I have a lot of favorite bands. A lot of favorite albums. And a lot of favorite songs. I use the phrase “one of my favorites” a LOT as I introduce songs on my radio show and in general conversations.
But I can safely say without hesitation that the mighty Social D is my absolute favorite band, bar-none. And that’s saying something, as to claim that title, they’re beating out The Clash, The Rolling Stones, The Bottle Rockets, and a handful of others.
I discovered Social D in the spring of 1992, back when MTV still played music occasionally. The single from their new album, “Bad Luck” was something of a hit and I remember seeing the video and being intrigued. I took the gamble and bought the album, “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell”. I was an awkward 14-year old, trying to figure out life and find my place.
I won’t say that the album helped me accomplish either of those things, but no one I knew was into Social Distortion, or had even heard of them. (Not that they were a super-well kept secret…my friends just hadn’t been initiated). So, I kinda had them all to myself.
Listening to “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” repeatedly, I remember thinking – for the first time, but not the last – that the music I had imagined, and hoped existed, was in fact real.
I have always had an affinity for what I can only describe as a certain kind of imagery…all of those 1950’s rockabilly, pin-up girl, hot rod, switchblade knife, B-movie, Americana graphics and whatnot. And nothing I’d found in the mainstream as far as movies, music, books, etc. (remember, I was only 14…I hadn’t learned how to go off the beaten path to dig for stuff), had the edge that I felt from those images. I couldn’t find music that sounded the way those things looked and made me feel.
That is, until I discovered Social Distortion. I knew deep inside that music like that existed…I just hadn’t found it until then.
For what it’s worth, I had a similar experience the first time I heard Tom Waits’ debut album, “Closing Time”. The experience has thus far been reserved for those two artists/albums. An infrequently occurring experience that produces enough joy to make it WELL worth the wait.
The other significant development that came through my discovery of Social Distortion is my passion for “going backwards”.
When I listened to Social Distortion, it made me wonder what Mike Ness and his crew were listening to that influenced them. So I dug up everything I could on him and the band. If they mentioned Hank Williams, I dug into Hank Williams. When they praised early punk bands and doo-wop groups, I checked them out. Etc., etc., etc. Not everything stuck, but it turned me into a musical expeditionary and Social Distortion and this new process I’d discovered became a source and influence for much of the music that has colored and informed what I listen to and, ultimately, who I have become.
I’ve been blessed to see Social Distortion live in concert numerous times, and Mike Ness in solo settings twice. I met Mike briefly before one of the solo shows, just long enough for a picture and autograph.
Eventually, I was able to interview Mike on two separate occasions. In preparing for the second interview, I realized what a privileged position I was in to be able to speak with such a public person who has had such a major impact on me. I wouldn’t call him a “hero”, but he – and especially his music – has definitely been a huge part of my life.
I wasn’t sure how Mike – a known tough guy (the pain from all of his tattoos alone would have killed a weaker man!), ex-junkie, and ex-con – would respond to me pouring out my heart to him. But, I worked up my courage and as the interview wound down, I told Mike I “didn’t want to get all sappy on him”, but that I wanted to take advantage of the unique opportunity that I had and thank him for what he and his music have meant to me.
I told him that, outside of maybe The Stones, I hadn’t stuck with any band as long as I’ve been into Social D. I told him lots more about how I appreciate what he’s done and, while I realized one person’s opinion won’t validate or invalidate what he does, that he’s definitely made a difference for me. I ended by telling him that no matter what I’ve gone through in my life – at any age, from high school into my 30’s – his music has always been there for me.
He was very gracious as I shared my feelings, offering a simple, “That’s awesome, man. Thanks.” And when I said the last bit about his music always being there for me, he said the most perfect thing in response: “Me too.”
And that’s what it’s all about.
God bless Mike Ness. And long live Social Distortion.