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Duff: Hitchhiking Toward Seattle And Hydroponic Pot

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 Friday, Duff and his G N' R bandmates were stranded in an onion field, desperately trying to find a way to their gig in Seattle.

Amazingly, these five men had some difficulty hitchhiking in rural California c. 1985.
Amazingly, these five men had some difficulty hitchhiking in rural California c. 1985.
Photo by Greg Freeman

After a few more hours of walking, I was only slightly aware of the passing cars. No one was going to pick us up, I thought to myself. My hope was that maybe we would come to a farmhouse with a phone and I could call Donner or Kim up in Seattle. Maybe someone would be able to come get us.

By morning, I was so fucking hungry and thirsty. We all were. Just then, a full-size pickup swerved to the side of the road and stopped in front of us. Two women in their mid-thirties told us to get in the back.

They were sorry, they said, and explained they had passed us without picking us up when they first saw us. They were scared. But then they had talked about the way they, too, had been passed so many times on the roadside as hippies back in the early 1970s; they scolded each other, turned around at the next exit, and came back for us.

They asked us if we were hungry. We were. They asked us if we were thirsty. We were. They asked us if we were broke. We were. They pulled over at the next gas station, bought us sandwiches and beer, and told us they could take us all the way up to Portland. Almost three hundred miles! These women were like angels sent from heaven. Food and drink never tasted so fucking good. Friendship from strangers couldn't have come at a better time.

I tried Donner's number from a pay phone at the gas station and he actually answered.

"Dude, here's the deal. We broke down in Bakersfield and we've been hitchhiking for a day and a half. We're in Medford now and some girls are going to drive us as far as Portland. We'll be there early this afternoon."

Donner grew pot. He had grow operations going in a couple of unused buildings. He always had dough. And he had already met some of the other members of the band -- Donner had visited me in L.A.

I asked him, "Can you help us out somehow?"

So we started talking: Could he arrange bus tickets maybe? Then he blurted out, "Fuck that, I'll pick you up. We're going to have a party at my house tonight, we'll have a feast, there'll be girls, it's going to be a Seattle welcome."

We made it to Portland on Monday afternoon, and Donner was there. By the time we arrived in Seattle, it seemed everyone I knew had apparently heard of our trials. They welcomed us with open arms, open liquor bottles, and open drug stashes. People in Seattle knew me as a drinker -- they knew that as a result of my panic attacks I was not into drugs back then. For this reason, I guess, nobody offered anything hard. I think Izzy was a bit disappointed by this, and by then perhaps a tad sick from withdrawal.

 

Donner had, however, baked a batch of pot brownies. I think they were intended for people who would be coming over to the party later that night -- people familiar with the potency of local weed.

Izzy just needed to catch a buzz off something, and I guess he thought pot brownies would be a lightweight short-term fix. Axl followed suit so Izzy wouldn't be alone.

"This shit is strong," Donner warned them. They ignored him.

In the 1980s, Seattle led the nation in the fine art of hydroponic pot growing. I'm not sure why the city excelled at it so, but the weed up there was getting potent. Really potent. Around 1982, a new strain of weed was developed for the basement water growers -- the luckiest and most deeppocketed started to cultivate what would be known as "a-strain" and later as "chronic."

Up in the Northwest, we knew the strength of this shit, and also knew it was nothing to trifle with. It was like a mix between a strong muscle relaxer and LSD. Until you knew what was right for you, the best thing to do was to take just the tiniest puff and see where that got you; you had to build up a sort of tolerance.

Next thing I knew, Axl and Izzy went and curled up on Donner's couch with wide, scared eyes. I went over to make sure they were all right.

"What the fuck did they put in these brownies?" Izzy asked me. Nothing, I assured them, it was just very strong weed. "No way, man," he said. "I think there's acid in here." They were completely paranoid. I told them not to worry. I felt horrible. I was hyper-sensitive to what my new bandmates were experiencing that first day in Seattle. They were a curiosity to my friends, that's for sure.

But we were all dead tired and hungry and I wanted to make sure that Axl, Izzy, Slash, and Steven were well taken care of. I was proud of my city and my friends and wanted to cast them in the best light. It took Izzy and Axl hours and hours and a lot of beers to come down off of their first a-strain high. Fortunately, by the time the party started to get into full swing, they were returning to earth. But to this day, I am sure, they still think they were dosed with something.

Donner threw a barn burner that night: barbecue, beer, girls. Life was suddenly, really, really good.

Come back tomorrow for our final It's So Easy excerpt, featuring a cameo by Soundgarden. Duff's book is available in stores and at Amazon.com.


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