Written by: Adam Blakey
Imagine having a box of oranges and only twelve and a half minutes to squeeze as many as you can. How much juice would you end up with? A couple of glasses? A bucket load? A bathtub full? This is pretty much the deal when you score an audience with Dave Grohl. The Foo Fighters front man, and reputed nicest guy in rock, is so heavily in demand that his day has to be sliced into perfect twenty-minute increments so as to set off as many people as possible without wasting a single second. Take off time for introductions and polite banter (and excuses for why your pupils are so dilated) and you’re left with a measly twelve and a half minutes to get your fill.
It’s lucky then that Dave can whip through that box of fruit in ten minutes flat, sipping tea and ripping back darts all the while. He knows this is part of the job and he gives it the same sort of gusto that’s made his band’s live performances the stuff of mosh and singalong legend. Give him just a word, a hint of something that sparks a great memory or a funny story and he’s extracting that sweet nectar from the orchard of experience that comes from nearly thirty years immersed in music. Which is exactly what we were after.
The following falls short of being a comprehensive timeline detailing the life of Dave Grohl, but in his own words these are the albums, gigs and other significant moments that contributed to the evolution of legitimate rock-and-roll icon.
1980. Both my parents were into music. My mum was in singing groups throughout the ’50s and my dad was a classically trained flautist. He quit playing the flute before I was born. My mum had given him a guitar—a nylon string classical guitar—for Christmas one year and he never learned to play it. It sat in the corner of our house forever. One day when I was like eleven, I picked it up and played ‘Smoke on the Water’ and suddenly it was like, ‘Okay, I can do this’.
1980. Fucken AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock is the most important album I ever came across at a young age. I actually went to see the movie before I got the album. I went to the theatre and there were only two or three potheads in there, it was pretty empty. The film was part of this thing called the ‘Wall of Sound’ series and they had a full-on club PA set-up in there. Let me tell you man: it was so fucking loud. At that point I’d listened to a lot of Beatles and music like that but I’d never seen AC/DC perform. That moment completely changed my life. I just wanted to tear the fucken seats out of the floor and set the building on fire. That was a fucking big one for me.
1982. My first band was with a couple of other kids from the neighborhood and we’d mostly play Stones songs and Who songs and Bowie songs and stuff like that. It was fun but our first ever show was really classic. It was at a fucken rest home. We played at this senior citizens’ home and I don’t know how we got a gig there but we played ‘Time is on Your Side’ to maybe twenty or thirty people who were in their nineties (laughs). We were like thirteen years old. Man… it was weird.
1982. The first punk album I heard that really blew my mind was Black Flag’s Damaged. I didn’t get punk rock at all when I was a little kid. I knew it was out there and it was full of crazy people but I had this juvenile idea of what it was. So I was given this Black Flag album and I was listening to it a lot and at first it didn’t make any sense to me at all. Then one day the switch flicked, I got it and I just went shit-crazy for punk rock from then on out.
1982. I didn’t go to many live concerts as a kid, but when I finally did the first one had a huge impact on me. We were in Chicago visiting my cousin who was this full-on punk. She said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to see this show.’ I was like, ‘What kind of show?’ She said, ‘Well, that’s what we call it when we go to see bands play. We don’t call them concerts, we call them shows.’ The headlining band was called Naked Ray Gun. They were these Chicago hardcore heroes. It was in a little club across from a baseball stadium. I tagged along and there were maybe forty people there, total. Naked Ray Gun and this other band called Right to Be Accused played and, no shit, people were going fucking crazy. Jumping on each other’s heads, spitting at each other, spitting on the bands. I was thirteen and all I could think was: ‘Fuck yeah! I wanna do this for the rest of my life!’
1983. The Dead Kennedys were pretty much the best live band in the world back in the ’80s. DKs and Bad Brains were the two big punk bands that everyone loved. Anyway, every year in Washington DC, on the fourth of July, the punks would have this Rock against Reagan concert. Reagan was the president at the time and he was bringing all this conservative right-wing bullshit back and the punks were pissed. In ’83 the line-up was all-time: Dead Kennedys, Crucifux, MDC and DRI—it was like fifteen epic punk bands playing. By the time the Dead Kennedys went on, man, shit was going down everywhere. It was dark, there were police on horses beating kids with sticks and there were maybe 2,000 punks mixing it up with all these rednecks from the suburbs and fucken families having picnics waiting for the fireworks and shit. There were choppers in the sky with spotlights and the Washington Monument was like this giant foreboding silhouette looking down over the whole scene. The monument has these two blinking red lights right at the top of it—they kind of look like these sinister, evil blinking eyes. So, Jello Biafra comes out and he just points to the monument and screams out in this bloodcurdling voice: ‘IT’S THE GREAT KLANSMAN OF THE SKY!’ It was fucking… man, I get chills just thinking about it. I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?!’ It was unbelievable. It was like Apocalypse Now. Easily the most hardcore gig ever.
1987. Another live set that has stayed with me was when I saw Slayer at this old opera theater in Washington DC. It was during the Reign in Blood tour. I’d seen some stage shows before but when the lights went down these two upside-down crosses billowing smoke lit up and it sent everyone into a frenzy. The whole crowd rushed the stage and completely destroyed the first two rows of these beautiful velvet seats.
1988. This was the year I attended my first big stadium concert. At the time I’d just gotten back from touring these shitty little bars and venues in Europe with Scream. The Monsters of Rock that year featured Metallica, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Scorpions and a bunch of other bands like that. The whole scene was hilarious. To me it seemed so contrived. I couldn’t understand the attraction of seeing bands in that sort of environment at all. Luckily, I’d never have to play anything like that (laughs). Not for a couple of years anyway.
1990. The first show I played with Nirvana was probably the first time I felt the power of playing to a responsive crowd. I’d just joined the band and I’d heard of them but I didn’t really know much else. Any band I’d ever been in before… we’d play a gig and maybe fucken twenty people would show up. So I’d moved up to Seattle from LA and into a place with Kurt and we didn’t have any fucken money at all. We’d have to sell gear for food (laughs). Not gear, but you know, our instruments and shit. Anyway, it was getting pretty desperate and we were like, ‘We need to fucken eat!’ So we booked a show at a place called the North Shore Surf Club in Olympia, Washington. It was just a small- to average-sized room but I remember being really nervous ’cause I’d only been in the band for two weeks. It was down the street from where we lived so after sound check I walked back to the house to get some clothes. Then as I’m walking back to the gig there’s suddenly like fucking 600 people lining up. I just went, ‘Holy Shit!’ When we eventually started playing, the first song was a new one that no one had ever heard and everyone just fucking blew up. I’d never had that happen in any band before and I was like: ‘You know what? This is fucking great!’
1994. After Kurt’s death, I was in pretty bad shape. It felt like my desire to make music was completely gone. Then one day I got a postcard from a band called 7 Year Bitch, who were also from Seattle and who’d also lost a member. They were like: ‘We know what you’re going through. The desire to play music is gone for now, but it will return. Don’t worry.’ That fucking letter saved my life, because as much as I missed Kurt, and as much as I felt so lost, I knew that there was only one thing that I was truly cut out to do and that was music. So I decided to do what I had always wanted to do since the first time I’d recorded a song all by myself. I was going to book a week in a 24-track studio, choose the best stuff I’d ever written out of the thirty to forty songs that had piled up, and really give them a chance.
MISC. Like any band, we’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of hard lessons and, now that I think of it, it’d be great to have some kind of rock-and-roll mentorship program. I guess for us, well, Taylor really loves Queen and he’s befriended those guys. Roger Taylor and Brain May will turn up at our shows from time to time and they are fountains of wisdom about music. Taylor will full-on quiz them about all sorts of shit because they are the mega band, you know. They’ve seen and done it all. I think we’ll always be learning though. You can’t kid yourself into thinking you’ve got it all figured out.
2007. We played the Live Earth show not long back and that was fucking massive, man. It was at Wembley Stadium, we were on second to last, right before Madonna. There were 70,000 people and we were like: ‘What the fuck are we doing here? This is fucking crazy!’ I mean, Metallica played and the Beastie Boys played and the Chili Peppers played and you’re just standing there on the side of the stage (begins loosening up movements) going, ‘Shhhhhiiiiit, okay there’s seventy thousand out there and probably two billion watching on TV and it’s like, let’s go do it!’ We had a couple of beers and ran on stage and by the time we walked off I was like, ‘Yeah that was fucking good. We killed it’. We had everybody on their feet singing along for every single fucking song and it was so massive and huge. Walking off stage you couldn’t help but feel how fucking nuts it was! It still surprises us when that kind of thing happens ’cause really, you know, we’re just fucking goons (laughs).