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Guns N' Roses Duff McKagan on Hall of Fame: 'With Bells On'

'You have those daydreams like, we'll go up and play 'Nightrain' and 'Brownstone,'' he says

March 9, 2012 3:55 PM ET
Duff McKagan performs during the first day of Download Festival at Donnington Park in Donnington, United Kingdom.
Duff McKagan performs during the first day of Download Festival at Donnington Park in Donnington, United Kingdom.
Steve Thorne/Redferns

There's a lot that Duff McKagan is unsure about at the moment. He doesn't know what's going to happen when Guns N' Roses get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month. He doesn't know when (or if) Velvet Revolver will reform, and he certainly doesn't know who will front the band if that does happen. "I find in my career that I never know what's going to happen in two months," says McKagan.  "I don't know what I'm going to be doing in July, or even June. Anything could happen. I'm cool with anything."

In December Duff shared a stage with ex-bandmate Axl Rose at two gigs in Seattle and Vancouver, and then a month later Velvet Revolver reunited at a Los Angles benefit concert. We recently chatted with McKagan about all of this, as well as the paperback release of his autobiography It's So Easy: and Other Lies, which hits shelves on March 20th. 

What compelled you to write this book?
A few years ago Seattle Weekly offered me a weekly column. I was kind of terrified. Around week three I suddenly realized that I could articulate my thoughts in the written word much better than I ever could talking. I could organize what I was really getting at. A few months after that I was offered a financial column for Playboy. Suddenly I had two weekly columns and two deadlines, so I was writing a ton. I started writing other things that weren't right for my columns. I wrote a letter of gratitude to my older seven siblings. I got to my oldest brother John, and I thanked him for being our patriarch and bringing mom to the hospital. And it stopped me, that sentence right there. Our mom had Parkinson's and it took me into this whole other thing, and I started writing about that. I was dealing with things, wondering what my part was in my life. 

What I found is that we're speeding along through life and in the rearview mirror on the left you see all the bad shit, which is all that other motherfuckers fault. All the good stuff, in the other rearview mirror, is all the good stuff – which you had everything to do with. I'm being simplistic, but you know what I mean. I started delving into all that. How did I get here? What's the real story? I'm a dad and I better get all my shit straight. The writing really helped me with that. I wrote twice as many words than are in the book. Some of it you wouldn't want to read. But a story started to come to the surface when I was writing and I really liked the whole idea of it.

Are there parts of your past that you can't remember, or are just sort of blurry?
Yeah. There's a ton of it. So I didn't write about the stuff that I didn't remember. I kind of experimented with that by trying to remember stuff by writing about it, and I couldn't. I didn't want to guess or grab some dates I found on the Internet and try and write about. That would have felt disingenuous. I wrote about the stuff that I remembered, and I tried to take a reader into the insanity of addiction. Thoughts and days start melting together and you don't know where the fuck you are. I don't know if I succeeded in that, but I tried. 

Do you think that drug addicts would benefit from reading the book because they'd see that there is a way out?
That wasn't my mission statement. But since the book came out, I've noticed there's a lot of that kind of thing. "Well shit, if Duff can do it! Look how bad he was. He has kids and seems to be sane-ish." It's true, man. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I gradually became the worst of the worst.

Memory is always a weird thing. I'm sure if I talked to you and Slash about the same event I'd get a wildly different story. Did you ever deal with that when writing the book?
Yeah. I put a thing at the beginning of the book. I said, "To people that were there, you might remember it differently." That's just human nature, I think. Slash and I were in the seats right next to each other on a lot of that ride. We remember things completely differently sometimes. At times he won't remember a whole thing I remember, or vice versa. That's a whole other discussion why we retain certain things…especially when you're fucked up.

During the writing process did you ever say to yourself, "Oh, I can't write this. I'll piss off Axl or Slash…"
I was careful about that. It's not necessarily their story, so why throw somebody underneath the bus? They didn't ask me to write a story about them, or my ex-wife didn't ask me to write this. My point was to really take responsibility for my shortcomings. I tried to not bring somebody else into it. I kept reading through my passages and trying to make sure there wasn't any passive aggressive tone. At the end of the day, it doesn't read very well.

It's sort of interesting that in the past few months you've played gigs with Axl Rose and Scott Weiland.
Yeah. I'm kind of feeling like a grown-up. I don't have resentments towards anyone I played with, or to the guy who bullied me in the sixth grade. I've worked through it. But the thing I played with Scott was something bigger than all of us. That's a no-brainer. The Axl stuff…man, we shared a lot of great moments together. We grew up together in those formative times, being young men under some pretty extraordinary circumstances. Really only the five guys in the original band know what that was like…even my wife, I can't explain it to her. I couldn't write about it in that book. I'm not that good of a writer. 

Was it strange being asked to open up for Guns N' Roses a few months back?
I didn't really look at it like anything except it was a chance to play some gigs with my old buddy. One was in my hometown Seattle, and the other in Vancouver. It was a feel-good deal. It wasn't like Judas Priest calling [my band] Loaded to open some gigs for them. It felt totally different than that.

You're going to Cleveland next month for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you know what's going to happen?
I don't. I know I'm going to go. I can't, at all, speak for anybody else. And won't. I'll be there with bells on. Is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that important to me? No. Is it something I've aspired towards? No. It's not sports. You get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, that's bad ass. But that's a competitive sport. You have stats. Look, we were a good band – but there were a lot of good bands. A lot of people liked our band, eventually. And that's kick ass. 

What I found out when we got nominated is that there's just a shit ton of fans around the world who are really psyched. In that case, it's more about them and the people that believed in us and bought our records and came and saw us. Imagine that? All those people believing in our band – a thing we created out of thin air. That part of it is an honor. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an institution? I really don't know much about it.

Do you hope the band is going to reunite and play?
I think it would be killer. Do I hope to? That's a tricky question. It would be awesome. You have those day dreams like, "We'll go up and play 'Nightrain' and 'Brownstone' and throw down the microphone and drop off! That'll be killer!' But I doubt that'll happen.

Why?
There's been no communication about anyone playing. There was probably a day in the mid-1990s where I would have tried to gather the troops, but I'm just not that guy anymore. It's too frustrating to change anyone else…I'm not even sure I'd want to change how anyone else sees a situation. But I'm going.

I've heard that Axl is going. Do you think that Izzy will go?
I don't know. You'd have to ask him. It would be great if Izzy went, but I don't really know. I don't know if he's into that whole kind of thing with cameras and all that stuff. 

What's the deal with Velvet Revolver? Some fans are optimistic that Scott might come back because you guys played that one show.
No. We just did that thing for our friend who passed, for his wife and kids. I'd be surprised…you know what? I don't even want to try and guess anymore. Who knows what's gonna happen? I'm cool with anything, and if it feels right at the time, it'll be the thing to do and we'll talk about it then.

Do you think that Velvet Revolver has a future?
I hope so. We were a good songwriting band and it was a real thing onstage.

Are the rumors true that you talked to Corey Taylor from Slipknot at some point about joining the band?
Yeah. When you're a musician you are around your peers a lot, like Slipknot and Alice In Chains…you name the band. We're all just kind of friends. The Corey thing came up. If you're asking me, I think that Corey is the best singer of his age group, which is about eight years younger than me. He's the best pound-for-pound singer around and I'd like to explore that. And it still might happen one day. That guy is in, like, fifteen bands. But he's bad ass and the real deal and it comes from the right place with him. I have nothing but cool things to say about Corey. 

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