Michael McKagan, better known as Duff, will always be most identified as bassist for the mercurial Guns N’ Roses, which took the music world by storm with its 1987 debut Appetite For Destruction. That album set the stage for a five-year stretch during which the quintet captured the imagination of fans worldwide and dominated the pop culture landscape on a scale that few bands have, before or since.
But in 2012, McKagan—who has penned columns for ESPN.com, Playboy.com, and his hometown Seattle Weekly—added best-selling author to his résumé with the memoir “It’s So Easy (and other lies).” Now he has turned that trick again with “How to Be a Man (and other illusions).”
“It’s So Easy” chronicled the formation and rise of a scrappy, ragtag outfit of disparate personalities bound together by the common desire to conquer the music world. Threaded through the pages was McKagan’s journey from the punk scene of Seattle to the private jets of Guns N’ Roses’ epic three-year tour for the Use Your Illusion albums. That book culminated with the hard-drinking musician pulling himself from the personal wreckage his alcoholism had wrought, by getting sober, earning a college degree, marrying and becoming a father, and continuing his music career.
“How to Be a Man” serves as a worthy follow-up and an engaging companion to “It’s So Easy.” McKagan is unflinching and unselfconscious and writes with an easygoing wit and intelligence. In “How to Be a Man” he shares travel tips, suggests how to maintain domestic bliss, offers his thoughts on growing older and growing up, and even recommends books and music (kudos, Duff, for giving some love to the criminally overlooked Dag). Though understandably lacking the Strum und Drang of its predecessor, there’s a certain charm in McKagan navigating new challenges as a working musician and devoted family man with two teenaged daughters.
But lest we forget that McKagan is a rock star, there are tales from that world—like the dilemma of choosing to be a responsible homeowner and tending to chores or spending time on a yacht with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Fans yearning for a reunion of Appetite-era Guns N’ Roses will be interested in McKagan’s tour dates with Axl Rose and a recent incarnation of the band.
However, it’s in recounting the quieter moments of his life that McKagan truly connects. He poignantly recalls coming home to find his mother listening to one of his albums by the Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers and her tearfully telling him of The Troubles in Northern Ireland—from where her father had emigrated.
And then there’s Chloe. You have to respect a man who appreciates the love of a fine dog and the sweet and vulnerable passages in which McKagan discusses her faithful companionship in the early days of his sobriety, not to mention Chloe’s friendship with a beaver that lived near the dock on his property.
No doubt the individual who will get the most out of “How to Be a Man” is one who believes that “the direction of your reading can very well influence your life for a while.” That man will likely find something within the book’s pages that will inspire him—perhaps to be more honest, maybe to be more loyal, possibly to be more grateful, or even to be brave in facing the challenge to be the man he has always known he can be.