Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and founding member of Guns N’ Roses, Duff McKagan returned to The Sunset Strip for two back to back, sold out shows at The Viper Room this month. For night one of this intimate engagement, McKagan, promoting his memoire It’s So Easy: And Other Lies, played an acoustic “storytellers” style set, reciting passages from his new to paperback read, while his band Loaded played accompanying instrumental renditions of GNR’s most memorable hits.
After a long evening of fan meet and greets and a stellar performance that assuredly was one of the most memorable nights in Viper Room history, McKagan sat down with TheSunsetStrip.com to reflect on the night and his memories of his first sober performance at The Viper almost 20 years ago.
How do you think the show went?
This is the first time we’ve done it in a standing room... The other two shows we played previously were seated tables, so it was great. I was pretty nervous about how it would go off… You know you’re so close and people are standing there and they can get bored and start shuffling around and talking. As you saw, it was kind of a chill sort of show, and people here seemed to be into it. It was cool.
During your set are you reflecting or just trying to get through it? What’s going through your mind?
I think I’m reflecting for sure. You can’t help it. I tried to pick parts of the book that tell the whole arc of my story. That was sort of my theory with this live show—trying to find stuff in the book that would still be engrossing as a story, not just read excerpts and have it not make sense.
As a result, I found that the turning points for me was my mom going into the hospital, having a daughter, meeting [wife Susan Holmes], and my dive into some of my memories of being completely fucked up—a time where things didn’t really make sense...
I try not to be cognizant of reading a story, but you are. I am reading and there’s a lot of words. Just because I wrote a book doesn’t mean I can talk about it. It’s a completely different art form, but luckily for me the guys that I’m playing with really brought this whole thing to fruition.
I noticed that when you were sharing the part of the book about your addiction, and doing massive amounts of drugs and alcohol, that people unfortunately didn’t get it, and started cheering. Is that tough for you to sort of reconcile doing a rock gig, in a rock venue, with a rock and roll crowd, but discussing sobriety?
It’s really less than one percent of people who do that, and I think they realize right away, “Oh that wasn’t a cheer type of moment.”
I just think they think that when a rock dude talks about—when I say the words cocaine, Valium, Quaaludes—people are like, “Yeah dude! Oh wait he’s saying that he was only ten years old… oh that’s not a thing to cheer about.”
Does it bother you, getting that reaction?
No, it’s just human nature. You say a certain word, there’s always some guy who’s going to go “Yeah cocaine!” There’s always that one guy; we all know that one guy. So no it doesn’t bother me at all.
Yesterday you briefly mentioned when you walked in the Viper office that you sort of had a flashback memory. Could you share that again?
The Viper is the first stage I ever played right after I got sober, after my pancreas had burst in 1994... At the time I was playing with Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols), Matt Sorum (Velvet Revolver) and John Taylor (Duran Duran) in a band called the Neurotic Outsiders.
We developed here at The Viper Room. We played every Monday night for a couple of months. This was back when Johnny Depp still owned the club... So I was sober, but I didn’t know about a sober community; I was just kind of being introduced... But what I did know was that the office here was sort of a safe haven for a guy like me, because I was freaking out!
There was booze, and there was drugs, and there were girls—all three of those things I didn’t know how to deal with yet—so I would just go into the office and sort of hide.
Viper’s got a lot of memories for me, and doing this show here tonight was more than just me reading, and more than me just trying it out at a small venue. It was a lot more than that. Viper’s home, you know..?
Photos courtesy Genie Sanchez, www.totallylikeduh.com