In Your Honor
IN THIS PHOTO: Dave Grohl photoed in 2018/PHOTO CREDIT: Jen Rosenstein for Rolling Stone
Dave Grohl at Fifty
THERE are two schools of thought when you...
IN THIS PHOTO: Dave Grohl with his Nirvana bandmates (circa 1991)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
think about Dave Grohl. There are those who like him as a frontman and lead – he helms the U.S. band, Foo Fighters. There are those, like me, who prefer Grohl as a drummer and feel that is where he does his best work. In any case, the man turns fifty today so it is only right to mark that birthday! We also recognise big birthday for icons and, last year, we celebrated Kate Bush and Madonna at sixty. Dave Grohl might not quite have the same legacy and stature as them but I think he is vastly underrated as a musician and performer. Look at how long he has been in the business and how much he has contributed to the world. I love Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, but so many critics say the same thing: there is a lack of percussive force and it is crying out for something more powerful and immediate. Chad Channing does a fine job on the record but one wonders what could have been if Dave Grohl was there from the very start. Think about the extra respect and kudos Nirvana would have gained if Grohl were in the fold to offer pummel and his animalistic brilliance! Grohl appears on Nirvana’s breakthrough album, Nevermind, and that is where I came across his brilliance. I was only young when the album came out but there was something naughty about listening to Nirvana.
At the time, we were listening to a lot of British Pop and chart music and were not really used to Grunge. I and my friends were aware of American music but nothing quite as intense and different as this – it was a new experience and something that blew me away. I recall hearing Smells Like Teen Spirit on the radio when it was released in September 1991. As an eight-year-old, that sort of thrill and explosion almost blew my head off! It would be a couple of years before I fully investigated Nevermind but, rather than the lyrics and vocals hitting me first, it was the percussion. These were the days when we bought music and checked out the credits. I recall getting Nevermind on cassette and looking at the notes at the back. Checking out who did what, I was eager to know who was responsible for the drumming on the album. This is when Dave Grohl came into my life. It was a minor revelation but one that made me appreciate a new style of music and gravitate towards the drums. At the time, I was hooked by the singer and felt that was the most important part of a band: after discovering Dave Grohl, I had a new appreciation for the drums and the power they hold. One can argue until the cows come home as to the definitive Dave Grohl percussive performance.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
Nevermind features the twenty-two-year-old Grohl limbering up and providing Nirvana with the percussion chops they needed. Listen to Breed – the album’s second track – and what Grohl contributes. Sure, there is a murky, swampy and gritty guitar sound from Kurt Cobain and some epic bass from Krist Novoselic but it is Grohl’s granite, titanic sticks that define that song. Listen to that introduction and the machine gun riffle that beckons things in. Before then, Nirvana did not have that sort of power at the back and, in many ways, Grohl offered Nirvana new possibilities and the chance to push their music as far and hard as possible. Alongside producer Butch Vig, the band produced a masterpiece and I think a lot of the credit should go to Dave Grohl. Come as You Are allows Grohl to mix something subtler into the mix but he is back on electric form with Breed; Lithium finds Grohl teasing and offering a solid backbone whereas Territorial Pissings sees him return once more to that fired and frantic brilliance. The rest of that album sees Grohl display his range and ability and give songs such as Drain You and Stay Away new characteristics and nuances. We all know how popular Nevermind became and how influential it is. The chemistry between the trio was immediate and clear; the songs were strong and accessible enough to bring in people who would not usually listen to such music; the performances incredibly strong and eclectic.
You can argue it is Cobain’s leadership that defined Nirvana’s brilliance but I think Dave Grohl is the lynchpin. When the band stepped away from the commercial and recorded the more raw and ‘natural’ In Utero in 1993, it offered them a chance to write music that was less aimed at the charts – the band felt Nirvana was a bit too polished and commercial – and more to themselves. That may sound like a big statement but I think the band were a lot more comfortable on their third album and felt it was a better representation of who they were. There are actually some softer moments on In Utero. Dumb and All Apologies are striking and affecting; the band less intense but more emotionally striking. Grohl, as a drummer, showed he was not just about force and attack and provided subtle yet powerful performances on the songs. He led the attack on Scentless Apprentice and Very Ape; provided one of his best turns on Milk It and was crucial in making Heart-Shaped Box so affecting and urgent. The band would not record another album after In Utero – Kurt Cobain took his own life in 1994 – but they would, again, make history with MTV Unplugged in New York. That album was recorded on 18th November, 1993 and was Nirvana performing for a respectful and excited audience. The band spanned their back catalogue but also brought in a few cover versions – most striking among them was the extraordinary finale, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (A traditional song that was arranged by Lead Belly).
Although it was hard for Grohl to shine during a concert that was meant to be a bit softer and less intense, he did gives the songs some drive and definitely added to the mix. Many were unsure what would become of the two remaining members of Nirvana after Cobain’s death. It was not long until Grohl started Foo Fighters, in Seattle, in 1994. He was keen to keep playing but rather than remain behind the drums, he was the lead. The band, in fact, started as a one-man project. Perhaps that came from a sense of confusion and not knowing how to process Cobain’s loss. He recruited Nate Mendel, William Goldsmith and Pat Smear to complete the line-up. The band would see new members come and favourites leave but, on 1995’s Foo Fighters, we had a band that were keeping the spirit of Nirvana alive but also bringing in their own sounds. The album received great reviews and there were big hits like This Is a Call on there. Many noted similarities to Nirvana and the fact Grohl inherited some of Kurt Cobain’s vocal elements. The songs were written by Grohl and it was a revelation realising he was a natural leader. I guess drumming is how he started out and would not challenge Cobain when it came to writing Nirvana songs. I am a bigger fan of Nirvana (compared to Foo Fighters) but have a special place in my heart for their 1999 album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose. It was the first Foo Fighters record I really got behind and I love tracks like Breakout and Learn to Fly.
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
The Foo Fighters have recorded nine studio albums and their latest, Concrete and Gold (2017), shows that Dave Grohl can still compete and match anyone out there. I guess the best Foo Fighters material came prior to 2005’s In Your Honor but the band continue to make arresting and stadium-sized albums. Grohl has performed for a number of bands through the years but another one of his big credits is being part of Them Crooked Vultures. The band has only recorded one album – their eponymous record in 2009 – but the line-up featured Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). I forgot to mention Grohl’s role in Queens of the Stone Age but will come back to that in a bit! As part of Them Crooked Vultures, he was back behind the kit and providing that avalanche. Listen to No One Loves Me & Neither Do I and the technique throughout. On New Fang and Dead End Friends, Grohl provides the perfect backbone for Homme and Jones. It is clear, in everything he does, he is one of the most powerful and inspiring musicians in the world. I suggest people get Them Crooked Vultures as I feel Grohl’s drumming is more complex and varied on the album. He was iconic in Nirvana but Them Crooked Vultures allowed him more range and flexibility. It is wonderful hearing a lot of the tracks with the drumming isolated. I often wonder how Grohl manages to get through takes of certain songs without his arms falling off because he exudes such fever and passion!
I do hope Them Crooked Vultures come back and record again because we have not heard Grohl at the drums for a while. I often wonder why he was not recruited as a permanent member of Queens of the Stone Age because, on Songs for the Deaf (2002), he adds new dynamics and energy to the band. No One Knows is an instant classic and, when listening to that song, I am always on the air drums! The riffs are meaty and fresh but it is Grohl’s octopus-like agility and multi-limbed attack that gives the song its oomph and potency. Grohl’s input on Songs for the Deaf gives songs like Go with the Flow and Six Shooter depths other drummers could not achieve. Grohl would not return to the band until 2013’s ...Like Clockwork. Maybe it was his commitment with Foo Fighters but it was great to hear him back with Q.O.T.S.A. Joey Castillo, their long-term drummer, left during the recording of the album and that left the door open for Grohl to return. He plays drums on the tracks If I Had a Tail, My God Is the Sun; Fairweather Friends, Smooth Sailing and I Appear Missing. I actually think his contributions are the most impressive and better that what Castillo managed to record before he left. Maybe Grohl will perform with the band again but they have Jon Theodore as their new sticks-man.
I still think there are no finer drummers in the world than Dave Grohl. He is a great lead and guides Foo Fighters but he is an epic gun-for-hire and can transform any band/album. I do hope he gets the chance to get on the drums more permanently because, even though he would be in the background, it seems to be his natural home. Not only has Grohl inspired countless musicians but he is, as everyone says, one of the nicest men in the music world. He is conscientious and keen to speak out. This article lists reasons why Grohl is a legend but you can see, from the charity work he does to how he respects his fans, this is no mere musicians. In many ways, Grohl is a leader and icon that goes beyond the expected and connects with the people. He has donated money to fans and he has spoken out against fans fighting at his gigs. The man wants peace and love in the world and, even though he is a muscular and explosive drummer, he is a teddy bear who wants the world to be a better place. It is almost embarrassing to list the good deeds he has performed and how much joy he has brought. Not only is Grohl a sweetheart but he seems immune to pain.
IN THIS PHOTO: King Dave Grohl performing whilst recovering from a broken leg/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
When he broke his leg in Sweden in 2015, he continued to play on and actually performed gigs sitting on a custom-made throne. The band had to pull out of Glastonbury but did get to headline in 2017. I am one of the most vocal people around when it comes to bands like Foo Fighters headlining. I am a huge fan of Dave Grohl but feel like they have headlined enough and the new breed need a chance to shine. I think Grohl can bring an epic set but we do need to freshen up the headliners and take chances. In fact, when thinking about Grohl being accident-prone; he recently fell off the stage at a Las Vegas show after chugging a beer. The man is not willing to slow down and play it safe and it is good to see! Even though he is fifty today, there is rebelliousness and that Rock spirit that will never die. He is that unique mix of inspiring and sometimes-controversial frontman and a charitable, benevolent man away from the stage. Grohl is always funny in interviews and his title is not without proof – he really is The Nicest Man in Rock. In a time when we have few bands leading the way and standout musicians; Dave Grohl is a sort of father figure and one of the few icons left in music. Before I leave things, I want to bring in an illuminating interview – read the whole thing – he gave to GQ last year.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
In the interview, Jonathan Heaf (who chatted to Grohl and followed him and Foo Fighters on tour) discussed Grohl’s energy and readiness:
“Ready? Grohl is on a permanent countdown to launch. He is, was and always will be in PSR – a positive state of readiness. The atmosphere in the Foos’ dressing room since we arrived at the venue around two hours ago – running red lights from their hotel, the Four Seasons, in a convoy of nine blacked-out Mercedes-Benz Vito Tourer people carriers with 12 accompanying police bikes and two squad cars, sirens screaming and lights flashing – has been akin to a house party just before the cops shut it down, always about one round or one hit shy of someone getting hurt.
Grohl’s freewheeling enthusiasm for life, that whole charming raconteur shtick, is for real. One can’t help but feel, however, that calling him “the nicest man in rock” – as almost every journalist has, since forgiving him for daring to make any music after Nirvana – is utterly disingenuous. He’s way smarter than that. Anyway, since when was calling someone “nice” considered a compliment? Aren’t school children always told “nice” is the laziest adjective they can possibly use to describe someone? If you need one word to describe Grohl, it should be the absolute antonym of “lazy”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Grohl went on to talk about his America and how things have changed under the leadership of Donald Trump:
“For someone who has gone around the world as much as him, has Grohl... “Felt the impact of Donald Trump in regards to what other countries feel about Americans?” he interjects. “Of course. I remember when we were touring in the Nineties, people would come up to me and still spoke of wanting to come to the US, to see Texas and see the desert, to walk around the Big Apple. The American Dream was still tangible, still desirable. Today, the American Dream is broken. I’ve probably travelled internationally more than our current president and the one thing I understand that he doesn’t is that the world isn’t as big as you think it is. It is all in your neighbourhood. India, Asia, Iceland aren’t other solar systems. I am ashamed of our president. I feel apologetic for it when I travel”.
He was asked about Nirvana and asked whether he still listens to the music he made with the band; whether he takes the time to dig back or avoids it altogether:
“Even today, listening to Cobain’s music, for Grohl, is almost impossible. “I don’t put Nirvana records on, no. Although they are always on somewhere. I get in the car, they’re on. I go into a shop, they’re on. For me, it’s so personal. I remember everything about those records; I remember the shorts I was wearing when we recorded them or that it snowed that day. Still, I go back and find new meanings to Kurt’s lyrics. Not to seem revisionist, but there are times when it hits me. You go, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise he was feeling that way at the time’”.
I would urge people to look at Dave Grohl interviews and spend some time listening to how he talks and how fascinating he is. The man tackles politics and society but he knows music like nobody else. There are very few musicians who are spellbinding when interviewed and match that on the stage. Grohl is an all-rounder who is always pushing boundaries and doing things differently – have a look at his documentary, Play, to get a sense of that! He is entering his sixth decade of life but it seems like Grohl is happy to play on and continue to reign. He is touring with Foo Fighters and the band will play Readings and Leeds later in the year. It will be a busy 2019 but I do hope there are times when Grohl can get behind the microphone. Whatever he is doing today and however he is celebrating his fiftieth birthday, it is a good chance to play some classic Dave Grohl and remind ourselves why he is so revered. Since the 1990s, he has been in our hearts and will continue to remain...