Singled Out: The Last Share The Story Behind 'Difference'

02/07/2014
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Today Joe Nolte from veteran L.A. rockers The Last tells us about the song "Difference" which comes from their latest album "Danger". Here is the story:

Back about what seems like a century or two ago, I came up with a long-ish song called "Difference". The Last debuted the thing in the immediate wake of the release of our first album, "L.A. Explosion", at the famous Gazzari's club on the Sunset Strip, playing with the Go-Go's. The song quickly became our most requested song, and we immediately recorded it for our second album.

Which never came out. We did more albums through the subsequent years, but I held off on trying to revive "Difference". It was too important and too close to me, and it needed to be done right.

Fast forward to 2013, and with the rhythm section of Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez behind me, it was clearly time to record and release the thing.

But I can't tell you how I wrote that song without telling you about the famous Elks Lodge Riot of St Patrick's Day, 1979

Now, as impossible as it may sound today, back in the spring of 1979 there was a real concern that the days of Punk might be numbered. Sid Vicious had just died, Ska and Rockabilly seemed to be lurking in the wings as the New Big Things, and it was harder than ever to find places that would allow you to put on a show.

That St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1979, someone was able to find a place - the Elks Lodge building next to MacArthur Park had made itself available for a special show that was going to be professionally recorded for a possible live Alley Cats album. Augmenting the bill would be the Zeros, the Plugz, X, and the aforementioned Go-Go's. It seemed cool, even as it felt a little bit as if it might be the swan song for the Hollywood scene.

As it turned out, a series of misunderstandings led to a ridiculously over-zealous response by L.A.'s Finest, who quickly assembled outside, and at a signal, bedecked in full riot gear, began to march steadily and ominously to a stairwell where a few hundred punk rock kids sat peacefully.
Then they just started hitting. I saw kids set upon and clubbed to the ground at random, with no provocation, I saw panic, fear and confusion everywhere, as we all raced around on mini Search and Rescue missions, to try to get ourselves and our friends out of there in one piece. The local hospitals did double duty that night, as you might imagine.

But more about that later.

I had spent most of that spring working on the "L. A. Explosion" album. I had been trying to write as time allowed, but I was stuck. I had two songs in the works that I liked very much, but they just would not allow themselves to be finished. One of them was a sort of Rolling Stones meet the Who in late 1966 melody, which had for some reason inspired a vision of an apocalypse, with buildings falling down, etc. ("You know you must believe - you know it must come down")

The other songs was simply a series of verses, which sounded like Bob Dylan channeling Donovan and ending up sounding like Springsteen. It had actually started as a sort of Zimmerman-esque freewheeling ballad, but had edged a little into "Born to Run" territory as it developed. It clearly needed to tell a story.

And that was the problem. With both songs. I didn't have a story.

The poor things languished, unfinished.

Anyway, in those days I was hanging out with legendary Back Door Man co-founder Phast Phreddie, and a guy named Jeff Pierce, who was soon to start a band called the Gun Club. At this point in time we were close drinking buddies, frequently joined by Keith Morris. Now of course, Phred and Keith have been sober for decades, Jeff is dead, and I alone remain to salute the days when we were all so impossibly young.

But as I spent more and more time working on the album, things seemed to be falling apart. The scene seemed to be slipping away. There was no real central gathering spot anymore, and indeed some people were even leaving town, among them being Jeff Pierce.

I had tried unsuccessfully to talk him out of it, but he was determined to leave Los Angeles for the greener pastures of New York. One night, I ended up drinking in a van with Phreddie, and learned that Jeff had actually left town. Then, almost in the same breath, he let me know that a certain girl I had been carrying a torch for had just slipped beyond my reach, boarding, in a manner of speaking, the Rockabilly Train. The double shock was devastating. I wanted to lash out, I wanted to cry, I wanted to rage against the monstrous meddlings of the Fates who apparently seemed determined to rob me of whatever joys I might be able to pull out of my miserable life. I was mad, I was beyond mad, I was furious, and yet depressed beyond any sane form of sadness. I had clearly hit bottom.

We finished our beers, and then Phreddie and I walked up the street.

And right into the middle of the famous Elks Lodge Riot of St Patrick's Day, 1979

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!

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