Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Dhamma of Social Distortion

On a recent drive to work, I was playing a compact disc that I hadn’t listened to in quite a while – “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” by Social Distortion. And while listening to one song in particular, I was struck by the thought, “This is Dhamma.”

The song is “Bad Luck.” And what I heard was a song about someone who has a reputation of everything going wrong for them. The singer proclaims that the same things that scare the crap out of the person with the bad luck don’t have the same effect on him. Particularly telling is this line:

“You gotta nasty disposition, no one really knows the reason why.”

When I heard that line, I started to pay attention to the song like I hadn’t before. The song has a very hard driving beat, a hardcore blues edge that I really like. I enjoy a wide variety of music, but my heart lies mostly with electric blues, and this Social Distortion CD delivers on this in spades.

While the singer comments that “no one really knows the reason why” this person has such bad luck, it is also clear that the unlucky fellow has no clue either. And that is the essence of ignorance. When things go wrong, our first inclination is to identify a reason outside of ourselves. We want to blame something or someone other than our self for our demise. And to a large degree, our society supports this perspective.

But the Buddha teaches us that we are responsible for our state of affairs, and once we realize that, we can do something about it.

“Thirteen’s my lucky number. To you it means stay inside. Black cat done crossed my path, no reason to run and hide.”

These common symbols of bad luck for the singer pose no threat. That’s because they are empty fabrications. But for our unlucky fellow, they are filled with a negative meaning projected by him; what is truly empty of meaning he gives meaning, and it’s scary meaning at that. This distorted view is eloquently revealed by the singer’s next line:

“You’re looking through a cracked mirror, no one really knows the reason why. Your enemies are getting nearer, gonna hang down your head and cry.”

That’s a curious line in that you don’t look “through” a mirror, but the metaphor works nonetheless. Our deluded minds distort what is real, often in a manner that allows us to avoid personal responsibility. A mirror, as the Buddha taught his son, Rahula, is for reflecting – reflecting on our actions and their consequences. This is so we can develop skillful actions. Sometimes that mirror is cracked, giving us a distorted image; but even if cracked and distorted, we can learn how to see what we need to, to see things as they really are. But our man with the bad luck isn’t using the mirror for reflection; he’s looking “through” it, refusing to see how he has distorted his own life.

Enjoy the video. It’s a kick ass tune.


  1. That. Was. Awesome.

    I am a huge SD fan and, while, I prefer the Dharma of "The Story of my Life" and its discussion of sunatta and can complete roll with "Bad Luck".

    Life goes by so fast
    You only want to do what you think is right
    Close your eyes and then it's past;
    (it's the) story of my life

    Good times come and good times go
    I only wish the good times would last a little longer
    I think about the good times we had and why they had to end


  2. Amazing post Richard! I love SD as well and can appreciate this post alot. Great job.

  3. Thanks guys! You know, I have, I'm sure, more than 1,000 CDs, and I know that there are other songs that either intentionally or unintentionally mention Buddhist thought and doctrine, or which appear guided by Buddhist thought and doctrine. You may see more posts like this in the future.

  4. Now thats a kick ass song, thanks!