On March 21, 1994 Duff McKagan left Los Angeles for Seattle to visit a house he had purchased but never seen. He was seeking refuge from a debilitating drug habit he was finding hard to break after more than a decade of excess. On the same plane was Kurt Cobain. These two musicians were both originally from Seattle and dreamed of making it in the music industry and their respective bands (Guns N' Roses and Nirvana) changed the landscape of rock n' roll. However despite the fame, adulation and monetary success both had achieved, they were both in an abyss and one of them sadly would never escape. Duff McKagan was the lucky one. While Cobain would be dead within a week, McKagan's moment of truth would arrive six weeks later when his pancreas burst burning his insides from years of abuse. He didn't die and when he left the hospital, he became a changed man. Duff McKagan's story is an alternative path to Cobain's. In McKagan's new autobiography It's So Easy (and other lies) he tells a eerie story about how in 1992 he hid in the closet of his house with a shotgun continually thinking of wrapping his lips around it to make the pain he was experiencing end. While he chose a different path, it provides the reader with a harrowing tale of how despite vast wealth and success he desperately wanted to end it all. Through the book's entire 367-pages never once did I sense that McKagan was being whiny or a spoiled rock star who felt he was entitled to something greater. He looks back on his life with a keen sense of purpose and perspective acknowledging moments of regret while never once making excuses for his mistakes and this is precisely what makes his story unforgettable even long after you've finished this book.
It's So Easy (and other lies) is by no means a gratuitous blow-by-blow recount of his years of excess. Sadly his former rhythm partner, Steven Adler's memoir from last year fell into this trap where the glut of drug intake took on overzealous dimensions that disgusted rather than delighted. The same could be said of Slash's biography from a few years back but with more of an emphasis on the legacy and history of Guns N' Roses. McKagan simply sat down and wrote a straightforward story of his life which is one of the best written and edited autobiographies put together in recent years. Whenever one reads a memoir from a celebrity trekking your way through their early childhood is often tedious. It's not that the reader isn't invested in their story, but the celerity at hand tends to overestimate how much the reader wishes to know about their youth. Most readers want to know about the seminal career years versus their formative years. However, McKagan shifts the first few chapters in a non-linear fashion shifting between his teen years, his beginnings and his collapse. This clever literary decision makes the first part of the book, leading up to his tenure with Guns N' Roses, extremely readable. You never once find yourself wanting to page ahead to later chapters.
Like most rock stars of our time, McKagan came from a poor and broken home but his career trajectory was always dissimilar. One of the reason he's still a working and flourishing musician today is because of his work ethic. Even at his most inebriated state he found a way to function. When he came off a 26-month world tour with Guns N' Roses he turned around and went around the world supporting his recently released solo LP. McKagan's book isn't so much a series of stories or tall tales as it is a journey through one man's struggle in finding himself. His recounting of the past appears to be spot-on and unsullied. He draws beautiful parallels, paints vivid pictures and has a way of informing the reader with important dates without inundating them with minutiae. That being said, part of me wishes there was more about the music here along with details about the recording and writing sessions for Guns N' Roses iconic albums Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion, however, while the chapters lack specifics, you never once feel as if McKagan is blowing smoke in your face. The books by Steven Adler and Slash felt cobbled together with random facts and neither embodied their true voice. McKagan's voice in It's So Easy comes across as authentic and never once do you feel as if he's embellishing facts because an agent or manager told him it would help sell books. If he doesn't discuss something within the pages of this book it's more or less because he doesn't remember it or feels that it's been covered elsewhere. As a result, the book is invigorating without having certain stories retold for the sake of being retold.
While many will pick this book up for the chapters surrounding Guns N' Roses, it's filled with an equally stimulating story on either side of his stint with GNR. His punk rock beginnings are electrifying to read in Seattle especially when you see what became of many of the people he played with. However, it's being a father and husband that highlight the latter chapters as it gives one a sense of hope that anyone can overcome any and all of their demons. McKagan turned his life around in ways no one could have imagined. His personal success is delved into with great care and it's integral to the book whereas most domestic bliss in biographies often come as an epilogue. Most musicians spend so much time on their success they often dismiss the people who are responsible for them being here today. McKagan gives props to family, friends and his band mates in ways that makes you feel as if you know them.
Possibly the greatest interest in the book will surround the chapters around Axl Rose. While not all of it is dreamlike, McKagan shines his friend is a largely affirmative light and someone whom he still cares for. This proved to be uplifting as McKagan isn't hesitant to point out their differences but as the two shared a stage in 2010, it seemed everything came full circle between two friends. During McKagan's period of getting sober in Seattle in 1994, it was Rose who continually checked in. His first person perspectives are eye opening if for no other reason than it isn't bitter but candid. The only chapters of the book some readers may find wearisome are the ones dedicated to his workout and health years. While they ay not be sexy or full of rock n' roll glory, they paint a picture of a man who did the impractical by overcoming his addictions and forging forward with his life in a redemptive and industrious manner. Ultimately McKagan's book is a cautionary tale of what happens when all your dreams come true. There are other books that may be more scandalous or ripe with tales of rock n' roll drama but it's unlikely they're as honest, straightforward or on the money as Duff McKagan's It's So Easy (and other lies). Order it here.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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