The Long Goodbye

It was Ted Leo who delivered the pronouncement:

Our beloved Lookout Records, which ceased releasing new material in 2006, but carried on keeping the catalog in print until this past December, has, sadly, shuttered it’s windows for good.

Though many predicted the cause of death well in advance — by most accounts Lookout Records, like much of the recording industry, was primarily undone not by digital innovation or piracy but by the company’s own unsustainable practices — mourning the label may end up being a longer, more complicated process.

For a long time Lookout was my label. In both a figurative and literal sense I was something of a Lookout poster child in my high school years, attuned to the angsty but earnest impulses that informed much of the music in their catalog and frequently attired in clothing or patches bearing the logos of Lookout bands. To someone who grew up buying most of his music through impersonal mall outlets and CD-resale shops, Lookout seemed less like a business and more like a club. And in a time before customized Genius playlists and Pandora stations, the stuff coming out from the label remained largely consistent and reliable. I may not have liked all of the Lookout bands, but I liked most — and I always listened to them at least once. 

But Lookout’s identity went beyond the label’s bands. It owned a sound, the melodic punk that broke big in the mid-90s and never completely went away. As co-founder Larry Livermore points out, in much the same way Sub Pop came to represent the Seattle scene at the onset of the ‘90s (even if most of the records at the heart of that movement were released by other labels), Lookout, for better or for worse, essentially became the brand name of ‘90s pop-punk — which is why the fallout from the label’s demise seems especially apropos. 

Ted Leo again:

This means that these records have reverted to my complete ownership, which is kind of cool in some ways, I guess, except that it also means I have to basically run my own label for them now unless I wind up licensing them to someone else in the future.

With the dissolution of the label largely responsible for commodifying punk rock, the bands that fueled Lookout’s rise now have complete control over their music, a model more akin to the DIY ethos at least preached by most punk purists (if not always practiced). But they also now bear the responsibilities previously managed by Lookout — the production, distribution, and promotion of the discs and digital downloads that get tunes out of a garage or studio and onto your iPod.

This is fine for bands like Green Day and Operation Ivy (or Leo), who can shop their old albums to another punk label like Epitaph Records or re-release them on their own and start earning a larger share of profits than they enjoyed in the Lookout era. But many of Lookout’s bands broke up long before the label did, which complicates (if not outright cancels) the chance of future re-issues, especially for some of the label’s lesser-known names. No one is likely hitting “refresh” on iTunes to see when Sludgeworth’s Losers of the Year will be available again.

Which, I guess, just makes the recordings that do exist that much more special. Here are a few of my favorites: 

“2000 Light Years Away” - Green Day

“Someday” - Sludgeworth 

“Everything’s Alright” - The Eyeliners 

“Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” - Mr T Experience

“Take Warning” - Operation Ivy

“We Don’t Go” - The Donnas

“(Oh Yeah Baby You Make Me) Rock N’ Roll” - The Crumbs

“End of the World” - The Avengers

“The Day I Went Away” - The Lillingtons

“Let Go” - Screeching Weasel

“New England” - The Groovie Ghoulies