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Once, a friend picked up Ness hitchhiking on Harbor Boulevard. He had a gun and a paper bag and was talking about how he had just robbed somebody. "He was a junkie, and junkies are assholes," says Guerinot.
No single incident inspired Ness to clean up, Guerinot says; it was just the harsh, accumulative unfolding of many, many disasters. "At a certain point, you just have nowhere to go, no one left to rob," Guerinot says. "He was dope-sick. After all the things he did, it's kind of hard to believe anybody still talks to the guy." Ness has been clean for 13 years. He doesn't even drink, he'll tell you; he just smokes the occasional cigar.
Sometimes, though, he admits, he misses the drugs, "but only when I can't sleep, like last night, which is why I'm fuckin' cranky. Stress is my No. 1 enemy these days. But it's hard to come to grips with stress when your life is hectic because of scheduling and promotion and stuff that revolves around a new record. Being on the road now, it's like, 'Aw, fuck, man-planes, trains and fucking automobiles!' I'm working on it, though. I'm not about to go to a yoga class or anything like that. But I do notwant to die of a stress-related illness, especially after surviving all that other stuff. I think about the time when I should have been shot in Anaheim, or the times I OD'd. So to die of something like stress would be pathetic. I have road rage back in SoCal, and I've been trying to put it in check."
Hmmm. . . . Mike, have you ever thought about seeing a therapist? Ness laughs. "Yeah, oh, yeah," he says. "I'm about due. At this point in my life, there are probably a lot of unresolved issues and inner conflicts still pending. I'm open to it."
But Ness did not follow the typical junkie's story-either die or substitute faith in horse with religion. "No, there were two things that I did not try: religion and the military. Because, once again, if you try to put those restrictions on me, I'm the type of person who would wanna fight the sergeant. I'd throw a hand grenade in his tent."
You get the feeling that Ness will also start hurling explosives when the subject of punk then vs. punk now comes up, which he says is what the Solitaire tune "No Man's Friend" is about. "Punk rock and tattoos and hair grease, they're the cool thing now," he says. "But it's a whole image thing, and your background doesn't really matter. I see people who were listening to Guns N' Roses six years ago, and now they're sleeved and greased and driving old cars, and they think they're fuckin' cool. They're even in a little fuckin' band or they have a clothing line or they're a tattoo artist. They don't know what the fuck they're talking about. So that song's really about poseurs. I felt the need to ventilate that in a nondirect way. I wanted people to wonder, like, 'Fuck, man, is he talking about me?'"
Ness is on a roll: "The whole thing about punk was doing what you wanna do, regardless of what even your best friend standing next to you is gonna say," he says. "It wasn't about fashion. I used to turn on MTV, and I'd want to kick in my television over Kajagoogoo, and now it's the same thing. Just because this motherfucker has blue hair doesn't mean he's credible or real. The whole thing about punk was to break that whole youth marketing tool of radio and stuff back then. But now the music has becomea big marketing tool. I mean, I got tattoos purely for antisocial reasons. I needed to create a barrier between me and mainstream morals, ideals and society. And now tattoos are mainstream, and there's a tattoo shop on every corner. It's all image, and background means nothing."
Then Professor Ness starts teaching class. You, of course, will listen. "Punk music really opened the door for everything," he says. "It closed the door on this standard, conceptual, self-indulgent, limousine, Led Zeppelin/Pink Floyd/ Phil Collins shit, the thinking that you had to take 10 years of music theory before you could be in a band. Punk was young and fresh. And that-combined with society saying 'No'-was like: 'Fuck me? No, fuck you!'
"It's hard for me to see that period of time ever repeating itself. Punk music today is very . . . cute.I don't want cute. The last thing you want is to pull up at a red light in your car and have the guy next to you say your car is cute. Punk is supposed to be fucking evil. Cute went out with the Bay City fuckin' Rollers, y'know? Fuck cute."
Ness left Fullerton long ago and now lives in Costa Mesa. Lately, though, he's been thinking about a move to an older part of LA because, he says, he feels the need for something to satisfy his "old soul," a place where history is preserved, away from the mini-mall culture of OC.