|by Bob Mackin
Used with the kind permission of the author
It took a burst pancreas to save Duff McKagan's life. Guns n' Roses' bassist was forced to cancel a solo tour of Australia when he suffered the attack on May 10, 1994. The health crisis was triggered by his intense and prolonged abuse of drugs and alcohol. McKagan was treated by the son of the doctor who brought him into the world as Michael McKagan in 1962. The second generation medic, it turned out, gave him a second chance.
McKagan played drums or bass for a bevy of Seattle bands like the Fastbacks, Fartz, Silly Killers, Vain and 10 Minute Warning, but left the Northwest for south California and a new band called Guns 'n Roses in 1985. McKagan, who smoked pot by Grade 4 and snorted cocaine by Grade 7, said he escaped Seattle in part to avoid the scourge of heroin that had claimed some of his friends.
Despite the change of scenery, he fell into a similar chemical trap. "When the band first started, the image that (Geffen) had of us was drunken, fucked-up rabble-rousers and they would do anything to make that image keep going," McKagan told a session at Vancouver's Music West convention on the third anniversary of the pancreas rupture.
"Then the money came in."
And the money went out.
Heroin use was rampant in the G 'n R camp and that precipitated the firing of original drummer Steven Adler in 1991. McKagan said he saw him recently in Burbank, Calif., but didn't mention if the victim of a drug-induced stroke was still playing drums. "Hey, he's still alive."
At his worst, McKagan said he was drinking two half-gallons of vodka a day and snorting an eighth of an ounce of cocaine.
"We were playing huge gigs, I don't even remember playing Czechoslovakia; it says it on my passport.
"What a sad place to be. Every day I woke up, I had a vodka bottle sitting next to my bed. It was like being in a cardboard box and I couldn't bend it. I could not stop, I tried to stop for a month and then I started drinking a lot. I was too far gone."
McKagan said he was on the same flight to Seattle in early April 1994 as Kurt Cobain, who had escaped from a California drug rehabilitation facility. Cobain, who couldn't kick heroin, would be found dead just days later of a gunshot to the head.
"I knew him, I knew a lot of junkies, most of them are dead. I don't know of any junkies that I see and say, 'man, he's going to snap out of it'."
McKagan, now booze and drug free, has reinvented himself physically through martial arts and mentally through college business courses. His long, blond locks are now short and brown and his pasty white face tanned. He even takes pleasure in getting to sleep before 11 p.m.
He's also back in the studio working on two projects: a solo album with fellow Seattleites, the Bloch brothers (Al of Wool and Kurt of the Fastbacks), and the long-overdue Guns 'n Roses album.
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