Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Nov 26th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Working Class Hero

Social Distortion’s Mike Ness flies his country flag high on his latest solo tour

If you’re someone who only knows Mike Ness through surly Social Distortion anthems like “Ball and Chain” and “Mommy’s Little Monster,” you might be surprised to punch up this 46-year-old punk rock icon’s MySpace page and find that he describes his solo material with a single word: country. Not cowpunk, mind you, nor even rockabilly, but straight-up, truck stop-ready country music. As Ness’ stauncher fans will tell you, the man’s fondness for twang has been evident since Social D’s sophomore album, 1988’s Prison Bound, but the southern accent is all the stronger in his solo work, which casts Ness as a star-crossed troubadour in the tradition of Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. And hey, let’s face it: With his well-documented history of drug addiction, incarceration, violence and alcoholism, Ness is more than qualified to portray himself as a hard-livin’ man of constant sorrow.

While Ness, now sober and considerably less volatile than in days of yore, assures GT that Social D is still going strong, he’s also excited to take a break from the band and play some solo stuff at The Catalyst this Sunday. “If people like Social D, they’re gonna love this show,” he says. “It’s the same energy, the same passion put into this. If people are curious, it’s something they should definitely explore, because it may not be for a while that I can do it again.”

A lot of people probably wouldn’t expect a punk guy from Orange County to be influenced by folks like Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. How do you feel country music and punk are related?

I see a connection of all kinds of American roots music to punk, whether it’s Depression-era folk music, blues, jazz, bluegrass, straight-up Delta blues, Chicago blues. It’s basically working class music and working class issues. A lot of the ’60s revival folk was protest music, you know? And punk music was supposed to be about gettin’ off your ass, doing something and making changes, or you can just sit on your ass and complain.

So, do you consider punk a revolutionary movement?

I did, yeah, and I still do. I was dissatisfied with the way that things were and sometimes, obviously, still are. When you have a platform to write and sing about that stuff, I think it’s important to take advantage of that. I mean, rock & roll’s supposed to be an escape, and it’s supposed to be a fun time, too, and I don’t want it to lose that. I’ve never been a flag-waver. But I think that Social Distortion, as we’ve evolved, has tried to put a positive message in our music, and I think that you do have to kind of be an example at times to younger generations.

What role did your parents play in your becoming a musician? Did they encourage you to play music?

Yeah, they did in the beginning, but towards the end, it was kind of destructive, so it was kind of hard for them to encourage that when they saw me going down a negative path with the drugs, alcohol, jail, hospitals and fights. It’s kind of hard to get behind that with your kid, I’m sure.

Do you think punk rock encourages kids to go down that path?

I don’t think it has to. I mean, I had plenty of friends who dressed in black and went to punk shows, but they went to the university during the day and got good grades, you know? (Laughs.) I think I was an extreme example of being from a broken home, and I think kids from broken homes are more susceptible to that kind of lifestyle. I think punk rock is an attitude that you have inside of you, and you don’t have to be a fuckup. I have a friend who’s a judge, and [others] who are professionals, and they still have that rebellious spirit in them. You can still make changes in the world and not be an antisocial asshole.

Well said. In the song “Prison Bound,” you sang, “They say I can be reformed, but someday I’ll return. Did they really think that this time it would work? You knew all along it wouldn’t.” Do you feel it’s possible to get anything positive out of serving jail time?

I think that the prisons and jails nowadays are offering a newer message of rehabilitation, but for the most part, most people go to jail and come out worse: You go in there and you make contacts; you learn new angles. They don’t provide you with the rehabilitation that you need, and therefore it’s a revolving door. You’re sent out with no tools to do the job, and you fall back on your old ways. It’s inevitable that you end up back there.

Another thing about you that might surprise some people is that you’re a vegetarian. What prompted that decision?

It was a combination of health and moral issues. I feel better, I feel healthier, and at the same time I feel good that I’m not killing cows and chickens, because I look at a cow the same way I look at a dog. Would these people eat their pet? So that’s a personal journey that I’ve embarked on and that I enjoy. I belong to several organizations that promote it, and I just feel that’s another way of making changes. It all goes back to that same punk rock thinking: If you don’t like the way things are, you make changes.

 


Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Pop Life

The pop-up dining trend is freeing culinary imaginations and creating a guerilla version of event dining around Santa Cruz

 

Over Hills and Plains, Riding a White Horse, Bow and Arrows in Hand

Saturday, early morning, the sun enters and radiates the light of Sagittarius. Three hours later, the Sagittarius new moon (0.07 degrees) occurs. “Let food be sought,” is the personality-building keynote. “Food” means experiences; all kinds, levels and types. It also means real food. Sag’s secret is their love of food. Many, if not musicians, are chefs. Some are both. The energies shift from Scorpio’s deep and transformative waters to the “hills and plains of Sagittarius.” Sag is the rider on a white horse, eyes focused on the mountain peaks of Capricorn (Initiation) ahead. Like Scorpio, Sagittarius is also the “disciple.” Adventure, luck, optimism, joy and the beginnings of gratitude are the hallmarks of Sagittarius. Sag is also one of the signs of silence. The battle lines were drawn in Libra and we were asked to choose where we stood. The Nine Tests were given in Scorpio and we emerged “warriors triumphant.” Now in Sag, we are to be the One-Pointed Disciple, riding over the plains on a white horse, bow and arrows in hand, eyes focused on the Path of Return ahead. Sagittarians are one-pointed (symbol of the arrow). Sag asks, “What is my life’s purpose?” This is their quest, from valleys, plains, meadows and hills, eyes aimed always at the mountaintop. Sag emerges from Scorpio’s deep waters, conflict and tests into the open air. Sag’s quest is humanity’s quest. Sag’s quest, however, is always accompanied by music and good food.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of November 21

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pie Fidelity

A little Thanksgiving help, plus sip and shop locally at the Art, Wine and Gift Bazaar

 

What should be on everyone’s bucket list?

Hang gliding, because you're free as a bird. Jenni, Santa Cruz, Student/Administrative Assistant

 

Soquel Vineyards

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it’s time to be thinking about the wine you’re going to serve with that special dinner, be it turkey, ham, a roast, or something vegetarian or vegan.

 

The Kitchen

Chef Santos Majano talks beer-friendly food at Discretion Brewery