Some may find it ironic that a man who first came to fame in a band called Guns N’ Roses would write a protest song about gun control. But on his new Shooter Jennings-produced solo album of sociopolitical commentary, Tenderness, GNR bassist Duff McKagan addresses the issue bluntly on the Johnny Thunders-esque acoustic track “Parkland,” which he describes as a “funeral dirge.”
Sitting with Yahoo Entertainment, McKagan recalls the Parkland school shooting that occurred on Feb. 14 last year. He was in his basement recording studio at the time when his engineer came downstairs to break the horrific news, and McKagan was immediately inspired to write the song. “He said, ‘Oh, s***, have you heard about Parkland? It happened again.’ And I have this TV; we turned it on, and we just sat there and watched this fallout again. And I had a guitar, and I was just playing these two chords...”
The engineer’s actual sentence (“Oh s***, have you heard about Parkland/Yeah, it happened once again”) opens the track, which then rattles off an almost numbing list of similar tragedies (or “f***in’ heartaches”) that have occurred at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech… and Columbine, almost exactly 20 years after that high school massacre occurred. “Do we have to watch another mother cry, once again/Do we gotta see another school kid die/No, not again,” McKagan pleads on the emotional, and unfortunately still very topical, ballad.
“It’s beyond heartbreaking to look at the list [of school shootings over the years], and this thing's going on, on the TV. And that song just came out of me… I was trying to pay respect and be earnest about a very serious situation, especially as an American, this particularly American thing,” says McKagan. “I have daughters. ….When you’re fearful of your kids going to school, something's f***ed up. When you see your school’s got armed guards when you walk your kids to school — we walk to school — something's f***ed up. This is a school. And as a dad, as a human, just a f***ing human, anybody.”
McKagan, a self-described “super-nerd” who reads “an embarrassing amount of history,” and whose full, fascinating Yahoo Entertainment interview can be viewed above — stresses that “Parkland,” which fans will be able to hear in full when Tenderness is released on May 31, is “not a commentary on the Second Amendment; it's not a commentary on gun owners. But it's a commentary, I think, on if there's national emergencies that we're gonna call out, this one should've been called out some time ago.
“I don't know what the answer is, but I sure would love to explore an answer. I don't care if you're in the deepest, darkest corners of the NRA, or the most progressive whatever; something's gotta be done. I don't know what it is, but I hope with [Tenderness], I can get involved with some organizations and [use] what minimal platform I have to do something. The record's about healing. It's about togetherness. But within that, I have to expose some darkness. And I expose, I think, more of fair share of darkness on the record. But there is hope at the beginning, and there's hope at the end.”
McKagan chooses not to point fingers at any one politician or political party. “I'm not gonna talk about current administrations ever. I read too much history. You and I could barrel down on one person right now; it would be a useless conversation in eight months,” he explains. But he does speak like a politician himself, the kind that could unify the masses: “I think after 9/11, here in America, I saw something extraordinary. I saw neighbors looking after neighbors. I don't think anybody asked who anybody voted for. It was people taking care of other people. At the grocery store, everywhere you go, people were like, ‘Are you OK? Is everything cool here?’ Looking around, taking care of each other. And that's the America I know. That's the one I choose to see throughout all this stuff that we're experiencing right now, all this hyped-up tension and news and crap. F** that.”
As for whether McKagan — who aside from his busy music career is a regular sports/finance/political columnist, author, and founder of the wealth management firm Meridian Rock – would ever consider becoming a politician himself, the Seattle-born renaissance man chuckles at the question. “I have thought of running for mayor of Seattle before, for sure, because our city council is so famously f***ed up,” he confesses. “And it's my city, but that would just be a local thing, like almost me helping myself out to do that. Like, ‘This is how we're gonna run the city.’ I would actually want to be like a czar of the Northwest. Like, ‘What I say goes. It's gonna help everybody, trust me! Traffic, homelessness, everything around! But what I say goes, and that's it.’ So, if they've got that position opening up, I'll run. I'll put all my resources. ‘Czar of the Northwest.’”
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