Duff McKagan: Refused Aren't Dead, They're Killing!

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Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle's Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
I felt a bit late to the game at the end of 1978 as I sheepishly bought my first copy of the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks. As awkward young teenagers, most of us have this experience where we have to raise our hand to the fact that we are not as cool as some of the other kids. This first punk-rock record purchase opened my eyes to a new fact and dictum: I didn't HAVE to act cool anymore. The ensuing punk records I bought, and gigs I went to, made me realize that the celebration of being different and unique was where I felt most comfortable.

I didn't get turned on to Refused until about 1999. Again, I was late to the game. Their epic The Shape of Punk to Come had been made in 1997. This time I had the excuse of being a new father to two young children; there was just no way I could keep up with new music.

Besides, what new rock-and-roll music was there in the late '90s to really get excited about? There were a couple of Swedish bands, like the Hellacopters and the Backyard Babies; Zeke; and the beginnings Queens of the Stone Age, but other than a few holdouts, it seemed that rock music was otherwise overwhelmed by post-grunge commercial, uh . . . crap! I didn't feel the need to try to keep up with what was going on. There seemed to be a general malaise in music in the late '90s/early 2000s. It made me feel lucky to have been old enough to have witnessed the likes of Black Flag, Killing Joke, and the Germs. I'd always have THAT, at least.

As fate would have it, though, rock was anything but dead (well, what I should state is that there WAS a gigantic and earth-moving rock record made in the late '90s). Sweden's Refused released the epic The Shape of Punk to Come in 1997, and even though this record didn't cross my consciousness until sometime in 1999, it's a standout that should be on every rock fan's all-time top-10 list.

But alas, just as I was getting into the band, I discovered they had broken up. News on the street was that they would never again play as a group. Singer Dennis Lyxzen had formed International Noise Conspiracy, and the rest of the dudes were nowhere to be found. That was it. I had missed the chance to ever see a band that was as suddenly familiar to me as any one person can be with an album.

They were committed to their message of punk honesty and strife, and they seemed just as committed with their message that Refused were fucking dead.

Fourteen years can mellow even the most ardent messages, and thankfully for a lot of us, Refused somehow found a way to get back together and play some shows this year, something most thought would never happen.

I saw that they were playing at Coachella last spring, but life is busy with me, and those aforementioned "babies" are now growing kids who are in middle school and high school. Fourteen years will do THAT too. I can't really peel off any old time I want to go to Coachella.

That was it then. I missed my chance.

But I would get another chance--and not at some huge festival off in the Southwest desert somewhere, but in my hometown of Seattle. Last week I finally saw Refused, and it was everything I had hoped it would be musically and energetically.

I went on my own; a Refused show ain't a fucking social event. It's not a gig to video so that you can YouTube it later. They are not a band that attracts a casual fan. No. Shows like this actually live and breathe and have movement. An experience and a moment in time. To be remembered as an event. "

There is no need for me to do some dumb show "review." If you were there, you simply saw and heard what I did. If you were not able to attend but know the band? Yes, well . . . the band live was better than the records.

The crowd that night were people like me. We all knew every word and kick-drum nuance. We air-bassed and air-guitared and yelled our lungs out. There was a girl to the front and right of me who was losing her shit, like at a My War-era Black Flag show. There was a couple to my left who kept looking at each other as if to say "Can you BELIEVE this? We never thought we'd see this fucking day!!" There were jock guys there, and punkers and hipsters and old-schoolers like me. But that night, there was no distinction separating any of us. We were simply there in that moment. Like a Stooges or Prince show . . . it was that fucking cool.

I got home that night, and got a text from my just-15-year-old daughter, Grace. She wanted to know if it was OK if she went to a concert in downtown L.A. that weekend (I would be back down there by then). There were a bunch of bands on the bill, and she wondered if I wouldn't get her a ticket online and she would pay me back (I'll cover kids "paying you back" in another column). I looked online at who would be playing.

At the top of the bill?

REFUSED

Yes, Grace. Yes . . . you can indeed go. No. You will not have to pay me back.

Related:

Read Duff McKagan's interview with Jack White.

Duff McKagan: Aerosmith and Cheap Trick Inspired Me In the '70s, '80s, '90s, and Wednesday Night at the Tacoma Dome

Duff McKagan: President Obama, Let's Get the Fuck Out of Afghanistan Now

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