While I understand the strategies and realities that compel The New York Times to be groovier and winkier than it once was—the flotilla of hip-hop-savvy critics it now employs, the David Pogue tech videos that are really comedy videos—I kind of miss the old days when the Times was the voice of God, and a fusty, granddad-like God at that, particularly averse to slang, nicknames, and any hint of informality.
So I was delighted to see that this week, the Times felt compelled to describe Duff McKagan, the former bassman of Guns N’ Roses and current bassist of Velvet Revolver, as “musician and songwriter Michael McKagan, known as Duff.” You seldom see the Times go to such dorky lengths anymore. Back in 1987, for example, the Times was dutiful in describing U2’s lead vocalist as “Paul Hewson, who goes by the name Bono Vox,” referring to the singer later in the same article as “Mr. Vox.” Today, Bono is a regular contributor to the Times’s Op-Ed page, under the byline... Bono.
Perhaps this week’s retro-Times nose-holding approach to McKagan’s nickname is attributable to the fact that he was the subject of an article in the Business section—namely, the weekly “Frequent Flier” column, in which regular business travelers share their tales of airport zen and woe. McKagan is a businessman of sorts, so it must be pointed out that “Duff” is just a handle, a tool of his trade.
Regardless, no one, in print or otherwise, ever refers to Duff McKagan as Michael McKagan. In over twenty years in the public eye, he has been Duff. Writing him up as Michael McKagan is tantamount to describing Jay Leno as “the comedian and television host James Douglas Muir Leno, known as Jay.” It’s absurd, and endearingly Times-ian.