photo & text by nacrowe
in the summer of 2001 i visited a childhood friend of mine in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA my hometown in ORANGE COUNTY. it was like a month before 9/11 and at that point i had spent my junior year of high school in KUWAIT. i didnt know at the time that within 2 months id be living with a relative in SACRAMENTO. anyway, this friend of mine was big into PUNK ROCK, specifically 80s HARDCORE. he basically opened my eyes to a whole scene of local ORANGE COUNTY and LOS ANGELES COUNTY bands id hitherto been unfamiliar with, bands like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), T.S.O.L. (LONG BEACH), THE MIDDLE CLASS (SANTA ANA), FEAR (LOS ANGELES), THE DESCENDENTS (MANHATTAN BEACH), D.I. (FULLERTON), THE VANDALS (HUNTINGTON BEACH), CHANNEL 3 (CERRITOS), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA) and, of course, SOCIAL DISTORTION (FULLERTON) among many others. it was a great trip, i got to see T.S.O.L. headline a show in POMONA with the NERVE AGENTS and saw a reunion show in SANTA ANA with THE ADOLESCENTS celebrating their iconic ADOLESCENTS (FRONTIER, 1981) with CHANNEL 3 opening. cant complain.
but i remember my friend really looked down on SOCIAL DISTORTION because they weren't a straight-up HARDCORE band, they wore their ROCKABILLY, BLUES and COUNTRY influences pretty prominently on their sleeve.
so obviously i gravitated towards them. to me they stood out because of those influences, because they werent a straight up HARDCORE band. they had depth.
maybe its because i spent a lot of time in NEW JERSEY, but when i listen to songs by MIKE NESS of SOCIAL DISTORTION i feel there is more than a passing resemblance to another songwriting icon: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. both are ROCK N ROLL lifers who are very much in the business of contextualizing the traditions of the genre through prism of their experiences and the ambtions of their respective communities. for SPRINGSTEEN that was the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of the working class greasers he grew up with in FREEHOLD and mingled with along the JERSEY SHORE. his music has an aspirational quality that is a through line with his lyrics, which often focuses on characters searching and seeking a better life for themselves and their loved ones. with NESS he may be speaking within the lexicon and iconography of FILM NOIR and the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAR CULTURE he witnessed in FULLERTON, but its very much the same thing: his songs tend to be about establishing an identity within a new community. one he initiated. both have differing aesthetics, but harbor a belief in the gospel of glory, sanctity and regenerative nature of ROCK N ROLL.
some who find fault in NESS argue that his lyrics come off a bit confessional or transparent, especially in songs like "STORY OF MY LIFE" or "BALL AND CHAIN" off of their SOCIAL DISTORTION (EPIC, 1990) album that leave little to interpretation, but for me that is the sign of someone straddling the edge. to me there is a danger in that vulnerability which is something i dont associate with 80s HARDCORE, i associate it more with classic COUNTRY ballads and DELTA BLUES dirges. 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. to me they are just a great ROCK N ROLL band with all that comes with it.