Watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on HBO recently, I was struck by how honored I was to have been included in such an epic class of bands and artists. GNR opened for the Peppers a few times in L.A. back in the early days. They were king-shit on the hill back then. And the Beasties were the hard-core East Coast counterpart to what we were oozing over on the West Coast. In fact, I seem to remember us being in the same club sometime in 1986, and the rumor of us brawling with each other was rampant throughout the club that night. Ah, testosterone!
There we all were in Cleveland last month. Bands that made some sort of difference somewhere. The Peppers still do, and so did the Beasties until the recent tragic and unavoidable end. And both bands stayed together, through thick . . . and blackened thin. But GNR didn't survive the folly and nonsense. We didn't rise above.
Watching that HBO special made me sad—for the very first time, perhaps—that the original GNR didn't somehow stay together. It would have been a miracle if we had. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have done my part to try to rid that band of the caustic resentments and outside input that finally wore us down to a nub of what we once were, and what we could have come back from. Alas, it just wasn't in the cards.
A funny thing happened in the lead-up to Cleveland. It seemed that there was an understanding—not only among the people who had flown to Cleveland to see "their band" inducted, but in the way the other inductees rallied around Slash, Steven, Matt, and myself. They had our backs, and all offered help in any way we could use it.
Walking into the lobby of the hotel where all the artists were staying, the first fellow inductee I saw was fucking Ronnie Wood from the Faces/Stones. He gave me a big hug and a huge grin. "Isn't this going to be fucking great, Duff?!" Uh, yeah, sure. What a welcome! Flea gave me a big hug later that afternoon, and so did Chad Smith. The Green Day guys had come to my book reading the night before at the House of Blues, and Billie Joe and I devised a plan where he would sing whatever was needed . . . if needed.
In the aftermath of all the drama leading up to the event, with a few people from our camp stating publicly that they weren't coming at all, I stuck with the mindset that I was there to honor our fan base who had been there for us for more than 25 years.
It was a very poignant night. And after watching the broadcast—and seeing my old friends perform for our die-hard fans—it's starting to sink in just how heavy the event was for me on a personal level.
We really didn't know if we were going to play at all. It wasn't cemented until we actually rehearsed at 2 a.m. the day of the show—right after my reading. It was all THAT last-minute. In fact, my band and soundman for the reading—Jeff and Mike from Loaded, and Seattle's own Martin Feveyear—instantly became GNR's crew! That's right. We hadn't even thought ahead about guitar techs, drum techs, or sound guys. So it was nice to have them there with me for the RRHOF, for sure.
For Slash and me, it was the first time we'd played our songs with Steven Adler in something like 22 years. We had to wonder: Would it work? Would we be able to get our mojo back with only 14 hours to spare before playing in front of an audience of 7,000 and being filmed for an HBO special!?
I couldn't have been prouder of the guys I did take the stage with that night (special thanks to guitarist Gilby Clarke and singer Myles Kennedy for their heroic, last-minute efforts). My bandmates composed themselves in the face of so much unneeded drama. We had no resentment, and showed up to pay homage to those fans who did their part for us.
At the end of the day, I am so very satisfied about the outcome of that night in Cleveland. It was about the music that GNR wrote way back when. And the fact that a few of us showed up to reciprocate our appreciation was certainly enough for the occasion. E
Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N' Roses and the author of It's So Easy (Touchstone). His column runs every Thursday at seattleweekly.com/reverb.