Lookout! Records, the California-based independent record label that helped usher in the modern era of pop punk as we know it via such bands as Green Day and the Queers, has closed down after twenty-five years of operation. Somewhere, the laces of an anonymous teenager’s black Converse high tops have become irreversibly knotted out of frustration and sadness.
Founded in 1987 by friends Larry Livermore and David Hayes, Lookout! Records quickly aligned itself with San Francisco’s East Bay punk clique by issuing discs from that scene’s giants (Crimpshrine, Operation Ivy, et al). The signing of a nascent trio named Green Day in 1988 would prove to the be label’s wisest business decision; when that group exploded onto MTV seven years later, their first two efforts for Lookout! became an unexpected revenue goldmine. Of course, by that time, Lookout! Records had also cemented its reputation as the underground’s premiere purveyor of pop punk, having released pivotal albums by such melodically-inclined outfits as Screeching Weasel, the Queers, and the Mr. T Experience.
Things behind the scenes at Lookout! were not always as upbeat as the records they pressed; a legal kerfuffle nearly broke out in the mid-’90s after Screeching Weasel front man Ben Foster began publicly taking Livermore’s business ethics to task RE: the group’s 60/40 contract (which in fact favored the band). At the brink of lawyering up, the label decided to simply re-sign Screeching Weasel to a contract where everything money-wise was clearly spelled out. Around the same time, Larry Livermore sold his stake in the company, although he would always remain the figure most closely associated with that iconic eyeball logo.
Livermore’s departure marked the beginning of Lookout!’s decline as new management had apparent difficulty handling monies. Dodgy bookkeeping was the complaint most often leveled at the label as one flagship act after another jumped from Lookout! to competitors such as Asian Man and Fat Wreck Chords. Such maneuvering always hurt, but no blow proved bigger than Green Day’s July 2005 decision to pull their first two albums from their former home over alleged unpaid royalties. Lookout! Records would never fully recover from the defection of their poster band (and only seven figure generator); just a year later, the label ceased issuing new releases to focus on selling their storied back catalog.
Lookout! Records was to me in the ’90s what Stax was to kids in the ’60s. It was just a goldmine for all who loved snot-nosed Ramonesy junk. They released the three best Queers albums (Beat Off, Love Songs For The Retarded, Don’t Back Down), the two best Screeching Weasel albums (Boogadaboogadaboogada!, Anthem For a New Tomorrow), every Donnas album I’m embarrassed I don’t own, the only Mr. T Experience album I wasn’t embarrassed to own (Everyone’s Entitled To Their Own Opinion), and the best-sounding thing Furious George ever recorded (the Goes Ape! EP). I can’t think of another record label I ever consciously, or even subconsciously, pledged my allegiance to like that.
That said, it would be a stretch to say it’s a shame Lookout! is finally folding after x amount of years. They had a nice little dynasty for probably three times longer than they thought they would. Also, if you’re sitting on two Green Day records and you still can’t manage to pay Pansy Division on time, well, your business license should probably be revoked anyway.
Then again, what do I know about running a record label? Diddly squat. I just snap up what they poop out. Who knows, maybe a couple of those Pansy Division albums cost several million clams to make.
Welcome to the second installment of “The Cornuzine Interviews” (if you missed the first installment and want to know what the hell’s going on, click here). Today’s subject is Evan Cohen, a man who braved poop, pee, and a lot of other gross bodily fluids as bass player for GG Allin’s back-up band the Murder Junkies.
I first spoke with Evan in 2002; since then, we’ve kept in contact, mainly discussing the latest developments in the Star Wars universe. If you had told me when I was fourteen that I’d be corresponding with a Murder Junkie one day about Jawas and Ewoks, I probably would have laughed in your stupid, ugly face.
By the way, this interview was conducted via e-mail, which is why it reads so smoothly and features none of the patented “likes” or “uhs” that are a staple of my speaking voice.
EVAN COHEN: HE WAS A MURDER JUNKIE
JAMES GREENE, JR: Okay, Evan, now when exactly were you a Murder Junkie? What time period are we talking here?
EVAN COHEN: I was a Murder Junkie in 1993, for [the] last tour and beyond.
JG2: I didn’t see you in the definitive GG Allin documentary Hated.
EC: Then you weren’t paying attention. I was a pallbearer. I’m the only one wearing a suit.
JG2: I guess I wasn’t paying attention…I thought the guy in the suit was Dee Dee Ramone.
EC: Please, never confuse me with Dee Dee Ramone again.
JG2: So was that you on the guitar in that infamous footage of the “last show” in New York where it spills out onto the streets and a near riot ensues?
EC: No, I was the one who videotaped the last show.
JG2: My word. Were you frightened at all?
EC: No. I was scared shitless. I was terrified. But I was never frightened.
JG2: how did you become a Murder Junkie?
EC: When I moved to NYC in the fall of ’92 to go to NYU, the only person I knew in the city was [Furious George’s] George Tabb. We hung out all the time and I met everyone he knew. One of these people was [GG’s brother] Merle Allin. I’d see Merle every now and then, at shows or at parties, and we always got along. In April of ’93, George and I ran into Merle at the now defunct CBGB’s Pizza. Merle was telling George that he was looking for a roadie for the upcoming GG Allin tour. George suggested that he put an ad in the paper for one. Merle didn’t like that idea because he’d end up with some crazed fan that would just end up following GG around and wouldn’t get any work done. That’s when I interjected and volunteered my services. The rest as they say, is history.
JG2: How does Merle Allin differ from his famous brother?
EC: He’s alive.
JG2: Touché. Did GG ever attack you or anything?
EC: No. I had a contract with myself before the tour started. If anything “weird” happened to me personally—like if GG pulled some shit with me, I’d let it slide once. If it happened again, I would have taken the next plane out. As it happened, nothing happened even once. GG never attacked me. Why would he? I was part of the team. I was videotaping shows, selling merchandise, driving some—most importantly, I was doing the job I was hired to do. I was working for and with him, not against him.
JG2: Do you think GG was a prophet of some sort, a performance artist that was ahead of his time, or was he just completely insane?
EC: Prophet, no. Performance artist, no. Completely insane, definitely not. What he WAS….Shit, I’m still trying to figure that out. I know less now than I did before I met him.
JG2: Did you consider him a friend?
EC: Yes I did. But it all happened so fast. I met the guy, two and a half weeks later, I’m on tour with him for a period of three and a half weeks, then two weeks after that I see him again on and off for a week and then he’s dead. Who knows what would have happened had he lived. I’m glad that I got to know him for even a brief period of time, and am glad that I was in his good graces when he died. I think I said that at his funeral. Look at me recycling material.
JG2: You authored a book about your time in the Murder Junkies (I Was a Murder Junkie: The Last Days of GG Allin). Now, how did that work? Did someone approach you to pen the definitive GG memoir, or did you just write it and find a publisher?
EC: I wrote first, asked questions later, then wrote some more.
JG2: Mr. Cohen, riddle me this: how does one go from being a Murder Junkie to being a member of the cartoonish group Furious George?
EC: Lack of good judgement.
JG2: Oh, SNAP! I’ve interviewed George Tabb about [Furious George’s] experiences whilst on the set of Summer Of Sam, but he didn’t offer much insight. Did you get to meet Spike Lee? What’s your most significant memory of that whole experience?
EC: Of course we met him. We auditioned for him, wrote a song for him, and he directed us in three scenes. My favorite memory was in between takes at CB’s. At one point Jennifer Esposito grabbed my by the shoulders…looked into my eyes…drew me to her…and said, “This is so much fun, I want to be in your band!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t really as fun as she thought it was.
JG2: Man, I’d let Jennifer Esposito join my band. She’s a looker.
EC: You ain’t kiddin’ buster. Hey Jennifer, if you’re reading this, I’m single again. You can get my number though Spike’s office. I’m ready to form a band and you can sing for it. We’ll be the only two people in the band and I have the first gig already booked in my bedroom. Call, we’ll talk. By the way, she could be a kick-ass punk singer. She never did it before the movie and took to it instantly. Big ups to Jennifer Esposito.
JG2: You penned the classic Furious George track “Counselor Troi Boy Toy.” Did you ever see that movie Counselor Troi was in where she gets naked? Is that possibly what inspired the song?
EC: Never saw it. Immaturity inspired it. And believe me if you think that’s immature, you should hear its as of yet unrecorded companion piece “Dr. McCoy, Boy Toy,” for the free-thinking menfolk of the world. By the way, I did write the music for “Abduct Me,” you know…
JG2: Indeed, you did. “Abduct Me” is nearly a rock opera compared to “Counselor Troi” or your other classic “Prozac Defense.”
EC: Wow, I think that’s the first time anyone’s referred to my music as “classic.” Even if facetiously.
JG2: Hey, “Prozac Defense” is one of the darkest chord progressions I’ve ever heard in my life.
EC: Thank you very much.
JG2: Why exactly did you leave Furious George?
EC: No dental plan. That, and it wasn’t fun for me anymore.
JG2: I was in New York City on New Year’s Day this year and I went down to CBGB’s and the Gallery section where they sell the t-shirts was closed and they wouldn’t sell me a shirt even though they had one in the window on display. I came all the way from Florida and they wouldn’t sell me a shirt. They told me to order one online. Do you think that’s fucked up?
EC: No, get one online like everyone else.
JG2: Evan Cohen, what’s your opinion of Evan Dando?
EC: I wouldn’t know him if he broke into my apartment and pissed on my rug.
JG2: I wouldn’t put that past him. Evan Dando is the guy who fronted early nineties pop sensation the Lemonheads. They covered “Mrs. Robinson.” He’s almost as nuts as GG.
EC: I mean, I know WHO he is….but that doesn’t mean I know what he looks like. I could care less for the fellow…unless he reads my book and makes public statements about how he thinks it’s the greatest thing this side of Leon Uris. Why yes, I am a hypocrite.
JG2: He looks kind of like he’s homeless. Skinny, stringy brown hair and a bushy beard.
EC: I think that guy sells pot in Washington Square Park.
JG2: Are you involved with anyone musically right now? If so, plug away!
EC: Why yes I am. I have a band called WORSE. Anyone who wants a free CD they can email me at GGBook99@aol.com (what a whore!). Also playing with Furious George again – imagine that. But most importantly, BUY MY BOOK.
JG2: Now hold the phone, chief! I thought you said Furious George wasn’t fun anymore, but you’re back with them? What the dilly, yo?
EC: Lemme give you the 212 on the situation. I quit FG in March of ’99. Wasn’t fun anymore. Stevie replaced me and in the Summer of ’01, he left the band. George needed someone for a gig, and since I knew all the songs….And here I am again. By the way, Stevie has a new band called “Stevie and the Trash.” They’re quite good, and they feature current FG drummer Michael keeping the rhythm.
JG2: All very interesting. Thank you for your time, Evan.
EC: I enjoyed the interview, thank you.
– Cornuzine.com, 2/7/02