lookout records!

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LOOKS LIKE I FOUND SOMETHING NEW: The Early Years

Before there was Green Day there was a band called Sweet Children. And before there was Sweet Children there were a couple of kids named Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Pritchard. I’m not going to go too deep into personal histories here, because there’s so much else to cover, and it’s the kind of thing that’s already been gone over in every Behind The Music-esque profile, and because it’s not really what OWOB is about. But here’s the basic outline: BJ and Mike were both born in 1972. Billie Joe was surrounded by music from birth, as his father was a jazz drummer (who made a living as a truck driver), and BJ’s first “album,” Look for Love, was recorded when he was five years old. Billie Joe’s father died when BJ was ten years old, the same year that he met Mike, who had been put up for adoption by his mother not long after birth due to her heroin addiction. Mike had moved to Rodeo, California, where Billie Joe lived, with his adoptive mother and sister.

Billie Joe and Mike started playing and writing music together very quickly after meeting, and by the time they were 15 they had added a drummer to their group and named themselves Sweet Children. With the development of the band, they dove into the local punk scene, which in the Bay Area meant 924 Gilman Street, an all-ages alternative music space and non-profit organization. Billie Joe in particular has always been vocal about how Gilman gave him a place and a community where he finally felt like he belonged, and the ethos of the club can definitely be seen to have influenced Green Day’s own:

Gilman, today, is one of the longest-running independent music venues in America, having outlived even CBGB’s, and I would hazard a guess that at least some of that success comes from its collective-inspired ethos. Founded in 1986 by Maximumrocknroll’s Tim Yohannan and Victor Hayden, Gilman has from the get-go been conceptualized as an all-ages space for bands to play without worrying about conventional music promotion, and for audience members to attend gigs without having to worry about their own safety. It was a reaction against the rising violence and right-wing tendencies in the 80s hardcore scene, and as such operated on principles less like those of a music venue and more like those of the coolest community center you could possibly think of. As Josh Levine, an early volunteer at the club remembers:

“There was something in the air, you could say, back then. A good feeling, or a sense of pulling together, and unity among people who just wanted to see bands that was free of sexism, homophobia, racism, and especially violence. Shows were not as safe then — there were shows I went to before Gilman where I got beat up…. Shows where I went to jail, just for being a punk rock kid out after curfew. And worse, shows where I saw people getting beat up by skinheads, or jocks, and there was not a damn thing I could do about it if I wanted to stay healthy. Those were the kind of things that motivated us to get involved.” (924 Gilman)

Since then, Gilman has become famous in alternative music circles, as a venue and as the launching place of the careers of not only Green Day, but also Rancid, Operation Ivy, and The Offspring.

At the time, however, Sweet Children didn’t manage to book a gig at Gilman until 1987, when they changed drummers to the locally-famous John Kiffmeyer (aka “Al Sobrante”). They quickly developed a reputation in the Gilman and Bay area scene, and met Larry Livermore, the founder of Lookout! Records, in 1988. He signed them, and they recorded their first EP, 1,000 Hours, after changing their name to Green Day in order to avoid confusion with the similarly-named local band Sweet Baby.

39/Smooth, Green Day’s debut album, was released in 1990, and the band went on their first US tour that same year. They left the day after Mike graduated from high school. After the tour, Kiffmeyer left Green Day to go to college. Tré Cool played his first show with Green Day in November 1990, and the band as it still exists was formed.

In 1991, Kerplunk was released, and quickly gained popularity. An easy story to tell about Green Day is that they arrived out of nowhere with Dookie, but their success had already been building beyond both the band and their label’s expectation with Kerplunk - which got national airplay and high sales (it became Lookout!’s highest selling release and has since become one of the best selling independent albums in history) - and the resulting national and international tours. Kerplunk also began the development of Green Day’s signature melodic punk sound, in songs like “Welcome to Paradise” and “Christie Road”. There is, on the whole, a massive jump in quality between 39/Smooth and it, and Kerplunk still stands as a solid, well-written album even in the face of the massive successes Green Day would go on to have with subsequent records.

The success of Kerplunk garnered the band attention from major music labels, and in 1993 they left Lookout! to sign with Reprise Records. In September of the same year they played their last show at Gilman Street in nearly a decade (they were “banned” after the release of Dookie - although they showed up at the club in 2001 and played anyway - but we’re getting ahead of ourselves).

- Jacqui // @sandovers​

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Wanna learn more about 924 Gilman/Lookout!/The Bay Area punk scene? Here are some resources I recommend.

Books:

  • 924 Gilman: The Story So Far… (2004) - Brian Edge
  • Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day (2009) - Jack Boulware & Silke Tudor
  • Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (1996, reissued 2016) - Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain (this book is continent- and decade- spanning and doesn’t focus on our era or area, but it is one of the greatest rock books and possibly the greatest punk book ever written, and it is priceless for understanding the development of the genre some people claim Green Day have inherited the mantle of, and others claim they’ve killed.)
  • Punk USA: The Rise and Fall of Lookout! Records (2014) - Kevin Prested
  • How to Ru(i)n a Record Label: The Story of Lookout Records (2016) - Larry Livermore
  • The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (2016) - Michelle Cruz Gonzales (because I know I’m writing about Green Day but let’s get some women and people of colour up in here, and also this really is a very good memoir)

Film:

  • Punk’s Not Dead dir. Susan Dynner

Zines:

  • Cometbus, the seminal long-running zine by Aaron Cometbus, veteran of the Bay Area punk scene and active with the Gilman Street Project, interim Green Day drummer, former Green Day roadie, bandmate to Billie Joe Armstrong in Pinhead Gunpowder, and all-round punk legend. A good starting place if you’re overwhelmed by his sheer amount of output is Add Toner, a collection of old favourites and new material.
  • Maximumrocknroll, the San Francisco-based monthly punk music zine, especially the issues of the early 90s, if you can find them at a zine library or the like
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY KERPLUNK!

Studio album by Green Day

Released: January 17, 1992 (CD re-release)

Kerplunk is the second studio album by American punk rock band Green Day, released on December 17th, 1991by Lookout Records.Kerplunk was Green Day’s last release on the Lookout Records label, and was also the first album to feature Tré Cool on drums. After debuting the album to their fans in the Berkeley, California area and receiving much approval from the critical 924 Gilman Street crowd, the band packed up in a cramped, converted Book Mobile and headed east.

Every Record I Own - Day 22: American Steel Jagged Thoughts

Yesterday I talked about the American Football album and how their album became an underground success even though the band basically did nothing in terms of promotion. It’s one of those success stories that implies that good art will succeed no matter what. Well, today is a harsh slap of reality with American Steel.

American Steel had a little bit of a buzz going with their second album Rogue’s March, a gravel-throated slab of melodic Bay Area punk that found an appropriate home on Lookout! Records. But with their third album, Jagged Thoughts, the band slowed their tempos, polished their sound, and broadened their approach. It’s not that American Steel sounded like they were trying to go mainstream, it’s just that they tempered their rage with a healthy dose of sentimentality and melancholia. Right from the get-go, album opener “Shrapnel” demonstrated that vocalist Rory Henderson was actually a solid singer and guitarist Ryan Massey could play with both restraint and the bombast of Pete Townshend. Album closer “Day to Night (Like a Hint)” is so goddamn triumphant that it still boggles my mind that it wasn’t a crossover hit.

Botch toured with American Steel on the last Murder City Devils tour in 2001. It wound up being one of the last tours for all bands involved. Botch would announce our breakup three months later, and American Steel would transform into Communique shortly after. Communique would be another grossly under-appreciated endeavor, despite making a perfect pop album with Poison Arrows. And then they’d return to American Steel in 2007 for another couple of records, though the early momentum they had with Rogue’s March was never resumed. It probably didn’t help that Lookout! went out of business, though one could argue that American Steel followed a similar path as Blake Schwarzenbach and encountered the same kind of blowback he experienced with Jets To Brazil. Whatever the reason, they were a great band that never got their due. I picked up this LP when we toured together.

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Day: 929
Shirt: Groovie Ghoulies - Crazy Cat
Color:  White
Brand: Cinder Block
Source: you find inspiration in such weird places.  @chrisshary posted up a video of his kid Sam who his puppet show version of his fav song and i thought to myself man i totally forgot about this band..  wait i have that shirt.  boom.  thanks Chris.  Actually thank you Sam (if you read the internet)