photo & text by nacrowe
the summer before my senior year of high school in 2001 i visited a childhood friend in ORANGE COUNTY who i learned upon arrival had very much taken the deep dive down into 1980s HARDCORE PUNK ROCK and never came out. specifically he turned me onto SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA bands from the surrounding area like THE ADOLESCENTS, TRUE SOUNDS OF LIBERTY, THE BAGS, YOUTH BRIGADE, CIRCLE JERKS, BLACK FLAG, CHANNEL 3, DESCENDENTS, BAD RELIGION, FEAR, THE VANDALS, RICH KIDS ON LSD, X, AGENT ORANGE, D.I., WASTED YOUTH and so on. it was during this period that i was introduced to SOCIAL DISTORTION who were literally from the next town over in FULLERTON. that whole summer was very much an education in HARDCORE and the recent musical and cultural history of the area i grew up in, which was beyond compelling for me at the time. nearly twenty years later, i did a radio show specifically on this PUNK ROCK scene on the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK episode of DEER GOD RADIO.
i mention all this because SOCIAL DISTORTION has a unique trajectory relative to their cohort of bands and the scene they came from. as time moved forward some local bands, most famously SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, adopted aspects of the concurrent THRASH METAL movement and effectively creating a crossover hybrid. most others in true steadfast RAMONES style never evolved and stuck to their sound. as main songwriter MIKE NESS grew older and got clean from a devastating heroin addiction, his music showcased a wider palette of influences that included ROCKABILLY, FOLK and COUNTRY elements that came from his newfound appreciation for art and enjoying life.
SOCIAL DISTORTION's debut MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER (13TH FLOOR, 1983) is quite the opposite of that later MULTI-FACETED creative output. these FASCINATING songs find a GIFTED songwriter early in the process of finding his initial bearings and seeking out his voice. on PROPULSIVE, now ICONIC tracks like "TELLING THEM," "ANTI-FASHION," "THE CREEPS," "ANOTHER STATE OF MIND" and "MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER" there is a palpable sense of INTENSE passion and FURIOUS intention with little in the way of FINESSE. that would come much later as NESS would mature and develop his voice as a songwriter along with his FEROCIOUS stage persona. the career trajectory and evolution of SOCIAL DISTORTION is what i find most INTERESTING. MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER doesnt sound dissimilar or any less accomplished from other recorded efforts of the period like THE ADOLESCENTS' ADOLESCENTS (FRONTIER, 1981), BAD RELIGION's HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? (EPITAPH, 1982) or THE VANDALS' PEACE THRU VANDALISM (EPITAPH, 1982). an INTRIGUING cultural artifact from this period is the ANOTHER STATE OF MIND (TIME BOMB, 1984) documentary that finds SOCIAL DISTORTION on an early tour with YOUTH BRIGADE as they make their way through house parties and VFW halls along the west coast. its a document that finds NESS establishing himself as an artist and taking chances both on and off stage during a time when HARDCORE and PUNK ROCK was DANGEROUS and could get you in a bruising scuffle with dumbshit local rednecks on sight. it would be years before NESS took to his guitar and develop his songwriting chops in earnest but the PASSION and INTENT is most obviously there from the start. its pretty cool to witness that spark.
and for me MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER is a documentation of that initial creative spark that would later blossom into one of the most ACCOMPLISHED and SOULFUL ROCK N ROLL songwriters of his era, PUNK or otherwise.
photo & text by nacrowe
1985 was a big year for SOCIAL DISTORTION frontman and main songwriter MIKE NESS. that was the year he finally got clean from a nasty heroin addiction and put that newfound CLARITY into his songs. more than the debut's follow-up record in PRISON BOUND (RESTLESS, 1988), it is arguable that SOCIAL DISTORTION's self-titled third record SOCIAL DISTORTION (EPIC, 1990) is where those lifestyle changes and renewed appreciation for the AMERICAN traditional COUNTRY, FOLK and ROCKABILLY forms reinvigorated and provided a new IDENTITY to his songwriting.
by this point gone was the causeless rebellion and hiding behind, forgive me, feedback and distortion of their debut. instead with transparently CONFESSIONAL songs like "STORY OF MY LIFE" and "BALL AND CHAIN," a new more compelling narrator emerges with acknowledged SCARS and WISDOM hard-earned from hard-lived EXPERIENCE. i feel strongly that NESS stepped into this more DIRECT and VULNERABLE songwriting persona fully aware of the PUNK cohort he was abandoning, and walking into a NEW TRAJECTORY in the vein of career musical troubadours ranging from JOHNNY CASH, NEIL YOUNG, WOODY GUTHRIE and BOB DYLAN to JOHN FOGERTY and even BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.
i have a childhood friend that introduced me to SOCIAL DISTORTION as well as a littany of other 1980s SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HARDCORE bands ranging from D.I., THE ADOLESCENTS, T.S.O.L. and YOUTH BRIGADE to CHANNEL 3, FEAR, DESCENDENTS and AGENT ORANGE among many other bands from our native ORANGE COUNTY. in fact, he took me to see T.S.O.L. in POMONA, FEAR in OXNARD and THE ADOLESCENTS in SANTA ANA during my stay that summer in 2001. ive written about most of this in the MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER (13TH FLOOR, 1983) record review (linked HERE). im pretty sure the self-titled SOCIAL DISTORTION album is where the band lost him for good. that sort of MYOPIA surrounding art and an artist's imperative to develop and mature always astounds me but rings true to a certain yearning for COMFORT and SECURITY. in a sense that PUNKER-THAN-THOU MENTALITY is a rooted in a CULTURAL CONSERVATISM which is supposedly the antithesis of the genre itself. im always interested in these types of pivots since they usually reveal something unique about audience expectations and the level of intensity at which they project themselves upon the careers of artists.
the reason i am a fan of SOCIAL DISTORTION is not due to their debut album, but NESS' capacity to develop as a songwriter overtime. yes, there is a VISUAL IDENTITY and a LYRICAL MILIEU he feels comfortable inhabiting, but my argument is that he got much much better over time. the last run of post-DENNIS DANELL (RIP) albums hold within some of the strongest compositions of NESS' career in my opinion. for me there is a danger in the VULERNABILITY he trades in, which is something i dont associate with 1980s HARDCORE, i associate it more with classic COUNTRY ballads and DELTA BLUES dirges. there is something at risk in the bargain with NESS' songs. for all his tough guy postering, he regularly puts himself out there EMOTIONALLY EXPOSED in his songs and i very much respect that. i think my friend in a sense was absolutely correct in not deeming SOCIAL DISTORTION a 'real' PUNK ROCK band, since to me they transcend that genre.
they are just a great ROCK N ROLL band with all that comes with that tag.
SPOTLIGHT | GUITAR CENTER SESSIONS
photo by nacrowe
with the impending second bankruptcy of GUITAR CENTER likely to be finalized at the close of this month, it seemed as good a time as ever to look back at the live performance series GUITAR CENTER SESSIONS that they co-produced with DIRECT TV that took advantage of their iconic flagship HOLLYWOOD location.
it feels like the end of an era with their impending doom, but sadly they never took advantage of the internet and basically ceded that ground to competitors like SWEETWATER. it is mind-bogging that COVID knocked them out give that this lockdown period we've been living through has sold more guitars and instruments then any other period in history. just think about that.
oh well, at least we have these performances until they inevitably get taken down.
SPOTLIGHT | THE PURSUIT OF TONE
photo manupulation by nacrowe
before the creation of its current STRING THEORY series of YOUTUBE videos showcasing modern guitarists and guitar-based songwriters speak about their influences and love of all things amplified, ERNIE BALL had briefly created a longer-format series of videos called THE PURSUIT OF TONE that treaded the same territory except much more in depth.
my assumption is that they realized that these long-form videos could generate more traffic and viewership on YOUTUBE if chopped up into smaller chunks a la STRING THEORY. its also why these longer form videos are no longer on the main channel, instead reposted by numerous unauthorized third parties on YOUTUBE. oh well.
the four i could locate following the inspirations, techniques and gear behind MIKE NESS of SOCIAL DISTORTION, CHICAGO BLUES icon BUDDY GUY, BILL DUFFY of THE CULT, TOM DELONGE of BLINK 182 and producer BUTCH WALKER. quite the diverse roster of guitarists and you really get a feel for their approach and individual aesthetic regarding the instrument.
i understand why they didn't pursue it further but i'm glad these exist. enjoy!