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.
parodies by nacrowe
up until 6th grade my family lived in the ORANGE COUNTY city of BREA. at the time being 11 the extent to which i knew of bands from SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA outside of THE BEACH BOYS were prominent bands that were being played on the local radio station 106.7 FM KROQ out of LOS ANGELES like BAD RELIGION and THE OFFSPRING. so i was utterly clueless about the underground music scene in and around my hometown during the period of my life when i actually lived in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
it was when i entered high school a few years later (on the other side of the country in MASSACHUSETTS) that i was fascinated to learn about notable HARDCORE bands that were not just from nearby ORANGE COUNTY cities like FULLERTON (SOCIAL DISTORTION, ADOLESCENTS, D.I.), GARDEN GROVE (THE OFFSPRING), PLACENTIA (AGENT ORANGE) and SANTA ANA (THE MIDDLE CLASS), but also neighboring LOS ANGELES COUNTY neighborhoods like LONG BEACH (T.S.O.L.), HERMOSA BEACH (CIRCLE JERKS, BLACK FLAG), VENICE BEACH (SUICIDAL TENDENCIES), MANHATTAN BEACH (DESCENDENTS, PENNYWISE) and HUNTINGTON BEACH (THE VANDALS) that i visited often as a child. it was like learning about an alternate cultural history of a place i thought i knew but learned i knew very little about.
so i was pretty excited and thought long and hard about the bands i included on the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK show i did back in early 2021. contrary to the name i also included bands outside of the greater LOS ANGELES metropolitan area and included SAN DIEGO (BATTALION OF SAINTS) and POWAY (BLINK-182) as well.
what i found interesting when reading and learning about the original scene in LOS ANGELES in the late 1970s was how INCLUSIVE and EXPERIMENTAL it was. with bands like THE GUN CLUB, THE WEIRDOS, X, THE FLESH EATERS, THE BAGS and THE GERMS you had such a wide array of bands finding their distinct voice through a litany of ROCKABILLY, COUNTRY and POST PUNK influences (well not THE GERMS, they were just abrasive sonic nihilists). very much seemed reminiscent of the nascent PUNK ROCK scene at CBGBs where you had PATTI SMITH, TALKING HEADS, TELEVISION, THE DEAD BOYS, BLONDIE and THE RAMONES all sharing the same small stage and supporting one another. the following NO WAVE and especially the NYHC scene seemed to occupy the seemingly polar opposite positions relative to unbridled EXPERIMENTALISM and PUNK ROCK FUNDAMENTALISM. that same dynamic played out in LOS ANGELES with the advent of HARDCORE and all the bands from the suburbs (like ORANGE COUNTY) coming in and taking over and bringing the angry jocks contingent with them.
this dynamic i have covered in several documentaries and several books listed below. definitely check them out as well as DEER GOD RADIO episode dedicated to the history LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK embedded below. definitely a highlight of my radio show.
DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION BAD RELIGION & JIM RULAND
VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY ALICE BAG
UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK JOHN DOE
KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA DEWAR MACLEOD
MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR KEITH MORRIS & JIM RULAND
THE HEPATITIS BATHTUB AND OTHER STORIES NOFX
GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG HENRY ROLLINS
CORPORATE ROCK SUCKS: THE RISE & FALL OF SST RECORDS JIM RULAND
CLOCKWORK ORANGE COUNTY JONATHAN W.C. MILLS
A FAT WRECK SHAUN MICHAEL COLON
FILMAGE: THE STORY OF DESCENDENTS/ALL DEEDLE LACOUR & MATT RIGGLE
MY LIFE AS A JERK DAVID MARKEY
PUNK ROCK EATS ITS OWN: A FILM ABOUT FACE TO FACE MATHEW BARRY & MAUREEN EGAN
REALITY 86'D DAVID MARKEY
WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN TIM IRWIN
photo by nacrowe
much like the previously reviewed UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (linked HERE) KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA (UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS, 2011) by DEWAR MACLEOD deals with the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that began primarily around HOLLYWOOD in the late 70s and then quickly proliferated to the surrounding suburbs and statewide thereafter in quick succession.
whereas UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN is by design an oral history by participants of the original scene with some HARDCORE musicians sprinkled in, MACLEOD's take on the subject is of a more academic, anthropological variety including economic, media criticism and social historical insights. unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN, he analyzes both scenes, those being the original LOS ANGELES scene and the fragmented suburban scenes it spawned, with equal critical attention and weight.
in UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN there is the presentation of HARDCORE as the bastardization of the original scene which was described as diverse and inclusive of various art and minority communities. the almost exclusively WHITE MALE kids that made up the HARDCORE scene in the suburbs where abrasive, boorish and exceedingly violent and their music was a sped-up, dumbed down, sonically conservative variant. that was general criticism of such from that book.
MACLEOD here presents HARDCORE instead as a progression of an art form by kids who grew up within communities that by definition had no center, no core, no essence as they were part of the seemingly infinite suburban sprawl. their communities were defined by shopping centers and shallow consumerism. HARDCORE and its community was both a rejection of that complacency and a brutal, primal return to a cultural of year zero, L.A PUNK that preceded it included. these were not sophisticated art kids that jumped on PUNK as a means of expression as the original scene originated in the wake of the example of the SEX PISTOLS and the BRITISH variant's social and stylistic concerns, which were mimicked. HARDCORE, as MACLEOD argues, was the manifestation of a generation of kids raised in the suburbs with seemingly no locust of control over their surroundings, it was this dislocation, this imbalance that led them collectively to seek out HARDCORE in its extremities as a public sublimating ritual for control. that was what i gathered from this book regarding the violence that grew out of HARDCORE with the transition from BRITISH inspired "pogoing" to "slam dancing" behavior.
with HARDCORE in a SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA context you also have to be aware of the sensationalism behind its portrayal at the time by the media. cops at shows became a regular occurrence after the inexplicable 1979 ELKS LODGE MASSACRE, a show played by first-wave L.A PUNK bands like THE PLUGZ, THE WEIRDOS, THE SKULLS and THE DICKIES among others that was famous infiltrated by plainclothes police and resulted in a mini-riot and the public beatings of PUNK kids. after that event and the media attention that followed, the scene in LOS ANGELES was viewed as volatile and senselessly violent, which only drove those types of people to future shows, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. thereafter the scene ceded control to the masses.
one other thing that interested me about this book was MACLEOD's sociological read of the early scene which included various participants, cliques and independent zine writers/editors all attempting to define the scene to no avail. when i think of NYC where PUNK originated i think of closed, defined, claustrophobic spaces, both physical and spiritual. PUNK was a burst of energy and a claim to identity rooted in this perceived hostile environment. with LOS ANGELES, you dont have that sense of enclosing space like in NYC. but what you do have is the sense of the painful vacuous, vapid nature of the middle AMERICAN mindset, which i would argue is just as reductive and spiritually exhaustive.
interesting book that presents lots of interesting reads on a scene that no-doubt has had ripple effects on modern AMERICAN culture beyond the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. definitely worth seeking out.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO that examines over 40 years of LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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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.
paradies by nacrowe
join us TONIGHT at 8PM EST for an all new episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist that explores more than 40 years of LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
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.
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!
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i discovered this ongoing series on the PREMIER GUITAR youtube channel a few years ago and have long been obsessed with it. as a failed guitar player myself, it is fun to hear from the players and their techs about all sorts of details regarding their sound and setup. the format is basically a run through of their guitars and amps as well as pedal configurations and individual opinions/philosophy regarding reliability/fidelity tradeoff between analog vs digital, cords vs wireless, in-ear vs speaker monitors, etc.
its really cool to to witness the minutiae of their sound, even diving into things like string gauges, pick thickness, pickup configurations, bridges, tuners and the list goes on. it is definitely a niche audience that gets off on this sort of thing, but i am squarely in that demographic.
for me their is never enough times to witness people talk about their prized LES PAUL JR, JAZZMASTER, D-28, COUNTRY GENTLEMAN, P-BASS, 370 12-string, JAZZ BASS, DOBRO TRICONE, 4003 BASS, WHITE FALCON or TELECASTER. or for that matter any variety of high-gain amplifier models like the DUAL RECTIFIER (BLINK 182, PENNYWISE), JCM 800 (SLAYER, JUDAS PRIEST), ROCKERVERB 100 (MASTODON), HIWATT CP103 (THE WHO), 5150 (VAN HALEN), JMP 2204 (AC/DC), SHIVA (ALICE IN CHAINS, TOOL), BE100 (ALICE IN CHAINS), VH4 (TOOL), CENTURY 200 (PANTERA, WHITE ZOMBIE), UBERSCHALL (TOOL) or a MARK IIC+ (early METALLICA)
whats also interesting over time is witnessing firsthand the trend towards digital amp profilers and modelers like the HELIX, KEMPER and especially the AXE FX which allows their setup to be easily transportable (like hand carry-on in a plane easy) as well as more consistent given that traditional tube amplifiers require maintenance from time to time depending on weather, humidity conditions.
you really get a sense of how and why guitar and bass musicians and those that support them utilize the gear they do on tour. you also get a clear "inside baseball" perspective on how they view these numerous tradeoff decisions every musician has to make, and they all have differing opinions. its basically required viewing for anyone interested in gear used by rock bands.
anyway, if you're interested definitely check out the examples i embedded below (these don't even scratch the surface of the total playlist linked HERE).
last christmas was the perfect time to take stock and celebrate the omnipresent hellscape that is the current TRUMPOCALPYSE we are all living through by playing nothing but 1980s HARDCORE.
at the time i was revisiting the subject by reading two books on the subject: Lexicon Devil (2002, Feral House) by Brendan Muller and American Hardcore: A Tribal History (2001, Feral House) by Stephen Blush. both are oral histories of the scene. the second publication was the impetus for an excellent 2006 documentary on the subject also titled American Hardcore (Sony Pictures). while we are on the subject, i would also recommend the 2014 documentary Salad Days (New Rose Films) on the 1980s D.C. punk scene as well as the SOCIAL DISTORTION documentary Another State of Mind (Time Bomb, 1984) and, of course, PENELOPE SPHEERIS' classic The Decline of Western Civilization (Spheeris Films, 1981). and now i'm just gonna push my luck by also recommending two books by JOHN DOE of X, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press, 2016) and the recently published sequel More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press, 2019).
the immediacy of the music is the draw for me. there is a no-bullshit, take-it-or-leave-it aesthetic to 80s hardcore. it is what it is. if you want musicianship, go listen to RUSH or your parent's stuff. if you want a soundtrack to brutality, you are in the right place. politically i don't understand how this music or something in the spirit of it doesn't exist today. as bad as RONALD REAGAN was, he's nothing compared to our current RAPIST-IN-CHIEF.