by Sean Moeller, Featured Writer, Day-Trotter
Mike Ness probably doesn’t give a shit what you think you know about him or what you actually know about him. One of his truths is that he’s a thrift store-ist and an antiquer. In every city that he and his Social Distortion mates pass through, all of the moments of his passing free time are spent hunting through the various American crannies for keepsakes and rarities. The great tattooed one makes his hauls and then literally stuff’s the band’s bus full of his findings – from the old lamps and boots that he found here in Rock Island and Davenport – to the mess of other gems that he found at other stops. He spent hours hunting just prior to Social D’s ear-whippingly loud set here at the Horseshack, in a day that saw a first for Daytrotter. Nearly five years into doing what we do, never before had there ever been band groupies staking out in front of the studio before. With the legendary punk rock band from California in town though, word spread and there were reports that some super fans were wandering around downtown Rock Island for hours, not knowing what building Ness and crew might be in, just knowing that they were close and in one of those mostly sad buildings that our downtown consists of. Sad buildings and broken lamps, or snuffed out luster are the kinds of things that Ness has made a habit of bringing to his lyrics for decades now. He’s done his best not to throw a spit-polish on a turd and present it as some silver lining to a horrifyingly depressing reality. Through the years, Social Distortion has magnified the wrecked and the wretched, shined a light on people as they’ve gone down into the darkest of tunnels and traveled for lengthy amounts of time with no light at the end for guidance or optimism. Many of the characters that Ness sings about, in that gruff and tough way that is only his, are on the very brink of just cashing in their chips, or more likely, cashing in nothing, by just finding a good place to be forgotten, somewhere that at least hurts a little less. They aren’t giving up – they’re just so tired of it all, of all the difficulties. They feel as if they’ve been discarded, thrown out to the curb. Everything has taken its toll on those in Social Distortion songs, leaving them relentlessly searching for ways to keep themselves afloat, to keep wanting to let the light into their eyes, to let the light out of their eyes, out of their sagging mouths. They strive to pick themselves up at the corners of the shoulders, because no one else is going to come close to them or give them any kind of a hand when they’re slumped over so damned much. They strive to discover the hidden beauties, the things that make them cry joyfully, even when the times are the worst. Ness has a way of finding staggering beauty in the world – even when it’s beleaguered and suspect. He finds it because he has to find it. It’s the only way. It could be why he bought those lamps or those boots – to reacquaint himself with sunshine lost or the lights that have been choked out.