That Damned Exclamation Point

Got my advance copy of Gimme Something Better by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor. It’s a magnificent compendium of information and opinions, delivered in oral history form, covering 30+ years of the San Francisco Bay Area punk rock scene.

I’ll have to admit that I preferred the original title, which was to have been Journey To The End Of The East Bay, but the project expanded beyond the authors’ original imaginings to include the history of the West Bay scene as well.

Being the crazed egomaniac that I am, I immediately flipped to the pages featuring myself and my friends, and almost as quickly got caught up in the predictable cavils of “Oh no, he didn’t say that about me, did he?” and “She’s crazy; I was right there when that happened and it was nothing like the way she’s describing it.” The old saw about the committee of blind men attempting to describe an elephant comes to mind.

But once I took Aaron Cometbus’s advice and tried reading the book from the beginning, it became far more compelling and fascinating. I’m only about a quarter of the way through, provided you don’t count (and you probably shouldn’t) the fairly intense skimming I gave to to the latter chapters covering the Gilman and Lookout scenes.

But speaking of Lookout, there is one glaring error that makes me very sad, and though it will probably seem like a minor detail to most of you, it bothers me every time I see it. And because this book will almost certainly become the definitive guide to Bay Area punk rock history, the error will – hell, it already pretty much is – become the accepted version, despite any and all efforts on my part to correct it.

I’m talking about – how would you say it? the misspelling? the mispunctuation? how about the misrepresentation? – the way Lookout Records, the company I co-founded and ran for ten years, is wrongly rendered as “Lookout! Records.” There are not sufficient words to express how much I hate the sight of that usage. It looks really, really stupid, true, but more importantly, to me at least, is that it’s just plain wrong.

Think I’m making a big deal about nothing? Suppose you started a magazine, or a business, or, for that matter, gave a name to your firstborn son. And then, despite all your protests to the contrary, people kept insisting on misspelling it. Would Aaron appreciate it if he kept reading about Cometbus! magazine? Although in their current circumstances they might be able to use the extra pizazz, I rather doubt GM would appreciate being renamed General! Motors. And neither you nor your son Jason! would likely be too fond of strangers inserting an exclamation point into the middle of his name.

But that’s what’s happened to Lookout Records. I’m not blamingGimme Something Better for starting this trend; they’re just following what has increasingly become established usage. If there’s a real villain here, it might be Wikipedia. For about a year I fought a hopeless battle with them, going in regularly to edit their entry on Lookout Records by removing the offending punctuation mark, but each time, within days if not hours, it would be changed back, and finally they attached a note stating that “The exclamation point is part of the name and should not be changed.”

Oh, really? I tried arguing back that I was the one who NAMED THE COMPANY IN THE FIRST PLACE, but to no avail. I suppose I could have forwarded them copies of our incorporation papers, our tax returns, hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, all with the correct spelling, but at that point I gave up.

Which was probably a mistake, as I suspect that whoever did copy editing on Gimme Something Better used Wikipedia as a corroborating source, since they also let slide another Wikipedia-perpetrated error, the misspelling of Tre Cool’s name as Tré (although I’m generally credited with naming him as well as Lookout Records, he actually was already nicknamed Tre from early childhood; I just added the Cool).

It’s true that we often used an exclamation point in some of our logos, so perhaps the misunderstanding is, er, understandable. Also, the new owners of the label were apparently very keen on the exclamation point, and went to some lengths – apparently successful – to get it established in the public mind. To me, unfortunately, it tarnishes the legacy of a once great label almost as much as some of the crappy bands they signed (sorry if that sounds – is – intemperate; they signed some really good bands, too). Ah well, if I’d wanted things to stay the same, I guess I should have stayed there and run the label myself.

Ok, that’s my bit of venting for today. If you’re a copy editor or a journalist, please, PLEASE, at least consider dropping that hateful exclamation point next time you write about Lookout Records. For all the rest of you, please don’t let my fit of dyspepsia discourage you from checking out Gimme Something Better. And while the book isn’t officially out for a couple weeks yet, you can go to their website to read (and comment upon) excerpts, including some that had to be left out of the book because of space constraints. Lots of great photos, too.

I’ll be back with more opinions once I’ve read the whole thing. In the meantime, bear in mind that despite what Jeff Ott says on page 329, I did not get caught “pouring gasoline all over” my school. It was my college, and seriously, there was no gasoline involved; otherwise it might actually have burned down.

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