07 November 2006

More Junkpiling

I must admit I'm surprised at the reaction I got from so many of you regarding my piles of junk/relics of the Lookout era. At least a dozen people have volunteered to come haul it all away, and while it's tempting to take them up on it, it's not quite that simple. Well, maybe it is, but I'm not quite ready to accept it.

While it would be tempting to shovel the whole mess into the back of someone's pickup truck, I feel as though I have a responsibility to at least try and sort out the wheat, if any, from the chaff. This was brought home to me the other night during a conversation with one of Pat and Erika's friends who works as an archivist for a major museum.

That's not to say I think any of my stuff necessarily belongs in a museum, but when you consider the kinds of things that do end up being treasured by scholars of a future era, it's not always easy to know what might have lasting importance. She was talking about having to wade through the scribbled notes and shopping lists of Beat-era poets, many of whom were regarded in their day - understandably enough, considering their behavior - as garden-variety drunks and crackpots. Could the same prove to be true of some of the bands or writers or artists who inhabited the East Bay/Gilman scene in the late 80s/early 90s? It's not so far out of the realm of possibility.

But the thing is, I'm a lousy archivist or curator. I tend to toss things in a box or a milk crate and shove them into a corner. Every few years I'll dust them off, sort through them and think, "What am I saving this for? But, oh, I can't throw this out because it reminds me of ___" and back it goes into the corner or closet. Except for the stuff I actually did throw out, which will probably be the exact kind of thing the scholars will be desperately searching for 50 years from now. So I'm thinking that it's best being passed on to the hands of people who know and care more about these things than I do.

That includes sound recordings, of course, and last night I tackled some of the discouraging pile of cassettes I've accumulated. Most of them, of course, barely if at all labeled. I doubt any of it is unique to me, since whoever gave me the tapes must have kept a copy for themself, but at the same time you don't casually toss out a recording of Op Ivy live at Gilman. Trouble is, I've at least a dozen tapes marked "Operation Ivy" in some form or another. I'm willing to bet many of them are duplicates, or consist of stuff that's already been bootlegged and/or otherwise made available to the masses. But do I dare throw any of them away without listening to each first? Probably not.

The problem is compounded when it comes to my own bands. Not that I suspect that there's going to a vast amount of historical curiosity about the Lookouts or the Potatomen (though one can always dream), but just for my own sake I'd like to be able occasionally to listen to what I was up to musically as a young(er) man. And in the unlikely event that I ever end up with any children or grandchildren, they might be interested, too. If only to have something to laugh at the old man about...

Anyway, today I uncovered a tape of the Lookouts playing at Gilman. Based on the song selection - lots of stuff from our second album - it must have been somewhere in 1989. There were also songs that I had totally forgotten we ever did, and a few that I certainly wish we hadn't. The latter category included a punked-up version of The Booger Song, a little ditty I composed for my niece and nephew when they were 5 and 7 and which they seemed to find amusing enough at the time. Sample lyric: "Boogers for breakfast, boogers for lunch, and on Sunday morning, it's boogers for brunch. It's boogers for you and boogers for me, and when Mom and Dad come, we'll put boogers in their tea."

Repertoire aside, the tape made for interesting enough listening, or would have had the sound engineer - who I won't name since I'm sure he meant well - not twiddled the knobs in such a way that about all you could hear was my very raw and strained singing and a smattering of drumbeats. I only know for sure that a band was playing because when we came to instrumental breaks he turned the guitar and bass back up. At those points it didn't sound bad at all, but the minute I came back in singing, all the music would drop out and be replaced by - and I'm being as kind to myself as possible here - what sounded like a very painful (for audience and singer alike) vocal ordeal.

You know how most guitarists seem to have one primary remedy for any faults or weaknesses in their guitar playing? I.e., turn it up louder? Well, I seem to have been using the same approach to singing. All attempts at following the melody or even the rhythm of the song seeme to have been abandoned in my attempts to outshout the Marshall amps and Tre Cool's manic drumming. And I used to wonder why I could never get through half a set without losing my voice! Ah well, live and learn. I'm trusting that the audience heard a very different mix than what the engineer taped off the soundboard, and that they probably heard little more than me bellowing and yelping like a wounded seal, which was pretty much par for the course in those days anyway.

Then I came across the Potatomen's all-acoustic demo tape, which we recorded in (I think) 1992, in the days when we used to perform almost exclusively on the sidewalk outside of Gilman. It was softer and - let's be blunt - wimpier than I recalled, but at least I was (mostly) in tune. Unfortunately, many of the backing vocals weren't, but you can't have everything. Paul Curran's banjo accompaniment on "Drown In My Beer" was by itself worth the price of admission ($2, if I recall correctly). So yeah, I think I'll hang onto that. As for the 30 other cassettes labeled "Potatomen something-or-other", I'm not so sure. Most are just outtakes from the studio, and at least one is an unnerving 30 minutes of me practicing vocals that somehow got recorded backward, i.e., satanic incantation-style. I almost flung that one out the window in a spasm of horror, but luckily didn't, as the window was closed at the time. And now I'm procrastinating via blog instead of tackling the task at hand, so I believe I'll say so long for now. If I'm back on here again before tomorrow, it probably means that I ran into something even more unlistenable.


Jim Testa said...

the biggest problem with cassette tapes is that they dont age well. the acetate dries out, they snarl up and jam... I have a crate of cassettes from the Eighties and half of them won't play anymore. VHS videos (of which I have a huge collection of live shows I traded for in the Nineties) also do not age well. The trick is to identify what's worth saving and transfer it to a more durable digital medium before it's too late. Which is a lot of time-consuming work, I'm afraid.

kendra said...

let me catalog your stuff, then it can be a collection and worth more.

dirt_trail_runner said...

i have a potatomen demo on a jvc tape with one of the lookout crew's handwriten label on it. any offers?

Psmith said...

There was an article in the NY Times awhile back about Richard Hell (I think) who apparently is a complete packrat.

He has thrown little away since the 70s, and a gallery here decided to do a showing of some of what he had amassed. I don't remember what made it to the show, but it said he still had handwritten lyrics, little scraps of paper with notes to himself or others, letters, etc from back then - all sitting in his apartment unorganized.

Maybe you need to call the CA equivilant of that gallery.

Larry Livermore said...

If they would promise to clean up my room for me, that would be a deal.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm a bit less famous than Richard Hell, and of considerably less interest to the art world.

G2 said...

So nice to hear about a lookouts live show recording, even if it sounds like crap. haha... and yes, a museum sounds incredible, i would love to hear that one day. larry, have u checked this site out?

If not, I bet u could send all the recording u have over there. It would meen alot to many people.

pepito said...

i suspect i spotted you at the chaat house last wednesday night. you were eating alone and looking slightly dazed. i picked up a sack of samosas and made a bee line for the door and only half-realized i might have seen you when i was a few blocks away.

Larry Livermore said...

If you mean the Chaat cafe on University and MLK, then that indeed was me, on my first on-foot-unaided-by-crutches venture into the commercial district. Yesterday I doubled that record by making it all the way up to The Hat on Shattuck.

Was I looking dazed? Perhaps if my food had not come yet, but as I spent most of the time there deeply absorbed in The Inimitable Jeeves, it would have to have been a happy and mirth-ridden daze.

G2 said...

Hi larry,
I thought maybe you'd like to know:

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Green Day's first two albums will be reissued for the first time by the punk trio's Reprise Records label on December 19.

"1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours" (1991) and "Kerplunk!" (1992) were originally released on Lookout! Records. The Berkeley, Calif., indie label reissued them in 2004.

"Kerplunk!" does not include any bonus features, but "1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours" replicates the extra content found on the reissue. The extras include 20 minutes of live performances from 1990-91, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's handwritten lyrics, show flyers and a 1991 radio interview.

The two albums set the stage for Green Day's 1994 mainstream, major-label breakthrough, "Dookie," which has sold 7.8 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. To date, "1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours" has shifted 585,000 units, while "Kerplunk!" has sold 699,000.

I read that and well... i don't know what to think.

Larry Livermore said...

Yes, I've already heard that about the Green Day records, a sad post script to a sad story, but really, what else could you expect? I think many people, myself included, thought the records would be re-released on Adeline, but that could create an awkward situation, where one member would be making more than the others as a result of being both label and band member. So from that standpoint, and for the sake of better distribution, it probably makes sense to put them out on Warner/Reprise. I wish it would have worked out differently, but it didn't. Green Day took a big financial loss by leaving the records on Lookout as long as they did.

I do think the sales figures are wildly inaccurate, though; both albums had already sold more copies than that when I left Lookout almost 10 years ago. We definitely paid Green Day for more records than that, anyway. I suspect the discrepancy comes from Lookout having sold many copies before the advent of Soundscan, or at least before punk labels started registering on the Soundscan radar. As a matter of fact, both records were certified gold (over 500,000 - well over 500,000, in fact) by 1996. I imagine both records ended up selling closer to a million, but that's just my educated guess, as I haven't seen any sales data since 1997.