|BY ANDY SECHER
To a generation of fans-especially those weaned during the late '80s and early '90s-the name Duff McKagan will always be intimately involved with one of rock's most legendary bands...Guns N' Roses. After all, the tall, blond bass beater was one of the few more-or-less stable ingredients in a notoriously tempestuous group that managed to sell over 20 million albums between their various tiffs, breakups and internal difficulties. That impressive sales total, combined with an unmistakable attitude and arrogance, became the Gunners' trademarks, and served to mark the unit (which also featured Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin) as one of the most successful and influential bands in rock history.
But as we now fast approach the Millenium, it seems that Mr. McKagan has begun to distance himself from his historic past-as well as from many of the hedonistic practices which so characterized the Gunners' position atop the rock hierarchy. Today we find a clean and sober Duff, a guy who no longer wants to answer to the title of "bassist for guns N' Roses". Instead, the 34 year-old McKagan has decided to turn his life around; a life that was almost destroyed a few years ago due to more than a decade's worth of suffering from "rock star disease"...a penchant for too many drugs and too many drinks. So rather than responding to Rose's offer to join the most recent studio incarnation of G N' R, Duff has revitalized his musical career with his latest solo outing, Beautiful Disease, a diverse and inspiring rock and roll collection that does indeed prove that there will clearly be life after G N' R for this multi-talented performer.
"So much has gone on in my life over the last few years," he said. "Some of it was less then thrilling, but other parts have been really good. Having to battle against the ravages of my lifestyle was really difficult, but overcoming my dependencies was the best thing that ever happened to me. It opened my eyes-it turned my life around. It made me realize what was really important to me. I was offered a lot of money to stay in Guns N' Roses, and I was very honored by that. But I realized that I had never gotten into making music for the money in the first place, so why should I start doing money for things now?"
As much as one tried to probe and prod McKagan to reveal the intimate secrets of his breakup with Guns N' Roses, it quickly becomes clear that this is someone who holds no grudges, and certainly displays no malice towards his former group. Rather, after giving up his various vices, Duff began to realize how much of his life he had wasted over the last decade-much of it just waiting to see what the band would do next. As the months of waiting turned into years, and his off-stage predilections grew more lethal, it became apparent to those around him that he was throwing away much of what could have been his most productive musical period. It's a realizationhe presents quite vividly in the new tune Who's To Blame, a song that features the lyrics: "What did I do today? Some people think I went and threw it away. But that was yesterday. I can't remember much of that, anyway." "After everything I had gone through, I began to appreciate the little tin life," he said. "A lot of it had to do with me being much more honest with myself, which is not something I had ever done before. Once you start looking at life around you in an honest way, you see things much more clearly. Everything comes into perspective."
When your pancreas literally explodes inside of you due to too much imbibing-as Duff's did in 1994-that's certainly an incident that should give you a little added perspective on life. In fact, that horrific situation almost killed McKagan, who was told quite succinctly by doctors upon his recovery that even one drink would be enough to terminate his very existence. In retrospect McKagan now recognizes that incident as the turning point in his life. It was as if the great rock and roll god-in-the-sky had reached down into the guy's very guts and told him he's better shape up-or he was going to be shipped out...perminently!
"When I was released from the hospital the doctor said, 'if go and have even one more drink, you will die. Just have a beer, and you'll be dead,' " McKagan said. "I'm fortunate that happened. Before that happened, I was trying to stop, but I couldn't."
Because of these past problems it would be easy to paint a verbal picture of McKagan as someone simply sitting around his home in Los Angeles and Seattle doing nothing but drinking and doing drugs waitinf for new G N' R recording sessions to come along. But in all fairness it should be noted that he kept himself fairly busy during the intervening years with his first solo disc, which came out in 1994, and a highly publicized 1996 stint with the Neurotic Outsiders, and band which also featured Guns' drummer Matt Sorum and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. He also did a brief stint with his pre-Guns unit, the Seattle-based punk outfit, 10 Minute Warning, and even landed a gig portraying a rock and roll vampire on the sci-fi TV show, Sliders. Yet, all of that failed to provide Duff with the musical outlet he had been craving for so long. Now with the emergence of Beautiful Disease he believes he has finally found that outlet.
"A friend of mine-a guy who works at my record label-said that the music on this record reminds of the Apocalypse, "McKagan said. "That's because you're still standing afterwards going, 'Hey I'm still here.' Lyrically, that's kind of what this album is."
Joined by such friends as his former G N' R buds Slash and Izzy, on such songs as Superman, Put You Back and Hope, McKagan shows that he has the style, spirit and the talent to make a significant impact on the late '90s rock world. He realizes that his new disc isn't about to complete with the classic Guns N' Roses albums for time or attention, but that's not his goal. Nope, Duff McKagan is a survivor, and at least for the time being, that's more than enough to keep him happy.
"I'm not saying this is the best record ever made," he said. "But it's the best one that I could do. I didn't write this record to get hit songs. I wrote it because it meant something to me. I'm very proud of it."
Thanks to Natalie for the article!