Happy Birthday to Mike Ness, legendary frontman for Social Distortion – the pride of Orange County punk rock from the early 1980s and way beyond. About the same time that Social Distortion was getting ready to explode, my friends and I were squirrely and burr-headed malcontents spending our hard-earned minimum wage on clove buzzes and getting into shows at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa (mural of Ness and the ever-contentious Cuckoo’s Nest was unveiled back in 2017 in Costa Mesa on the Floyd’s 99 Barbershop). Back in the day, there were plenty of those in the music industry who thought the new wave of rock was the approaching hoofbeats of the apocalypse. But the sonic sounds provided the stadium rock establishment with a well-deserved kick in the rear. That was where the energy was boiling.
In his anthem “Ball and Chain,” Ness sings about his questions in the darkness. “Well it’s been ten years, and a thousand tears/ And look at the mess I’m in/ A broken nose and a broken heart,/ An empty bottle of gin/ Well I sit and I pray/ In my broken down Chevrolet/ While I’m singin’ to myself/ There’s got to be another way.”
Ness went through a lot – heroin addiction, run-ins with the law, the death of those he loved – but he survived. I’m grateful for all the factors that helped him get clean and sober. “I spent the first half of my life destroying my mind and body,” he has said, “and spending the second half putting it back together.” In 2015, Ness told CBS Radio that “Ball and Chain” “means something different to every person that hears it, but for me it was a very spiritual song that basically was being reconnected with a higher power of some sort and asking that higher power for some help.”
Social D just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its “Mommy’s Little Monster” album. Ten years ago, I stumbled into Ness’s Black Kat Vintage shop in Orange. Like a little kid, I took a selfie with his Social Distortion motorcycle and simply lingered around the store. It closed up a few years later. The shop didn’t last, but his music has. For that, I’m grateful.