Tappin’ that axe: Social Distortion

Sepia: the new black?

I have a theory about notoriety: the longer it takes an individual or group to achieve it, the more sustainable it is. Overnight sensations—though the ascents are rarely as rapid as they appear—often fall out of public favor just as fast. Exhibit A: Social Distortion. Over ten years disappeared before the band had even a minor hit in “Bad Luck”. It took them three decades to make their first television appearance—in December on Jimmy Kimmel. Regardless of what happens from here on out, the band’s obviously here to stay.

“I see people bringing their kids to shows,” says bandleader Mike Ness. “And I see kids bringing their parents.”

Very little rock music affects me the way so-called “alternative” did when I was an impressionable teen. These days, I’d much rather hear compelling lyrics than loud guitars. Social Distortion is an exception to the rule. I’ve got a soft spot for the imbibing skeleton. Michael Jackson taught me how to dance; Social Distortion taught me how to sing. After being turned on to the band in junior high (at a Greeley summer camp), I played their self-titled cassette until the tape wore out–and snapped. You’d think the cow tippin’ town I grew up in would’ve hipped me to Johnny Cash. Not so. Social Distortion corrected my music ed deficit, though, via their cover of “Ring of Fire”. I could go on.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, the outfit’s first recorded output in nearly seven years, doesn’t stray too much from their time-tested punk/rockabilly/outlaw country hybrid, but it does introduce a few new elements, namely ebony backup singers and ivory keys. Sample “California (Hustle & Flow)” and “Machine Gun Blues”–courtesy Epitaph Records–below.

1 comment
  1. Social D defines sustainability to me. As other bands have come and gone from life’s playlist, Social D remains as vital as when, at 13, I first heard Mommy’s Little Monster. Social D served as a perfect gateway drug to the world of punk, offering a rush from which I haven’t yet recovered. At that age, of course, my love likely had some to do with a youthful rebellious streak (read: glee over songs like “Telling Them.”) Yet today the music still resonates just as strongly. Why? Perhaps it’s the perfect marriage of twangy guitars, honest lyrics, and Ness’ raspy delivery. Perhaps it’s because it’s so damn fun to crank up and sing along with. (Just try to listen to “Highway 101” without belting out. Good luck with that.) And, I admit, it might even be due a little bit to my weak spot for tattooed bad boys, sick hot rods and songs celebrating such glorious things. The bottom line is the music hasn’t changed too much, but I have, and it’s still here keeping pace. Sustainable? Hell yes. And about a million other words synonymous with awesome as well.

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