Feature artwork by Jacob Livengood (Purchase Prints + More)
FACES is Consequence of Sound’s quarterly literary magazine. Each volume will focus on an artist whose scope of creativity and cultural impact defies simple categorization. Through a blend of original artwork and a variety of writings, we hope to both shed light upon and celebrate the artists who continually inspire us to put pen to paper.
While kicking around ideas for this edition of FACES, Dan Bogosian, who contributes a piece here, asked, “At what point did my mom know who Dave Grohl was?” I laughed when I read the line in his email but quickly composed myself when I remembered that my mom also knows who Dave Grohl is from watching the Foo Fighters appear on a Thanksgiving episode of Top Chef a few years ago. At some point, Dave Grohl became the rock star you could take home to meet mom. A far cry from that moshing hair behind the kit on the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.
But being on my and your mother’s cultural radar isn’t a knock on Grohl. Rather it’s a symptom of two decades of steadily ascending into that pantheon of rock and roll torchbearers. When Dylan, McCartney, Young, and Springsteen are no longer able or willing to carry that glowing guitar pick, it’ll pass into Grohl’s capable and calloused hands. And I, for one, rock a little bit easier in the meantime knowing that there’s a succession plan in place that we can all agree upon — that one day I can play “Everlong” for my humoring, hard candy-gobbling grandchildren and say, “See. This is how we used to do it,” and I’ll pass that piece of myself along to them like “Born to Run” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” were bequeathed to me.
Until then, though, enjoy this collection of writings on Dave Grohl. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to head over to my parents’ house to watch the new Sonic Highways episode. “I just wish he’d shave that beard and cut that hair. He cleans up so nice, just like you.”
I know, Mom. I know.
Table of Contents:
— Give Some to the Drummer by Ryan Bray
— The Art of Transcendence by Kevin McMahon
— Mileage: Dave Grohl’s Unrivaled Experience by Michael Madden
— The Other Dave by Dusty Henry
— There Is Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Bogosian
— Original artwork by Jacob Livengood
As always, support our in-house art staff by purchasing their work in your choice of a variety of fun, innovative, and practical formats.
Give Some to the Drummer
By Ryan Bray
I was 11 when I got my first drum set. I still use it to this day, the hardware at least: same kick, floor tom, and rack tom, while the cymbals, snare drum and drum heads have been replaced more than a few times over the years. The set, a three-piece CB Percussion kit, sat in an unoccupied room upstairs in the house I grew up in. On Christmas morning 1994, my dad told me to run upstairs into the room to get a pair of scissors, a ruse to lure me upstairs to find the kit waiting to be banged on furiously. I appreciated their efforts at trying to surprise me, but I knew. Kids have a habit of knowing these things in spite of their parents’ best efforts at keeping them a secret.
The set came with a bare-bones setup of a kick drum, rack tom, and snare. No cymbals or hi-hat included, but it hardly mattered to me. I sat down and just started wailing away, totally oblivious to the fact that it was barely seven in the morning. I’d had about two months’ worth of lessons at that point, which is a polite way of saying I didn’t know shit about playing the drums. That harsh fact of life didn’t keep me from beating the kit with all the force my sixth grade bones could muster. That’s how you did it, right? You had to be brutal and unmerciful with them in order for them to work. That was my M.O. I’ve learned a thing or two (literally that much, no more) about dynamics and restraint in the 20 years since, but at the time I thought that the harder I hit the better I’d sound.
That’s complete bullshit, of course, and I blame Dave Grohl for the misinformation. As a child of the early-to-mid-’90s, you didn’t have a ton of reference points if you were a kid learning to play the drums. It was pretty much Dave Grohl and everyone else. I remember watching the video for “Heart-Shaped Box” and wondering if he was going to survive to see the end of the video. You saw the drums rocking from the weight of his force, trying to keep their bearings in the midst of his sonic assault. In a word, it was awesome. Kurt Cobain was typically moody and brooding, while Krist Novoselic’s lanky frame just pogoed about with his bass. But Grohl was quite possibly having more fun than any other human being I’d ever seen. I wanted to do that.
So I did. I kept taking lessons, and eventually I started playing along to chart music. I learned how to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come as You Are”, “In Bloom”, “Lithium”, and “Aneurysm”, which would later become a set staple with my long-defunct junior high band Vehicular Homicide. Rather than substituting legit know-how for noise, I actually started playing the songs. In doing so, I realized that beneath all of the force and might Grohl put behind his drumming, a lot of those seemingly simple Nirvana drum parts were pretty intricate. It was an odd but interesting thing to see Nirvana songs written out in musical notation. Here were loud, punk-infused grunge songs mapped out like Mozart. Despite the fact that grunge came from this defiant “Fuck everything, we suck” headspace, Nirvana had all of these cool, intricate drum touches that punched up the songs. Without getting too technical, there were accents, drum rolls, fills, etc. All of a sudden, I went from looking at Dave Grohl as being our generation’s gnarly answer to John Bonham to being this guy that really knew his shit. He wasn’t just making noise but playing his own part in writing those Nirvana songs that Cobain (rightfully and understandably) received the lion’s share of credit.
Those songwriting instincts served him well after Nirvana’s tragic dissolution. The Foo Fighters were a poppier extension of Nirvana but still marked by Grohl’s love of punk rock and lively power pop. Although he wrote and recorded pretty much the entire Foo Fighters debut by himself and took on the role of frontman, he was still very much the drummer of Nirvana in the eyes of a curious public. And that to me is a great part of the legacy behind those early Foo records. Over time, Grohl would finesse Foo Fighters into one unstoppable, melodic hit-making machine, but the band’s 1995 debut and 1997’s The Colour and the Shape were written with the attitude and mindset of a drummer. I mean, really, have you ever thought about it? Songs like “This Is a Call”, “I’ll Stick Around”, “Monkey Wrench”, and “Enough Space” don’t simply wail with ferocious energy; they rely a lot on the drums to motor them along. And then there’s “Everlong”, perhaps the band’s finest hour, which pretty much uses the chorus as an excuse to shoehorn in a hair-raising, full kit drum solo. Who does that on a single? Dave Grohl does.
One of my favorite anecdotes from the Foo Fighters’ early days is how Grohl used to constantly break strings on his guitar because he was so predisposed to playing with all the force he could as a drummer. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but that’s a great story nonetheless. And I guess that’s why I love Dave Grohl. He never forgot his roots. You can give a drummer a guitar and a microphone, but at the end of the day he’s still a drummer. More than 30 years removed from his earliest days as a kid banging the skins in Scream, Grohl still has that boyish enthusiasm for making music. But it seems he still gets an extra special kick out of sitting behind the kit. Pay attention the next time you see him jump in behind a band, which he’s always been prone to do. The dude loves it. As great as his work has been fronting the Foos, there’s nothing like seeing him go wild and knock the snares loose. It’s where, at least to me, he seems most at home.
I carry a little bit of that spirit with me when I play to this day, or at least I try to. In my small corner of the world playing small corner bars and watering holes when the precious opportunities are offered to my band, I always try to play a little bit beyond myself. The scene behind the drums after I’ve done my civic duty looks like the aftermath of shop class, with broken sticks and discarded wood shavings scattered about. To hammer home the point, our last practice ended a bit prematurely after I put my stick through the center of my snare head, not realizing what I had done until I caught my breath and looked down at the damage done. I’d like to think Dave would have been proud.
The Art of Transcendence
By Kevin McMahon
When we look at what draws us to an artist, we realize it is often the parts we see reflected in ourselves. However large the stretch or great the leap, even if it’s somewhat transient — these are the pieces we hold dear. Capturing this fleeting coalescence allows us to pick deeper, past the crust, into the core of both the artists we love and ourselves. It is from this naked center that I personally gain clarity — clarity to move forward and be decisive and proactive about who I am and who I would like to be. Getting to that pith, however, is often the true obstacle. Sometimes it finds us — through events, through necessity, through the slow mutating passage of time. The inspiration or catalyst for change transferred from artist to observer is an easy favorite because we can share the pieces we relate to with others.
The change itself is another story. Change, or better yet transcendence, is why I find Dave Grohl so relatable (see what I mean about the leaps?). When I think of Grohl, I am inexorably brought to his once-in-a-lifetime career arc. I become the moment he was tapping skins with Tom Petty’s band on Saturday Night Live. I swallow his mindset between beats and feel his restlessness. Then I come back. In my own head, I rustle through the many people I’ve been and wanted to be. It’s a consequence of my age, I suppose, part inquietude, part adolescent compensation. Our teen years inevitably turn us into someone, and most of the time it is an almighty task to slip out of that skin.
I still remember early days of middle school, setting my mood like a clock to whatever tune I chose. Led Zeppelin or Guns N’ Roses for cool, Eminem for angry, and a private playlist I made of various rock ballads for the occasional cry. Transparent friends flip-flopped — as middle school kids do — to save themselves from the torment of the masses. Slowly, time passed and we got older. Some things changed, and others didn’t. Being small or easily targeted in high school was the same crime punishable by the same sentence as middle school — but at least the music got better. Sung Tongs showed me that I was far from the only one obsessed with shattering the mundane bubble I began to think many people lived in. And quickly I was surrounded by a small group of no-longer-transparent friends, the kind of social support that allows a child to put down self-doubt just long enough to burgeon with real personality. I changed. Not in some lavish, grandiose sense of the word, but something in that music, and in those people, let me know I could be the kind of person who believes in what they can achieve.
So back to those leaps of faith; it’s this time in my life that I’m brought back to when I think of Grohl’s acquiescence of his own music. Being in a band with Kurt Cobain can do a number on anyone’s belief in his or her talent. Grohl was very vocal about the lack of trust he had in his own songs. He saw Kurt as this infallible god and recused himself to a much lower tier. Like a child in the shadow of the popular kid everyone worships, a catalyst is sometimes needed for us to step out.
For Grohl, this was Kurt’s death. It’s one of those viscerally demanding moments; it hangs in your face, conspicuous blackness. The sudden death of a close friend permeates everything. It leaves a smell in the air. Even when you’re not near the body, softly formaldehyde stales everything that enters your nose. Silence affects all your senses, like being under stagnant water with your eyes shut. You replay every moment you shared with them. And, depending on the circumstances, you have the image of them laying in a box staring back at you, seared into your brain.
If you’re lucky, you deal with it in a life-affirming manner; mortality shocks to a young system have the kind of “fuck it” power to make us be better. But when it comes to wrapping your head around loss that is infinite, it’s much easier said than done. This is a relation that doesn’t take a great leap for me.
I think Grohl understands these feelings well. He talks openly about that period in his life, his struggles with music and wondering if he could continue with it. When something so pure is tainted with such grief, it’s hard to imagine finding desire to enter that mind state. One of his legacies will always be how he used this time to reflect. This trial allowed Grohl to record the songs he had written over his life into a demo. Grohl created a moniker for this now-classic release, to protect his own identity from the external forces that resist attempts to transcend what the outside world expects. And transcend he did, due to an abundance of talent, sure, but also due to his inherent will to never be just one thing.
With the passing of my own friend, I was thrown into similar frenzy. The initial weight was omnipotent, but as I began to be able to think again, things adopted new hues. Nothing gives me more joy then making music. As such, all the outlets I had developed for myself outside of the creation of music seemed like distractions. Whether resultant of fear, pragmatism, or both, I couldn’t reconcile how I was living. It was like I was tying up all these safety nets, and in doing so I was going to miss taking the risk in the first place. Thoughts of mortality cast an interesting spell on the brain. I have always held a predilection to boil everything down to the fact that we are born doomed, but now it seemed inescapable. Networking, business opportunities, gainful employment — these were black spots on my soul, clots attempting to stop my blood from flowing. Unfortunately, this line of thought has made my life thus far seem like a constant circle of crawling up my own ass, then shamefully poking back out. Right as I was on the verge of falling into that anal trap, I thought of Dave.
Musicians are often thought of as simply that, but as I said, Dave Grohl has never been just one thing. He refused the label of just a drummer by leading one of the most successful bands in rock and roll history. He also overcame the fear of hypocrisy in a small way, which I have always thought is a main reason why people cease to grow. Grohl did this when he decided he wasn’t done with drums, ending the relationship with the Foo’s first drummer. It was a difficult decision, but Grohl knew what he needed, despite previous claims that he could only feel lukewarm about drums post-Nirvana.
Outside of music, Dave has done enough to prompt whole lists of why he’s awesome. Giving no fucks as to what your surrounding environment thinks about who you are and who you’ve been is certainly easier with the kind of recognition Grohl has gotten. However, you get the feeling — as someone who follows his career — that it would be that way even if he were still flipping burgers. His sincerity builds a trust that allows you to really feel what he says. I won’t stretch as far as saying Dave Grohl’s ability to become these different things inspired me to make attempts to transcend who I was in the eyes of my surroundings or myself, but knowing people like him are out there is important. It says that it can be done.
When I came back to reality (aka the small, green, foldable chair from where I used to play guitar), I did something I normally wouldn’t have done. I put it down and went to hang out with my friends. Not for long, mind you, but long enough to recognize that letting my obsession swallow me whole wasn’t going to make the music happen any faster. My willingness to change, and the music that has affected me, has got me thinking lately that time just might be on my side.
Like many males, I have been a timid child, a cocksure 19-year-old, a totally consumed aspiring musician, and I remain naïve as ever. But for me, remaining open to the things that change you, and having the vigilance to act upon them, is really all there is.
One hypothesis I’ve come across is that these Deltas — triangular points of catalyst — spread out as we get older. Our self-image becomes more ingrained, stone. Not to say that we aren’t in constant growth, but the spike-like movements of the years between child and adult will flatten, our backstories will thicken, and redefinition becomes more like peeling an onion than a clementine. With each year or new development in my personality and behavioral patterns, I can feel these layers grow on me. But so far they all come off with a good shake, and individuals like Dave Grohl give me faith that they always will.
Mileage: Dave Grohl’s Unrivaled Experience
By Michael Madden
It may not be among the very best Nirvana riffs, but it’s a Nirvana riff all the same, which is to say it’s more recognizable than most any riff of the past two decades. I’m talking about the main guitar line that, three years after Dave Grohl joined the band, rattled “Scentless Apprentice”, off 1993’s scabby In Utero. Though written by drummer Grohl, not frontman and usual songwriter Kurt Cobain, it absolutely should be there, right where it is, between the opener ”Serve the Servants” and the (relatively) gentle “Heart-Shaped Box”. In many ways, the song marked the start of the Grohl we know today, the frontman of a world-famous rock band in an era when that very title is starting to sound quaint.
Cobain and his grunge counterparts ushered in a new era, making mainstream rock heavier and more accessible at the same time; that was the beauty, and the irony, of its rise from dingy basements in the northwest to MTV and beyond. When the lefty from the logging town of Aberdeen, WA committed suicide in 1994, part of rock died with him, never to be entirely resurrected and leaving his survivors, from bandmates Grohl and Krist Novoselic to indie rockers who couldn’t help but admire their initial DIY belief system, to try to innovate in the seemingly accidental way he did.
It hasn’t happened, or at least it hasn’t happened as obviously. When Grohl is beside drummer Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters’ other most visible member, their age difference seems greater than it is (just three years), not so much a matter of numbers as it is of life experience. Grohl lived through a friend’s very public demise and saw how the masses respond to a fallen (anti)hero – as if he needed any more pressure to continue a successful music career without Cobain. Both fortunately and tragically, Cobain’s death was the start of something special.
There will always be a segment of the population who knows, or at least admires, Grohl as being one-third of Nirvana, but he’s had far too much success since then to remain just that. On one level, Foo Fighters songs, going back to the self-titled 1995 debut, are clear in their intentions: Here’s a monster riff; now strap on that air guitar and head-bang away. This is not a knock. Almost as much as Cobain did, Grohl knows how to write a rock song.
Watching Sonic Highways, the eight-part HBO series/travelogue that’s only half done, it’s clear Grohl has counterparts in Butch Vig and Steve Albini, who were there for Nevermind and In Utero, respectively, and have had a hand in notable rock records over the past 20 years, from Korn, AFI, and Against Me! (Vig’s resume) to the likes of Cloud Nothings, High on Fire, Mono, and Screaming Females (Albini’s). However, if only because he’s primarily a producer, Albini seems particularly underground, and in fact, in the series, he becomes his hilariously cynical self when he talks about being “up to my balls in debt” while running his Chicago studio Electrical Audio. True indeed: Although there’s no shortage of incredible, puristic rock bands (see Philly’s The War on Drugs, particularly this year’s Lost in the Dream), top label execs aren’t rushing to sign whoever may or may not be the next Hendrix.
Even so, anyone who thinks rock is over, finished, hasn’t done much searching lately. There are vans and vans of independent musicians who crank out faithful renditions of Springsteen-style heartland rock or Sabbath sludge, and probably in your city. But there’s no doubt that pop stars, rappers, and DJs are more commercially viable – and thus more visible – than rock musicians today. Time will tell if this era’s most famous frontmen (Billy Corgan, Jack White, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Anthony Kiedis, among others) are as iconic as the artists who made Woodstock such a cultural phenomenon. Green Day’s heart-and-a-hand-grenade artwork will probably not prove as ubiquitous as the Stones’ bright, red lips remain. Neither is there an equivalent to the lore behind “Stairway to Heaven”’s supposedly satanic undertones. Basically: Even if Taylor Hawkins’ face-scrunches and teeth-baring behind his drum kit indicate otherwise, widespread enthusiasm for even the best rock is practically nonexistent.
Regardless of whether you like Sonic Highways the album, the series swiftly tallies so many of this country’s most important artists that you feel like spending half your savings at the record store. The first episode features Chicago, with Buddy Guy, Cheap Trick, and Naked Raygun; the second is D.C. hardcore, including Minor Threat/Ian MacKaye and Bad Brains, and go-go music; the third is Nashville’s emergent minimal-techno scene (just kidding, that one features country artists including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Zac Brown); and episode four, the latest, takes viewers to Austin with guidance from Steve Earle, Billy Gibbons, Willie Nelson, Butthole Surfers, and Gary Clark, Jr., plus history on Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. It’s in the footage of those live-music staples that the spirit of rock is most apparent, and it is glorious.
The truth is that the Foos need such a concept to make an album this notable. Rock albums would have greater sales if they were preceded by successful singles, but they’re not, not these days; guitars and basses get rusty before anyone has a chance to break a string. Pop albums, by contrast, are living up to the longer version of the genre’s name (i.e., popular), with Taylor Swift’s 1989 moving a zillion units. As for hip-hop, major label blockbusters are scarce this year (the opposite of 2013), but it’s clear there’s no shortage of new ideas when the likes of ATL weirdo Young Thug is doing absolutely whatever he wants with the charts. The EDM industry, meanwhile, is worth billions, not counting however much money the kids are spending on molly.
Stacked on top of each other, it’s clear the Foos, meanwhile, have hits, hard-rock songs of which every component is exhilarating. “Everlong”, off 1997’s The Colour and the Shape (their debut as a band, though Grohl drummed on the entire thing), has that propulsive but smoothly paced structure and shoegaze sensibility. Colour‘s “My Hero” has that instantly effective chorus and surrounding, ascendant riff. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’s “The Pretender” has subtle and strategic elements (specifically, the clipped guitar figures during the second half of the bridge), but all told, everything is there for maximum impact. Elsewhere in the Foo’s discography are positively ugly thrashers, like Foo Fighters‘ “Weenie Beenie”, and more intimate songs, like Echoes’ “Let It Die”. As unabashed as they are, the band’s stuff is too learned to be “cock rock” – see Sonic Highways’ seven-minute closer, “I Am a River”, a song that mesmerizes not just because of its length, but also because of its layering and Grohl’s climactic howling.
That covers the sheer musical aspect of Foo Fighters, more or less. There’s also the legacy aspect. Sonic Highways marks 20 years of the band – that’s the reason for the cross-country trekking, they’ve said, to enliven the creative process – and whether or not these songs become as big as some of the band’s others remains to be seen. More importantly, the album and documentary (and Foo Fighters as an entity, as they’ve always been musically cognizant despite their aversion to sonic curveballs) are tribute to the vast and varied breadth of music’s past 50 years, plus the potential all those sounds have to inform the makeup of an album without entirely changing the sound. Dave Grohl, 21 years removed from his first notable songwriting contribution to the modern rock canon, should be commended for not just directing the project, but also accruing enough career mileage in the past two decades that no one else seems so equipped to document the heart of American music as it’s pumping right now.