Proof that you can turn your life around if you truly want it.
I knew basically nothing about McKagan other than him of course having been the bass player in Guns N' Roses.
He didn't really interest me much back then in my early teenage when GN'R was probably the first true love of my life. There was Axl and Slash and then there were the rest.
Bass players do have it worse: no one really pays any attention to them because they are, well, bass players. Everyone pretty much assumes that they just play open E anyways when no one's looking (which is pretty much always) or likely even then when someone actually cares enough to look at their way.
Of course I'm exaggerating here a bit. But this is the sort of reality bass players have to come to terms with.
Few realize tough that playing bass is more often than not merely a position where folks who played guitar first and/or primarily just end up in. Just like in McKagan's case. Either you pick up a bass and learn to love it (or hate it, that'll do just as fine) or you take the risk of not playing in a band at all. There are only so many positions available in a standard rock band to play a guitar...
So, the next time you see a drummer switching over to strum some guitar, it really shouldn't be that big of a mindfuck to you: he probably started playing music with a guitar - just like the majority of rock musicians you happen to come across in your life. Hell, that drummer might be playing an old beat up acoustic at home or backstage more than he likes beating his drums.
McKagan has already done twice or thrice as much as most of us ever will and who knows what he's still going to do in the remainder of his life.
He not only survived that cliched rock-n-roll lifestyle unlike so many fellow musicians but he actually did the almost unimaginable too: he went back to school.
And not only did he crack those books open, he actually walked away with a university degree - and launched another successful career. And he still gets to continue playing his music - the one thing he probably loves doing the most.
McKagan's position now is pretty damn envious: he truly seems happy and content, full of good will, insight and energy.
That's a long way from looking down the barrel of a shotgun in a closet in your own home finger firmly on the trigger all those years ago thinking that you are a worthless piece of shit, that life ain't got dick to offer you anymore and even if it did you wouldn't deserve any of it anyways.
Oh, how I wish Kurt Cobain would have had the will-power to run his course with heroin and choose new routes for himself as well. But then again, it's pretty obvious that Duff was always a fighter and a go-getter and Kurt was neither.
Still, such a bloody waste of life to off oneself for no good reason.
While we're on the topic of wishful thinking, I'd still like to see professor Dave Mustaine lecturing on quantum physics in Palo Alto. :)
But back to Duff. Turns out he was hands down the most experienced guy of the bunch when it came to playing music for a living. Or if not for a living per se at least doing real gigs and tours, even abroad (if only in Vancouver, Canada).
When rest of the guys were then most likely just jerking off and fantasizing about being a rock star Duff had already made it - in a local and regional kinda way of course but still.
It's funny that the old cliche persists that it takes a lot of hard work to make it in the rock business when much more crucial factor seems to be able to party all night long as if on command.
The turning point for GN'R? Their first out of town tour in the Pacific Northwest which Duff had arranged by himself - no doubt having grown tired of no one in the band actually working towards concrete goals.
That tour lasted for one gig only, tough. Apparently because they couldn't get rest of their gear (their van broke down, so they had to hitchhike along with what they could reasonably carry by themselves) on time which is one big pathetic excuse if anyone asks me.
You can always arrange to borrow someone else's drum kit if you really want to play. You'd think that with Duff's contacts it would have been pretty much a non-issue. Not that it would have been a huge issue to just reschedule new gigs. Their venues would have been tiny places anyways and they'd be lucky to get paid anything at all to begin with.
You'd think a posse like GN'R - any band for that matter who's about to do their first actual tour out-of-state or otherwise - would've been only too thrilled to be able to play their music to all those who probably haven't a clue who they even are. To show to the locals how rock is supposed to sound - and feel - like.
It's not like anyone of them had proper jobs back in L.A. to much worry about. Let alone record company guys following their every move. At that point they were just a bunch of cocky long-haired nobodies who just wanted to play rock music, get wasted and screw ladies. And they call it quits because of one missing drum set? Get the fuck out of here!
Yes, they were penniless but it's not like anyone of them had a pot to piss in in L.A. either. They were tiny crappy venues to play in I'm sure but surely they would have kept them in drinks and given a burrito each for an exchange of live playing? I mean what more do you really need when you are about 20-year-old and want to play your music to anybody who will listen?
Plus they were all already used to living in basically where ever they happened to pass out. They probably could have crashed for weeks on end in fellow musicians homes and practicing pads and so on - had they really wanted to finish that tour. I mean for crying out loud they were all young, good looking rocker guys "from L.A." in distress which I'm sure many ladies would have found more than agreeable if you get my point.
How fucking un-rock-like. Just terrible.
I don't honestly think that there was anything remotely epic about their whole journey up from L.A. to Seattle (or was it Portland, can't remember, doesn't matter either way) where their tour was planned to start.
"We were so hungry that at some point we ate corn straight from a corn field." So crazy. And they hitched a ride. Totally unheard of! Only the preferred mode of transportation back in the 60s...
Not saying these guys were whiners but I sure am tempted to. Maybe not all of them, tough. But hell, most of the guys I studied with back in the day had more attitude than that.
It's so easy... (sometimes at least it seems).
Oh yeah, and there's one photo which shows the place where Duff lived in (probably taken around the time he moved in L.A.). Now, I don't know what an average American standard - then or now - is for a dump but to me it seemed perfectly acceptable place to live in for a while, particularly for someone with not a whole lot of money to go around.
I don't know... Cockroach infested dumps? Not the world's most hardest problem to solve, really. A call to landlord, maybe a call to city office if that doesn't help. If you are reasonable to people, they tend to be reasonable to you as well.
For me at least it didn't sound as chaotic or disgusting or even that hard of a life, honestly.
Not ideal of course but you can't have all: if you crave for some street cred, well, then you just have to play the part, too - for some while at least.
And you can't be doing terribly bad when there's always a drink or drugs or a girl at an arms reach - even when you are still basically just another band trying to make it big in L.A. in the 80s.
You want stories of hard life, try Africa...
Very well written book nevertheless and a good account of a phenomenon called Guns N' Roses. And an inspiring story of a man's transformation. Now all that's still left to hear is of course Axl's point of view, his autobiography. Which we will probably of course never get.
It's funny and telling that GN'R was effectively over as a band already in 1989 if I interpreted Duff correctly (and memory serves me right) - in my perspective, that is. It quickly morphed into Axl Limited company that merely featured guest stars Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steven until they were all let go or just walked out themselves one after the other.
GN'R had truly transformed into a gigantic machine that had about a dozen zillion other musicians both on stage and off it - it no longer had anything to do with a group that consisted of five guys who just wanted to leave their mark in the world. And they had all managed to do just that, only Axl figured that he can leave even bigger imprint behind him. And in a way, he did.
The not so unusual story: money in, men out. Though in Axl's case money might really have been less of a factor: he simply needed people to know who really runs the show and calls the shots.
And if Axl truly wasn't the creative genius behind GN'R there's just no way musicians who respect themselves let one guy transfer the rights to the name of the band to himself without a fight. Let alone constantly allow their frontman to show up on a gig when and if he pleases.
They knew, just as everyone else knew too: no Axl, no GN'R.