I’m working on another post about Fairy Tales and Rock, but I had to get this off my chest. Duff’s most recent blog inspired a host of comments from the masses, and, inevitably, the “role model” card was tossed on the table. For the record: I don’t buy into the responsibility of the celebrity/role model bit; each of us has to consider critically who we are drawn to, why we are drawn to him or her, and, most importantly, how media transmits the image of that person. We cannot assume that we “know” our celebrity role models; we get only snapshots from which we can glean a piece of an image, but not a whole person. If we fail to recognize the relationship between the image and reality, we run the risk of believing a fantasy or, worse, demonizing people for having human failings.
For instance, I’ve mentioned before that I wanted to be Duff (sort of–gender not withstanding) during the GNR heyday–the badass drunk punk with a wicked sense of humor.
Sure, why not?
But even in the midst of my “alter-universe” of teenage years, I recognized the problems his image presented in reality. He was bitterly and painfully addicted to alcohol and a host of illicit substances, even as much as he made fun of himself for it during the AFD years. Videos and concerts and, usually, interviews depicted a man living out an incredible fantasy. But, I could see the difference between what showed up on “my mama’s TV screen” in his grins in “Welcome to the Jungle” and what was likely the reality. Granted, some of this awareness is due in no small measure to McKagan himself, as image versus reality is a topic he has discussed at great length over the years, nearly always beginning with the remark: I’m not a rock star. Maybe I was fortunate that my hero of the day was so direct about his own shortcomings; how many times did he say over the years that he wasn’t going to live past 29?
I used to cringe when he’d show up to interviews so totally wasted as to be unable to string together a coherent conversation. I’m probably going to be excommunicated by the Duff Fan-world for saying the next bit, but there are parts of Believe in Me I simply cannot listen to because he is so drunkenly off-key. “Lonely Tonite” comes to mind readily. I love “Fucked Up (Beyond Belief),” but I’ve also been known to call it the poster child for “This is Your Brain; this is your Brain on Drugs” because it is fabulous during the instrumental first half…then, bless his heart, he starts singing. Granted, “Punk Rock Song” is one of my favorites, and he’s not exactly “on” throughout it, but, hell, what punk songs were totally on? The album, though, does not really capture what he was capable of creatively, hamstrung as it is by his then virulent addictions. I recognized the problems his party-boy life and attendant addictions raised, even then.
I knew he could do better; I had heard him sound better (“Attitude,” anyone?), so the album was a considerable disappointment . Now, Beautiful Disease and Dark Days…totally different story. Check out what he’s up to now, too. He’s still my hero, for some strikingly different reasons than when I was 15, though the badass punk with a wicked sense of humor is still quite relevant. Nevertheless, I can’t ask that he be responsible for my holding him up as hero because it is my choice to do so, not his.
I suppose that it is remarkably easy to get caught up in the possibilities that role models/celebrities of various stripes present. I don’t ask myself “What Would Duff Do,” because first, that would just be a silly-as-hell way of living my life, and second, because I don’t know him or what he would do in a given situation. I could imagine his response, I suppose, based on lyrics or blog posts and so forth, but these are all still projections of an image. I imagine, for instance, he would be disconcerted by the “hero” bit, but I really have no idea. Projections don’t act of their own volition; presumably, however, I do. I am not an alcoholic because of Duff McKagan; I am an alcoholic because of my own choices, drinking in spite of the fact that I knew good and well that I have more than a couple of addicts on the family tree.
Furthermore, with respect to the commenter’s (and several others who suggested similar notions) point, sure, McKagan lived his vices openly, which means his Internet-connected daughters have access to that youth–more so than most of our children. I imagine that the old stand-by conversation of “but look what you did as a teen, dad” could be hellacious in the McKagan household, but, based on his pattern of directness in interview situations, I imagine (again) that he’s pretty straightforward on such matters. But, who knows? Most parents have memories we’d rather our kids had no access to; heaven knows that is true for me. But, more often than not, the “big ones” have had consequences that our kids are already aware of. My son and I have a pretty open conversation on the matter of teen sex, in no small part because I was 18 when he was born. What am I going to do…pretend I was somehow innocent? The McKagan kids may have more ready access into Dad’s life (and remember, he long said he expected to be dead by 29, so there was potentially no expectation that kids would “someday read this,” but he also said he wanted to be clean before having kids. Glad the first was an incorrect presumption and that the second came to fruition. Kudos, Duff) than the average teen, but it doesn’t necessarily make the myriad talks any more or less difficult.
Yeah, GNR had quite an effect on my youth and the ways in which I imagined the world, but I had the facility to separate image and reality. The ability to recognize such critical distinctions is what needs to be cultivated, rather than castigating celebrities who fall apart in front of us or celebrating ones who do not (because, in truth, we may just be shielded from the realities of their lives).