By Kevin Prested
Despite a handful of glaring examples to the contrary, punks are generally awful at running successful businesses. The East Bay punk label Lookout Records was certainly no exception. Punk USA: The Rise and Fall of Lookout Records chronicles the imprint’s humble beginnings as an outlet for Lawrence Livermore to release records from his band, The Lookouts. But as its roster began to grow with bands that would become the movers and shakers of a new wave of punk—Crimpshrine, Mr. T. Experience, Screeching Weasel, and of course Operation Ivy and Green Day—it acquired a level of success that its founders had no clue how to manage. In fact, in 1997, Livermore left Lookout in the wake of a contractual dispute with Ben Weasel, and Chris Appelgren, a fresh-faced employee of the label barely out of his teens, assumed leadership. With surging budgets from the back catalogues of Green Day and Operation Ivy, Appelgren felt more and more pressure from smaller bands on the roster—like Pansy Division and Avail—to amp up recording and promotional budgets for their records. But while expanding financial allocations to its less popular groups—and attempting to buy back a record label it gave to Ben Weasel while operating a larger office space and retail outlet—the label did so at the expense of royalties owed to all its bands, specifically its two biggest. Citing unpaid royalties, Green Day, Operation Ivy, Avail, and Screeching Weasel, among others pulled their back catalogues in 2005, leaving the imprint with very little income. In 2012 the label folded altogether. Punk USA details every twist and turn in the story with author Kevin Prested’s prose interspersed with large sections of quotes from one-time Lookout employees and bands. While anyone who doesn’t already own at least half of the former Lookout catalogue might find the smaller details extraneous, it expounds both the pitfalls of running a small business on ideals, enthusiasm, and naivety, and what happens to those principles when their inundated with tens of millions of dollars.