Duff McKagan Dissects ‘How to Be a Man’: Inside the Gritty New Ballad and Book
Now that former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan has put out his memoir, 2011’s It’s So Easy (And Other Lies), he’s ready to parse life’s bigger questions. His next endeavors are an upcoming book, titled How to Be a Man (And Other Illusions), and a three-song EP also titled How to Be a Man. He also wrote a gritty, acoustic-driven title track for the EP, which features his old GN’R pal Izzy Stradlin on guitar, Alice in Chains frontman Jerry Cantrell and Stone Sour drummer Roy Mayorga.
The song, which is premiering below, finds Stradlin strumming a brooding acoustic riff while Cantrell plays bluesy mournful slide guitar and McKagan sings of a youth misspent. “Cheap thrills, pharmaceuticals – just going with the flow,” he snarls. “What it takes to be a man/Oh, I wish I knew back then.”
The themes in the song mirror a lot of the topics McKagan wrote about in the book, which loosely covers the time period between the bassist’s tour with cover group Kings of Chaos – a group which, among others, featured “The Spaghetti Incident?”–era GN’R members, including Slash, rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum – through his temporary reunion with Guns N’ Roses, filling in for bassist Tommy Stinson last year. He’s interspersed the book with tales of how to survive on the road, lists of his favorite albums and books and general, and often-hilarious travel tips, as he attempts to make sense of his life in rock so far.
“It’s certainly not an instructional, how-to book,” McKagan, 51, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s an observational study and hopefully some humor in there. The ‘Other Illusions’ [subtitle] should be the headline.”
He adds that writing the tune helped him figure out what the book meant to him. McKagan penned the track as a sort of “theme song” for the book. But it really took shape after he sent the main riff and vocal line to Stradlin, with whom he has recorded fairly consistently since the guitarist’s departure from GN’R in 1991 to lead a more private life. “His guitar playing is so fucking good,” the bassist says. “Not that it surprises me, but it’s like, ‘Oh dude, you’ve been playing a lot of fucking guitar. What are you doing out there?’ He’s got a little creative zone out where he lives, and I think he probably sinks himself into that. It’s cooler than cool.”
McKagan says he’s also jealous sometimes of Stradlin’s independent lifestyle. “I write books, I write columns, I’m pretty public, and, of course you can write and still remain private, but he is really just off the grid,” the bassist says. “His comfort zone is off the grid. He doesn’t do any press, he doesn’t have a publicist, and he just puts out a record every couple of years on iTunes. He’s pretty pure.”
Stradlin’s electric-guitar playing was instrumental in making the EP track “Kill the Internet” “like O.G. Orange County punk rock,” according to McKagan, and its other song, “Punker,” sound spontaneous. The musicians recorded the EP in Queens of the Stone Age’s studio, a process the bassist called “mellow.”
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