"Story," composed by Larry Livermore and performed by The Lookouts on the album Spy Rock Road
When music industry icon, and founder of the now defunct Lookout Records, Larry Livermore needed a drummer for his punk rock band The Lookouts in the mid-1980s, he was out of options. According to his memoir "Spy Rock Memories," he had run through two drummers who didn't work out; one because of creative differences and a contentious break-up, and the other due to weariness and a sense of futility in battling the harsh weather conditions just to practice with the band on a remote mountain in Northern California where they lived, a few hours north of the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. Out of desperation and a lack of options, he asked the son of one of his neighbors, 12-year-old Frank Wright, III; aka Tre Cool, if he wanted to be in a punk rock band.
This choice was a bit of an embarrassment for the band, especially for The Lookouts' bass player Kain Hanschke, publicly known as Kain Kong, who was an older teenager at the time and naturally didn't want a kid in the band. It didn't help that Tre Cool had never played the drums before, much less shown any interest in punk rock. But necessity won out, and with Cool always eager for a bit of fun and a challenge, on the first day of practice, when Livermore's only intention was to just show this 'kid' the basics so he could keep time with the music, he admits of Tre Cool, "Hell, on his first day, he was already better at it than me." With a natural talent for music and within only a few years from this "first day," Tre Cool went on to become one of the greatest drummers in rock n roll in the multiple Grammy award-winning pop-punk megaband Green Day.
After almost three decades, The Lookouts have finally released twenty obscure songs from those early days on an album called Spy Rock Road, produced by Don Giovanni Records. Not even remotely the shitty 'early years' album one would expect of musicians just starting out, it rivals any punk rock album out there, then and now, in talent, quality and sheer unfettered attitude; and in the songs "Generation" and "Out My Door" and "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Religion Ain't Cool" and too many more to name, we finally get to hear how extraordinary Tre Cool's talent was at such a young age and why, according to Livermore, his contribution to Green Day made all the difference to their success.
As for Larry Livermore's memoir, "Spy Rock Memories," that inspired the release of The Lookouts music, it's not so much the nostalgic lamentations of a music industry icon, though that's a huge part of it, but instead an emotional roller coaster of one man's twenty-plus years adventure in an insulated rural mountain town suffering from narrow-minded tunnel vision mixed with the kettledrum of Anarchists, Anti-Capitalists and hippies, brought on by a marijuana-induced paranoia and strict libertarian ideology, as he struggles to fit in, encountering contradiction and hypocrisy while maintaining the integrity of free speech and a free press as a journalist who wouldn't conform.
The prose is so beautiful, so wonderfully ripe with symbolism and nerve-wracking, edge-of-your-seat imagery, it takes on the qualities of a literary fiction novel, leaving one to wonder if this is just an epic story he made up in his head. Of course, it isn't. In Livermore's own words, "It's all as true as I can possibly make it." And that just makes it all the more intriguing as he battles the elements, both human and natural, of the remote mountain town on the north face of Iron Peak on Spy Rock Road, so sparsely populated even using the word "town" feels like a bit of a stretch.
When his first priorities to survival on this mountain became fire and water, at times the novel felt like I was reading an extension in the Hunger Games series, where making it through the intense rains of Fall, the blizzards in winter, and the extreme droughts of summer were nothing short of a test in perseverance, resourcefulness and hardline stubbornness, morning, noon and night; I couldn't help but wonder why the hell anyone would choose to live there. For over twenty years. When they had the resources for a more civilized alternative. From the scenic view of mountains and meadows and bubbling streams, and the quiet serenity of the remote location getting back to nature ensures, and the quirky eccentricity of the neighbors, by the end of the novel, I began to understand.
As if the obvious challenges weren't enough, there was the height of the Reagan-era "War on Drugs" to contend with that guaranteed annual drug raids on the mountain's population of marijuana growers, wild animals, one particularly humorous battle with a skunk; and a hilariously ironic twist on "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", with a black bear who decided Livermore's couch was the perfect place for a nap. There were very real and scary threats from the locals who weren't happy with Livermore's honesty about the local goings-on, specifically about the drug trade, in the articles he wrote for his nationally recognized Lookout Magazine, and then his eventual acceptance into the local fold when he became a hero for railing against a business that wanted to tear down trees in the one block of a town in order to "put up a parking lot," like a real-life version of the song "Big Yellow Taxi." And once again, it gives us a peripheral glimpse into Tre Cool's early years, having been raised on the same mountain in the same harsh environment, where the children are described as more innocent, and more carefree than their counterparts in The City.
[Regrets about leaving Lookout Records] "Yes, of course, just as I have regrets about leaving Spy Rock... But if I hadn't left those places and things, I couldn't be doing what I'm doing now. It's sort of how life works, I guess."
Touching on the punk rock mecca of the 924 Gillman Street Project in Berkeley, Cali. he was instrumental in creating in the 80s and is still thriving today, Livermore discusses proudly its successful endeavor, "... it's always gratifying and rewarding to go back there and see what we started continuing to thrive. It's kind of against the odds, too; it's hard enough to keep a for-profit entertainment venue/cultural center going for 28 years, let alone one run by volunteers and guided by essentially anarchistic principles."
Between his commitment to Lookout Records and the bands they represented, his work with Lookout Magazine and Maximum Rocknroll (MRR), and his ever-increasing travels to San Francisco and London and wherever the bands were playing that gradually led him away from home, the bittersweet ending will wring you out to dry. Luckily, there's a follow-up book, but Livermore says, "the actual title will be announced next month [April 2015]," and is projected to release in early summer of 2015, where he'll draw us into a behind-the-scenes look at the success and drama that unfolded during his time at Lookout Records.
To get a copy of Spy Rock Road or "Spy Rock Memories," and updates on his as yet untitled follow-up book, you can check out Don Giovanni Records at http://dongiovannirecords.com/news/the-lookouts-spy-rock-road-and-other-stories-cd-2xlp-digital