I had just turned twelve years old when I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Sprit”, a title that to this day makes no sense to me at all. It was back when MTV played music videos and bands cared about that sort of thing because it got them on TV and helped sell more records.
I remember sitting and watching the video, not quite understanding what was happening, who this band was, or what it all meant. I remember wondering what this unusual guy was doing behind the drums. At this point, I hadn’t started playing the drums yet, I’d only wanted to. So, as I often did, I focused on the drummer. I wanted to see what he was doing, how he was doing it, what he hit when. But all I could see was this giant mane of brown hair flopping up and down and back and forth. I was so distracted by the man, that I didn’t see what he was doing.
It was the first time I heard Nirvana. It was also the first time that I knew and sort of understood what grunge was.
That weekend I had my mom drive me to Tower Records in Burlington – I don’t think Newbury Comics existed yet – and she bought me a copy of Nevermind. I remember having to fight with her over it. She didn’t approve of the naked baby on the cover, an argument I imagine many teenagers and pre-teens had with their parents. But in the end, I prevailed.
I listened to it over and over that day and the next. I loved that album and still do to this day.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the first song I tried to play on my first drum set two years later. I say tried there because you’d have never known that’s what I was trying to play along to. It was pretty sloppy and didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It seems like such a small thing, but having literally tens of millions of songs available to choose from to be the first song you ever play on a new instrument actually meant quite a lot. I remember toying with the decision for days when I knew I was getting my first drums.
In 1994, just a few short years after I’d gotten to know the band and listened to everything they put out, Kurt Cobain died. Whether you believe he was killed or he committed suicide is up to you, but the fact of the matter is, he died. Like many people who were into the band, I was upset. It was the first time in my young life that I remember watching people mourn on television. MTV covered it as part of MTV news (which I don’t think they even do anymore) and I watched as thousands gathered near his house to pay their respects.
It shook me. It was the first time I could remember someone that I looked up to dying.
Later that year, Dave Grohl emerged as the musician that other musicians wanted to work with. Once Nirvana was no more, Grohl got call after call from musicians who wanted to recruit him and work with him. But ultimately he had other plans. Those other plans turned out to be Foo Fighters.
His quote about why he decided to be a frontman and start his own band instead of working with an existing band is quite great:
I was supposed to just join another band and be a drummer the rest of my life, I thought that I would rather do what no one expected me to do. I enjoy writing music and I enjoy trying to sing, and there’s nothing anyone can really do to discourage me.
That quote really moved me when I read about it – I believe in Rolling Stone. He decided to go against the grain because that’s what he wanted to do. He didn’t bow to pressure from the record label, he didn’t just jump behind a drumkit for some random band. He went into a studio, by himself, and recorded almost an entire album. He played all of the instruments, produced all of the tracks, wrote everything, and was the everyman.
The plan for Foo Fighters was supposed to be anonymous. No one was supposed to know it was Dave Grohl that did it all. But once the demo got out there, record labels were fighting over it. So much so that Capitol Records gave Dave his own imprint label, Roswell Records. Roswell released the first Foo Fighters album, followed by public appearances, tours, and the rest is, as they say, history.
I don’t want to say that everyone was surprised at how good Foo Fighters were right out of the gate, but I think that word’s fitting. Here was this guy that we’d known, in the main stream music industry, for a few years as a really good solid drummer. And now here he was, in front of us, with a guitar, singing. Not only playing guitar and singing, but doing it really well. The songs he wrote, the melodies he came up with were almost so anti-Nirvana that it was hard to believe this was the same guy.
Today, Dave’s sought after for a number of collaborations between himself and other bands. He often joins bands he’s friends with on stage to play drums on a track or two, or fills in for other bands when their drummer is unavailable for whatever reason. He’s the go to guy in all of music and rightfully so. He oozes talent from almost everything he touches.
He’s an inspiration to me not just because of what he’s done and how far he’s come and how he’s overcome negativity and troubles in his life. He’s an inspiration to me because all of his success hasn’t changed him. He’s still the carefree, teenager-stuck-in-an-adult’s-body that he’s always been. He comes across as a true rockstar in interviews while maintaining his ability to remain humble.
Just this past weekend, Foo Fighters were playing a show in Sweden and Dave fell off of some speakers and hurt his leg. He went off stage for a short while and drummer Taylor Hawkins took over singing while medical staff checked Dave out. It turns out that he’d broken his leg in his fall. What does Dave Grohl do? He comes right back out on stage, sits down in a chair and finishes the set while a doctor puts a cast on him. On stage.
Not only is that inspirational, but that is truly badass. That’s a true definition of “the show must go on”.
Almost everything Grohl has done with the Foo Fighters in the last 20 years has been good and golden. Grohl has the magic hand that makes almost any piece of music he’s involved with listenable and worth your time. For that and many more reasons, Dave Grohl inspires me to be a better musician, stay humble through any fame, and never let anything get you down to a low point that you can’t bounce back from.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Rolling Stone (August 2013) after Dave played with Rush the night before. Proof that even famous people are just regular people.
Absolutely. When I got 2112 when I was eight years old; it fucking changed the direction of my life. I heard the drums. It made me want to become a drummer. At rehearsals the other day, I had never met Neil Peart before. Alex [Lifeson] and Geddy [Lee] are the nicest people in the world. I was coming to rehearsal and I was meeting Neil for the first time, and this man was as influential as any religion or any hero or any person in someone’s life. He said, “So nice to meet you. Can I make you a coffee?” And he made me a coffee, man. And later on that night, I went to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine and I started fucking crying because my hero made me a fucking coffee. It was unbelievable, man. So that’s kind of how this whole experience has been.