking the crowd to vote in favor of a focus on stories or readings from the book — stories won — and he then took suggestions from the crowd on topics to cover.
“A lot of the stuff I talk about I have to preface with, ‘Please don’t try this at home or in your own lives,’” he joked after offering a story of his last Columbus visit more than 40 years ago in which he and a group of friends, all broke while travelling, were chased out of town by police after stealing food from a market.
The talk proceeded in a somewhat scattered manner, as Livermore made seemingly fluid transitions between loosely related topics. Livermore took the audience through his first experiences as a “punk,” to the early days at the legendary concert venue 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, California, which spawned Lookout Records, to his decision to leave Lookout Records in 1997.
Throughout the talk, Livermore detailed the troubles he faced in the Lookout days from violent concert attendees and skinheads to neighbors threatening to burn his house down after he published his first zine, which they found unfavorable.
For serious punk fans, the event provided a rare perspective on the Lookout Records scene. Livermore recalled his first time seeing Operation Ivy, who would later prove formative in the ska-punk genre (“By the time they hit the first chord, everyone was on stage,” Livermore said of the band); when the success of Green Day and other acts drove co-founder David Hayes away from Lookout; and deep oddities such as the surprising popularity of a release by a cappella Beastie Boys alternative, Yeastie Girlz.
Notable was Livermore’s lack of concern for selling his book. Though he made a point to dutifully remind the audience of his items for sale, he happily directed his attention to whatever topics made sense throughout his talk. Rather than using the tour as promotion for higher sales, the book seemed almost to be used as an opportunity to travel and tell stories.
In closing, Livermore followed through with his understated attitude, saying his biggest accomplishment was releasing music by obscure acts, such as Brent’s TV, that would have otherwise gone unheard. Though he noted his pride for helping to establish the Grammy-winning Green Day, he said he was equally proud of all the people he had shared experiences with that continued on to less grandiose jobs.