Former Guns N' Roses bassist and rock & roll badass Duff McKagan made his literary debut in 2011 with It's So Easy: and other lies, an entertaining and startlingly candid account of his wild years with GNR and how he rebuilt his life in the wake of the band's breakup. In his second book, How to be a Man (and other illusions), which arrives this week, McKagan uses stories from his checkered past to illustrate some of the valuable life lessons he learned on the path to (and from, and then back to) rock stardom.
In this exclusive excerpt, he remembers how a dispute over the Guns N' Roses pinball machine helped teach him the importance of friendship and letting bygones be bygones.
From How to be a Man (and other illusions) by Duff McKagan. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press:
In the maelstrom that ensued after GN’R’s Use Your Illusion tour, my good friend Gilby was somehow chucked from the lineup. I say “somehow” because, in all honesty, I don’t remember precise details about the second half of 1993 and the beginning of 1994. All I know for sure is that we had a new Guns N’ Roses pinball machine.
I don’t intend to get into a whole video game versus pinball machine war here, but it’s hard to deny the romance of the blinking lights of a pinball machine. The sound of the pinballs dropping into the catch still raises the heart rates of us ’70s kids. We can still picture the other kids gathering around the glass as we took our turns. If you were good, you gave off a Steve McQueen–like mystique. The kids who were good at pinball got laid more (kind of like video gamers of today, right? Oh, wait...).
See also: Our Q&A with Duff McKagan
Slash was always one of those Steve McQueen–like pinball studs. He was good at every pinball game out there. Not that this should come as a surprise: whether it’s guitars, snakes, dinosaurs, or pinball, Slash studies and excels at the things he is passionate about.
Sometime during the Use Your Illusion tour, Slash—a collector as well as a player—hooked up with manufacturer Data East, and the idea of a Guns N’ Roses game started getting floated around.
We grew up with some great pinball machines. The Playboy machine was epic. The Rolling Stones had one. KISS had one. There were gambling-themed games and Western-themed games. For our band to actually be entered into a conversation of having our own game was a totally cool and unbelievable step in our otherwise totally unbelievable ride up the rockandroll escalator.
Like I said, I wasn’t very conscious at the time, but I remember going to a recording studio in the San Fernando Valley to do voice-over sound bites for the game (the “oh, dude!” when you lose a ball is me... I think). McBob laid down an introduction for the game the same way he ushered us onstage every night: “Of all the bands in the world, this is definitely one of them!” McBob has a huge, deep voice and can sound exactly like the guy on one of those monster truck radio commercials. McBob also has a very dry sense of humor and would change up his intros of the band to fit certain opportunities. For example, when we were late to take the stage, McBob would announce us as “the band that put the punk in punctuality.”
Slash worked hard on the design of the game and was rightfully proud of the finished product. I was blown away when the machine showed up at my house (we each got one for free). I still have it, and it has a little plaque in the bottom right-hand corner with my name on it.
The game was designed after Izzy Stradlin left the band and Gilby started playing with us. It’s obvious that it was a forgone conclusion that Gilby would be in the band for keeps, as his picture was included on the big mural of the band on the game. Ah, but rock bands can be a fickle bitch, and Gilby, in a flash of confusion and a hiccup of GN’R growing pains, suddenly wasn’t in the band anymore.
Gilby, pissed off for sure, sued us for using his likeness on the machine. I remember thinking back then that this was a point when Gilby rightfully could have written me off (for life) for not standing up for him, and I could have just carried on without him in my life ever again as well. I think we both did that for a while.
There was a lot going on. My drinking began to drive Matt Sorum and Slash away from me. After the Use Your Illusion tour, even though Gilby was out of GN’R, he kept on playing live with Matt and Slash for a project they had all just finished (Slash’s Snakepit). I guess I could have resented that, and they could have just kept resenting me.
In the US, we are all told that at eighteen years of age, you are an adult. For me, real adulthood didn’t come until I was thirty-one. I had no idea how to take responsibility for my actions before then. I’m still trying to figure it out.
It came to me all at once, up onstage at the Avalon: “I like these guys!” I thought. No, I love these guys. I’ve passed some of life’s most momentous mile markers with Slash, and Gilby is a good guy and great friend. Matt and I sometimes fight like cats and dogs, but at the bottom of it all, we have sincere respect for each other. We can all be motherfuckers from time to time, but that’s life. When I became an adult, I made a concerted effort to repair my friendships with these guys.
Resentment is a brutal thing. In the first year or two after I got sober, I found myself swimming in a dense, black swamp of resentment and regret. I heard stories about myself in which I was the punch line. I started to recognize what alcoholism had kept me from doing, from experiencing.
My peculiar life path at the time, though, led me to a martial arts discipline that dealt with taking responsibility for your own actions and bettering yourself for yourself. Self-discipline and self-respect were completely new ideas to me. I was desperate for a new way of living, and because I was (and still am) in such awe of how much at peace my martial arts teacher was, I followed his instruction to the extreme. I wanted just a little part of that peace.
Working past regret and resentment was key to me actually liking myself. The more I liked and trusted myself, the less I blamed others. I stopped thinking about what could have been and focused on the things I could do now.
But that was just my own personal story, and these three guys had found their own way past some of the resentments and regret. We all eventually became friends again, played in bands together, and found ourselves in faraway places playing great rock songs together, in front of a ton of people— with Billy Ray Cyrus in support.
Duff McKagan will present and sign copies of How to Be a Man (and other illusions) at Book Soup on Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m. More info.
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How to Be a Man is also available in digital or hardcover from BookSoup.com.