photo & text by nacrowe
for all the sex and drugs rolled out in his eponymous titled memoir SLASH (HARPERCOLLINS, 2007), the guitarist SAUL HUDSON provides an unexpected narrative that highlights the value of family. written more than a decade before his reunion with GUNS N' ROSES and resolving his differences with singer AXL ROSE, this memoir outlines the dissolution of the band.
its interesting, success for GUNS N' ROSES had an inverse effect on the internal relationships within the band, which ultimately resulted in the departure of HUDSON in 1996. at the outset, long before they had any chart success (people forget that "SWEET CHILD O MINE" propelled the album a year after its release), they were struggling. HUDSON goes into detail about a hastily booked early tour, in true PUNK ROCK fashion, utilizing DUFF MCKAGAN's contacts back in his hometown of SEATTLE to open a house party for THE FASTBACKS. on the way the van broke down and they had to hitchhike. it was a trial by fire, as the band members that survived the trip and didn't quite had a sense of fierce camaraderie that survived the early years of their existence.
it was because this internal bond was so tight among the members, almost like a gang in its intensity, that when things began to unravel through the battle of attrition that was touring life, drugs, firings, departures and internal power shifts; it feels rather traumatic for HUDSON.
First drummer STEVEN ADLER was fired for his drug abuse in 1990, which is laughable. Getting fired for substance abuse in GUNS N' ROSES. seems like an oxymoron. Guitarist IZZY STRADLIN departed shortly thereafter in 1991 for business reasons, citing an unequal share of recording royalties. ROSE, MCKAGAN & HUDSON in essence where the remaining core original members and during the USE YOUR ILLUSION sessions ROSE took creative control, expanding the sonic palette of the band to incorporate piano ballads (a la ELTON JOHN) and long, multi-layered epics that came from god knows where. i like the albums but its a departure from the meat and potatoes badass-ness of their debauched debut album. it was like the scion of all things THE STOOGES decided they wanted to be QUEEN instead. just odd.
before the next tour AXL made the remaining members legally sign away their claim to the GUNS N' ROSES name and copyrights as requisite for his involvement. this power grab sealed the death of the band, which took a few years to manifest. what i read in this book is a sense of bitterness and betrayal at ROSE's willingness to dismantle not only a legendary band still on the ascent, but the brotherhood that undergirded it. all of this in the name of ego and hubris.
MCKAGAN in his memoir IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (review linked HERE) takes a slightly less strident approach to his indictment of ROSE, instead feeling rather sorry for him. MCKAGAN had independently got his life back together, kicked hard drugs, went back to school, trained his body manically, started a family and essentially saw ROSE as an isolated figure who squandered his heyday. i didn't get that vibe off of HUDSON, despite having a similar personal trajectory as MCKAGAN, losing GUNS N' ROSES deprived him an identity that was only partially revived with VELVET REVOLVER, only to be squandered by another erratic singer, SCOTT WEILAND.
having seen them on their reunion tour and having read his memoir, i'm glad GUNS N' ROSES are a touring and recording unit again, only because one of the great ROCK & ROLL guitar players still feels he has something to prove.
and that is a gift to all of us.
photo & text by nacrowe
outside of PRINCE and maybe RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, GUNS N' ROSES is one of the best live bands i have ever witnessed. there is a looseness and sleazy groove to their sound that is very much in the best tradition of FUNK that i feel is often overlooked. makes sense because SLASH and AXL ROSE, at least on the night i saw them years ago GIANT STADIUM, where in top form and just slayed.
in his memoir IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2011), GUNS N' ROSES bassist DUFF MCKAGAN recounts his career trajectory from a young SEATTLE street urchin punk kid to being a crucial member of a legendary band to battling drug abuse and gaining sobriety as well as freedom through (gasp) formal education, martial arts and rediscovering family.
it is quite the narrative arc and i want to say straight off that this is one of the better written memoirs i have read in recent memory. this shouldn't be too surprising given his columns for SEATTLE WEEKLY and PLAYBOY over the years that this debut book is recalled from. what i love most about his writing style is that it is conversational yet direct. he isn't trying to win you over with his vocabulary, although you get the sense that wouldn't be difficult for him given the depth of reflection and insight into his former selves that shared his same frame over a lifetime of interesting choices. rather than a tale of exploits, it is more a story of evolution and personal growth, as referenced in the title of a notoriously misogynistic song for which he wrote lyrics. he doesn't necessarily disown that song but acknowledges such were by a different person who wasn't then a father of two daughters. i appreciate that. that was me then, this is me now.
you really get the sense that MCKAGAN is writing this for other musicians who feel cornered into a lifestyle that isn't conducive to personal growth or (again, gasp) responsible long-term decision-making. nobody did debauchery like GUNS N' ROSES and the dude was such a notorious drinker that THE SIMPSONS named their fictional beer in his honor. think about that for a moment.
that same dude kicked his addictions and got a handle on his demons as well as his finances by pursuing a finance degree in order to better serve his fellow musicians with sound advice instead of relying on industry leeches that have sucked dry the marrow of many an artist. it is glorious to hear him speak about studying for exams backstage while on tour of soccer stadiums in SOUTH AMERICA. just a glorious juxtaposition.
even if you are not a fan of the music of GUNS N' ROSES or VELVET REVOLVER, this memoir is worth your time. it defies expectations and shows that through discipline and determination, even the most seemingly wayward souls out there can have a commanding second act.
couldn't recommend it any more forcefully.