You'll never hear him preaching about it, but Mike Ness of the California punk band Social Distortion, holds his head up proudly now that he's off drugs.
Ness, the band's guitar leader, has been clean and sober for nearly five years and says it gets better every day. His band's self-titled first major label release on Epic Records -- it took 10 years to get it -- has proved to be more successful than he ever thought possible and has even spawned a huge rock radio hit in "Ball and Chain."
The words of the song are almost a coming out party for Ness, whose bad-boy image and life-on-the-edge style had been legendary among puck circles since the band formed in 1979.
Take away, take away
Take away this ball and chain
I'm sick and I'm tired
And I can't take any more pain
As he sings in another song, "It Coulda Been Me," he expected to die several years ago.
"It was really a lot of fun when you're 18," Ness said from his home in California, where the band did a few shows two weeks ago. "It was cool. It was awesome. But as you get older and your values and ideals change, you realize it's hard to get things accomplished when you're hung over every day."
Ness, 28, said he still sees old friends come up to him stoned after shows and it makes him feel sad.
"They always have a rationale," Ness said. "I'm making this much money, or I'm married and settled now or I moved somewhere else. I'm not going to preach, but I would think that [for] these people just seeing me in the state that I'm in would be somewhat of a shock to them. I mean everyone expected to be burying me five or six years ago."
Ness had numerous bouts with the law, bar fights, jail stints, heroin problems and a hand injury from cutting himself with a knife when he was stoned.
But now, with a successful album and a tour that stops at the Network in Pasadena Sunday night, Ness said he appreciates the fact that he's alive and he can enjoy playing his music.
His youthful dream of being the next Clash may have not materialized yet, but he's working on it.
"I'm writing the songs for the next album, and I can pick from four guitars," said Ness almost in disbelief of his new-found financial security. "I'm nowhere near rich, but the rent is paid, the electricity is paid, I can do laundry and I can drive to the shows at home in my '55 Pontiac with a little style.
"I know to some people these might be simple things but I don't take them for granted because I never had them before."
The concert calendar . . .
Also at the Network: Cold Sweat (Nov. 8), Annihilator and Reverend (Nov. 16), Child's Play (Nov. 21), Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer (Nov. 23) and Firehouse (Nov. 25).
Coming to Hammerjacks: 2 Live Jews (tomorrow), Sweet F.A. and The Beautiful (Sunday), NRBQ (Nov. 10), Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (Nov. 17), Iggy Pop and Alice in Chains (Nov. 20), Face Dancer (Nov. 21), Johnny Van Zant (Nov. 24) and Mojo Nixon, Dead Milkmen and The Cave Dogs (Nov. 25).
Shows at Max's On Broadway: Kelly Willis and Radio Ranch (tonight), Lonesome Romeos (Nov. 7), Nils Lofgren (Nov. 8), Jellyfish (Nov. 11), Lowen & Navarro (Nov. 15), Marti Jones and Don Dixon (Nov. 18 and 19) and Buddy Guy ( Nov. 29).
Painters Mill Theatre concerts: Danzig (tomorrow), Phyllis Hyman and Jonathan Butler (Nov. 9) and Kathy Mattea (Nov. 15).
The Baltimore Arena has one show on the schedule featuring Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and George Jones (Nov. 10).
The Capital Centre welcomes Fleetwood Mac (Nov. 7), Poison and Warrant (Nov. 13) and AC/DC and Love/Hate (Nov. 18).
Ritchie Coliseum in College Park has two big shows coming. They are Skinny Puppy (Nov. 19) and Living Colour (Dec. 4).
There are, of course, lots of shows in D.C., including the Connells at Gaston Hall (Monday), Robert Hunter at Lisner Auditorium (Nov. 7), 10,000 Maniacs at Smith Center (Nov. 7) and the Go-Go's at D.A.R. Constitution Hall (Nov. 18).