“Another State Of Mind”: Social Distortion four years after they’d formed, in 1982

By on July 23, 2015

Yesterday, Rolling Stone magazine ran an interview with Social Distortion’s Mike Ness — “Story of My Life: Mike Ness Talks 25 Years of ‘Social Distortion’” — but the funny thing about all this is that the band — and were told there would be no math — have actually been together for 37 years, Ness having formed Social D as a punk band in Fullerton, CA, in 1978.

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That’s little more than a decade longer than ‘a quarter of a century ago’ if we’ve added up the numbers correctly. RS writer Kory Grow also makes a reference to how some of the band’s older fans can now say, “‘Wow, I’ve been listening to this band for 25 years now, how awesome.'”

Regardless, since Social D are in the midst of a summer tour right now, in 2015, so we thought it’d good opportunity to take a quick look back at the 1982 documentary that “Night Flight” aired on the USA cable network back in the 80s.

Another State of Mind chronicled the adventure (and misadventure) of two bands, Social Distortion and Youth Brigade, as they embarked on a North American tour.

Youth Brigade’s leader, Shawn Stern, was also founder of Better Youth Organization, which promoted low-cost, non-profit punk rock shows on the West Coast and tried to encourage positive community activism within the punk rock scene.

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On August 17, 1982, filmmakers Peter Stuart and Adam Small learned that the BYO had organized a North American tour with the two bands, booking 30 dates in 35 days, who would be traveling across the country in a broken down school bus that Stern had purchased (and the bands had fixed up), and they decided that they would scrape together whatever budget they could in order to follow along and film (using a 16mm camera, and accompanied by a production assistant) in order to capture what was happening in the still-mostly-underground punk communities across the country and in Canada, too.

For six weeks and ten thousand miles, they followed the bus in their rental truck and documented everything they saw, not only at the concerts, but everything that happened on the road along the way as they traveled northward in California, up through San Francisco, into Oregon, and finally reaching Seattle, Washington, before winding their way eastward.

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One memorable clip shows Mike Ness getting ready for a show, giving his explanation of his “look” – why he does his hair the way he does and why he wears eye makeup when most guys don’t. At one point during the trip, the group arrives at a venue where they had a show booked and go out of their way to avoid discrimination by climbing up a fire escape and going in the back door in order to avoid the huge biker-looking men in the front of the club. They describe what probably would happen if they went in the front door – they would be intimidated, yelled at and maybe beaten up as they walked through the door and through the club so they find it easier to avoid the whole scene.

From Seattle they continue on up through Canada from where the Stern brothers have citizenship. On another occasion, the starving group heads to a cafe in Montreal after a show to get something to eat and find the waitress will hardly look at them, let alone serve them. She is apparently frightened or annoyed by them based purely on their appearance. The woman calls the police to have them removed from the restaurant with no provocation (save for maybe Derek O’Brien’s insistent banging of a coffee cup on the counter to get her attention).

The last leg of the trip includes big U.S. cities like Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York.

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Things continued to not go quite as planned: the bands got stiffed on payment for several shows (one classic moment from the film comes when Mark Stern holds up some rolls of pennies he was paid with by one cheap San Francisco club owner, Dirk Dirksen of Mabuhay productions), the bus often broke down, the punishing schedule and low pay was more than most of the musicians could deal with, and the tour broke down at about the halfway point.

Along the way, Youth Brigade and Social Distortion play several numbers (complete with subtitles if you can’t understand the vocals), the bands visit a punk rock house in Calgary (complete with its own skateboard ramp), they meet up with D.C. punk legends Minor Threat (who also perform onscreen), and end up spending the night at a Christian youth hostel for wayward punks.

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Somewhere around the second or third bus break-down, between Canada and Chicago, the reality of their trip begins to sink in. 11 or 12 guys on a small, now reeking, constantly breaking down bus is not as much fun as they had first anticipated. Their per diem has been slashed from $10 a day to $5 as a result of money having to be spent on fixing the old bus and they seem to keep getting ripped off by the club owners.

Nearing the end of the trip, some of the road crew leave the trip early, leaving the band members to set up and fend for themselves. Everyone starts to get on each other’s nerves out of hunger, frustration and cabin fever and begin to act out in different ways. Roadie, Mike Brinson, is shown constantly dyeing his hair different colors based on his mood which begins with a happy pink, turns green and eventually a dismal black. Mike Ness, usually placated by the beer which they somehow always found the money for, lets out a little frustration one night at a small impromptu show, breaking out in a frenzied, seizure-looking rendition of the Worm dance during his performance.

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The documentary captures Social D at kind of a pivotal point in their early history, which is why it’s so fascinating to watch today.

Ness had formed Social D when he was just seventeen years old, with drummer Casey Royer and brothers Rikk and Frank Agnew, and the band’s world centered around Mike’s one-bedroom pad, dubbed “the black hole,” in a nondescript Fullerton, CA apartment complex, which he shared with Robert “Omlit” Logan of the Omlits. Have a look at this video which shows Steve Soto of the Adolescents revisiting some of the Fullerton punk rock landmarks, including Ness’s apartment:

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Social D developed a tough reputation early on, one of the leading bands in the rowdy and often-violent Orange County punk scene, and Ness in particular, became known as kind of a-hole-ish local scenester who often would get into fist fights for what seemed like no reason at all. He even lost part of his left ear after it was bitten off during a fight at the Cuckoo’s Nest, a venue in Costa Mesa, California, a few miles south of Fullerton, where the band were based in their early days.

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Social Distortion by Rooh Steif, No Mag (1982)

Then, after meeting Dennis Danell, a punk-loving classmate, Ness insisted Danell, who at the time didn’t play an instrument, join the band on bass. Royer and the Agnew’s soon split from the band and eventually form their own band, the Adolescents (who, like Social D, are still going strong after all these years), and if you know about the Adolescents, you know that their first album had a song about Ness’s apartment, “Kids of the Black Hole,” the lyrics spelling out that the apartment actually “belonged to all the homeless kids.”

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At one point in the Another State of Mind doc, Social Distortion’s Mike Ness sits on a porch and writes a song that becomes the title for the film, “Another State of Mind,” but if you’ve seen it before, you know that this moment comes at a calm moment before the storm, once the band hit Washington D.C: Ness ends up being stranded when the rest of Social Distortion heads back to their homebase in Orange County, California, on a Greyhound bus, and Ness had really no choice but to grab a flight back to the west coast to try to keep his band together, while Youth Brigade rented a truck and drove back to Los Angeles on their own.

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Stuart and Small spent the next two years assembling their film, which includes instructions for slam dancing filmed as filler so that the film would be at a viable length for release and distribution. The movie poster was designed by Josh Freeman, who is now president and creative director of FreeAssociates, the design/advertising agency in Los Angeles.

Youth Brigade broke up not long after Another State of Mind was completed, but they reformed in the 1990s and released several new albums, while Social Distortion, upon its return from this 1982 tour, went through a few more lineup changes, and by the time they made their first recordings, Social Distortion was Ness, Danell (now on rhythm guitar), bassist Brent Liles, and drummer Derek O’Brien. They recorded their debut album, Mommy’s Little Monster, which was released in early 1983 on their own label, 13th Floor Records.

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Ness struggled to keep his band together during this time — the lineup continued to go through changes over the years — and he also struggled with heroin addiction, which resulted in a series of jailings and detoxes, all of which finally ended in 1985, and he eventually became sober, and the music changed too, along the way, adding a tougher Americana roots element. They eventually signed to a major label in 1989, and for decades now have been featured in mainstream music rags like Rolling Stone magazine, who might need to go back and check their math about the band’s early days — again, RS had trouble with math, apparently, saying the film came out in 1983, but Another State of Mind was released on VHS video tape (we still have ours somewhere) on June 7, 1984, and it was eventually released on DVD two decades later, on March 24, 2004.

Since we mentioned it, here’s an excerpt from Rolling Stone yesterday — also, to be fair, much of the article’s bad math comes from the fact that Social D’s self-titled “major label debut” came out on March 27, 1990 through the Columbia Records (now Sony)-distributed Epic Records:

“A quarter of a century ago, punk firebrands Social Distortion modded out their sound with country swagger and rock & roll looseness on their influential self-titled, major-label debut. Songs like “Story of My Life,” “Ball and Chain” and “It Could Have Been Me” found bandleader Mike Ness parsing past relationships and abandoned addictions, while the group’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” showed how far they were willing to push. The risk earned Social Distortion a gold plaque from the RIAA and their first record on the Billboard chart.

Now Ness and his bandmates are celebrating the legacy of that release by playing it in full on their summer tour. “Anniversaries don’t come around that often, but this was such a pivotal point of our career,” the singer says, when asked about the tour. “It’s like you’re playing a period of time in your life. And fans get a chance to get a glimpse of it and other people get to revisit it and figure out like.”

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Watch the entire Another State of Mind right here:

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.