The Hard Luck Story


8 nov. 2006, 7h41m

Ah, the good ol' hard luck song. You know, I can't help but love a good hard luck song. "What's a hard luck song?" you ask. Well, I got the term from Mike Ness, the lead singer of Social Distortion. If you listen to the Social D album "Live at the Roxy", this is the term he uses to describe the song "Ball and Chain," which happens to be Social Distortion's earliest "mainstream" radio hit. If you aren't familar with that song, I would also describe the following well-known songs as hard luck story songs:

"Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash
"Renegade" by Styx
"Carry On, Wayward Son" by Kansas
"Friend of the Devil" by the Grateful Dead

I think you get the picture. But then you ask, "Why are you so big on the hard luck story songs?" Well, I guess I'll just have to tell you.

I grew up in probably the worst neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona. My family wasn't neccessarily below the poverty line, more like clutching the very fringe of lower-middle class and using a lot of effort to do so. My old neighborhood is called Sunnyside, and is comprised mostly of people of hispanic and Native American heritage. I have nothing against people of any race, but at my elementary school I was definitely the minority amongst everyone else, and I was a rather sensitive child, so you could say that I didn't look forward to going to school every day. It wasn't like growing up in Comptom or Harlem or even south Phoenix, and I wasn't completely outcast, but out of anyone else in my grade school classes, I was the number one target for redicule.

My life hasn't been horrible, I have so much to be thankful for, but still my early childhood background isn't the prettiest. And I have had my fair share of hard luck in love. That has to count for something. My favorite hard luck song, a Social Distortion number called "Story of my Life", is such a simple song, but is also a poetic masterpiece that seems so close to my own story. Mike Ness tells about being in high school and having a crush that doesn't know you exist. He tells of sitting on a bed singing a lonely love song and waiting for something to happen. That was me not so long ago. That's the beauty of a song like "Story of My Life." If you were a shy, nervous kid that would get dizzy even being approached by a girl, well if you were a kid like that, you know exactly what Ness is talking about.

I also love the hard luck songs about going to prison, or just about run-ins with the law in general. "Folsom Prison Blues" is an obvious one, and perhaps one the most classic amongst my generation. "Renegade" and "Friend of the Devil" also deal with this subject. I personally enjoy a Social Distortion song called "Prison Bound," which is definitely influenced by Johnny Cash's predeccessor. I've never been to prison or hell, even arrested, but like the Man in Black, I can symphasize with those who have been incarcerated. Of course, some people have no excuse and just plain deserve to be there, but honestly I feel like most of the people in our prisons and jails are just paying the price for the rest of us. They are paying the price for us to live in an aggressive, capitalistic, business orientated country. The businessmen strike it rich and other people are forced into poverty, and the poor enter into a struggle for their survival. When a person's number one priority is survival, laws get thrown out the fucking window. That's just how it is.

Imagine yourself as a 14 year old kid in southcentral Los Angeles. You have four younger siblings. Your dad disappeared when you were 8. Your mom works two full time jobs but she has six mouths to feed and hasn't made rent the last three months. The landlord has let it go for now, but if one of his other tenants stiffs him, your family could be living out of the 1981 Cadillac that doesn't start half the time anyway. Finding a job is hard because you're 14 and your mom wants you in school anyway. If you have some extra cash you'll be honest and pay for some groceries, but unless you want your mom to go hungry because she gave the kids all the dinner you have to steal food from the market every once if a while. That's some kids start their lives of crime and end up in the slammer, and hell, that's just the struggle for survival. To me, that's a fucking lot more respectable than the multi-conglomerate CEO or the Texas oil tycoon that jumps through the tax loopholes in order to keep an extra %1 of his filthy riches. The 1% of those riches that could be helping out the people that are forced to steal to live because of our wonderful western society.

I grew up with an elementary school full of kids that came from backgrounds similar to mine, but knowing I was comparably wealthier than most the other children, a lot of backgrounds that were considerably worse than mine. I know there are kids that I grew up with that are locked up now, and I feel for those kids. They grew up in fucked up, poor as hell households. I'm fortunate to come the same neighborhood and be where I am. I appreciate that. And I sure as hell respect the guy that's ais sitting in a cell because he got dealt a bad hand and did what he had to do so he wouldn't die, or his family could be a little closer to getting by.

That's what the hard luck story is all about. It's about knowing where people came from and respecting it. And that is why I love Social Distortion so much. Almost every one of their songs is a hard luck story, and it hits home for me. I love Johnny Cash for his hard luck story songs too, that was the best part about the guy. He was honest, genuine, and had respect for those who deserve. To me, Mike Ness is the best part of Johnny Cash but with a hard-nosed punk rock edge. That's probably the aspect of punk rock that really touches my soul. I used to be hardcore punk and found out where its downfalls are, but the connection between punk rock and the hard luck story is what still maintains my identification with the punk ideology.

The hard luck story is a big part of my life. It's a piece me of me that can never be taken away. When I went down to the polls today to cast my vote, I took my hard luck identity with me. When I hear a song that calls out in respect of the people of this world that get stepped on, I remember who I am, and I embrace that song in all it's truth, honesty and beauty.

Social Distortion
Live at the Roxy
Social Distortion
Prison Bound
Prison Bound
Ball and Chain
Story of My Life
Johnny Cash
Folsom Prison Blues
Carry On, Wayward Son
Grateful Dead
Friend of the Devil


  • 4stringslinger

    Rock on brotha! Kick ass column and live @ the roxy is a one of those magic cd's that you feel the band.

    29 nov. 2006, 7h32m
  • FreakyMetalKid

    I loves me some Social Distortion.

    13 avr. 2007, 4h46m
  • santi_monse

    It's a great journal. Of the best I've read. For it's sincerity. For it's story. For it's truth. It's difficult to me to write in English, and it's a shame because I wanted to express many things from my mind. But anyway I wanted to send you the best wishes. Surely it's not hilarious what you had to live, but it's very important that you remember who you are and you always take your hard luck identity with you. Take care. Peace and love.

    9 déc. 2007, 3h46m
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