"Nowadays, it seems that people want to have this 'look' like they are part of a rebellious movement, yet they know nothing about the Green Party or nothing about antiracism. It's like the ostrich with the head in the sand."
It brings to mind a Social Distortion show a couple of years ago in San Diego when a snipe Ness made about President Bush was greeted with scattered booing. The growling voice behind "Story of My Life," "Prison Bound" and "Mommy's Little Monster" memorably chided back: "Hey, don't Dixie Chick my (substitute short, succinct word for posterior)!"
Now 45 and the soul of this Fullerton, Calif.-born band since he was in high school, Ness admits: "I'm at the point in my career where I feel a certain responsibility. ... I come from a generation that felt a need to make a change in the world. It seems like now we're 'blessed' with a generation of self-serving, narcissistic kids who have no idea what's going on in Iraq, or don't care. That's a little pathetic."
No pious Bono or Michael Stipe he, Ness emphasizes that "I never wanted to be a flag-waver." But he says his band has in the past, and will again, pass out pamphlets at some of its shows - if the time and the issue warrant doing so.
It's either that or let the punk legacy go to blazes in a handbasket.
"I feel like image is everything now," Ness said by phone from his Orange County home. "The open-mindedness that was originally (part of) punk rock has been lost.
"Spreading awareness is something I would like to get more involved in. Even if it's just by example, rather than saying vote this and vote that."
Ness remains encouraged by the broad age range of Social D.'s fanbase, from teens to adults over age 50. "It's very fulfilling to look out and see them all."
Social Distortion has a treat coming up for those fans: a "greatest hits" album that Ness says should be released sometime in June.
Social D.? Greatest hits? What's wrong with that picture?
"'Greatest hits' technically means what was good with radio," Ness explains. Which implies we'll probably see fan and DJ faves like "Ball and Chain," "Ring of Fire," "Bad Luck" and perhaps the more recent "Reach for the Sky" on this compilation.
"I think," Ness adds, "we may follow this up with something that is more essential Social D. - songs that are the band's favorites."
The greatest hits record will have one new song, at the very end: "Far Behind."
"I was saving it for the next studio album, but we want people to know we're not going anywhere, and ending a greatest-hits record with a current song is a good idea."
Social D. is not going anywhere. We need them to stick around, before punk goes the way of "The O.C."