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.
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