The brilliance of Lookout! Records

Posted by Jason Diamond

I really don’t think I can come up with one punk label that had as huge an effect on me as Lookout! Records did when I was a teenager.  While my tastes would change as I got older, there was hardly anything as thrilling to a 14-year-old kid in the suburbs than to receive a Lookout! poster/catalog in the mail, then checking off nearly every release that I wanted to buy.

As you may or may not have heard, the label closed down this week after several years of financial distress.  It’s odd to think of something like a record label that was once so important to me being no more.  I haven’t bought an actual Lookout! release in almost a decade, but the news of the label closing up shop saddens me, and also makes me get a little nostalgic.

While the music was an obvious first, I realized long ago that a lot of the people involved with Lookout!, along with folks like Ian Mackaye and Kathleen Hanna, were all part of a generation of punks who showed that you could be angry, you could play loud music, you could be politically savvy, and you didn’t have to be a complete lunkhead.  Lookout! and the people involved with the label for its nearly 25-year existence had an immeasurable impact on me, and besides mentioning off thirty records from their extensive discography, (the Filth/Blatz split is still one of my favorite records ever), here are a few other reasons Lookout! was so culturally relevant:

1. “Losers of the Year” by Pinhead Gunpowder

Green Day lets their former roadie write some songs, and in the process, maybe turned a few kids on to a zine called Cometbus in the process.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHmQqz0D-HM&w=420&h=315]

2. Larry Livermore’s writing.

Larry Livermore was the founder of Lookout!, but he was also one of the punk writers I always wanted to read.  He’s got a website with a good amount of his work.

3.  Jeff Ott’s My World zine.

Jeff Ott’s highly personal and political zine was my favorite next to Cometbus.  The writings were collected into one volume, but I don’t think it could compare to the feeling of finally finding a copy of the photocopied original with a tarot card on the front.

4.  Ted Leo

Ted Leo has a degree from Notre Dame in English.  We aren’t saying that’s why Lookout! put out several of his records, but it couldn’t have hurt his terrific songwriting.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F9DMIf8vgM&w=420&h=315]

5. Dr. Frank Portman

While I don’t believe Portman has an actual Ph.D in anything, he has had quite a bit of success writing two Y.A. novels. (We talked to Portman a few years ago.)

6.  They put out a discography for The Avengers.

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