Larry Livermore has re-surfaced with a new and unusual memoir, and we should expect nothing less from the man. As one of the folks at the forefront of the heyday of the East Bay, California punk scene in the late 80s and early 90s, Livermore was responsible for starting Lookout! Records, which released records by such luminaries as Crimpshrine, Mr. T Experience, Operation Ivy, Ted Leo And The Pharmacists, Nuisance, The Donnas, and The Queers. He was also a key player in the establishment of 924 Gilman Street, the punk rock community center in Berkeley that put on epic shows by bands including Neurosis, Jawbreaker, and Chumbawamba, and established a place for punks to gather. Oh yeah, and he also signed (and sold) Green Day.
While some folks will want to know more about the rise and demise of the kingdom of Lookout!, Spy Rock Memories doesn’t go into many of the details of his relationship with Green Day, nor is there much mention of his label’s salad days or payoffs. You know what? Good. It’s all the better not to have to hear about either any more than we already do. Surprisingly, this book is something different, concerning itself with less public matters, a clearing of the mind while mining memories of a time far different than now.
Spy Rock Memories finds Livermore recounting a time long before everyone made their own pickles and artisan what-not, when the radicals of society went further out and tried to make it on their own, challenging their own notions of self sufficiency. From his story we find out outsiders don’t fit in anywhere, and that living “away from it all” is way, way harder than you think.
Recounting living on Spy Rock Mountain – an out-of-the way enclave loosely populated by hippies, pot growers and back to-the-landers in northern California – Livermore reveals how he escaped San Francisco city life in the early 80s, and bought a house in the midst of this rough-shod community. He is challenged by the elements, and deprivation of the taken-for-granted necessities of providing food, water and heat for his home. You can feel the unwitting admiration he has for the people that actually thrive there, and don’t spend all their time fumbling along, as he finds himself doing. His desire to succeed by his own wits is powerful, even as he realizes that city-slicker know-it-alls don’t know much in these surroundings. But perhaps most poignantly, he finds he is still an outsider in a community of outsiders.
He manages to capture some of the spirit those early do-it-yourself (not yet capitalized) days, as he delves into his experience of publishing the very first manifestation of Lookout!, the “Spy Rock Lookout,” an alternative newspaper to counter the mainstream press of the Laytonville Reader. It turns out though, that exposure, and open discussion, is not what off-the-grid pot farmers were looking for in their communications. Gradually Livermore retreats back to the city, where changes were afoot in the Bay Area punk rock community and he applies his hand to the development of that scene. What’s interesting to learn that he did so while still living part time up the mountain, returning to Spy Rock weekly to feed his dogs and cats.
If the mention of Judi Bari floods you with memories, your heart jumps a little at Livermore’s mention of meeting Aaron Cometbus, or you recall the importance of the CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) Report in the 1980s, you will enjoy this as a romp through those heady times. It may even leave you with a sense of longing for times with more defined struggles, when we all had a little more fight.