Why Duff McKagan Left Seattle for Los Angeles

In the Autumn of 1984, I moved from the familiar comfort of the Seattle punk scene to Los Angeles. Many assume that leaving the oft-stormy weather of the northwest for the more tranquil and sunny Southern California would be a no-brainer. A guy like myself could throw caution to the wind and basically go anywhere I wanted, well, anywhere that my beat-up car could get to, and anywhere that had a music scene that had more infastructure and less heroin than Seattle did then.

Let me first explain that I did not leave Seattle because there was a lack of talent or originality. Seattle in the early '80s probably had the most diverse and supportive scene in America. If the place where your band rehearsed at got shut-down or was otherwise made unavailable, it was never a problem to find some other band to help out. At a gig, if any piece of some band's equipment broke down, replacement gear was as close as the next band's gear on the bill.

No, I left Seattle because as a result of the early-'80s economic recession in the area, clubs and youth halls were shutting down. The streets of Seattle were dire and empty. My bandmates, roommates and girlfriends all started on the smack. and I lost a new guitar amp that I had worked hard for. I was working, paying rent, doing weekend tours, and coming back to theft from friends at home. So I left the city I love for a city I knew no one in or nothing about.

My first couple weeks in L.A. were a sort of recon mission. My next-oldest brother Matt lived in Northridge, and he got me a job my first day in town as a cook at a Black Angus. For anyone who knows, Northridge is actually quite far from Hollywood, especially in a piece of shit Ford Maverick with no brakes and a leaky oil pan. I would go down to Hollywood to go to a club and often just drive into the hills afterward and sleep in my car, because I was afraid of breaking down on the freeway in the middle of the night. On top of this, I was not yet 21, and therefore had to come up with crafty ways to get into clubs to see a gig.

Back then, we people from Seattle just plain looked different. I remember when bands like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys would come through Seattle, they would always comment of the different look of the crowd. Now that I was in L.A., I decided to use this 'different' look to convince people checking IDs at club doors that I was not from the United States, and thus spoke no English.

When asked for an ID, I would produce my sunglasses and a puzzled look. They must have thought I was Swedish or something but, no shit, it worked more often than not. To further explain how 'different' we Seattleites looked, upon first meeting Slash in response to a Musicians Wanted ad, his girlfriend Yvonne assumed I was gay and asked me about it after a couple of tugs off of a bottle of vodka. I almost pissed myself with laughter, and it took me a few days to actually convince her that I was a fan of the ladies..but that is another story.

I had gone to California to play shows and be a roadie prior to my move to LA. I was by no means a neophyte, nor was I in the least bit naive. But when I did try to identify some of the things in the LA club-scene that I left in Seattle--like camaraderie or at least helpfulness from others--I was pretty much rebuffed in a wholesale manner. No, Los Angeles was a cutthroat operation, and I would soon learn to play by those rules, although I would try to convince myself that I was still 'me'. The band I was soon to help form was comprised of fairly likeminded young men.

I must say, when Soundgarden first came to play in LA when I could see them (1989 I think), I was jealous yet proud. Jealous that Seattle had turned into a place a band could be FROM again, and it had turned that way without me there. I was proud of just how great Soundgarden was, and that all of my bragging about how cool Seattle was and how much raw talent was there finally had a face. As Mother Love Bone, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam all began putting out major-label releases, the rest of the world found out about the little secret I left behind.

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