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Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan defends misunderstood '80s lyrics: "None of our friends said, 'Grab her by the…'"

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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Some people might be surprised that Duff McKagan, the Guns N’ Roses bassist who penned the infamous lyrics to the R-rated Appetite for Destruction track “It’s So Easy,” would release a song inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. But on his Shooter Jennings-produced solo album of sociopolitical commentary, Tenderness — which also addresses homelessness, the opioid crisis, and gun control — the father of two girls does just that with “Last September,” a fictional but all-too-real tale about a workplace predator.

It’s obviously a very different time now from the heavy-metal ‘80s, when GNR first exploded onto the scene and “everything was unprotected — drugs, needles, sex, all of that stuff,” McKagan acknowledges. But the 55-year-old rock legend tells Yahoo Entertainment that even back then, he and his bandmates had a sense of right and wrong.

“I'm sure stuff was going on, Harvey Weinstein stuff and all that, but we hated that! If we saw that stuff going on around us, we didn't allow it to happen around us. We were still good dudes,” he says. “None of our friends said, ‘Grab her by the p***y.’ You know what I mean? Who would say something like that? And I don't mean to be political against the dude who said that; it's just an idiotic, stupid thing to say, for any man. And that's the way I've always thought. So '80s, or now — I could've written ‘Last September’ in the '80s.”

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As for the songs Guns N’ Roses did write in the ‘80s, McKagan stresses that tracks like “It’s So Easy” and “Used to Love Her” were supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, and that the controversial “One in a Million,” which employed two shocking slurs, was told from the point of view of a racist and homophobic character (similar to the bigoted protagonist in Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” which was also censored at radio). It was disappointing to Duff at the time when GNR’s songs were misunderstood.

“I went on BBC's Hard Talk for my first book, right? I did Hard Talk, and it was the woman on there, and she was very nice to me in the green room: ‘Oh, excuse me, what a great book, and you've got a lovely family, and this is so nice,’” McKagan recalls. “And the light goes on the camera, and she goes, ‘So: Turn around, bitch, I've got a use for you. You wrote that lyric. How do you explain that to your daughters?’ So, I'm glad we're talking about this in a different way [today].”

McKagan especially ruefully recalls the “One in a Million” backlash: “We were supposed to play David Geffen's big AIDS benefit in New York a couple months [after that song’s release]; we got pulled off of that. I remember getting on a plane flying back to Seattle, and an African American flight attendant came up and sat down next to me and said, ‘Do you really hate black people?’ I'm like, ‘Oh, f***.’ Part of my family is African American. [Guns N’ Roses guitarist] Slash is half [black]. So, people didn't put that together. Hopefully now, later, people can examine that song. And I think it's brilliant and super-brave of [GNR frontman] Axl [Rose] to step out and do that.”

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As for whether the political-correctness pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, in this era of “cancel culture” and constant social media outrage, McKagan muses, “I think ‘P.C.’ is an overused word itself. Just come correct at all times. I don't remember anybody I hung out with using the N-word, or using the C-word. Just come correct at all times, then you don't gotta worry about, ‘Oh, s***, was I politically correct here?’ …If you're a dude, be a f***ing man. Just be a human being. Use common sense. Don't be a dick.

“I gotta be a man for my daughters and for my wife, and I don't mean a ‘macho’ man — a man of thought, and a man of understanding, and a man of action. And I hope to take some action with this record, and it's positive, healing action for what's transpired, especially in the last few years here in America.”

McKagan isn’t the only GNR member who’s been politically outspoken lately. Axl Rose has become very vocal on Twitter, prompting a new hashtag, #wokeAxl. “Is that right?” McKagan laughs. “He is woke. ... If you're gonna try to outsmart him, or out-intellectual him, it ain't gonna work. You're gonna be in trouble. When Axl says something, I know how much he thinks about it first and he does research. If he says anything publicly, or tweets it or whatever, he's thought long and hard about it. It's not some anger tweet. So, go ahead and unfollow him, I suppose, if that’s the worst thing you can do.”

Watch Duff McKagan’s entire Yahoo Entertainment interview about Tenderness in the video above. McKagan’s solo tour kicks off this week in Philadelphia.

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