Review: IT’S SO EASY (AND OTHER LIES) by Duff McKagan (Touchstone)

McKaganD-ItsSoEasyUSA superb memoir of Guns ‘n’ Roses and more

A founding member of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver — and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee — shares the story of his rise to the pinnacle of fame and fortune, his struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, his personal crash and burn, and his phoenix-like transformation.

IN 1984, AT THE AGE OF TWENTY, Duff McKagan left his native Seattle — partly to pursue music but mainly to get away from a host of heroin overdoses then decimating his closest group of friends in the local punk scene. In L.A. only a few weeks and still living in his car, he answered a want ad for a bass player placed by someone who identified himself only as “Slash.” Soon after, the most dangerous band in the world was born. Guns N’ Roses went on to sell more than 100 million albums worldwide.

In It’s So Easy, Duff recounts Guns’ unlikely trajectory to a string of multiplatinum albums, sold-out stadium concerts, and global acclaim. But that kind of glory can take its toll, and it did — ultimately — on Duff, as well as on the band itself. As Guns began to splinter, Duff felt that he himself was done, too. But his near death as a direct result of alcoholism proved to be his watershed, the turning point that sent him on a unique path to sobriety and the unexpected choices he has made for himself since.

I really enjoyed this book. Despite being a huge Guns ‘n’ Roses fan (my first CD was Use Your Illusion I), McKagan’s story was mostly unknown to me. The first music magazine I ever bought was an issue of Hit Parader which included a long interview with and feature on McKagan and his music, but beyond that I don’t believe I’ve read anything else about him. After finishing Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself, I wanted to read another music biography, and this one came highly recommended. I can certainly see why: it’s gripping, extremely well-written, sometimes amusing, and brutally honest.

The book opens with a prologue recounting an event that turned the author’s life upside down: his pancreas exploded. We are then taken through McKagan’s early years playing in punk bands, his move to Los Angeles chasing the dream of a life making music, his initial introduction to other members of the future Guns ‘n’ Roses (it was not an immediate musical bond, but it was on a personal level). Then, we get the riotous, crazy story of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ relatively short, tumultuous career. It’s a fascinating story. For many readers, I’m sure, McKagan’s relationship with Axl Rose will be of most interest — after all, pretty much all of the original Guns are no longer members of the band. He does, of course, recount his experiences with Rose, before and after the split. It’s very well handled, I thought. The author also discusses the brief and troublesome life and career of Velvet Revolver, and his experiences with another substance-abusing/-dependent frontman, Scott Weiland.

McKaganD-ItsSoEasyUKMcKagan is brutally honest about his own mistakes, failings, and (let’s be honest) stupidity. He’s not shy about explaining just how low he ended up, thanks to a prodigious diet of pills and alcohol. His story of recovery is actually pretty inspiring, too: after recovering from a burst pancreas, he devoted his free time to working out, martial arts, cycling, and other physical pursuits. He also attended college, taking business classes to better understand his own royalty statements and contracts. And, of course, more music.

McKagan is unfailingly generous and kind about his bandmates (current and former), giving them the benefit of doubt on almost every occasion, but also never presuming to speak for them. (For this reason, I’m very keen to read Slash’s and Steven Adler’s memoirs.) He writes intelligently and movingly about the changes in the music scene, his life, and more. There’s a lot for everyone in here.

Overall, this is a superb memoir — one that should appeal to fans of McKagan’s bands, as well as general music enthusiasts, and fans of good storytelling. McKagan’s story is both fascinating and inspiring. Very highly recommended.


It’s So Easy (and Other Lies) is published by Touchstone.

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