My Back Pages is a series that explores our relationships with the music we grew up with. Social Distortion is the subject of this installment.
It was the middle of 1992, and I was just beginning my 14th year. To that point, my musical knowledge consisted of anything my dad had played on his stereo or his guitar, mixed with some Beastie Boys and a dash of Run DMC. School was out, and the summer was ushering in warm days and cool nights in the Pocono Mountains.
One evening, my slightly older cousin suggested a new album to me – “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” by a band called Social Distortion. I popped in the CD and skipped to Track 4, as instructed.
“Born to Lose.” It was like a punch to the gut.
It was a hot summer night in mid-July,
A hangover and a black eye.
Your mama said I was a loser, a dead-end cruiser,
And deep inside I knew she was right
That random suggestion would become my summer anthem. I skipped back to Track 1, and played it through. Over and over again. I was hooked. Before long, I was backtracking albums too – “Mommy’s Little Monster,” “Prison Bound” and 1990’s self-titled effort.
I wanted more.
It was somehow angry but inspiring, dark but promising. I heard a little Bob Dylan in each record (which I recognized from my dad’s stereo), as well as a whole lot of Johnny Cash. I was certainly OK with that.
Future albums never let me down, either. The Social D purists will probably tell you the band’s low point came in 1997 when they signed to Epic Records and released “White Light, White Heat, White Trash.” Nothing makes a longtime fan of a certain band angrier than seeing them experience commercial success.
The album included “I Was Wrong,” a track that reached No. 4 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts and took the band to new heights. I was OK with that, too. I was also OK with songs like “Don’t Drag Me Down” and “When The Angels Sing.” Track for track, I’d put his album up against any other.
I caught my first Social Distortion concert in 1997 at the Vans Warped Tour in Asbury Park, N.J. This was a good time to take in the annual summer music festival, long before the crowds and lineups became equally unbearable. The only downside was that the bands played short sets of 30 minutes or less.
Social Distortion was the highlight of my day, but I wanted more.
In 1999, lead singer Mike Ness released his first of two solo albums, “Cheating at Solitaire,” which featured a few original tracks and some covers of old country and rockabilly tunes that that inspired his musical direction. A solo tour followed, and I managed to catch his stops at The Palace Theater in Greensburg, Pa., and one at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pa.
In 2000, Ness; guitarist and childhood friend Dennis Danell died from a brain aneurism, making the band’s future an uncertain one. Following a small hiatus and a lot of soul searching, however, Ness replaced Danell with Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham, and Social Distortion returned in 2004 with “Sex, Love and Rock ’n’ Roll.” The album artwork and the majority of its tracks were obvious tributes to Danell, and it just might go down as my favorite Social D record.
My first full-length Social Distortion concert came later that year at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J. Then came a few at Allentown, Pa.’s Crocodile Rock and one or two more back at the Starland.
In true Social Distortion fashion, another seven years passed before they released 2011’s “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.” Things like church organs and female backup singers may have once again turned off some purists, but that’s what I like most about this band: They continue to reinvent themselves without venturing too far away from their rockabilly, punk rock roots.
And I love those roots. Those roots are what pull me back to old songs like “Story of My Life,” “Sick Boy,” “Prison Bound” and so many more. Those roots are what hooked me in the first place during that summer of 1992.
Rumor has it Social Distortion’s next studio album is due out in 2013, but it will most likely be pushed back to 2015 or later. But I’m OK with that. I still want more.
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