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Regeneration March 12, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in memoir.
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Duff McKagan

Duff McKagan (photo: Fab Fernandez)

A gritty memoir of spectacular recovery from substance addiction landed a certain author on Oprah and the bestseller lists. That memoir was later revealed as fake, pure fiction from an author jonesing to be published. Memoirs about recovery are common in the litosphere. Some of them read like prurient page-turners, while others are just matter-of-fact word flurries of hope and despair. On Wednesday in #litchat we’ll discuss recovery and regeneration in literature, then on Friday, author Duff McKagan joins us as guest host.

Duff McKagan is a founding member of the legendary 1980s rock band Guns N’ Roses—the bassist responsible for the distinctive bluesy rhythms behind the music. His memoir, It’s So Easy (and Other Lies), was released October 2011 in hardcover, only months after fellow band member Steven Adler released his memoir, My Appetite for Destruction. Slash, the lead guitarist and near household name, had already released a self-titled memoir of rock ‘n roll debauchery in 2008. What makes McKagan’s memoir stand out from among the three, as well as from other rock ‘n roll memoirs, is his transparency and complete regeneration. A fitting term for McKagan might even be Renaissance man.

McKagan’s regeneration wasn’t a miracle; he didn’t join AA, find God, or go on a spirit quest. His pancreas burst as a result of alcohol abuse and he was told that if he didn’t quit drinking, he would die. At that point in his life, he actually begged the doctors to “just kill me.” After weeks in the hospital, a sort of miracle did occur when his pancreas began regenerating to the point surgery wasn’t necessary. McKagan’s recovery was underway.

As McKagan details his shaky steps into sobriety, glimmers of the Renaissance man emerge. He takes on a personal quest to read all of the books he missed when he dropped out of high school. Soon, he’s reading all of Hemingway’s work and moving on to other classics. He takes up mountain biking as a way to punish himself for the want and purge himself of the cravings still clawing at his back. He enters a grueling mountain bike race in Big Bear, Calif. and finishes among the top 100 riders. He regularly wages physical discipline upon his body at a dojo with kick boxing at LA’s House of Champions. He forms new musical alliances, performing with former members of Duran Duran, the Sex Pistols, and eventually forms a new band, Velvet Revolver, with founding Gn’R mates Slash and Izzy. His current band, Loaded, has released three albums. Before leaving Gn’R, McKagan satisfied his curiosity about the band’s financial records by taking accounting classes at a community college. He finds the academic life satisfying and eventually gets accepted to Seattle University, where he’s working on a business degree. Academic writing leads to a column for the Seattle Weekly, then Playboy and finally ESPN.com. And then, It’s So Easy. Which in itself, wasn’t so easy. Although not listed as a co-author, McKagan acknowledges award-winning journalist Tim Mohr as a collaborator of the work.

A book written by a rock star would be incomplete without details on musical influences and formation of bands—and in Gn’R’s case, implosion. McKagan spares no details about life in seedy Hollywood neighborhoods, paying for play at punk clubs, and eventually forging the sound that would make Guns N’ Roses a global blockbuster. Without bitterness or judgment, McKagan chronicles the collapse of the original Guns N’ Roses line-up. Founding drummer Adler had already been ousted for his debilitating drug abuse, and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin quit because he’d gotten sober and could no longer take the band’s excesses. Then Axl Rose, famous for mood swings, tantrums and head trips, performed a coup d’état when refusing to go on stage at a sold-out concert if Slash and McKagan didn’t surrender rights to the Guns N’ Roses name they were instrumental in forming. Rather than disappoint thousands of fans who paid big money to see the band, McKagan and Slash signed away the band to Rose. McKagan’s retelling of these events takes much of the blame for his own self-destructive lifestyle leading to Rose’s action. After years of waiting to record a follow-up to the band’s phenomenally successful Use Your Illusion I & II albums, Slash quit, with McKagan following less than a year later.

It’s So Easy may disappoint hard-core Guns N’ Roses fans looking for more salacious stories about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Yet it’s the lack of such fodder that essentially elevates the book beyond other rock biographies and memoirs.

Watch the video trailer of It’s So Easyhere.

Follow Duff McKagan on Twitter: @DuffMcKagan.

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