Painting Smiles on a Dead Man
(Lolita 5005 (France)) - 1983

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1) Wrong Turn (infoMP3)
2) It Had to Be You (infoMP3)
3) Isn't Anybody There? (infoMP3)
4) Lightning Strikes (infoMP3)
5) Louie Louie (infoReal Audio)
6) December Song (infoMP3)
7) Everybody Had It With You (infoMP3)
8) Weekend Girl (infoMP3)
9) Failing Heart (infoMP3)
10) Leper Colony (infoReal Audio)
11) What Is In There? (infoReal Audio)
12) Up in the Air (infoReal Audio)

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Oh dear, this one.

In the wake of our "Summer of many fifth members" in '81, we realized we'd better do something before we were forgotten entirely. We began working on a demo tape in early Fall at Radio Tokyo studios (the "Red Demo" tape), only to have brother David quit on October 24, after completing his bass tracks

We finished the demo at the end of March 1982 (in the process sneaking down to Orange County Recorders in mid March to redo two Look Again songs - "Everybody Had It With You" and "Snake in the Grass" - with up and coming producer Randy Burns) and shopped it. No one wanted it. We subsequently took three songs from the full demo to release as the "Up In The Air" single in November of '82, went back to Radio Tokyo to record "It Had To Be You" for the studio's upcoming compilation, and in the process got Ethan to let us tape one more new song - "Lightning Strikes".

By this time Vitus had hooked up an 8 Track setup at the Venice garage we practiced in, and I had gotten word that Rhino was planning a Best of Louie Louie album. The perverse idea of doing to "Louie Louie" what we'd done to "Be Bop A Lula" seemed irresistible, so we inaugurated the new machine with a gothic, dirge like version. It made the album.

A year or two later, after all hope was pretty much gone, a French label called "Lolita" (subsidiary of Eva Records) expressed interest in releasing a new Last album. So we took the aforementioned mess and gave it to them. We pretty much knew we'd failed by this point, and it was only a matter of time before the band as it then existed began to dissolve. Knowing this, Vitus and I concocted some rather hilarious liner notes, chronicling the various member departures and band debacles that underscored the recordings on the record. Our manager at the time, iTunes' Gary Stewart, subsequently (I'm fairly sure) convinced album artist Don Brown to render the colors in such a way that the offensive liner notes would be unreadable. I have provided brother Dan with a "color corrected" version.

You see, it was too little too late. These were recordings that we were not particularly proud of, but it was all we had. Since I'd abrogated control of the band in the Spring of 1980 (for which I unfortunately must take full responsibility, though I assure you it will never happen again), we'd been rudderless, without purpose, without plan. The idea of releasing by now three year old recordings that weren't that good to begin with, the idea of passing a bunch of failed demos off as new product, seemed ludicrous, like trying to... like trying to...

Like trying to paint a smile on a dead man.

Hence the title.

—Joe Nolte

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Wrong Turn (Joe Nolte, Dec 10, 1980)

It's funny how it seems to go
A trilogy of infamy
The pattern shrieks to those who see

And for the one whose name was washed away
By stars more visible than he
For that misfortune now I weep

For all the ones they left behind
There are no hands, there are no minds

Dead presidents, dead regiments return
To take their rightful place beside
The ones we choose to deify

From pools of water, pools of blood they come
And will not be denied the right
To ask him why they had to fight

Someone took a wrong turn
Someone in the back seat
Someone had a radio
Someone's on the rise now

Come winds, come rain, come seasons, run your course
Erase the anguish of this day
Erase the things the papers say

And for the ones who lost their god today
To stars more prominent than they
In their misfortune they will say

Someone had a letter
Someone had a razor
Someone had a nightmare
Someone took a wrong turn

[And now, the five lines that almost originally began the final verse - discarded even as they were written:]

Come winds, come rain, come seasons, run your course
Erase the anguish of this day
And bid the Reaper ride away
And for the ones who lost their past today
Pray give them but a glimpse of what...
...

A very appropriate title, and possibly a good alternate title for this album! We were, in late '80, indeed about to embark on one wrong turn after another, leaving first the hardcore and then the pop scenes behind, eventually sinking into a swamp of our own creation by the mid '80s, unnoticed, unseen, unknown, and unmissed.

We'd just dumped Mike in the fall of '80 - our second mistake (the first was letting Jack get away a year earlier). The Look Again album had, as the year waned, proved itself unmarketable. Our master plan had failed, and we noticed that attendance had been dropping off a bit during the last six months. It was a disturbing time, and I wasn't feeling much like writing.

For some reason, as November turned into December I began to write furiously, not really knowing why. I had about three songs done when I heard the news about John Lennon...

Of course, five minutes after hearing about that I discovered that Darby Crash had also died, and this song wrote itself.

The opening riff is stolen from the Germs' "Gimme Gimme", there's a melodic riff stolen from the Beatles' "Help" (about 1 1/2 measures' worth), and at the end I started singing lines from Lennon's "Starting Over" and the Germs' original fadeout to "Forming" - both of which were left out of the final mix, unfortunately.

Darby is "the one whose name was washed away by stars more visible", and the third member of this "trilogy of infamy" is JFK, whose assassination helped create Beatlemania in America, and whose dabbling in Southeast Asia would unite a generation against an unpopular war. Hence the line about the ghosts of all the dead soldiers who "will not be denied the right to ask him why they had to fight".

My songwriting flurry continued throughout December, though all subsequent songs came out sounding a bit too much like vintage Beatle outtakes from 1963. It seemed appropriate at the time, but this batch was used against me later by fellow band members as proof that I was losing my touch. Hell, by that point, I'd lost everything.

—Joe Nolte

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It Had to Be You (Joe Nolte, Feb 16, 1981)

It had to be you
Your lips are parted
It had to be you
To lead my heart into this maze
I should have run
I couldn't get away

I fell for you, too
So don't feel proud, girl
I fell for you, too
And you're allowed to lay your claim on me
And now I know
I'll never be more free

I just had to know what it felt like
Had to be sure it was true
Is this love, is that what it feels like
Why did it have to be you

I heard about you
Everyone had a story
And all your glorious misdeeds
I should have run
But I did not believe

It had to be you
You know it started
It had to be you
To lead my heart right to this maze
And now I know
I'll never get away

Then one day I heard a rumor
Making its way to me
That someone had run out
On someone else's dream

It had to be you
You know it started
It had to be you
To hurt me so completely I would cry
You know I very very nearly died

I just had to know what it felt like
Had to be sure it was true
Now I know how bad it can hurt
But why did it have to be you
Why did it have to be you

...

I was on the verge of a musical writer's block that would last from early '81 till about July of 1987. I didn't stop writing, per se, but I wrote fewer songs than before, and most of them were more calculated, less genuinely inspired than the stuff I've done before or since. A dark period, creatively.

This is probably one of the first of those "manufactured" songs (though honors for my first abrogation of creative duty must go to "Isn't Anybody There", coming up next).

The chorus was put together out of two musical phrases that had been lying around for some time, and the verse was musically a fairly wooden attempt to invoke the spirit of "She Don't Know Why".

Lyrically, I have nothing to say. It's a fake song about a fake relationship, and was written just to write something.

Needing a riff, we took a non-recorded Vitus song (called "In Her Eyes"? - have to check), and he did it as a flute instrumental for the opening and the middle part.

My girlfriend at the time was Gwynne Kahn, who reminded me after the fact that her grandfather had written the original "It Had To Be You". Interesting...

—Joe Nolte

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Isn't Anybody There? (Joe Nolte, Oct 13, 1980)

She was very young, they say
The day she chucked it all and ran away
From the moss covered mountains of north Idaho
Down the footpaths that led to the cities below
She was looking for a place
To hide from each and every trace
Of the schools and the factory lines
The mills and the lifts and the mines
Oh - oh
She raised her head and cried oh no

Isn't anybody there
I'm all alone and it don't seem fair
Isn't anybody there
There must be someone but I don't know where
I don't know why - I guess I just don't care

She hadn't been in town a day
Before she knew exactly how to make her way
There is always a place to be found
Where society's orphans stay under the ground
Soon she had another name
Soon she learned the nature of the game
She painted her hair to be one of the crowd
The instant acclaim she received made her proud
Oh - oh
And deep inside she cried oh no

The night will last forever, someone told her
And so when morning struck she felt much older
And her friends were all asleep there
In solitary dreams there
And no one was awake to set her course upon that day

Funny, she hadn't really thought
Of what to do with the freedom that she'd bought
She stood in her uniform - meaningless now
Deciding that nothing meant anything now
She was very young they say
The day she chucked it all and ran away
From the merciless dawn and the day to day strife
The meaningless nightmare she chose to call life
Oh - oh
And no one's left to cry oh no

Isn't anybody there
I'm all alone and it don't seem fair
Isn't anybody there
There must be someone but I don't know where
I don't know why - I guess I just don't care
If no one's there
If no one's there
'Cause no one's there

Isn't anybody there
Isn't anybody there
Isn't anybody there
Isn't anybody there
...

An isolated piece, since, as previously stated, I was not writing much throughout the latter half of 1980 until the end of November. Our manager suggested one afternoon that I try to write a song with a story, so I came up with this completely manufactured piece of drivel, laden with deliberate and manufactured hooks, about a runaway who meets her fate in the Horrible City. An abysmal concoction of cliches, but some people liked it.
I always dreaded doing this song live.

Not that it's musically bad, per se, but it wasn't really something I wanted to be doing.

All too soon, I would be doing nothing that I wanted to be doing.

—Joe Nolte

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Lightning Strikes (Joe Nolte, Jul 4, 1982)

Lightning strikes - I've heard it all before
Pounding rage, the healing core
Lightning strikes - I've heard it all before
Pounding rage, the light behind the door

It was the blackest night I'd ever seen
The night I first beheld the sight of you
You were a goddess when first you sang
I stood enchanted - I never knew
For the song tore through me, heart and mind
You laughed and laid me low
And pulled me down away from the lightning - oh

And so you kept me as in a spell
And in your song I thought that I believed
It was the reason - it was the shackle
It was the promise that embalmed me in your dream
Till once in grief and once in pride
I saw your burning eyes
Mirroring a flashing of lightning - oh

And now the light has called to me
And so I go and take my leave
If you could see her, if I could show you
You'd understand, and maybe you'd believe
And when that song that once so brightly called
Has passed into the night
Watch for me on a flash of lightning - oh

....

Musically, written for "D", who I would later marry. Lyrically, well, at the time I was incapable of writing lyrics. Truthfully. We would rehearse this and others with me just uttering strange syllables into the mike. I finally dashed off some very manufactured lyrics when it was time to record, and consequently I couldn't tell you what they were to this day, though I remember lyrics written ten years earlier with absolute clarity.

Musically, the chorus came first, and I do have some affection for it. The verses are filler material, though I do like the riff that augers in the subsequent chorus.

This was to be my creative method of operating during the grim early '80's - occasional moments of melody sinking under a sea of filler.

You know, doing notes for this album is really getting depressing...

—Joe Nolte

......
Louie Louie

I found out in mid '82 that Rhino was going to put together a Best of Louie Louie album. We were shopping the "red demo" (the bulk of this album) at the time, and I was beginning to realize that a magic record deal was not necessarily on the horizon, and that we still had not released anything new since '79, with the sole exception of Bomp's "Fade to Black" ep.

I was inspired to do to "Louie Louie" what I'd done to "Be Bop a Lula" - i.e. turn it into a minor key, gloomy, gothic mess. We recorded it right away, and played it for Rhino's Harold Bronson, who was delighted. We were in.

To the inevitable question: "Well, why didn't Rhino do a Last album?" I can only respond with: they knew better.

—Joe Nolte

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December Song (Joe Nolte, Dec 4, 1980)

[From the original handwritten lyrics. The third verse was originally the second, but I couldn't find anything to top it so I rearranged the order, writing a new second verse.]

The rains had frosted the ground outside
But no match was it for the frost in my mind
December's leaves blew through open doors
Like unwanted children they laugh no more
Blow cold and cruel, you winds of morning
Clothe me in your bleakest garb
Outside is the raging war
But I don't fear it anymore

My walls are bare now - I have no need
To prod and uncover this blank memory
I've nothing to show for my time with you
I have no heart for it - you took that, too
You had to go, I know
I understand and I do not say no
But I never promised I
Would try to build another life

Hey baby where'd you go
Where is the girl I used to know
She's gone away - you've left me dry, you know
You understood and still you had to go
I realize and I don't say no
I laugh to myself, realizing - oh
I laugh when I think how you couldn't say no

When sunlight returns again
When hope eternal springs again
No hope from this heart shall leap
No daylight into these eyes shall creep
The winds they call and now I know
I realize and I don't say no
My claim to life has passed
And now the walls are closing fast

[Of course, the second verse almost began like this:]

Where once beat a heart strong and true
Is now a gaping hole that reminds me of you
[And the midsection originally started like this:]
Hey baby where'd you go
Where is the girl I used to know
Her chair is empty now - and don't say no
My head is reeling and I don't say no
[Finally, the last verse almost began:]
When sunlight returns to this land
I'll not greet the eyes of other men
...

The only song from the aforementioned December songwriting flurry to make it on this album that was actually created before John Lennon's death.

It was, even then, a gloomy time for me, and a gloomy song seemed gloomily appropriate. Obviously, it's indirectly about suicide.

—Joe Nolte

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Everybody Had It With You (Joe Nolte, Spring 1980)

Everywhere I run
I always hear about the things you've done
And it seems like you've been doing it with everyone
And it seems so strange when I hear them say
And I feel that I've been used
I wonder if it's true
I wonder why you had to do the things they say that you do

Sleeping alone at night
It's not fun it's not cool it's not right
Especially when I feel that I should keep you in sight

And it makes me shake and it makes this poor heart break
When you go out and hang around and then you say
You don't know why I'm blue when everybody had it with you
Every day I feel I'm even more of a fool

'Cause now I know the things they say to me are true
Everybody had it with you
Everybody wants to do it to you
Everybody knows the things that you do

So I talk to the walls and I laugh
But I just can't sleep at night, you know you're driving me mad
Oh darlin' I'm so sad
And I never thought you'd hurt so bad
But I guess I gotta try and understand what you do
'Cause if I try, I know that I can have it with you
...

Exactly the same song found on Look Again, but I changed the beat to give it a new feel, probably indirectly inspired by Great Buildings.

Not as good as the original, I'm afraid.

—Joe Nolte

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Weekend Girl (Joe Nolte, Fall 1978)

As I stand upon this stage again tonight
I look down at the faces and I want to die
It don't mean nothing when you're not there
It might sound funny but I just don't care
Did you know, did you know I needed you to be there

In the night – did you know we were playing tonight?
Can't you hear the people call?
Do you hear anything at all?

I pass a lot of clubs by if and when I take a ride
And it ain't no fun 'cause every time I know that she's inside
And my friends don't even want to know
She goes to places they would never go
And I don't know what to do, I can't make their scene anymore

Did you see that girl? Did you know she was a weekend girl?
Each time that she walked by, she was with a different guy
And I used to pass her by till I looked into her eyes

Oh I don't know why they say beware
They tell me I should let her go
They say I shouldn't care
And I guess that's how it always goes
Nobody else could ever really know
And I may not know where I stand

But I know I've got that girl
Did you see that girl? Did you see that girl?
You know she can't help what she does
She's only having fun
Did you see that girl? Did you know she was a weekend girl?
And though I'll never get inside her mind
Or penetrate her world
Still I never could deride her
She's just a weekend girl
She's just a weekend girl
Bring back the weekend girl

...

The original was written about a girl I worked with ("P", I think) at a burger joint. It was an exploration of the love/hate compulsion that draws one to that sort of girl one knows in advance is going to lead him on, then reach in and pull his heart out unmercifully, stomping all over it before waltzing away laughing. You know the type, I'm sure.

We know better, but, especially on Friday nights, they are so often irresistible.

We are but moths drawn irrevocably to the flame.

I completely revamped the song for Look Again, changing almost everything, and now it was about "G", who I could never hook up with since she only went to pop shows and I only went to punk shows. (A year later she only went to punk shows and I only went to pop shows.)

We recorded it for Look Again, but it didn't make the cut. I therefore revised it yet again, probably to its detriment, for the "red demo", and that is the version heard here.

It's mostly the same as on Look Again.

—Joe Nolte

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Failing Heart (Vitus Mataré)

That girl on the street everyday she's just standing waiting
Waiting for something to happen - she's still waiting

She's just standing there she's
She's looking everywhere she's
She's looking for whatever she's hoping to find

People do pass in the street but they don't see her
Part of the scenery she's there but no one sees her

She's a failin' heart she's
She's gonna fall apart she's
She's in a state of mind - she's at the back of the world
Hear the murmur in her heart it's screaming

When she was young and wanted something she would cry
Now she's out there waiting as the tears run by

She cries alone and cries for no one - and that's all she does
She's always lost - no place she's goin' - a failing heart
Well failing heart the missing part's inside
Failing heart the missing part's somewhere inside of you

....

Vitus wrote this. He was now writing on guitar, and demoing his songs with our drummer, John Frank, who clearly enjoyed playing just with Vitus than with the band as a whole. I should have turned the band over to Vitus and walked away gracefully.

At any rate, I never liked the Vitus guitar songs nearly as much as his earlier keyboard songs, but as my current stuff was execrable I really didn't have a case to make.

—Joe Nolte

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Leper Colony (Vitus Mataré/Kjehl Johansen)

oooh I must be dreaming
I'd like to know just where I am
I got lost on a friendly beach
A stranger in a foreign land
Shivers inside and out

Shivers deep in tropic rain storms
It creeps and crawls 'bout everywhere
Shivers and leaches suck my blood
While river rats caress my hair

Got shivers inside in the awesome heat

Hesitate when you touch the ground
Feel so lost when the sun goes down
At night – No light

Hey you there with the funny face
Just wondering could you help me out
I got lost on a friendly beach
A stranger in a some foreign land
Shivers inside and out

...

Vitus wrote this with Kjehl from the Urinals (aka 100 Flowers, aka Chairs of Perception). As with "Failing Heart" and others, not my cup of tea, but fine for what it is.

The song is based on a true story. Vitus (in '76 or '77, I believe) was journeying through South America to visit a German uncle. He had to cross a piranha infested river on a rickety raft, vying for space with many peasants. Halfway across, the raft fell apart, leaving Vitus to swim for his life while hearing the cries of the drowning and dying behind him.

—Joe Nolte

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What Is In There? (Joe Nolte/David Nolte, 1977 (revised Dec 1980))

Original Lyrics - 1977

What is in there
That makes you wanna hurt me
You keep on trying
Can't you see that it's working
I can't explain why I feel so bad
Instead of hating you I'm just feeling sad

How would it be if I hated you
Laughed at YOU while you try and act cool
Made fun of YOUR clothes on the way to school
Nobody knows
Nobody knows
Nobody knows about you

How will I know if I can live without you
How would it be - would it make me feel cool
I wanna see you die, but I know it'd make me cry
How will I know
How will I know
How will I know
How will I know

Alternate Verse

What do I feel when I get inside
What sort of pain is really there

How will I know when I get to heaven
How will I tell if it's really God
When will I be in another place yeah
Where can we go to find some love
When will I be in a different story
How will I know
How will I know
How will I know
How will I know

Final Revision - December 19, 1980

What is in there that makes you wanna hurt me
Keep on trying - can't you see that it's working
What do you feel when you close your eyes
What is in your face and in your mind

I've done everything I could to keep you satisfied
I've seen all of my dreams wither up and die
It hurts so bad I wanna scream at you
Be as mean to you
As you are to me - so...

What is this thing you have that makes me feel so bad
Instead of blowing up I end up feeling sad
I can't help loving you - I know I'm crazy
And it does amaze me
Why do I act like that? And...

Maybe someday there'll be a reckoning
Ooo ooo ooo - it doesn't change a thing
We can't be too long alone
We can't talk on the telephone
Every time we try we end up
Fighting over things unknown
Maybe it's me - I don't know
And I don't care anymore
Just tell me...

....

The lyrics to the original song were written by brother David in '77, while he was still in the Descendents. I wrote music for it, and liked it enough to steal it from the Descendents. We never recorded it, though, and in my December flurry I took the chorus and added an all-too Beatleish set of verses.

I don't know if a tape exists of the original...

—Joe Nolte

...
Up in the Air (Vitus Mataré)

The bombs that fell on Kassel Streets struck everywhere
You just wandered aimlessly without a care
Your world don't pass you by
A mirror in the corner of your eye

Rambling shock waves, flames and thunder filled the air
Panic struck, I looked to see you standing there
Your world don't pass you by
A mirror in the corner of your eye

There -
Up in the air
Up in the air

A bomb went off - was quite a blast
The pieces flew
Only thing left when the smoke had cleared
Was you

Up in the air - you say it's
Up in the air - for you it's
Up in the air - it's clearer
Up in the air - your mirror
Up in the air - no fair, no
Up in the air - inferno

The bombs that fell on Kassel Street aren't falling now
And you're no longer there - you've vanished into a cloud

....

Another Vitus song. I like this one 'cause I get to do a bloodcurdling scream halfway through.

As originally written, the riff for this one turned out to be "Rock Lobster", so Vitus went back and came up with a new one.

Another true story - one of Vitus' relatives (grandfather, I believe) was anti-Nazi, but stuck in Germany during World War II. One day, he'd had enough, and so when the next air raid hit he calmly opened the door to his house and walked outside...

—Joe Nolte

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