Duff: A Failed Arson Attempt & Soundgarden Show In Seattle

Former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan is now, among other things, a columnist for Rocks Off's sister music blog in Seattle, Reverb. This month Touchstone Books will publish Duff's memoir, It's So Easy: And Other Lies, and he agreed to publish an excerpt on Reverb. In turn, Reverb agreed to share Duff's wisdom with Rocks Off and our readers. When we left off Monday, Duff and his G N' R bandmates finally arrived in Seattle to a hero's welcome and some wicked potent pot brownies.

Luckily, Guns N' Roses made better rock stars than they did arsonists
Luckily, Guns N' Roses made better rock stars than they did arsonists
Photo by Greg Freeman

Danny, Joe-Joe, and our gear still hadn't arrived when we played the show on Wednesday night at Gorilla Garden. We were sloppy on borrowed gear, though on the plus side only about a dozen people were subjected to our set. Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks is always nice, and made a point of telling all the guys we had played great. We knew we were better than the actual gig -- or at least we now knew we would be. The important thing for us was that we had made it there at all. Together.

After the Fastbacks set, we helped pack up their gear then hung out for a while with the crowd at the club -- which was pretty much just old friends of mine at that point. Hanging out, of course, meant drinking, and drinking heavily.

One of the people I was most glad to see was Big Jim Norris. He was a tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks who had finally found a comfort zone in our little Seattle punk-rock scene. Jim had always had his struggles with drugs and drink, but he was one of those guys who had the spirit of life in his eyes. Jim was a leader. And when I left for Los Angeles, he made it a point to keep in touch. Once I got my apartment, he sent me letters, and we talked on the phone when we could afford to. Our friendship had actually deepened since I left.

Finally, as the place cleared out, the members of Guns went back to the club owner's office to pick up our gig money, no doubt looking like a pack of hungry wolves. When I had booked the show, I somehow managed to finagle a $200 guarantee out of the venue.

Of course, I hadn't gotten a contract -- not for this show or for any of the others. But then again, I'd never gotten a contract. Back in the day, punk shows were always handshake deals -- and often the handshake part was just implicit because you had to come to terms over the phone. Our plan now was to wire this first $200 to Danny and Joe-Joe the next day and continue the tour.

English was not the owner's first language, but he quickly made it clear that he wasn't going to pay us.

We were stunned. I tried to reason with the guy. Then I played the sympathy card, telling him of our plight and our long journey, of the sunburn and hunger, of onion fields and tweaking truckers. But the club owner didn't give a shit.

"You not bring any people to show," he said. "How I pay when I no have money from ticket?"

We made vague -- and then probably more explicit -- threats of violence. He held the office phone in his hand ready to speed-dial the police, and made sure we understood this.

Eventually we left his office and went back into what was now a deserted club.

"Fuck that asshole," said Axl. "We went through HELL to get here and play this show. And he treats us like scum?"

Suddenly there was just one thought in my head. It was the only solution I could see. The only way to get justice.

"Let's burn this fucking place down!"


The members of the band looked around the empty club and at one another. There were no objections.

"Let's burn it the fuck down," I said again.

Axl and I threw matches into a garbage can full of paper toweling and we all hauled ass outside.

Nothing happened.

We had failed as arsonists, but the mere attempt was enough to exorcise our ill will for the night. And it may have saved us a stint in the slammer.

After running out of the Gorilla Garden, we went out to see a local band called Soundgarden. The initial rumblings of what would become the Seattle sound were just starting to happen then. Buzzing on our newly solidified camaraderie -- and plenty of booze -- we stormed the stage when they were done and asked to play a few songs on their gear. They looked at us blankly and explained in the nerdy kind of way a kid on a playground might respond to a request to share his toys, "Um, no, that's our gear."

It didn't matter. Nothing could bring us down that night: we had played an out-of-town show.

The next day we found out we had also played our last out-of-town show for a while. Danny and Joe-Joe weren't going to make it. That didn't matter either. The shake-out tour had already accomplished everything I had hoped and more.

One of Donner's friends drove us all the way back to L.A. a few days later, and we arrived home a genuine band -- a gang with the shared experience of a road trip gone wrong, an out-of-town gig, and the knowledge that we were all fully committed to Guns N' Roses.

It's So Easy is available in stores and at

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >