Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guns n' Memoirs n' Me

I'm so glad Lara posted about poets behaving badly, because for the past week, I've wanted to post about the '80s rock band Guns n' Roses who were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sans original members Axl and Izzy, last Saturday night.

This has all been especially timely for me, as I took Guns n Roses' bass player Duff McKagan's 2011 biography/memoir, It's So Easy, to Arizona last month. This particular copy also happened to be one that I ordered for one of my libraries. The memoir was released not long after I met Duff McKagan at the 2011 Book Expo last May. At the Expo, I stood in his quickly forming book signing line, while pretending I wasn't standing in that line, all the while assuming that Duff would just quickly sign our promotional excepts assembly-line style, but no--Duff took the time to chat. He wanted to know what my work as a reference librarian entailed. I remember this experience as being so rattling I felt like I would pass out; on the surface, however, I remained calm and even tried to be funny. Then I made a super bold move and had his assistant take our photo with my little Android.

I finished Duff's memoir in about three days, but since it's not due back at the library 'til May, I'm keeping it around for awhile to revisit some scenes, like how the fledgling band rented a grimy storage shed for rehearsals in an alley behind the Hollywood Guitar Center, or about how the band hitchhiked from Bakersfield to Seattle to play an ill-fated gig in which Axl tried and failed to burn down the venue, and about Duff's descent into addiction, punctuated by his pancreas exploding. I've read many rock memoirs (Duff's bandmate Slash's, Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx's, the entire band Motley Crue's oral history, and heck--Iggy Pop's bio) and most seem to follow a similar paradigm of early family dysfunction, addiction, crisis stemming from addiction and at long last!--redemption and recovery. (Unless they end in death and then the genre is biography--except for Iggy who is very much alive.) Born the same year as me, Duff's trajectory is particularly compelling because much our respective lives corresponded: we got into the punk/hard core scene around the same time in peripheral cities: his Seattle to my Salt Lake, and we have similar memories of this time--but mine are all Mormonal: chastish and sober, which Duff's stories careen wildly in a lapsed Irish Catholic style. But Duff's story is unusual in that a big part of his recovery includes discovering a passion for academia, (which is where his life parallels mine again, I suppose). A high school drop-out, Duff enrolls in Santa Monica Community College as a 30-something and does well and then completes the courses required for acceptance into the highly selective Seattle University.
Duff rocking the Simon and Schuster booth

Along the way, he marries a supermodel; I marry a musician, and we separately have two daughters around the same time (just like that egghead Michelle Obama, alao born the same year as Duff and me).

Anyway, the above video is from Guns n' Roses' way recent Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cleveland. The singer's a stand-in for Axl, but what's particularly heartening about this video is the appearance and performance of Guns' original drummer, Steven Adler, who had addiction problems so profound, he was kicked out of a band where four of the five original members had rehab-worthy addiction problems. I don't know if any of you witnessed Steven on the wretched Celebrity Rehab, but he was a mess, his situation seemingly hopeless. Yet in this video from last weekend, he looks triumphant, full of the childlike glee that Duff attributes to him in It's So Easy. This is especially evident at 3:41 and 5:27. I hope you watch, but you probably won't.

A word about Guns and Roses and me: I fell in love with this band the summer term of my last year at BYU. They had the raw, sloppy energy of punk rock and channeled blues like the Stones. Plus, they were pin-up cute and no one on campus looked remotely like them (which is a part of the reason I moved to San Francisco.) I still have the original vinyl of their first release Appetite for Destruction.  That last summer of college, I listened to it constantly, for at BYU, music was my only vice and this record made me feel like my life was a lot more interesting than it actually was (like the poetry of the infamous poets Lara listed on her blog post tonight).

After graduation, I moved to San Francisco and Guns opened for The Cult (whose first album I reviewed in the nascent Student Review) in a modest club down near Market Street. It was my first night in the big city, and I was too overwhelmed to attend. This was Guns nearing their apex: unhinged, hungry and on time. I will always regret not going.

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