photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
MUSICIAN DUFF MCKAGAN has seemingly lived a thousand lives on stage.
for most he is unquestionably synonymous with the much CELEBRATED and formerly DEBAUCHED LOS ANGELES ROCK AND ROLL institution known as GUNS N' ROSES. for others of a previous era, he was known for his involvement in his hometown SEATTLE's pre-GRUNGE 1980s PUNK ROCK scene with such luminaries as 10 MINUTE WARNING, THE FARTZ and THE FASTBACKS. in recent years he has been involved with the UNDER-APPRECIATED LOADED and WALKING PAPERS projects as well as countless recording sessions and side appearances with artists like JERRY CANTRELL, IGGY POP and MARK LANEGAN and in bands such as VELVET REVOLVER, MAD SEASON, KINGS OF CHAOS, NEUROTIC OUTSIDERS and even JANE'S ADDICTION.
despite such a RIDICULOUS resume of AWESOME bands, MCKAGAN's DEFT contributions as a SONGWRITER and PERFORMER are often overshadowed by his more FAMOUS collaborators of the top-hatted variety. i think such perceptions will shift with his forthcoming LIGHTHOUSE (BFD, 2023) release as the singles i heard definitely build on his previous release TENDERNESS (UME, 2019) to showcase an EARNEST and VULNERABLE SINGER-SONGWRITER wrinkle hitherto unforeseen in his main gigs. people are aware of his THOUGHTFUL and ADROIT writing abilities given his past columns for SEATTLE WEEKLY and PLAYBOY and his two published memoirs, IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (review linked HERE) and HOW TO BE A MAN (AND OTHER ILLUSIONS) (review linked HERE), but as a solo artist he is entirely UNDERRATED.
in my opinion his recent solo work, separate from his RENOWNED past catalogue, is well worth checking out.
photo & text by nacrowe
written mostly while on tour in the mid-2010s with KINGS OF CHAOS and WALKING PAPERS, HOW TO BE A MAN (AND OTHER ILLUSIONS) (DA CAPO, 2015) is very much a continuation of RENOWNED GUNS N' ROSES bassist (and published author) DUFF MCKAGAN's previous memoir IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (review linked HERE) in that he offers ADVICE based on the HARD-FOUGHT second chance he got at LIFE, as outlined in the previous book. memorably, at thirty his appendix burst due to years of HEAVY DRINKING and he was ready to end his life. this book finds him looking back at all the WISDOM and EXPERIENCE he has gained from his post-GUNS N' ROSES sobriety as he nears fifty. if anything, HOW TO BE A MAN very much feels like an update on his life post-IT'S SO EASY and the actual difficult implementation of said INSIGHTS into regimes, boundaries, and a full acceptance of ADULT RESPONSIBILITIES to himself and his FAMILY, which he gushes about to no end. its all very ENDEARING and written in a DIRECT, CONFRONTATIONAL style that feels very HONEST and AUTHENTIC, as if he is attempting to point the way for peers, fans or anyone dealing with similar PAST ADDICTIONS and AILMENTS. the idea being that sober SELF-REFLECTION and SELF-DISCIPLINE can help anyone turn their life around. maybe even reconcile with others and themselves in the PROCESS.
the fact that the book is from the perspective of being on tour is SIGNIFICANT. you get the sense the he is making THOUGHTFUL observations about PAST CHOICES while he is in the proverbial belly of the beast. being on tour sounds GLAMOROUS until you realize the amount of ISOLATION involved and time spent apart from FAMILY. not to mention the REPETITIVE BOREDOM of it all outside of playing shows. SEX and DRUGS filled that space in the past, but now MCKAGAN is very much about READING BOOKS on his kindle or FINDING LOCAL GYMS to work out and palliate his FRUSTRATIONS or CREEPING NEGATIVE ENERGY. he also has a purpose to such efforts, that being the financial WELLBEING of his FAMILY. its that objective which finds him in EUROPE sleeplessly (and unknowingly) battling pneumonia for weeks on end in an UNGLAMOROUS splitter van, sharing rooms at LOCAL motels while trying to break WALKING PAPERS to a new audience. he does this because treating himself to buses and nice hotels isnt SUSTAINABLE longterm, and the responsible thing is to live at the level the band can afford.
that dynamic is only made more STARK and APPARENT since he joined that BACK-TO-BASICS EUROPEAN tour after a LUXURIOUS swing through SOUTH AMERICA with KINGS OF CHAOS, who are essentially USE YOUR ILLUSION-era GUNS N' ROSES members (SLASH, GILBY CLARKE, MATT SORUM) and a variety of FAMOUS singers from JOE ELLIOT (DEF LEPPARD) and GLENN HUGHES (DEEP PURPLE) to COREY TAYLOR (SLIPKNOT) and MYLES KENNEDY (ALTER BRIDGE) singing cover songs. he went from private jets with full-horizontal reclining seats and SWANKY boutique hotels to splitter vans and BUDGET motels literally overnight. and for him it is all EQUAL and part of the ROCK AND ROLL ETHOS of it all.
i think for MCKAGAN, all that entails being a man is as much about putting your sense of ENTITLEMENT, HUBRIS and EGO in check as it is about doing so with your FEARS and DEMONS. not that he doesnt acknowledge his past. there is a POIGNANT narrative he presents of being at a friend's place in the WEST VILLAGE in NYC for the weekend in preparation for SUPER BOWL XLVIII. he is their with JERRY CANTRELL of ALICE IN CHAINS and another friend, all former DRUG ADDICTS. during their stay they came across PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (who MCKAGAN doesnt name in the book out of respect and discretion) on the street multiple times looking to score, waiting for the man. HOFFMAN ended up passing away the morning of the game. for MCKAGAN, being at the game felt like a victory over his past struggles with ADDICTION, of having survived to age fifty. bearing indirect witness to HOFFMAN's final days only made such a dichotomy that much more PRESCIENT.
is definitely a book that is worth checking out as its message is UPLIFTING and INSPIRING without dismissing the SEEDIER and DARKER aspects of the human condition. its sense of balance is what makes it feel that much more AUTHENTIC, HOPEFUL and RELATABLE, even for those of us fortunate enough to not have past DRUG ADDICTIONS. that being said, we all are ADDICTS to one thing or another.
photo & text by nacrowe
back in the mid 90s when i was living in NIGERIA i had a copy of USE YOUR ILLUSION II (GEFFEN, 1991) by GUNS N' ROSES that i taped off a friend's CD. it's funny because the first record i knew in depth by GUNS N' ROSES was this record, not their seminal debut APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION (GEFFEN, 1987). previously growing up in SOUTHER CALIFORNIA you couldnt help but hear "WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE" or "PARADISE CITY" on regular rotation on 106.7FM KROQ, but strangely i have no memory of ever hearing anything off of either USE YOUR ILLUSION records.
i distinctively remember listening to my tape of USE YOUR ILLUSION II on a family trip to COTE D'IVOIRE. i can remember flying through the clouds when first hearing the epic multi-part track "CIVIL WAR" as well as the sublime heroics of SLASH's guitar solo on "YOU COULD BE MINE." and to be honest, at least in terms of their recordings, my love of GUNS N' ROSES is really based on an appreciation of their rhythm section. DUFF MCKAGAN's bass-playing absolutely rips, especially on tracks "LOCOMOTIVE" and "PRETTY TIED UP." dude is absolutely underrated. he is definitely from the FUNK school of bass playing, providing a propulsive, kinetic groove for SLASH to launch himself into outer space upon.
my favorite song on the record has long since my teen years been "ESTRANGED" which has some of the most lyrical soloing of SLASH's career to date. as ive mentioned numerous times before in this blog, i had the pleasure to see GUNS N' ROSES play METLIFE STADIUM a few years ago and they were incredible. seeing him pull off "ESTRANGED" on that scale took me back to surreptitiously listening to this record in my middle school library during lunchtime. again, the only way i can describe it is sublime. the video is also one of the most ridiculously bloated ego-trips of all time and is highly entertaining. especially all those dolphin special effects.
regarding AXL ROSE, the dude is an acquired taste. he is a legendary frontman and a massively talented yet still oddly underrated songwriter. i think some of his best work is on USE YOUR ILLUSION II which sadly also marked the transition period whereby thereafter he went into complete egomania that led to the demise of the core of the original lineup as a working, touring outfit. im glad that in recent years theyve pulled together again and my hope is that the new record theyve been working on take off where this record only hinted at.
i wouldnt count them out.