In spite of Guns N’ Roses’ legendary status, it’s as unlikely that the five original members will all publish memoirs as it is that they’ll reunite onstage. Even if Axl Rose eventually unburdens himself in print, it’s a pretty sure bet that drifter rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin will avoid inviting that dramatic attention into his life—much as he did in the years immediately subsequent to Appetite For Destruction.
But charismatic lead guitarist/pop-culture fixture Slash and exiled, troubled drummer Steven Adler have recently shared their versions of a parallel life story (they grew up together in L.A.) via 2007’s Slash and 2010’s My Appetite For Destruction, respectively. And those books now have an essential companion and counterpart: Duff McKagan’s It’s So Easy (And Other Lies). The current Loaded frontman and Velvet Revolver co-founder is a reluctant storyteller, but his robust, understated first-person account of life in and around his iconic rock band grounds the cumulative Guns N’ Roses mythos and reinforces its seeds in a street-level punk ethos.
Where his bandmates collaborated with journalists for Slash and My Appetite, McKagan drafted It’s So Easy on his own, and as a result, the book’s strength is its focus. Whether he’s detailing his teenage years as a Seattle punk-scene utility man—McKagan famously played with regional superstar Fastbacks and hardcore hero Ten Minute Warning—and his corresponding adolescent drug abuse, Guns’ rise and fall, or his own transformation into holistic family man, his voice is introspective and cautiously distant from all related sensationalism. For the married father of two and amateur martial artist, It’s So Easy was as much about establishing a philosophy for himself to reference and others to implement as appeasing readers’ thirst for gossip and hazy truths they can get almost anywhere else.
In some sections, McKagan’s version of events within Guns N’ Roses varies wildly from Slash and Adler’s accounts: For example, all three have markedly different recollections of the moments leading up to Adler’s firing. But McKagan is transparent about being less concerned with getting the minor details right than with emphasizing his larger takeaway: Even if you’re in the world’s biggest band, that doesn’t define you, and it’s never too late to take control of your own life and happiness.
The final chapters—which span Duff’s recovery from drugs, relationship with his wife and daughters, new musical ventures, and explorations in business management, writing, and rugged outdoor adventures—lose their cool somewhat as he attempts to convey personal sentiment without sounding sappy and clichéd. But surprisingly, those passages aren’t merely indulgent, perfunctory, or tacked-on epilogue to a meaty yarn of debauchery and unsurpassed notoriety.
Granted, not just anyone can recover from drug abuse with the help of world-famous Ukidokan fighter Benny the Jet, but McKagan’s core insights into his struggle back to a healthy life full of value and hope resonate longer than most of It’s So Easy’s theoretically juicier anecdotes. Though the book does contain plenty of those, too (even toward the end, when he discusses his first encounter with Axl in 13 years), along with a personal backstory that helps illustrate just how unique Guns N’ Roses was in its prime, and how significantly each member contributed. But McKagan appears to have put all that into proper, humble perspective. And aside from occasional lapses into dude-speak navel-gazing, he committed it to writing with purpose and care.