In 1988, Lookout! Records co-founder Larry Livermore walked into 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, California and caught his first glimpse of Green Day. Billie Joe Armstrong was just 16 at the time and they were still playing under the name Sweet Children, but Livermore saw the potential and he added them to his label. The signing of Green Day is just one anecdote in Livermore's new book Spy Rock Memories, due out on June 4th via indie punk label Don Giovanni. It traces Livermore's whole life story, from battling hippies and rattlesnakes to putting Operation Ivy and Screeching Weasel on the map. Below is an exclusive preview of the book, in which Livermore describes his early days with Green Day.
In mid-January, David Hayes and I set up a table at the back of Gilman Street and put Lookout Records' first four seven-inch releases on sale. I was amazed at how much excitement they generated, considering how reluctant punks are to show enthusiasm about anything, especially things they actually like.
I'd been hoping to sell a couple hundred copies of each release, which was how it had worked with the Lookouts LP. In that case, we – I should say "I," since I was the one who'd put up the cash for this operation – wouldn't lose too much money. My definition of success going into the project had been to break even; the idea of making even a small profit existed only in my wildest dreams.
I watched from the back, only half paying attention at first. But before they'd finished even one song, I was absolutely riveted. I'd seen this level of performance before, but only in giant, packed arenas or stadiums, delivered by bands at the peak of their careers. 16-year-old Billie Joe exuded the casual self-confidence of a superstar, offset slightly but not entirely by a shy, self-effacing humility.
Stopping every few songs to thank his minuscule audience, he sang and played as though he'd been doing this all his life – which, I would learn, wasn't far from the truth. Walking up to me afterward, he offhandedly asked, "What did you think?"
"I want to make a record with you guys," was all I could say.
They were barely getting started – this might have been their third or fourth show ever – but I'd seen and heard all I needed to. They were like a modern, updated, punk rock version of the Beatles. They could seriously be that big, I caught myself thinking. Crazy talk? Of course. Yet at that moment it made perfect, undeniable sense.
The Lookouts never played that night; by the time Sweet Children finished, it was midnight and our "audience," worried they'd get in trouble with their parents, said goodbye and headed home. On the long drive back to Spy Rock, twisting the radio dial in search of an audible signal and thankful for my aging truck's slightly more than adequate heater, I had barely an inkling of how the night's events were about to change my life forever.
And everything did change, not all at once, not in obvious, visible ways at first, but the wheels were in motion. Life on Spy Rock unfolded peacefully and quietly through the rest of 1988 and into 1989. I barely noticed winter that year; spring was bright and full of promise.
The Sweet Children record was nearly done. They'd gone into the studio at the end of the year, and by March we had everything in place for a four-song EP. Just as I was about to print the covers and labels, they casually informed me that they'd decided to change their name to Green Day.
I blew a gasket. It was too late, I told them; there was no time to redo all the artwork. On top of that, I demanded, how was I supposed to sell a record by a band no one had heard of? "Green Day?" I sneered. "What's it even supposed to mean?"