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2019.08.29 - The Telegraph - Interview with Duff

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2019.08.29 - The Telegraph - Interview with Duff Empty 2019.08.29 - The Telegraph - Interview with Duff

Post by Soulmonster on Thu Aug 29, 2019 8:34 pm

Duff McKagan interview: 'There were no predators in the 1980s – the women were just as aggressive as the men'

In the summer of 1992 Duff McKagan got the chance to meet Prince. The Minnesotan superstar was appearing at the Westfalenhalle, in Dortmund, while McKagan was enjoying a night off from playing bass with Guns N’ Roses on their European tour.
“Prince was not a guy that I ever wanted to meet because he means so much to me that I just wouldn’t know what to say to him,” he remembers.

But there he was, backstage at a concert on the Diamonds and Pearls tour with a headful of booze and a backstage pass. “I was feeling pretty good about myself,” he remembers, because “this is my guy, this is Prince, and I’ve got a laminate.”
Duff McKagan was, by his own admission, “pretty hammered” that evening, this despite the fact that the concert hadn’t yet started. He was given the chance to evaluate his lifestyle choices by a tap on the shoulder from a member of the headliner’s entourage telling him that Prince had requested a meeting.

“We’ve all been there, when you suddenly realise that you’re too f____d up, that you can’t even stand,” he says. “But I go in [to the dressing room] and there’s all these candles and stuff, and there he is. He says, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ and I just start slurring my words. I was very conscious of it. I don’t know how bad it was,” he says, “but it felt pretty bad.”

The fact that in 2019 Prince is dead while Michael Andrew ‘Duff’ McKagan continues to walk among us is just one remarkable aspect of the musician’s eventful life. By any measure, this is a man who has lived a bit. In 1994, the year of his departure from Guns N’ Roses, his state of physical disrepair was such that he became pudgy and bloated. Why? “Because everything was basically shutting down,” he says. He was 30 years old.

The following autumn McKagan played a show with the Neurotic Outsiders, with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, at the Viper Room in Los Angeles. It was his first public appearance in more than a year, time that had been spent on a mountain bike and in martial arts studios. By now he was in recovery from alcohol and hard drugs. The transformation was so marked that word quickly spread on the Sunset Strip that he’d had a tummy tuck and a facelift.

“I was 31 years old and people honestly thought I’d had plastic surgery,” he says.

Ironically, McKagan left his hometown of Seattle in the early years of the 1980s after being urged to do so by a friend who warned him that, if he did not, he would be ensnared by the heroin scene that plagued the city. Heading south on Interstate 5 to Los Angeles he fell in with a gang of feral musicians with whom he shared drugs and girls.  

They called themselves Guns N’ Roses. One magazine called them "the most dangerous band in the world".

Success did not come quickly. The quintet’s debut album, the excoriating Appetite For Destruction, released in 1987, found a cult audience but little more. But following pressure from David Geffen, the owner of the band’s record label, MTV reluctantly premiered the video for the single Welcome To The Jungle at 5am one Sunday morning. Despite the thankless hour, the clamour from viewers phoning in to request the clip be repeated was enough to crash the channel’s switchboard.

Guns N’ Roses duly exploded like the flammable material of which they were made. “You may not like our integrity [but] we built a world out of anarchy,” they would later sing. They had a point.

The 30 million selling Appetite For Destruction may have been as catchy as Bon Jovi’s agreeably anodyne Slippery When Wet LP, but this was where the similarities ended. As the world sang the upbeat chorus of the ubiquitous hit single Paradise City, in its verses lurked danger. A broken Captain America stood “torn apart,” a “court jester with a broken heart,” just another casualty in a Hollywood scene where “the surgeon general says it’s hazardous to breathe” let alone dream.

As their profile exploded, Guns N’ Roses stared-down the spotlight of public acclaim. Arrest warrants were issued for various infractions, including urinating on a plane. Fans caused two hundred thousand dollars worth of damage at the Riverport Performing Arts Center in St Louis when the band finished a concert early – after starting it hours late. A similar exit caused a riot at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal that required the attention of 300 police officers, not to mention the closure of four subway stations.

A more serious incident still awaited them in England. At an appearance at Donington Park in the summer of 1988 two fans were crushed to death as 107,000 supporters rushed to the stage to catch the Californians’ early afternoon set.

Wherever they turned, Guns N’ Roses were continually on the verge of some kind of meltdown. Onstage at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1989, singer Axl Rose scolded his band mates for their drug use, saying “I’m tired of too many people in this organisation dancing with Mr. Goddam Brownstone” [heroin]. Three years later, on a stadium tour with Metallica the group were spending a hundred thousand dollars a night on after show parties. On the song Coma, a female voice can be heard to say that “all they wanna do is have sex, sex, sex, all the time.”

“Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I’d compare the 1980s to what I’ve read about 1920s Berlin,” says McKagan. “It was a free and open approach to sex, among other things. There were no predators, women were just as aggressive as men – make no mistake about that… The 1980s were just like Berlin before Hitler.”
It was a ride on the wild side of such velocity that it couldn’t hope to last, and it didn’t. Such was the carnage of the fallout from Guns N’ Roses in the middle years of the 1990s – after which the group comprised only Axl Rose and a compliment of session musicians for twenty years - that Duff McKagan didn’t even seem like the member most likely to die.

But he did seem likely to die. In the spring of 1994 his pancreas swelled to the size of an American football before rupturing and causing third degree burns to his insides. Doctors at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle told McKagan that if he didn’t stop drinking he’d be dead within a month. This is what you get from downing half a gallon of vodka a day.

A month before this happened, McKagan shared a flight to the Pacific Northwest with Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. The two men were “at the end of our ropes,” as the bassist later put it, and in a shocking state. Their conversation was one of the last that Cobain would have; two days later he committed suicide. McKagan said of the midair encounter that he “didn’t have the sense that he was going to die,” and that “even when I got the call that he [had] I didn’t fall out of my chair. It just happened… It was like, ‘Oh, another one fell.’

“It just happened,” he said. “I was too f_ed up to really take it in.”

It was from this grim nadir that Duff McKagan decided to disprove the notion that there are no second acts in American lives. He took a look at his immediate future as a corpse and didn’t much fancy it. Neither did he care for a place in the history books alongside rock casualties such as Sid Vicious and Johnny Thunders.

He removed himself from the radar and went back to school. Initially McKagan considered studying to be a doctor – as a child he had dreamed of becoming a brain surgeon - but instead settled for a degree course in accountancy and business at Seattle University.

From this he went on to write a regular business column, Duffonomics, for Playboy magazine, as well as weekly dispatches for Seattle Weekly. In 2011 he founded Meridian Capital Rock management, which offered financial advice to rock stars unable to fathom one end of a bank statement from another.

On a more creative bent, he also penned books, including the readable best-selling memoir It’s So Easy (And Other Lies). In 2004 he found multi-platinum success for a second time with Velvet Revolver, the band he formed with former Guns N’ Roses colleagues Slash and Matt Sorum. He even helped the group’s singer, Scott Weiland, beat his own addiction to hard drugs.

“I shot him in the ass to wean him off heroin,” he says. “I personally did that - for a month. He got his family back; he had his victory. He came to me for help cos he wanted to get sober the way I got sober. I was, like, ‘Okay, then we’re going [to the Cascades mountain range, overlooking Seattle]. It’s gonna be a tough month, but we’ll get through it.’”

In the end, Weiland didn’t get through it. After falling back into old habits, the singer died of an accidental overdose in 2015. Despite succumbing to what he calls “survivor’s guilt” of which he sings in the song Feel from this year’s solo Tenderness album, McKagan told his friend that if “you go back to drugs, you’re gonna die… I told him, ‘You know where this is gonna go, Scott.’”

For his part, Duff McKagan has relapsed just once, a short-lived dalliance with prescription drugs that taints his quarter century record of abstinence only slightly. These days he spends his days on tour seeking out Thomas Jefferson’s final resting place in Monticello, or visiting the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn, the location of Custer’s Last Stand, rather than sketchy neighbourhoods in foreign cities.

In 2016 McKagan even somehow managed to play his part in the unlikely re-unification of Guns N’ Roses. No longer the world’s most dysfunctional and unreliable union, the band toured the world for three years without incident. In doing so they registered the third most financially successful tour in rock history. This feat is all the more remarkable when one considers that at first the vehicle was viewed as the kind of contraption into which only Wile E Coyote would clamber.

To say that the news of the band’s re-formation was met with scepticism is pitching it a bit low. Yet to everyone’s surprise the shows were received with universal acclaim. In place of the threat to life and limb the group had offered in the past, in the 21st Century Guns N’ Roses constitute a safe but thrilling outlet for music that remains genuinely exciting.

Today, aged 55, Duff McKagan is still the kind of rock star who sits for an interview wearing a t-shirt on which are written the words ‘Zero F___s Given,’ just as he might have done in 1987. But he’s also the kind of rock star who seems humbled that his beloved Seattle Mariners baseball club threw a ‘Duff McKagan Night’ in his honour, as they did in June. The team are lousy this year so only two thousand people showed up to the rain-soaked event, but never mind.

Likeable and indiscreet, not to mention as lithe as the Pink Panther, the only question about which McKagan declines to speak is the prospect of a new album from Guns N’ Roses (“I won’t tell you shit,” he says). But he does reveal that he and Axl Rose text each other “every couple of days,” usually with what he calls “dad jokes.”

For example: “A six-foot beetle knocked on my door. I opened it and it slapped me in the face. I guess there’s a nasty bug going around.”

He says that Guns N’ Roses “took accountability and we talked through things in the past that had been problems. Everything in life happens for a reason. I had to go on a separate journey on my own. I can’t speak for Axl and Slash, but that’s definitely true for me. And my own journey has made me a better band mate and friend and business partner, all of the things you have to be when you’re in a group. I’m now much better at those things. I’m much more capable now.”

Even the memory of a drunken encounter with his hero doesn’t tug at his sleeve in quite the way it once did. In 2011, in a Seattle Weekly piece about Prince’s pivotal 1999 album, he wrote how "it was the intent and drama and impossibility of how good this record was that made me start to think that maybe ANYTHING was possible in my own life, too."

Were he to have had his wits about him, Duff McKagan might have spoken these words to Prince in person, in Dortmund. But never mind: the recipient of his praise was sufficiently pleased that he reprinted the article in a subsequent tour programme.

Duff McKagan plays Islington Assembly Hall on 29 of September and Manchester Club Academy on September 1

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/interviews/duffmckagan-guns-n-roses-interview-no-predators-1980s-women/
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