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 Thursday, Duff and his G N' R bandmates had just hitched a ride with a rather... animated trucker on their way to Seattle.
The drug-induced sleep deprivation started to take its toll on our driver about 200 miles into the drive. By the time we hit Sacramento in the morning, he said he needed to rest his eyes and clear his head of the speed demons. It was okay with me. I had been talking with the dude for this first part of the ride and noticed that he kept looking into his sideview mirrors and sort of jumping around in his seat. This kind of stuff happens when you don't sleep for several days. I had a little bit of experience with speed from my teenage years, enough to know what was happening to the driver.
Sacramento sits at the top of the arid central California valley -- the area became a center of agriculture only with the aid of intense irrigation. When it's hot in the valley, Sacramento always has the highest temperatures. Our venture into the valley coincided with an absolutely scorching heat wave. Now, for some reason, the driver stopped in front of the state capitol building.
"All right, boys, I'm going to need you to hop out here." We didn't know what to say, and were in no position to argue anyway. "I've got to take care of something," said the driver. "But I'll be back for you, don't worry." Yeah, right. I was convinced our driver had just tricked us and left us behind. I'm sure the rest of the guys shared the same suspicion. We were left sitting on the curb.
No one said a word. No one even made a face, sighed, or raised an eyebrow.
As we sat there in front of the capitol, wilting in the heat, exposed to the intense sun, it became clear: as of this moment, Guns N' Roses was no longer a band, but the band --our band. These are my fucking boys -- they're willing to fight through anything. I already knew this trip had set a new benchmark for what we were capable of, what we could and would put ourselves through to achieve our goals as a band. This band became a brotherhood under that oppressive Sacramento sun. Fuck yeah!
Then, as I sat there silently rhapsodizing about my friends and our collective determination, the 18-wheeler suddenly pulled up and the driver nodded. "Let's roll, boys," he said. He had actually come back to pick us up. Unbelievable. "You have a fucking show to get to!" he said. I hopped back in the passenger seat. He was cranked out of his mind.
He must have dropped us off to go score some more speed, and to this day I have no idea how, in that state, he remembered to come back for us. That afternoon, just after Redding, I cautiously suggested we pull over at the next rest stop and take a break. I could see it was getting even more dangerous being in a huge moving vehicle with him. He had huge black circles under his eyes and he was sweating profusely.
By some miracle, he agreed -- and he actually slept there for a few hours while we just hung out nearby, trying to be as quiet as possible. We had no money for booze or food. I'm not sure what Izzy had with him, but he wasn't showing any signs of withdrawal yet. After the driver came to, he took us the final 150 miles up to Medford.
"I'm actually sorry I can't take you any farther," he said. "Shit, I might even try to make it up there myself on Wednesday for your show."
It was now Sunday evening. We found a pay phone to check in with our contact person in L.A., who Danny was supposed to call with an update on the broken-down car. Danny hadn't been able to get the car fixed yet. The replacement part would have to be shipped down to Bakersfield from San Francisco on a business day.
With no money left, our only hope now was to straight-up hitchhike on the side of the freeway. From a less determined perspective, it would have seemed a hopeless long shot that anyone would pick up five fucked-up-looking guys with their guitars -- if anyone even had enough space. But we didn't see it that way at all then. We just had no alternative.
After only about 45 minutes, a Mexican farmworker in a Datsun compact pickup pulled over to give us a ride. In broken English, he made us understand that he was going only as far as Eugene, Oregon, but that we were welcome to pile into the back. After only a few miles, it became painfully obvious to us that this ride would not last. The little pickup couldn't bear the weight; the wheel wells kept pressing down on the back tires and began to take rubber right off of them.
Our victorious feeling from just moments earlier sank as the man pulled over to drop us off. I will never forget how apologetic he was. I hope to this day he realized how grateful we were to him for at least trying to help us.
Back on the side of the road, we started to walk while we thumbed. I knew how far it was to the next town because I had driven back and forth from Seattle to San Francisco more than a few times on tours; it was too far to walk, that's for sure. But as driven as we were at that point, we thought at least we would be making headway. So we walked.
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Eventually we found ourselves in the middle of an onion field. When you're hungry and don't know where and when your next meal is coming, you can eat almost anything. Those were the best damn onions I've ever eaten. At that moment they tasted as sweet as apples.
Come back Monday for the thrilling conclusion. Duff's book is available in stores and on Amazon.com.