Duff McKagan partied hard 10 years before Guns N' Roses conquered Hollywood's Sunset Strip. In fourth grade, the Seattle kid started smoking pot. Fifth grade, he took up booze. Sixth grade, LSD. Seventh grade, cocaine. In his new documentary It's So Easy and Other Lies, based on his memoir of the same name, Duff swears he didn't move to Hollywood to make it as a bassist — he moved to escape heroin before it killed him like it was killing his friends.
Duff was 19 when he answered an ad and met Izzy and Slash at Canter's Deli in L.A. "I looked at the first booth on the left and saw all this fucking hair," says McKagan. They saw a blue-spiked space punk. Duff sat down, and we know what happened next.
Almost 30 years after GnR released Appetite for Destruction, the music McKagan helped make is inescapable, wailing incessantly from basketball arenas, karaoke bars, and suburban carpools. But Duff's more interested in a detail of that first meeting: Since the dudes were still too young to get into bars, they smuggled vodka into the diner. And they kept on drinking — triple screwdrivers at breakfast, Cape Cods at lunch, god only knows what after the show — until Duff eased back and switched from a gallon of vodka a day to, um, 10 bottles of wine.
It's So Easy plays like a public Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with McKagan at the mic apologizing for his misdeeds. He's the emcee of addiction, a gaunt blond in a nice black suit backed by an acoustic band busking dad-rock covers of his hits. McKagan confesses, for example, to slurping his own pickled vomit when he ran out of booze. He glosses over the gritty stuff — including GnR's breakup. As for that guy Axl, all McKagan says is, "I liked him right away." Director Christopher Duddy politely lets the lounge act continue. He’s less a journalist than a hired Velvet Revolver. (How did I only just notice that Duff's two big bands were both named after pistols?)
"We can talk about Duff a lot and not talk about Guns N' Roses," insists buddy and talking head Nikki Sixx. Totally. I'd love to hear more about McKagan getting a business degree in his thirties. Were the suits screwing him out of royalties? Who knows. All we learn is that his accounting professor had no idea who this McKagan guy was (oh, c'mon, math people can't be that nerdy!), but he was a fine student. Also unmentioned: that time in 1994 when Duff decided to invest in a couple of hometown start-ups: Starbucks and Amazon. Talk about Paradise City!
"Sometimes I looked into the eyes of industry types and saw a flash of panic," wrote McKagan in his book about negotiating recording contracts after his MBA. "‘Shit, I wonder if Duff knows more than I do?'” He definitely does, but here he's only sharing a few familiar choruses.
And with that, the doc spits random inspirational words on the screen — Hope! Win! Believe! Imagine! Strength! Family! Live! Love! — as Duff raises a fist and leads the audience in a sing-along of "Patience."