When I left you all last week, I was just boarding a plane in London that would become a series of flights that would eventually land me in Santiago, Chile.
Duff McKagan is the frontman of Seattle's Loaded, and the founding bassist of Guns 'N Roses. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is out now. His column runs every Thursday at seattleweekly.com/reverb.
I actually found the 13-hour flight from Madrid to Santiago to be the first real rest I'd had in two weeks. I slept for a little over nine of those hours. I woke up refreshed as the plane was descending into Chile. It didn't hurt that I woke up knowing that I was just a few hours from riding rented Harley-Davidson motorcycles with my good friend Sean Kinney. Our bands (Loaded and Alice in Chains, respectively) would be playing together for the following few days, and we had made plans before I left the UK to do something on that day off in Santiago.
Being as it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Sean and I decided to pick up our Seattle summertime where we left it off: riding motorcycles.
Traffic in Santiago is no joke. Drivers—especially bus drivers—have their own view of how fast or slow to go or when to change lanes. It is controlled chaos at best, and being on a motorcycle in that circus will get one's attention. But as we escaped the city and got up into the mountains, it became quite clear just how beautiful this city and the area is. It was a good, good day to be alive.
Alice in Chains hadn't been to South America since their initial visit in 1993, when they toured with Nirvana. Sean's memory of the hecticness of the environs seemed to be clouded by that time. Yes, Memory can fuck with a person, and blare false warnings of a place or situation. Sean was nervous about coming back down. I get it. Been there too.
Back in the 1980s, when I first started touring in rock bands, playing gigs in South America was just way too exotic, and really an unproven and sketchy place to try and book gigs. Did they have gear there? Were venues safe from collapse at 120 decibels? And what about political stability and police corruption filtering over to us rock bands?
Queen was really the first major rock band to bust out and tour down in Brazil and Argentina, and they became a beloved entity BECAUSE they went all the way down there. I could only imagine the stories that the surviving guys in that band have to tell about those first times in South America.
I've written about the first time I went to Rio de Janeiro with GN'R (the 1991 "Rock in Rio" festival). It was such a far-removed locale to go to, and none of us had even the slightest idea of how far Rio was from Los Angeles. It seemed like kind of a straight shot down the coast . . . "Maybe a six-hour plane flight," I remember thinking back then.
Only 20 years later, long-distance plane travel has become something most of us have done at least once. And also, with the Internet Age, the world is a lot smaller than it was back then.
Brazilian, Argentine, and Chilean fans, and South and Central American fans in general, had been starved of live rock music. When a band did finally show up, they would experience what we now call Beatlemania: The locals down there would just lose their shit, and often run headlong at the band's van, bus, car, or whatever. (If you've seen the Ramones documentary End of the Century, where they are in a van from the São Paulo airport . . . scared to death . . . then you would get the idea).
But it is all different. A lot of rock bands come here now, and as I found myself on a plane with the members of Faith No More, Alice in Chains, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Megadeth, and Down, all traveling together from Santiago to São Paulo, it dawned on me that now EVERYBODY is coming down here to play shows.
And the audience has matured as well. Where it was once a sort of Beatlemania, the fan base in general is now simply smart, loyal, and passionate. Loyalty and passion are big attributes down here.
Festivals are a big deal in South America, too. The SWU Music & Arts Festival in São Paulo, where we played on Nov. 14, even has a theme of self-sustainability (Starts With U), and the crowd and vendors do all they possibly can to adhere to a sort of clean-energy program. Self-sustainability seems even more weighty in Brazil, as we are all aware of what is going on with the rain forests there. It really seemed that there was a real energy given to the fact that the 80,000 people in attendance were doing all they could not to leave a carbon footprint in the wake of this three-day festival.
I sit now backstage at a venue in Porto Alegre, Brazil. I am now able to go to places here that I've never been to before. This country seems to be thriving, and there is a massive air of positivity in these parts. I am glad to be along, to ride the crest of this wave, if only for a day or so, every few years. I only wish . . . my family was with me.