Thursday, 26 January 2012

REVIEW - It's So Easy (and Other Lies) by Duff McKagan

I'm not intending to do a whole lot of reviewing on this blog. I don't keep completely up to the minute with new releases any more, and it can become a chore to do so. Still, when I get hold of something soon enough after its release and it seems interesting (whether in a good or bad way), I'll give you my ten cents worth on albums as well as music-related books, documentaries and films. It won't be any sort of comprehensive coverage, but if there's something you'd particularly like to see reviewed, let me know and I'll see what I can do!

Bringing a touch of humanity to the tale of Guns n Roses.
For fans only, but worth a read.

TITLE: It's So Easy (and Other Lies)
TOPIC: Duff McKagan/Guns n Roses/Velvet Revolver/Exploding Pancreases
AUTHOR: Duff McKagan
RELEASED: October 2011

Rock autobiographies almost defy reviewing. With the exception of a few shining examples of the form, they tend to be averagely written, predictably presented tales about all the things that, particularly in the internet age, you already know. They're not, almost by definition, well-researched, they're seldom truly insightful, and they don't deliver much in the way of critical analysis of the art and artist that ultimately brought people to the book in the first place. The likelihood an individual will actually enjoy a given autobiography is therefore most likely to be based on to the extent of their interest in the subject. In other words, you're either interested in 360 pages on the bassist from Guns n Roses or you're not.

It's So Easy (and Other Lies) doesn't entirely buck this trend. Taken at face value, it's a competently written 'Young man from a broken-home conquers the world, loses himself in substance abuse and finds redemption' tale like a million before it. However, there are a few things in its favour.

It's So Easy
-Duff McKagan's Loaded (w/Gilby Clarke)

While the writing is not about to win a Pulitzer, the book is well strung together, and there's a sense that Duff McKagan, who has written columns for a number of publications in recent years, was significantly less reliant on his ghost writer than is often the case. Certainly, the reader gets much more of a sense that this is McKagan's voice, McKagan's view - in clear contrast to the interesting, but ultimately superficial, approach taken with fellow Guns n Roses alumni Slash's 2007 autobiography. This is heightened by some disturbingly graphic details about McKagan's alcohol abuse, which left me uncertain whether to swear off the demon drink, or plow ahead, safe in the knowledge I'm a gallon a day of vodka beneath the limits of human consumption (and, most disgustingly, the limits of the human pancreas, which I now know can explode). Fortunately, this is balanced by the subsequent emphasis he gives to his post Guns n Roses existence - the pride in his recovery from alcoholism, academic achievements and parenthood are cornerstones of the book. These later points are particularly important. While obviously it's the Guns n Roses connection that will bring people to this book, it is interesting, and at least a little heartwarming to read of a man whose life is defined by a lot more than the band that made him famous. 

Of course, it's McKagan's retelling, and some of the moments of disaster and epiphany seem a little carefully scripted. But then, the way in which an autobiography is written often provides insights for the reader that is looking for them - and the self-satisfaction of his almost mythical (to hear him tell it) recovery seems to serve as fuel for his ongoing sobriety.

 Duff McKagan w/ Ten Minute Warning in 1982

A potential disappointment for some readers may be that It's So Easy (and Other Lies) does not focus quite so intently on the music of Guns n Roses as did Slash's book, but this is balanced by some interesting recollections of the pre-Grunge Seattle scene McKagan starred in before decamping to Hollywood. As one of the few links between two cities  and sounds the media reveled in pitting against each other, this presents some interesting moments, particularly as a disillusioned McKagan finds himself wondering what might have been in the early 90s. Throw in the fact that he was one of the last people to see Kurt Cobain alive (only months before McKagan's own life would come close to ending in a Seattle hospital as a result of years of cocaine and alcohol abuse), and there is still plenty on offer for those only interested in the music.

Night Train Live at the Ritz '88
-Guns n Roses

McKagan also presents an interesting take on that greatest of mysteries – Axl Rose. He seems much more aware of the contributions his own self-destructiveness made to the band's demise than is evident in most other retellings of the tale. Axl Rose is presented as an asshole of epic proportions who strong-armed the band out of their own intellectual property while simultaneously costing them tens of thousands of dollars with his petulant behaviour... but also as a kind hearted manic-depressive left steering a band of hopeless drunks and junkies incapable of facing the problems within the band. As with Slash's book, there's an overwhelming sense of missed opportunity as what should have been an amazing period of success spiraled into a disaster for all concerned. The Duff/Axl reconciliation of 2010 (which saw McKagan join the new Guns n Roses lineup onstage in London) creates a nice conclusion to the 'story' though. Or, at least, to the story of Guns n Roses, not Duff McKagan, who ends the book as it began, with his wife and young daughters. It's a clear indication of where he feels his greatest achievements lie.

Saul Hudson and Michael McKagan

Ultimately, there's probably not a thing of interest in It's So Easy (and Other Lies) for the non-GnR fan, but for those who have some interest, it is a welcome addition to the available literature on the band, and a more engaging story than you might expect. 

If nothing else, the depiction of Duff 'the King of Beers' McKagan panicking when confronted with two 13 year olds kissing at his daughter's birthday party is good for a chuckle.

No More
-Duff McKagan's Loaded


  1. You can't get enough, of that wonderful Duff. This is actually on my long (long) reading list along with W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose. Nice review.

    1. Thanks!

      I'm unsure about the W.A.R. book - not a fan of unauthourized biographies as a general rule, and Mick Wall comes across as a bit of a tool - can't imagine what new stuff there will be in it... Still, it's not like we'll ever get an authorized one so I guess it's the next best thing. Will probably check out Adler's at some point, but would be really interested by an Izzy book.

  2. I think I may have sworn off Rock autobio's... for the reasons you mentioned. But if someone lent me this...i'd ck it out.