05 November 2006

The Calm Before The Storm

I'm listening to a battered, dust-covered old cassette tape that must have been stuffed away somewhere for the last 13 years and has recently re-emerged during the ongoing process of weeding out my accumulated junk. It's marked "Larry's messages - 1993," which is not quite accurate; it's a cassette from my old answering machine all right, but by 1993 I no longer had a private phone, or life for that matter. Lookout Records was still being run out of my little room on Berkeley Way, but had grown to the point where it occupied a lot more space than I did, and phone calls were as likely to be for one of the two Lookout employees or many Lookout bands as they were for me personally.

So, intermingled with my mother's plaintive, "Larry, this is your mother and I'm still trying to get hold of you" and an estranged boyfriend calling to say, "This is ____ , it's Tuesday," but maddeningly leaving no message or phone number, were calls from the likes of Ben Weasel wanting to know if we'd gotten the tape of the Queers LP and planning the Screeching Weasel/Queers tour, Tre Cool wanting God know what, but "it's important," Al Sobrante thanking the Potatomen for playing in Arcata, Jeff Ott (he seemed dubious about the whole concept of answering machines and called repeatedly, saying "Hello? Hello? Hello?" while tapping impatiently on the receiver as though he assumed we were being willfully obtuse by not answering him), Chris from Brent's TV planning the reunion show that would also mark Green Day's last Gilman show before departing for major label land, some booking agent out in Texas frantic because some other booking agent had secured the rights to the next Green Day tour, Chuck from Monsula wondering about that royalty check he'd heard was waiting for him, Molly Neuman looking for her future husband Chris Appelgren, half a dozen printers and graphic designers rattling off color numbers and film prices, Pat Hynes calling to find out if Chris and I were coming to Potatomen practice, and a couple dozen random people calling to whistle, sing, make scary noises, or otherwise try to call attention to themselves.

Because it was an antique answering machine and didn't leave a date stamp, there's no way of telling for sure how many days or weeks the messages stretched over, but it's clear that there were frequent periods when the Lookout office, aka my room, was left completely unmanned, something that would become unthinkable a year or two later when Green Day-mania would prompt a quadrupling of our staff and office space and a ten-tupling (if you know what the right word for that is, please tell me) of our sales. It was all so relaxed, like a bunch of kids trying out their "My First Record Label" role-playing game. We were only months away from the release of Green Day's Dookie, but were dithering and doddering along our merry way, completely unaware that everything was about to change forever.

Listening to this tape - which just ended without coming to any dramatic conclusion or resolution - is like a window into another time and place, one that I'd almost forgotten, I time when running a reasonably successful record label sounds like it was almost fun, probably because none of us was taking it anywhere near as seriously as we would soon have to when the big bucks started rolling in. People used to laugh at our "office," which was really just my shabby bedsit in an old hippie house (I didn't even have a bed for much of the time, just a mat and some blankets wadded up in the corner) but looking, or rather listening back now, it sounds like a much more fun place to work than most offices I've ever been in.

I'm actually typing these words from the house next door to the old Lookout office, which is now an upmarket bedsit, erm, studio "apartment" renting for 10 times what we paid for it. This street, which used to see a constant procession of bands and individual punk rockers tossing pennies at our upstairs window because there was no doorbell, is a lot quieter these days, apart from the ghetto house across the street and the college kid house two doors down. Not too many bands or musicians or artists or scenesters live in Berkeley anymore; it's too expensive, too dull, and - at least in my opinion - too crime-ridden and depressing. But on a warm, sunny day like today, with the air crystal clear and the scent of still-blooming flowers wafting through the windows, it's easy to collapse time and imagine that any second now Claude or Janelle or Eggplant or Aaron Cometbus is going to come strolling around the corner and say, "Let's go hang out, you can do your work some other time."

Probably not going to happen, though, and in the meantime, I have to decide what to do with this old cassette (and about 400 other old cassettes full of music, demos, and I'll never know what unless I sit down and take a couple months to listen to all of them. I thought briefly of auctioning the message tape off on eBay, but I think the trash is a more likely receptacle. Honestly, it's really not that interesting if you weren't there, and even if you were, it's kind of like, "Oh yeah, that's the way we were, but so what? This is now, and what are you gonna do about that?"


Maria said...

Well, I wasn't there during those times but from reading old Lookout Mags I know about the people you mentioned. Whatever happened to them anyway?

Larry Livermore said...

Claude, of "Quit Talkin..." fame, is a university instructor. Perhaps even a professor by now. Janelle continues to publish "Tales of Blarg" (new issue available from Little Type), Aaron Cometbus continues to publish books and zines, but rarely puts in appearances on the West Coast, Eggplant is still Eggplant, can be spotted at Gilman now and again and, if I'm not mistaken, is still cranking out "Absolutely Zippo" when the spirit moves him.

Jeff Ott was in the North Bay the last I heard, still doing a bit of singing in addition to being a family man. Chuck from Monsula? Good question. Tre Cool is in a popular band, Ben Weasel has a blossoming solo career, the Queers are releasing their 37th record soon, Chris Appelgren just got married again and doesn't seem to have so much to do with Lookout Records anymore, Patrick Hynes helps run Little Type with his wife Erika and does computer genius work for others. Al Sobrante is in San Francisco, Molly Neuman is in New York, Brent's TV never had a reunion, and Green Day ended up having a reasonably successful musical career. Does that cover most of them?

Psmith said...

If only there were a punk rock museum...

You should give the tape to someone who can turn it into an mp3 so it can be saved without taking up all the space a cassette tape does.

oliver said...

$10 for the whole box. Cash money.

Sean said...

Mully from the pop punk bored here, I'd love to hear the tape if you're thinking of trashing it. mail me at ssmcmullan@hotmail.com


G2 said...

Dude, larry. Put it in mp3 format, that would be a resonable idea. I bought eggplant's absolutely zippo latest edition. interesting as always. Al sobrante isn't drumming in a band? i need to buy aaron's latest book and zine... what happenned to pinhead gunpowder. broke up i guess?

Erika said...

Yeah, I wanna hear Pat's 1993 voice.