by Duff McKagan

In the early '80s I was a classic punk-rock student at Roosevelt High School, way more motivated by the bands I played with than going to shop class or some other irrelevant scholastic waste of my time. Music dominated my every waking moment: I would play drums in one band in the afternoon (say, the Fastbacks) and then play a gig later that night with another (the Fartz, D.T.s, Silly Killers, Ten Minute Warning, the Living--whichever band I was also in at that moment). I quit school, turned 18, and got my GED. My mom was satisfied. Hollywood beckoned. This was a couple of years before the Seattle scene took off, or I might have just fucking stayed.

In Hollywood, I started Guns N' Roses. The band's rise was unexpected and meteoric--a major record deal (Appetite for Destruction), a huge tour, a number-one record. Everything (the deal, the tour, the T-shirts) presented a labyrinth of technical, financial, and legal terms that were purely mind-boggling. We pretended we knew what accountants and lawyers were talking about while also feigning a "we will kick your ass if you fucking rip us off" posture. This tough stance works for a while, until you start to face real-life issues such as mortgage payments, stock risks, yields on the band, and taxes.

Beginning in the Use Your Illusion era of the band, drugs and alcohol played a huge part in my life. A gallon of vodka per day and an eight ball of coke, plus anything else sent my way--that was the norm. Naturally, focus on business started to decrease (to say the least). The band came off a two-and-a-half-year tour ending in December 1993. Five months later, my pancreas exploded. Weirdly, it was a blessing.

Skip forward to a sober and semi-clearheaded guy who is trying to get a grasp on what the fuck has happened over the last few years. I went over financial statements from the previous tours and my personal income that had accrued because of them. Luckily, we'd been in fairly decent hands and I wasn't broke after all of that stupidity and financial ignorance. I realized that stupidity, while fun, has its limits. My next step was to get myself a real education.

After a few classes at Santa Monica College (beginning courses, a stock and bonds class), I realized I was ready for a full-time class schedule, resigned from my post as bass player in a dwindling version of what once was Guns N' Roses, and moved back home to Seattle with my wife and new daughter.

Now, enrolling in a school like Seattle University at age 33 with a 15-year-old incomplete high-school transcript is difficult. My good friend Dave Dederer (from the band Presidents of the United States of America), who went to Brown, showed me how to write an essay for my SU application. (The school liked the essay but insisted I first go to SCCC for a quarter, get straight A's, and then come back. So I did.) I got in.

Here I was, finally enrolled in a top university, looking at kids nearly half my age (with twice my IQ) and feeling the same ecstatic emotion I had felt after playing a sold-out Kingdome seven years prior.

Then classes started.

University is fucking tough. My study habits were so dusty that for the first year I spent at least eight hours a day doing homework that took other students a fraction of the time. By this point, we had two baby daughters, so I had to read Shakespeare while preparing baby bottles. I converted a backyard shed into a study and the kids learned that this was Daddy's quiet place.

I'm now three years into SU (with only my senior projects in finance left to complete) and I'm playing in a new band called Velvet Revolver (along with Slash, Scott Weiland, Matt Sorum, and Dave Kushner). The past couple of months have been a fast-paced ride right back into the intricacies of lawyers, business managers, and the details of another major-label deal. But this time around I can actually read and comprehend the contracts and financial statements. The leg up I have received from school has paid off immensely. I no longer have to feign interest at a corporate meeting or during a lawyer's longwinded explanation of a contract draft. All of this stuff is now within my scope of knowledge.

I'll eventually finish my BA in finance at SU and hopefully then an MBA. I suppose one addiction (knowledge) has supplanted another (drugs and alcohol), but this addiction I can definitely live with.