Well, Appetite for Destruction turned 30 last week. It’s an album that actually managied to live up to the pearl-clutching that American glam rock had been bluffing on for the first half of the ‘80s. Axl and Slash get all the love as the most visible guys in Guns N’ Roses, and it’s not hard to see why. Axl’s the voice and obnoxious asshole, and Slash wears the top hat and can effortlessly conjure up legendary guitar solos. After watching It's So Easy and Other Lies, though, the member of the band that I would want to actually sit down with and get to know, whose brain I would most like to pick, would be the bassist Duff McKagan.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to come of age as part of one of the biggest rock n’ roll bands ever, but Duff did, and the simple fact that he made it out on the other side to tell the tale is literally miraculous. Pulling footage from a live reading of his book, backed by a band doing acoustic style versions of GnR classics, It's So Easy and Other Lies mixes in animated interludes, talking head interviews, and footage of Duff acting as tour guide through various important locations from his past. Before he was part of GnR selling out stadiums around the world, he was a young punk in Seattle, gigging around with apparently dozens of dubiously named bands in the scene that would ultimately bear fruit in the form of, most notably, Nirvana. I have no idea what the statute of limitations is for grand theft auto is, but hearing Duff and his childhood pals speak so freely of stealing and ditching hundreds of cars feels like a bad call?
It’s always hard to confront the demons of addiction, but it certainly gets easier when you have nowhere else to go but through them. Duff ended up on the operating table thanks to acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis dumping digestive juices into his body and causing third degree burns internally. Sounds awful, but before he could even start to get through that, the withdrawal from booze kicked in and hit. Having hit rock bottom he throws himself into boxing with the help of Benny Urquidez who all but steals this movie out from under everyone.
Maybe it’s me, but there’s a kind of sadness in some portrayals of folks who were there first hand for the wild Sunset Strip decadence. So many musicians were consumed by the hard partying that came with the territory, and a lot of them have had a lot of hardships. The culture that fostered GnR and the groups that preceded them were rooted in a Peter Pan mentality of not wanting to grow up, to freeze yourself in that post adolescent period when you can easily shake off hangovers. Duff managed to evolve past that stagnation in unexpected ways which I found really fascinating. Yeah, he kept on rocking and all in a handful of bands, but the guy straight up enrolled at Santa Monica Community College in 1994 to learn the ins and outs of basic finance, going on to take classes at Seattle Central Community College before going full-time at Seattle University's Albers School of Business and Economics. This all culminated with Duff founding a wealth management firm for musicians in 2011. There’s growing up... and then there’s growing up.
Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll. Check, check, and check. This is a decent doc about a surprisingly interesting guy that it’s not hard to take for granted given the larger than life front men he shared a stage with. It’s not perfect, and left me wanting a lot more, not just about GnR.