Book Review of It's So Easy and Other Lies By Duff McKagan
Duff McKagan, bass player and founding member of the über successful 1980s rock band Guns N' Roses released his memoir last fall. It was obvious that the band had serious problems with drug and alcohol abuse. One didn't even need to watch MTV or read the popular rock magazines of that era to know that. Simply listening to songs like Night Train and Mr. Brownstone said it all. The drug abuse was out of control and Duff McKagan himself had said many times that he didn't think he'd make it past thirty years old.
Before buying McKagan's book, I discovered not only that he was sober but that he went back to college, has his own money management firm and writes for both Seattle Times and Playboy.com. He is also happily married with two beautiful young daughters. I'm impressed that this is the same guy who slurred his way through interviews on MTV back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I was eager to read his book and learn about his journey to sobriety.
I must add that if you are looking for a juicy rock-n-roll tell all, this isn't the book for you. Duff McKagan does not spill dirty secrets, does not brag about sexual conquests and does not name names. He is respectful to the people he does mention in his book and it's made clear early on that this is his story and his alone.
A Brief Summary (Warning- Some Spoilers)
Leaving nothing out, Duff McKagan writes of his early childhood growing up in Seattle. He was the youngest of eight children. His older brother taught him how to play bass guitar at a very young age and by the late '70s was playing in various bands in the Seattle punk rock scene. He was often the youngest memeber of the bands he played in. In addition to bass, he played guitar, drums and even sang in many different bands. He was well known as a teenager and often beat up by jocks who felt threatened by punk rockers.
In 1984, after a bad break up and after watching many of his friends succumb to heroin addiction, he decided to leave Seattle for Los Angeles with only his car and little money. He is only 20 years old when he arrives to Los Angeles. He landed a job as a cook at a swanky resturaunt. At that time, Duff had a brother living in L.A. but refuses to move in with him and be a burden. Instead, he sleeps in his car until he finds his own place - a roach infested studio apartment in a seedy part of Los Angeles.
Duff met Slash and Steven Adler after answering an ad in a paper for a bass player. Duff decided not to join their band but remained friends with them. Later he befriends neighbor Izzy Stradlin, a heroin addict who would deal heroin through his apartment window. Izzy invites Duff to join his band, Guns N' Roses. Soon Duff meets GN'R vocalist, Axl Rose and eventually Slash and Steven Adler join the band.
The band quickly grew popular and was eventually signed by Geffen Records. Duff suffered from panic attacks and didn't do much other than drink. As time went on, however, he quickly learned that cocaine and crack could easily sober him up and keep him drinking for longer lengths of time. He drank and did coke all day, every day. He had multiple drug dealers and was soon drinking up to a gallon of vodka a day.
Steven Adler was eventually kicked out of the band for excessive drug use, quite a feat in itself, considering he was in a band consisting of drug addicts. Duff worried that the band would not be the same without Steven. Axl Rose's unexpected rages added to Duff McKagan's stress. He coped by drinking and doing more drugs. Izzy Stradlin sobered up and left the band not long after Adler's departure. The band was having troubles and the future of GN'R was becoming more and more uncertain.
After touring the world for their Use Your Illusions album, Duff McKagan was offered his own record deal. He had a band put together and went on tour right after the Use Your Illusions tour wrapped up. Unfortunately, his health issues proved to be too much and his was forced to cancel after a few shows.
On May 10th, 1994, Duff McKagan woke up to severe pain in his abdomen. The pain was so excruciating that he could not talk. Fortunately a childhood friend had found him in his bedroom and took him to his childhood doctor. His doctor couldn't help him and sent him to the ER. It was then that the discovery was made. Years of alcohol and drug use had taken its toll. His pancreas had blown up and exploded in his stomach. By some miracle, he survived.
It was the wake-up call that he needed. Though not an easy battle, Duff McKagan was able to get sober. He was blessed with the good fortune of having a close knit and supportive family. After becoming sober, he began riding his mountain bike, got healthy and managed to make new and sober friends. He went back to school, ended up marrying again and having children. He left GN'R years ago but remains friends with his former band mates. In addition to writing and to owning his own company, he formed a new band with fellow GN'R alumnis Slash and Matt Sorum. He also has his own band, Duff McKagan's Loaded.
Truly a Book Worth Reading
As a fan of rock music, I find myself reading a lot of biographies of this genre. Many of the books I have read are poorly written, filled with self-pity or juicy tell-alls written by former musicians either looking to make a few bucks or to relive a fascinating time in their life. That's not the case here. Not once did I ever get a sense of self-pity from Duff McKagan. He does not boast about his fame or "throw anyone under the bus" in his book.
During my research, I actually had a hard time finding any negative reveiws of Duff McKagan or his book. I believe this is because It's So Easy and Other Lies is very well written. I felt all the emotions that Duff McKagan must have felt while reliving his youth in this memoir. Duff McKagan is truly a gifted writer.
Duff McKagan is also an extremely likeable person. Despite the drug abuse and partying ways, he somehow managed to keep to his morals. He never cheated on the women in his life. He even offered to send his drug dealer's pregnant wife to rehab because he was so concerned for the unborn baby's well-being.
A recurring theme in his book is his unwavering love for his mother. Imagining his mother's torture and grief over his death kept him from killing himself. Not only is the guilt felt for his mother, but he is filled with sadness and guilt over the death of Kurt Cobain and other friends who he had lost to drugs. He writes about how some fans were killed during a concert and a Columbian girl who had taken her life because her dad would not let her go to a Guns N' Roses concert. Incidences like this weighed heavily on his conscience.
I also couldn't help noticing the spirituality in him that comes through in the book. He speaks briefly of a near death experience he had as a small child and how this event had changed him. He felt his true spirit being awakened while recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Not only will fans love this book. Anyone who has reached rock bottom and felt there was no end to the pain in their lives will love and appreciate this book. Duff McKagan's book is highly inspiring. He did the unthinkable: He made it well passed thirty years old and now lives a fullfilling life free of drugs and alcohol. It's So Easy and Other Lies is a must read and I highly recommend it.