Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Vanity Fair Interview with Duff McKagan
Marc Spitz: Those who only know you as a famous bass player might assume that you’re not as smart and well read as you actually are. Does that ever present a problem?
Duff McKagan: I could give two shits, to be honest. After getting sober, I really started to read and reflect. I read the really great authors. I started playing in punk-rock bands and touring when I was 15, so I missed high school.
What authors were you drawn to?
I played catchup. I read everything by Hemingway, everything by Upton Sinclair, a book on Ernest Shackleton. Ernest Shackleton got stuck at the South Pole in 1913, when the South Pole was like Mars. At the time, I felt like I was on a desolate little island myself, sober and alone in LA I didn’t know about AA or anything. I was just riding my mountain bike uphill.
You’re writing columns for three different outlets now. How did you forge this second career as a columnist and blogger?
Flash forward to 2003, I started becoming aware of the Internet forums. There was this new Velvet Revolver fan site. We didn’t even have the band name yet. But people could post “you guys suck,” or “you guys should do this.” The names were usually Anonymous. Then I met one of the posters, and he turned out to be a 14-year-old kid. So when I started writing for the Seattle Weekly, I wrote a column about that. I said, “Papers are going away, so it’s time for us to buck up. If you’re going to write something, post your name. We have to rise to the occasion and carry forth intelligent discourse or we’re gong to be a generation of faceless name callers, and I’m not interested in doing that.” I really pressed people to identify themselves.
And to form a community?
Yeah, my column at the Weekly really turned into that. People have risen up. I got a really great letter from a woman from Seattle living in Egypt about February 11. She wrote very politically, but I was more interested in how much a loaf of bread cost, gas and electricity.
At ESPN, it’s a whole new challenge, but I’m not changing my tune at ESPN. I’m not going to be the jock guy. I write like I write and I question things. I question myself. I like to take the piss out of myself. I’m really not about changing my image. I’m not Cormac McCarthy, but I can get my point across in a thousand words.
I loved the post about being at a show in Silver Lake in LA and getting approached by hipster fans who wanted to take a picture with you but didn’t want their friends in the club to see.
Hipsters. I was trying to be funny. I’d been to Silver Lake before, but it was really cute to see people looking at me out of the corner of their eyes. When I went out to my car, a guy came up to me and said, “hey, dude, can I get a picture?” I said, “why didn’t you ask for a picture inside? You embarrassed?” He said, “no, man, fucking Appetite was the best!”
You cover a number of genres on the new Loaded record that surprised me, too. You have metal and punk, but a lot of pop as well, “KROQ songs.” I admit, I was expecting a punk record.
It’s an easy label. With Velvet Revolver, people were always saying, “you’re the punk influence.” I’ve played in punk bands since I was 15, but then Guns were sort of a mishmash of things. For me, punk rock died in about ’83. Punk rock for me was a long time ago. I saw the Clash in ’79 at the Paramount in Seattle, and it changed my whole life. I saw Iggy that same year. Black Flag with Ron Reyes, DOA. But to your point, I never set out before a record to say, “I’m going to try to get this across,” the same way I never outline a column. I just start.
What happened with Jane’s Addiction?
Eric had just left and Perry Farrell was pretty crestfallen about the whole situation. He asked me if I could come in and help them write a record. I said we could try, so we went into Perry’s garage. Steven Adler and I used to go watch Jane’s at the Music Machine in LA There wasn’t a lot going on in LA back then.
Flash forward 25 fucking years, and here I am. I talked to Eric on the phone, and he said, “you have my blessing. Go.” So I went. I like trying new things and I love Perry. I’ve known the guys for a long time. I tried to do my best to help them out. They’d become my comrades, and Eric’s departure hit them hard. We wrote some really great songs, but when I started recording with Loaded in August, I really discovered I can only do one or the other.
What about Velvet Revolver? Are you still searching for a new lead singer to replace Scott Weiland?
There was a sort-of search going on.
So is the band defunct?
I wouldn’t say that. You never know what’s going to happen. Slash has been on tour and I’m about to start touring. Let’s just say this: for the next five months, I highly doubt that anything will happen, but I could be wrong.
You’re also one of only two original Guns to play with the new lineup. How did that happen and what was it like to be back onstage with Axl?
It happened out of the blue. I was in London and Axl and I were in the same hotel. The hotel manager told me that Axl was in the room next to mine, of all the hotels in the world. It was more about us bumping into each other. We’d been through a lot together. We’d had the extraordinary circumstance of being thrown into a fish bowl. As far as the gig, I was really jet-lagged and on Red Bull. From the first song, I thought, I’m going to have to do interviews about this forever. It was the first thing that popped in my head.
People still have enormous affection for the original lineup. What happens when Guns N’ Roses gets elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Do you foresee everyone being civil, or will it be awkward like Van Halen’s notorious induction?
Velvet Revolver was the band that played instead of Van Halen. It was really awkward for us, but I don’t know. You just presented me with a lot of ifs. All I know is hopefully I can make the right decision if that comes up. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I really don’t.
You’ve gotten sober and helped other people get sober. I feel like I have to ask your thoughts on Charlie Sheen. Would you be there for him if he called you in the middle of the night?
Of course. Whether it’s Charlie Sheen or a guy I met at the VA hospital, it doesn’t matter. I pick up those phone calls. That’s part of being of service.
He insists he’s fine.
I said I was fine until I ended up at the fucking emergency room. He doesn’t live very far from my house, though, but it only works if you want the help.
posted 5:16 PM