Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mike Ness interview

'Fight for what you believe in'

Battle-hardened high priest of West Coast punk offers advice to the young 'uns

Mike Devlin, Times Colonist

Published: Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who: Social Distortion with The Black Halos and I Hate Kate

Where: Victoria Curling Club (1952 Quadra St.)

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

: $35 in advance at Lyle's Place, the McPherson Box Office and www.ticketweb.ca

Note: All ages

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The high priest of bad-ass behaviour, Mike Ness, has a word to describe the current state of punk rock, his lifeblood since 1979.

"Cute."

The heavily tattooed frontman for legendary SoCal punks Social Distortion -- he of the perpetual sneer and torn left ear (the result of a parking-lot brawl) -- is one scary dude. He can say whatever he damn well wants.

He has earned the right. Ness, 45, has suffered his share of hardship, from stints in jail and battles with heroin addiction to the deaths of four former band members. If anything, he hopes his hard-won existence has inspired the younger generation to join a punk rock band and speak their minds, as he first did at 17.

"These kids have every right to do what we did," Ness said during an interview from his home in Orange County, Calif.

"I just hope that they understand that this was a revolution. Things weren't OK. We set out to change things and those changes didn't come easy. (I hope) it teaches them that it's worth standing up for what you believe in, and fighting for what you believe in. Ultimately, if your intentions are good, you'll prevail."

Ness and Social Distortion have indeed triumphed, against all odds and despite some serious setbacks.

The band got its start at a time when West Coast punk rock was a pipe dream. Soon, however, the O.C. music scene that produced seminal punks The Adolescents, Agent Orange, Black Flag, T.S.O.L., and The Vandals was among the most vital in the U.S.

Despite his growing reputation as a songwriter (the clip for Another State of Mind was among the few punk videos on-air at MTV in 1984), Ness remembers getting in fights with jocks and rednecks on a regular basis, simply because his peer group looked radical and listened to underground music.

A mohawk always earned you a couple of punches. Dyed hair, piercings or tattoos got you a few more. But Ness says he never backed down from a challenge, and took zero guff from anyone -- including the police and his uncle, who kicked Ness out of the house at 15.

Now that he has matured (Ness has reportedly been sober since the mid-'80s), the father of two sons is proud that Social Distortion passed the 25-year milestone more popular than ever. Most of the West Coast dates on the band's current tour are sold out in advance, including ticket sales topping 1,000 in Victoria, a city the band hasn't visited in decades.

"It's nice to finally be acknowledged," Ness said in his infamous drawl, which still bears traces of his native Massachusetts. "Twenty-five years later, society has opened their eyes a little and they can't deny that (punk rock) was a significant change in the status quo. We had a lot to say. That feels good, that sense of accomplishment."

Ness's trademark is songs Story of My Life, Prison Bound and Bad Luck, tunes written specifically to challenge authority, if not spit directly in its face. Saying Ness is solely a punk rocker is putting too fine a point on his ability. He's adept in the punk, country and rock idioms, as evidenced by collaborations with Bruce Springsteen and Brian Setzer.

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