It doesn't take much to make some folks happy. Take, for example, Social Distortion leader Mike Ness, who today happens to be simply over the moon with something nice a Long Island club did for him while his band was on tour. "This place is so stoked to have us, they've gotten me a limousine to go junkin' in every day, to all the antique and junk stores," marvels rock's most raspy-throated roughneck. "So it's kind of a dichotomy — going junkin' in an actual limo."
Ness has always had hobbies. For several years, he's owned a Fullerton-based garage/clothing line called Black Kat Kustoms, where he restores the classic cars and motorcycles he collects. "Junking" is only his latest pastime, and he's happy to explain it to the uninitiated in his own vernacular: "It's like that show [American] Pickers on the History Channel — two dudes go across the country, and they just hit these guys up in their barns and buy shit. It's neat.
"And I myself just found a diamond ring in the jewelry district in New York City, 1940s rose gold with a 33-point diamond in it. I mainly collect stuff from the '40s — clothes, jewelry, furniture, advertisements, guitars, art, you name it."
At home, the rocker's current ride reflects this aesthetic. "I drive a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetline Aero sedan," he boasts. "It's a down and dirty lowrider that was essentially a celebration after the war, and it looks like the Blob rolling down the street — all lowered and just crazy, with lines reminiscent of the Deco period. I've even got 1940s gabardine suits. It was a period of time where art and industry were still one thing, so I can certainly appreciate the period. The population was probably about 50 percent less, the air quality was better, and life was just ... just simpler, ya know?"
Ness has romanticized the period to the point where he's reimagined himself as a running-board-riding gangster in "Machine Gun Blues," a mean-riffed anthem from Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, Social Distortion's upcoming album (originally slated for release this month, now pushed back to early next year). Much like AC/DC, or a cicada, Ness resurfaces every five to seven years with a power-chording, dead-end-kid, autobiographical set to show all the young poseurs just how it should be done.
Also included on the Epitaph-released set is "California (Hustle and Flow)" — "It kinda chronicles my journey through music, and it's an homage to the Rolling Stones" — as well as "Diamond in the Rough."
"We're a little rough," Ness elaborates, "but we can clean up pretty good, if given the chance."
Which conveys the allure of the group in a nutshell. Ness escaped the addictions of his hardscrabble punk past, but doesn't mind still singing about them as a middle-aged catharsis. It's a working-class approach that echoes Bruce Springsteen, who recently befriended Ness; the Boss not only joined Social D. on stage at New Jersey's Stone Pony, he invited him to join his own E Street Band in a Los Angeles concert.
"I have his cellphone number," says Ness, "but I try not to abuse it."