Duff McKagan of Guns Ní Roses Remembers CBGB
The following is an adapted excerpt from Duff McKagan's new memoir, How to Be a Man.
I miss CBGB.
CBGB was a safe haven for new ideas to live. Not all of the ideas took root, but a lot of them did, and many of the bands that were given an early chance at the club went on to absolutely revolutionize rock and roll in the late Seventies — a time when change really did need to happen — when rock and roll was at risk of becoming Spinal Tap–ish. It was getting vanilla and somewhat ridiculous. It wasn't speaking to a large swath of kids, people my age, who felt left out. So we started punk rock bands.
Punk rock was all about being an individual. There was no dress code. You didn't have to wear the coolest clothes, own the best record collection, or play some name-brand guitar. As long as you were doing something that you believed in and were honest about, other bands and audiences would back you. We shared riffs and clothes and records, and we protected each other from the jocks and bigger kids who wanted to beat you up simply because you were different.
In GN'R, we carried forth the tenets set by our punk rock forefathers in our music. It was music for the people, by the people. We returned to New York later in 1987 to play CBGB. My knees sort of buckled as we rounded the corner in the then-still-seedy Lower East Side street that the infamous CBGB sat. I wasn't scared because of the shady environs of that street. I felt that I had somehow finally made it to my Mecca. The proving ground. The church and school and protectorate for all of the things in rock and roll that I believed in.
When people talk about Guns N' Roses these days, punk rock is a term that's rarely used. But in truth, we were those kids who benefited directly from early groundbreaking bands who played CBGB in the mid-to-late Seventies — those bands, and that club, tore down walls, both musically and socially. Without the Ramones and Johnny Thunders and CBGB, I would have not had the career that I have.
I got a CBGB shirt on that first visit and I wore that thing every day as our band started to break. There's an entire GN'R era, captured in photos, in which I'm rarely seen without my trusty CBGB shirt. I even wore it when we shot the video for "Sweet Child O' Mine." It wasn't like I chose some costume for the video, it was just the shirt that I was wearing every day.
Because that song and video sort of catapulted our band, I've been forever attached to CB's. In truth, that shirt was a security blanket for me in those early, chaotic days. It was my daily reminder of what rock and roll was all about. The punk spirit that CBGB to me had inspired would live on through me, if I could help it.
I met Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome sometime around that first CBGB gig. That Dead Boys live recording of "Hey Little Girl" at CBGB has always been one of my favorite live recordings. To me, playing CBGB and befriending Mr. Chrome was as big as anything that would follow in our rising career. I'd compare that moment with selling out the Garden or signing any record deal. I was only a few years removed from my teenage self, and suddenly felt accepted into an inner circle that made the soundtrack of my life.