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Photo by Jeanne RiceIn Another State of Mind, the 1983 documentary chronicling Social Distortion's first U.S. tour, 21-year-old guitarist Dennis Danell introduces himself and then lies about his age, saying first that he's 16 (which, with his squeaky voice, he could easily have passed for) and then that he's 38.
"I'm old," he jokes, sunglassed eyes looking straight into the camera. Last week, Danell suffered a fatal aneurysm while walking down his Newport Beach driveway. He died at the very age he once might have considered too old for punk rock.
Danell hung with the band from its formation at Troy High School in 1970s Fullerton through the ugly '80s, when leather-jacketed punkers were looked upon as scum—or as vaguely threatening museum pieces. He remained a vital member through various lineup changes and Mike Ness' well-recorded mood swings right until the end.
Though it's certainly a time to mourn, Danell's perseverance—he did what he loved and somehow made a living at it—should be celebrated.
Danell's meaty chops and blistering solo turns were every bit as responsible for the band's sound as Ness' contributions, a distinctive guitar hum that many younger players have tried—unsuccessfully—to mimic. Danell never seemed one for the limelight, leaving that to Ness. That may have been a mistake, since many still think of Social Distortion as "Mike Ness' band." But without Danell, there just couldn't have been a Social Distortion.
If you have doubts, fast-forward the Another State of Mind video to the scene in which Danell is wailing away at the lip of a stage in some town, beautifully scraping out head-knocking notes in front of a swirling, sweaty crowd of punk kids, bringing release to the people who need it most—release from their uncaring parents, release from their prison-like schools, release from the asshole cops who are always on their cases for not looking like "normal" people. You get the feeling that that's how Danell would want to be remembered.