Duff McKagan, Turning Addiction From Drugs To Music, Bouncing Back From Rock Bottom
[pullquote quote="These are human stories. I'm no longer in this big rock band. When you're in a hospital bed, you're just you. You're human and you're in pain. Things are real."]48-year-old Duff McKagan, best known as the bassist for Guns N’ Roses during their glory days, has grown into the boyish good looks that seemed so discordant with his messy blonde locks and his bad boy antics during the Appetite for Destruction days.
Although he still looks youthful, McKagan has cleaned up and become responsible. He’s released the paperback version of his internationally-successful memoir It’s So Easy: and other lies. As well as being a renowned author, he’s a father and a husband.
“When you have kids and you’re so much more concerned with what’s going on with them and with your wife and that stuff,” McKagan elaborated in an interview with Kevin & Bean this morning. “I think everything else takes a second chair…Martial arts has also helped me deal with a lot of stuff.”
He’s given up the drugs and the wild lifestyle, but there is one addiction McKagan just can’t shake–the music which he said is “an integral part of every moment of every day.”
And, generations later, people don’t forget what Guns ‘N Roses did for rock ‘n roll. Their legacy is being honored next month at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
A family-man. A rockstar. McKagan has not only been lucky, but he’s learned his life lessons and evolved. “There’s no reason logically that you should be alive and sitting in this room right now,” attest Kevin & Bean.
“I finally did learn some lessons and I learned really good lessons and I got better,” explained McKagan. “When I finally fell all the way and ended up in the hospital. These are human stories. I’m no longer in this big rock band. When you’re in a hospital bed, you’re just you. You’re human and you’re in pain. Things are real.”
[pullquote quote="I think my story is only important because if I can get through this, anybody can really. I'm not the smartest guy in the world. I just used my information finally."]McKagan, a natural storyteller, relayed the poignant of story of when his wheelchair-bound mother came and visited him in the hospital.
“I’m the youngest of eight kids,” said McKagan. “My mom coming into the hospital with Parkinson’s in a wheel chair and realizing right then and there I have tubes in my arms. I’m the one that’s close to death. The order of things is wrong. ‘Duff, it’s time to turn everything around.’”
“It’s easy to say, but in practice, it was terrifying and all that,” McKagan confessed. “My life changed for the better immensely–at that very moment. I think my story is only important because if I can get through this, anybody can really. I’m not the smartest guy in the world. I just used my information finally.”
Through the medium of the written word (“Another industry I’m in that the product doesn’t sell anymore,” McKagan quips), McKagan is imparting his information, his lesson on the masses. This story has resonated with readers all over the world.
“I’ve toured in my rock band since the book came out and people come up to me in Sweden and they read the book in Swedish and they’re relating with me in sort of broken English,” recounted McKagan. “The message is sort of a universal message. Basically, if a guy like me can get through some of the things I got through…Personal things, not just being in a big old rock band.”
Writing the book has helped McKagan come to terms with the “wreckage” of his past even though he said he’s a present-focused person.
[pullquote quote="Getting to my own truth. Back in the early '90s when friends of mine were dying and it sort of became normal sort of business. "]“I’m not a guy who lives in the past,” divulged McKagan. “I don’t go back to 1989 or 1994. I’ve got kids. Velvet Revolver started. Life is busy. And everything’s about what do I have to do today, what do I have to do next week?”
“And writing this book, sitting and writing for fourteen months and reflecting on things, how did I get into that hospital in 1994? Really, what was my part in my story? And that’s what the book really was for me,” McKagan continued. “Getting to my own truth. Back in the early ’90s when friends of mine were dying and it sort of became normal sort of business.”
Decadence within the music world in the ’80s and ’90s was more common than not and this translated to one of McKagan’s childhood heroes, Sly Stone, who influenced him as a musician but also showed him an unfortunate example of what life could lead to in the midst of drugs.
“I wrote about those pivotal points in my life, not just when I was down, but you know, hearing Sly and the Family Stone for the first time and how…my imagination just took off, right there, being a little kid,” recalled McKagan. “Sly and the Family Stone, all those noises and that groove, and punk rock.”
“I make that point in my book: listening to Sly when I was a little kid and then moving to Hollywood in 1984,” continued McKagan. “I had no money. If you remember Hollywood right after the Olympics, that’s when I moved. The cops moved out and crime moved in, so I got a really cheap apartment, but Sly Stone lived above me.”
[pullquote quote="And I didn't learn many lessons...There was plenty of information for me (in my youth). I didn't use it. "]“He was not doing well. He was selling some stuff and doing some things…and he was my childhood hero. It was pivotal for me because I saw all those allusions of rock stardom–there he was. There’s real life. That moment in my life. I’ll never forget. So I wrote about that.”
“And I didn’t learn many lessons,” concluded McKagan.”There was plenty of information for me [in my youth]. I didn’t use it.”
Now, in his own band called Loaded, McKagan is using his lessons. The bassist doesn’t feel like he was “a victim” of crazy singers in Guns ‘N Roses and Velvet Revolver. And McKagan is humbled and still willing to learn.
“Everyday that goes by, I find something new about music that I haven’t discovered yet,” exclaimed McKagan. “I only think that, especially seeing guys like Iggy who are twenty years older than me or the Stones or Aerosmith, I only feel like I’m halfway done.”
[pullquote quote=" I only think that, especially seeing guys like Iggy who are twenty years older than me or the Stones or Aerosmith, I only feel like I'm halfway done. "]“So, I don’t know what’s next for me,” continued McKagan. “And I don’t try to guess anymore because I’ve tried doing that especially in interviews, ‘Well, I’ll be doing this is six months.’ I have no idea what I’ll be doing in six months, to be quite honest. And I’m very, very profoundly happy in Loaded when we go out on tours. It’s just the best time ever.”
McKagan has no intention of rejoining Guns N’ Roses (“Tommy’s the bass player so I wouldn’t even ask to be a part of it,” McKagan said.) and he after seeing the new formation of Guns N’ Roses play in London, he has no resentment.
[pullquote quote="We're all grown-ups here and I hope we can have a little bit of grace."]But he does admit that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, which he found out about over the internet, will be “a little weird” for all of them.
“It’s not a competitive sport. Music isn’t,” McKagan elaborated. “So, therefore, getting to theRock And Roll Hall Of Fame is not the Holy Grail of music. Just that connection, that primary connection you make with a fan is the thing. You make a connection with a fan…that’s what it’s all about.”
“We’re all grown-ups here and I hope we can have a little bit of grace,” McKagan concluded. “I kinda already see the humor in it. That’s the way I chose to look at it.”
“I can’t tell how we’re going to end it. I really don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s OK not to know, but we’ll get there and I have hopes that we’re going to be just fine.”