Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BC2012: It's So Easy (and other lies) by Duff McKagan

Recently Barnes & Noble sent me an e-mail about an online clearance sale. After paging through hundreds of titles on dozens of pages (browsing books online totally sucks compared to browsing in a store), It's So Easy was the only book I found that remotely interested me. I slipped over to to check out the reviews, and frankly I was shocked -- over 100 reviews averaging five stars! I don't think many rock & roll memoirs have been so favorably reviewed. Needless to say, I ordered it immediately for $5.98 (as a member I get free shipping).

Considering how many times I listened to Appetite for Destruction in my late teens, I don't know much about the guys in Guns N' Roses other than what they play and that Axl is from Indiana. So my previous knowledge of McKagan was simply "played bass in GNR and Velvet Revolver."

I've read a lot of books about rock & roll, and I've read a lot of recovery memoirs. It's So Easy is among the best of both genres. McKagan tells a great story of humble beginnings, a meteoric rise to fame, the all-too-soon implosion of his band, and his struggle to get himself straight. One observes McKagan's life trajectory from "music is all that matters" to "drinking is all that matters" to a balanced lifestyle of family, music, education, exercise, and more. It's far from a complete story of GNR* and an even less complete story of Velvet Revolver. He does, however, write a lot about GNR's early days, various tours, and his frustration with Axl showing up late (particularly the violence his lateness often incited).**

Did you know that Duff beer on The Simpsons is named for Duff McKagan? Axl used to introduce him onstage as Duff "King of Beers" McKagan, and somebody from the show asked McKagan's permission to use the name. Of course, he had no idea at the time that the show would become an American institution.

McKagan did not go through rehab or A.A. to kick his drinking habit. He took up mountain biking! Racer Dave Cullinan (who was grappling with heart troubles at the time they met) became one of his closest friends. Here's one of my favorite stories in the book:
     One Sunday morning I went out to the house of one of Cully's friends to watch some football with a crew of professional mountain bikers. There were some empty beer bottles around.
     One of the bikers said, "Oh man, I'm so hungover."
     "What did you guys do last night?" I asked.
     "We partied like rock stars!"
     "Huh," I said. "What does that mean to you?"
     "I drank a six-pack by myself," said the hungover guy.
     I chuckled.
     Cully nodded in my direction and said, "Oh, don't fuck with this guy."
     Cully knew. I had talked a lot with him since we became friends. Now I told the rest of them. I told them how much I drank, I told them about the blow, the rocks of coke I'd shove up my nose, about having no septum, about throwing up and drinking the throw-up because there was alcohol in it. The whole thing. And their faces dropped.
     "Yeah," said the guy, "We partied like mountain bikers last night."
McKagan moved on to incorporate martial arts training into his recovery as well. In many ways his story is a classic case of replacing harmful addictions with healthy ones. There is even the obligatory relapse.

It's So Easy is well-written*** and entertaining. I enjoyed it even more than I expected. Anyone remotely interested in one of McKagan's bands, recovery memoirs, or even just rock and roll in general should like this book. It's that good.

* For example, McKagan writes about the band choosing Mike Clink to produce Appetite, and a few unrelated paragraphs later he writes "once the Appetite sessions were over..." so there are no details about the recording of this tremendous album. Granted, there are other books that tell that story, but you should be forewarned that this book isn't one of them.

** He does not settle scores or rake anyone over the coals, though. He acknowledges disagreements without really lashing out at anybody. He also keeps the book focused on himself rather than blabbing about what other guys in the band did (the latter being common in rock memoirs).

*** Unlike this review. But seriously, I should mention that unlike many rock memoirs, It's So Easy probably was not ghostwritten. I didn't see any evidence that it was, and considering McKagan writes weekly columns and attended college within the past decade, it's pretty likely that he deserves the credit (along with his editor(s), of course).

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