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Money: Duff McKagan

You’re rock’n’roll’s go-to guy for finance now. That whole world seems to have its own secret code.

And I went to business school to decipher that code. I thought it was a secret language, and it turned out it was. These smart guys on TV try to look smarter by using all the terminology. Once I learnt it myself, I just thought, “Fuck, why don’t you just say this?”

Your company, Meridian Rock, advises musicians on wealth management.

When word got out I was going to school, I started getting calls. Friends were like: “Dude, should I buy this house?” Early on I was taking math and couldn’t give anybody valid advice. But I’m one of us, not one of them. Talking to me is less embarrassing than going to an ‘expert’, and I explain things in basic fucking English.

What’s the first thing you go through with them?

Their spending habits: what are you used to? Where are you in your career, and how long’s your career going to be? You have three houses with cable TV in all of them. Do you need all that? If not, let it go. None of us went to college and in high school you don’t learn about money. They want to find out what they should do to make it last.

And there’s much less money around for mid-level musicians these days.

Totally, a shit-ton less. Anybody in it right now revised their expectations years ago. Things get into the press five years after they happen, but musicians are on the front line. It’s not a surprise to them that records aren’t selling, that Spotify is lessening sales…

Rock’n’roll’s awash with nightmare money stories.

When we started making a bit of money, Slash bought a guitar from one of the guys in the original Alice Cooper band. He was broke and living in a shitty part of Hollywood. You grow up thinking: “These guys are set for life, right?” And they’re not. I got fucked up in my late twenties – with punk rock, it was: “Fuck money!” Then in my hospital bed, when it turned out I was going to live [after near-fatal pancreatitis in ’94], I knew there were things I had to put in order. My fear of money was one of them – or more the fear of the embarrassment of not knowing about it.

Do you remember your first big cheque?

Around the end of Appetite, life was moving really fast and the money really started to come in – money I’d never heard of before. My first cheque was for eighty thousand bucks. And it terrified me. I didn’t know what to do with it. I put it in my bank account and met with a couple of investment guys who talked about stocks and bonds. I didn’t know what they were. And when they got to ‘risk’, I thought, “Fuck you, I’m not gonna risk my money!” I didn’t understand what that simple word meant in relation to money.

Did you buy crazy things?

Not really. I did some stuff on the road, like rent a big, big fucking boat, not realising how much it was. Once in Milan we went to Versace. They closed the store down, served us wine, champagne, and I bought some shit – a bag, a suit. It was in Italian lira – it was forty-four-million lira! Worked out at thirty-thousand dollars. That was a lesson.

But you must have things that have accrued in value?

I stick with things I know. I know about guitars, and some of them have done well. When I got sober in ninety-four, Seattle was going off. Starbucks had been there ever since I was a kid. I’d seen stores in LA and San Francisco and there were lines, so I started buying single stocks – which I don’t recommend, by the way. Same thing with Microsoft. Thanks to school I saw a good company, growing but not too fast. Everybody knew about Bill Gates in Seattle, that he had a long-term plan. They were local businesses, you could see them.

Whereas the markets crashed in 2007 precisely because they were built on fantasy financial products.

And the dotcom bubble too. The companies were worth shit-tons on paper but it wasn’t real, it was an idea, and everybody flooded it. Same thing with these mortgage-backed securities everyone went gaga over. It was greed.

Doors must open easily for you on Wall Street.

Yes, it’s easy to get meetings because they think it’s kinda cool. That lasts about five minutes, but it gets me through the door. I find things out about investments, strategies. A lot of cool little firms have amazing economists I want to talk to – what do you see in the next thirty years? Let me in your brain.

Have you seen The Wolf Of Wall Street?

Of course! Seriously, if anyone wants to know what Guns N’ Roses was like in 1990, just go and watch that movie. It’s close. The debauchery, not the ripping off. values you at twenty million dollars.

My wife looked that up too. They probably calculate record sales, tour grosses. Then they don’t know what you’ve spent, and get it way off. But you don’t know which way off, do ya?

Grant Moon is the News Editor for Prog and has been a contributor to the magazine since its launch in 2009. A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.