photo 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.
art by nacrowe
greatest music video moment ever? that part in the GUNS N' ROSES "Estranged" video when SLASH plays a ripping solo after AXL ROSE swims with the dolphins after inexplicably jumping off an oil tanker.
don't believe me? watch it below (starts at 8:02 mark):
thing i appreciate the most about SLASH and GUNS N' ROSES is there lack of boundaries. having boundaries isn't necessarily a bad thing, some things you probably shouldn't do, like having your guitarist rise from an ocean jesus-style because you obviously didn't think out your video well in advance. listen, im not complaining, OBVIOUSLY I LOVE THAT video and especially that part (as well as that other part at 6:15 during the video when SLASH levitates down the SUNSET STRIP passing the RAINBOW and other clubs while a dolphin swims in the street).
when others say no, GUNS N' ROSES say yes and then some, regardless if its byeond moronic.
when i look at bands today everything seems very contained and safe. SLASH's playing in particular reminds me a lot of JOE PERRY from AEROSMITH in that if you've ever watched live footage of the dude, it seems like he is riffing off and in his own world when playing live. he's exploring his own musicality and isn't too concerned with presenting a note-for-note performance of a memorable solo on wax. i love that. i love when musicians are going for it. SLASH did that in spades and in the tradition of JOE PERRY, JIMMY PAGE and of course JEFF BECK.
SLASH is a blues-based rock guitar player, but within that box he experiments like crazy. now my personal taste leans more towards the artier, indie side of bands from that late 80s period, my hands-down favorite being JANE'S ADDICTION. guitarist DAVE NAVARRO similarly shares the same influences (with some post-punk sprinkled in) and a predilection to experiment live, but SLASH for me is the more INTENSE musician. i only came to that conclusion after seeing both live.
years ago i saw GUNS N' ROSES play the new GIANTS STADIUM (or whatever they call it now) when a friend from VENEZUELA was in town and needed somebody to take him. i didn't go into it expecting much, but i have to say without embarrassment, best rock show i have ever seen aside from the time i saw PRINCE at MADISON SQURE GARDEN. i've seen JANE'S ADDICTION several times live and while their music means more to me, GUNS N' ROSES was almost a religious experience. it was boogie, it was sloppy, it was sweaty, it was amazing.
yes lots of their lyrics are misogynist and yeah AXL ROSE is a total backwater hick. but all that being acknowledged. they're an amazing live band.