There are numerous reasons that rock fans will – and should – read It’s So Easy…, the memoir of former Guns N’ Roses/Velver Revolver/Jane’s Addiction bassist and Loaded mainman Duff McKagan.
These include his early years as a member of Seattle’s punk rock scene. Guns’ formative years, what drove the creation of the highest-selling debut album of all time and the never-ending drama during the monumental Use Your Illusion world tour. The tales of riotous excess, pushed to the limit when his pancreas burst in 1994. The unconventional path he took to recovery. The establishment of a “supergroup” and the all-too-familiar problems encountered there.
All are valid reasons to check out this autobiography. However, one of the most fascinating passages of It’s So Easy… comes near its conclusion. During a business trip to London a few years back, McKagan was stunned to discover he was staying at the same hotel as former band-mate Axl Rose. The pair hadn’t spoken in more than a decade and the nature of the encounter may surprise some readers, but is intriguing reading.
The third member of Guns’ “classic” lineup to pen an autobiography, McKagan offers a largely pretension-free, sharp and candid account of his life. His straight-up style reflects the no-nonsense, street-level ethos that drove Guns’ great early music, before Rose wanted to be Elton John and became the megalomaniac we all know and love today. While long-time friend Slash already provided his lengthy version of the slow but steady breakdown of one of rock’s biggest and greatest bands, McKagan’s tome focuses less on the minute details of the band’s activities and more on his personal path. This means there’s far less of the sordid debauchery addressed in Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt.
The tales of indulging in booze and drugs to (literally) bursting point will largely be familiar to seasoned readers of rock autobiographies, to the extent that some have likely been desensitized to such notions. That said the recollection of the author’s pancreatitis will make you wince. Other highlights include McKagan’s perspective on what factors morphed Rose’s personality to the point where he was showing up hours late for shows and literally forced his band-mates to sign away the Guns N’ Roses name. The bassist tantalisingly plants seeds along the way indicating how Rose’s behaviour began to alter, but shows restraint by not merely crucifying him, which seems to be a running theme throughout. McKagan doesn’t merely blame the frontman for all the controversy either. There are occasions where you wished he delved deeper into what made the vocalist tick. However, the picture painted – that the band had degenerated from a bona fide gang to a bloated entity whereby all five members rarely interacted off-stage – shows they had splintered into their own worlds anyway. What’s even more staggering than the fact that no one from Guns N’ Roses beat Rose to a bloody pulp during the Use… tour is McKagan’s admission that no other member properly confronted him about his actions.
On the musical side of the equation, the stories behind several songs from Appetite for Destruction may be well-known to diehard fans, but highlight the rawness – and the realness – that made it such an incredible record. Conversely, the construction of the Use… albums is largely glossed over, likely because the author (rightfully) assumes that most readers will know the stories already. The formation of Velvet Revolver is also given a suitable amount of ink; it’s not a spoiler to say that frontman Scott Weiland isn’t painted in the most flattering fashion.
Much like the tales of booze, drugs and groupies, journeys to sobriety – while an undeniably admirable and necessary move – may also fail to resonate with those who have read several other veteran rockers’ tales of redemption. What separates McKagan’s is instead of just getting clean, he made a dedicated effort to better himself via a demanding physical fitness routine and education, the latter enabling him to become somewhat of a financial guru and columnist. Thankfully, he doesn’t really relay these life improvements in a self-serving or preachy style; you sense he’s found his place, though. You’re rather proud of him for doing it, rather than remaining a narcissistic teenager ala Nikki Sixx.
Even if many of the stories have been covered elsewhere, this is a highly recommended story of a well-travelled, road-hardened but intelligent and likeable individual.