A packed roster of musicians came out to L.A.’s Fonda Theater on Sunday night (Oct. 2) for the first annual Rock To Recovery, a benefit helping musicians with their sobriety. For acts like Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington and Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst — both of whom appeared in an all-star jam spearheaded by the Cult‘s Billy Morrison — supporting sobriety was a big reason to come out. The other was to be on hand to pay tribute to the night’s guest of honor, Social Distortion leader Mike Ness.
“Dude, Social Distortion played such a huge part in my musical life, huge, huge, huge,” a visibly excited Bennington told Billboard backstage. “’Mommy’s Little Monster’ was probably one of the most pivotal songs in my early life ‘cause I loved that track so much. It turned me on to Social Distortion, turned me on to Misfits, so much great punk music.”
Durst, who rocked Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” while Bennington stood side stage and pumped his fist and sang along to every word, told Billboard he couldn’t perform a Social D song out of respect for the greatness of the songs.
“I wouldn’t do any of them, too big of a fan,” Durst said. “He writes incredibly universal themes in his songs and melodies, but he’s putting this incredible background he owns for himself. These songs are really good.”
As the man of the moment, Ness was flattered, but a little overwhelmed by the attention and surprised at being honored for sobriety that began 31 years ago this month. “I would’ve never expected this at all, having this much time clean and sober or having a rock and roll event that celebrates this because when I got clean it wasn’t cool to be clean,” he said.
However, Ness recalls he had no choice. “I got sober October, 1985 and sex, drugs and rock and roll had turned to sex and drugs, then just drugs,” he recalled. “People were walking out of shows, all the band’s gear was in the pawn shop. I was either in jail or missing and the band was falling apart. When I got clean I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to do it.”
Over the years, Ness, one of punk’s great poets, has put those tales into his music again and again, something Bennington admires greatly. “He’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time. He took punk music and made it acceptable, and not just punk music, but really tough s–t,” Bennington said. “Mike didn’t talk about things that were easy. He talked about going to prison, his abuse, he talked about his life and the troubles.”
Especially at Rock To Recovery, an organization founded by Wesley Geer (Hed P.E. and Korn), who hopes to turn the success of the inaugural event into a yearly tradition and potentially a branded tour down the road. Those troubles were on the forefront of people’s minds, particularly Bennington, who is passionate about helping those with substance abuse problems.
“I really advocate for guys who are struggling in the prison system. I think that our prison system is chock full of people who have substance abuse problems and can actually be helped much more by actual rehab,” said Bennington. “Personally I’d rather use my tax money to send people to rehab than prison because they sit there and do nothing. I believe that prison hurts people and fortunately some of us get to live through those stories. And fortunately, for us, Mike Ness has lived through many of those stories, told us his life, we’ve been able to feel his pain, feel his triumph and feel all that good stuff. He’s a miracle, man.”
For Durst, celebrating sobriety and Ness was just what he wanted on this night. “At an event like this there are positive and incredible vibes in the air,” he said. “It’s a long drive from Hidden Hills but that was awesome. I’m ready to go get a milkshake now, a vegan milkshake.”