In It's So Easy: And Other Lies Duff McKagan, guitarist for the iconic rock band Guns N' Roses, shares his incredible story of playing bass for one of the biggest bands in the world. McKagan writes honestly about the band's early years and the deepening drug troubles suffered by most of the band, including himself.
In 1994, McKagan's pancreas exploded resulting in third-degree burns -- inside his body. Miraculously, he managed to survive and his path to sobriety is just as interesting.
Eventually, McKagan went back to school, got a business degree and is starting his own financial planning company. Now happily married with two daughters, McKagan is thoughtful, profane and sharp-witted, and it shows in It's So Easy.
First of all, I had no idea that you're the inspiration for Duff beer on "The Simpsons."
We played this show on MTV and Axl [Rose] introduced me as "Duff The King of Beers." The band was kind of blowing up and they called me to use my name. I thought it was an adult cartoon, like an art project, and that it was the weirdest thing that they wanted to use my name. I didn't know anything about branding or licensing. I was 23. I was like, "Yeah, cool."
I thought you would be meaner about Axl in the book. You were pretty fair.
That's life, and I think when we go through life, it's easy to demonize people -- especially over things that fell apart. It's not just a rock band; that's human nature. The truth lays somewhere else, probably.
What were you going through at the height of your addiction?
A f**k of a lot. To tell you that I drank a gallon of vodka a day would be right around it, but the thing is, days weren't days like they are now. They ran into other days. Drugs, a lot of cocaine, to keep up. I was self-medicating panic attacks and I always thought, "I'll address it when I get a break, I'll see a professional." Guess what? You don't get a break sometimes.
And your pancreas burst.
Yeah, acute pancreatitis and there's nothing "cute" about it. The pancreas expanded -- it was overtaxed and it burst. The enzymes that digest your food and are supposed to be inside were now on the outside. It burned everything outside. I don't wish it upon anybody. I wanted to die. I was pleading for them to kill me. The morphine that they had me on wasn't doing anything and they had me on Librium for the DTs [Delirium tremens, which include hallucinations and confusion], because you can die from that. The pain was so f**king brutal.
My mom came to see me and she was in a wheelchair with Parkinson's and she was crying. I was like, "Whoa Duff, you f**king f**ker, you f**king ass." I was so pissed at myself. She's taking care of her youngest son; the order of things is wrong. I just about blew it and let this lion of a woman down. That was my clarion moment, when I saw my mom. I wanted to change.
What was the hardest thing for you when you were newly sober?
Number one, the hardest thing to come to grips with was, if you're going to drink, you're going to die and I didn't have sober people around me. I didn't know anything about AA. I'm stubborn and I work hard, so those were the two things I relied on. The first time I went into a supermarket, it was like being on acid ... I was sweating on the verge of a panic attack. I bought cigarettes and BBQ sauce. I guess I just wanted to go into the store and buy something.
Why did you decide to go to college?
Because those first months started to go by, and I did things to fill my time. One of them was that I had all the Guns N' Roses financial statements and I tried reading them. Personally, I had made a good amount of dough for a 30-year-old guy, but I didn't know a thing about money. I'm not a dumb guy but I couldn't figure them out. I didn't know the difference between a stock and a bond -- too embarrassed to ask and I didn't trust anybody -- so went and enrolled in a course. Now I have a Bachelor's degree in business.
And now you have a financial planning company.
When I started going to business school, I started getting calls from my peers asking for my help. I thought, "Well, there are a lot of people like me who make a bunch of money and just get so scared of it and don't know what to do with it."' I just didn't want to be 60 years old and broke.
What was amazing to me was you were doing so well and then you had a relapse in 2005.
Yeah, 10 and a half years later. It wasn't a relapse on booze or coke. It was on Xanax. I think I felt like maybe I was a little bit bulletproof. "I'm good -- I kickbox, I do martial arts, I've got a spiritual center, blah, blah, blah." I carried Xanax for panic attacks. I had them in my backpack for years. I was under a lot of stress. I was the guy from Velvet Revolver -- everyone was coming to me. I took one of these pills for the stress and it just opened up a can of worms. My tolerance just went straight up the roof in no time. I tried to cold turkey-it at home; it was not cool.
There was shame and I guess that's part of your whole recovery. I wouldn't do it again, but I learned that the monster's there. It's not like I love to be f**ked up. Drinking a gallon of vodka -- you're way past loving getting f**ked up. It's something that's there. It's just something that wakes up.
Any chance for a Velvet Revolver reunion?
We'll see. We didn't call it a day. I don't think we'll ever do anything with Scott [Weiland]. I love that guy but I feel sorry for him.