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 manipulation by nacrowe
i have to start off by mentioning (again) that with the exception of seeing PRINCE at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN in 2001, witnessing GUNS N ROSES at METLIFE STADIUM in 2016 was probably the best ROCK N ROLL show ive come across. it was a definite, holy shit, "SLASH is the real deal, he is the truth" moment. so im openly admitting that im providing this review from a place of admiration.
SLASH: RAISED ON THE SUNSET STRIP (GUITAR CENTER FILMS, 2014) is less a documentary and more a commercial for his then-current CONSPIRATORS project. it makes sense given that it was produced by a musical instruments retailer. sure there are interviews with current and past bandmates like DUFF MCKAGAN, STEVEN ADLER, MATT SORUM and MYLES KENNEDY as well as heavyweights like the late LEMMY KILMISTER (MOTORHEAD), ALICE COOPER, JOE PERRY (AEROSMITH), JERRY CANTRELL (ALICE IN CHAINS), STEVE LUKATHER, NIKKI SIXX (MOTLEY CRUE), DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA / FOO FIGHTERS) and DAVE MUSTAINE (MEGADETH), but it feels very much like a mutual admiration society.
which is odd.
GUNS N ROSES were and still are one of the last celebrated and relevant ROCK N ROLL bands. they have a controversial past with plenty of career peaks and just dismal, debilitating lows. im not saying that this film should have done something as tried and stale as a VH1 BEHIND THE MUSIC-esque narrative, but at least there should have been provided some counterpoint or hardship in what comes off like a charmed life. SLASH was the son of music industry insiders, his parents being involved with the art and costume design of major playors during the 1970s like DAVID BOWIE, JOHN LENNON, NEIL YOUNG, ALICE COOPER and THE POINTER SISTERS among many others. mostly raised between his parents in LAUREL CANYON, you really get the sense that he was raised to live and breathe the ROCK N ROLL lifestyle.
and all of that is cool to know, but what is really interesting about his life are the hardships and not the charmed aspects. what was it like growing up BRITISH and BIRACIAL? how did GUNS N ROSES form? what was collaborating with IZZY STRADLIN like? how did they get a record deal? what was his relationship like with AXL ROSE at the time of filming? how did he conquer his drug addiction? most of all, what drew him to the guitar?
in some ways this film feels like a lost opportunity, but i suspect that it was designed to be a lightweight commercial meant to drive up interest in guitar-playing in general. SLASH is no doubt a unique figure in ROCK N ROLL history and savant at his instrument, but this idea that somehow plucking a string or banging a drum makes you more authentic as a musician is a flawed premise. when i think of truly innovative musicians i think of APHEX TWIN or even TRENT REZNOR, people that are truly pushing the limits of music production and the very vocabulary of recorded sound. SLASH is very much in a box that was paved long before by DELTA and CHICAGO BLUES players and their offspring in CHUCK BERRY and LITTLE RICHARD, as well as later BRITISH acolytes in JEFF BECK, ERIC CLAPTON, JIMMY PAGE and the like. he is part of a tradition of great guitar players and for that should be celebrated. but lionizing guitar-playing over other forms of music as more real is just annoying and self-serving a bigger commercial agenda here. and its obvious, which is unfortunate.
SLASH deserved better.
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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
JOSH FREESE is renowned as a studio musician of the first order having recorded and/or toured with the likes of everyone from A PERFECT CIRCLE, STING, NINE INCH NAILS, PARAMORE, THE REPLACEMENTS, WEEZER and GUNS N ROSES to BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. and that credits list literally goes on. and on. but id argue that primarily he is known as the longstanding drummer of both the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK band THE VANDALS and the legendary NEW WAVE band DEVO.
less known or celebrated are his solo records and the one-off songs hes done over the past few years. they are often very brief, super catchy and hilarious. they are also normally off-the-cuff affairs with an almost FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE-esque POWER POP sense of melodicism and pop construction that seem designed to primarily embarrass his friends or make an ass of himself.
FREESE is an uber-talented musician that is literally capable of anything. i just love the fact that when he chooses to write and release his own material that it literally has nothing to do with his day job in tone or demeanor. definitely an artist worth checking out.
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.