In 1984, Duff McKagan, just a punk kid from Seattle, drove his old Ford to L.A. to try to escape the drug-infested Northwest scene where he had been playing drums, guitar, and a little bass in bands like the Fastbacks and Ten Minute Warning. A week later, still living in his car, he answered an ad for a bass player placed by a guy called Slash. The rest is history—Guns N’ Roses went on to create one of the best-selling debut albums ever. McKagan, who ended up in the hospital in 1994 thanks to acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis and a decade of extreme booze and drug use, sobered up and went on to college before later forming Velvet Revolver, also with Slash, and becoming a columnist for Seattle Weekly and ESPN. McKagan’s amazing story is chronicled in his best-selling autobiography, It’s So Easy (and Other Lies), now out in paperback.
INKED: How did you find out you’d made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Duff McKagan: It wasn’t like a velvet-covered envelope was delivered to the house by a guy in white gloves and a tuxedo. None of that. I found out about the Hall of Fame from someone who called me after he saw it on the internet. I don’t even know what the selection process is based on. It’s not a competitive sport. It’s not like you are a baseball player with a lifetime batting average over .300. It’s about tiny moments of artistic elation, and people slowly coming to see your band more and more, that shared experience. But I did know that I would go to the ceremony, because I was there when the Van Halen thing happened—only two guys showed up and the fans were bummed out. I appreciate how long and how hard-core the fans have backed us, so the least I could do is go to the induction.
How did hearing about the Hall of Fame compare with learning you’d hit number one with Appetite for Destruction?
That wasn’t a grand moment either. We were out on tour, working. We were living on a bus with our crew, making a hundred bucks a week, and couldn’t have been happier. There was no internet or cell phones—at least nobody we knew had one, not even our tour manager. We found out because the record label sent one of their local reps to come to our bus with a sheet cake. And it said, “You’re Number One.” And we were like, Uh, wow, okay, we got a sheet cake, that’s cool. But we didn’t know what it really meant. It’s the same with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—I don’t really know what it means.
You’re a self-proclaimed book nerd, so how did those moments compare to finding out your book was a New York Times best seller?
Now that’s because I am better than most people out there as a writer, and my stats were indeed better—only 16 other books that particular week were better. And I didn’t even get a fucking sheet cake.
In your book you talk about getting your first tattoo after Guns N’ Roses got signed to a record deal. What made you want to mark the occasion that way?
Nowadays everybody’s got tattoos and everybody’s got sleeves, but in 1986, when we were signed, I only knew a couple of people who had tattoos—and they had, like, one each. Axl had one. Izzy had one. And it was like, “Fuck, those are great!” But a tattoo cost something like 300 bucks—way too expensive for me. Back then it was either I paid rent or I got a tattoo. I couldn’t do both. So when I got that money from the record deal, I just knew I was going to get a tattoo.