There Goes My Hero: An Ode to Dave Grohl
It was late.
I was driving south on the 101, somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and though it had been a long day of Golden State driving, I’d found solace in a few minutes of ocean watching near the Cliff House and — more importantly — in 97.7/104.5 KFOG.
If there was ever a radio station I wish I could export back to Indiana, it’s KFOG. And at 8:56PM local time it served up another gem: Everlong.
And not just the regular Everlong — the acoustic version.
So, minutes to midnight back where I’m from, I’m in traffic belting out every word of what is, in my opinion, the greatest rock song of 1997. (Sorry Stephan Jenkins, you can’t win ‘em all.)
And in that moment I realized something about myself: Dave Grohl is my hero.
We’ve got some history.
Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both self-taught converted drummers. Or perhaps that Everlong was one of the first covers I learned to play on the guitar. Or possibly that a Foo Fighters song was featured during my wedding. ("Miracle" from the acoustic side of In Your Honor, which met my bride-to-be’s requirement of having a string feature.) But in that moment I felt, in some small way, like Dave I were connected. Like we were old friends singing together, Carpool Karaoke-style.
And in a sense, for anyone like me who grew up in the late 80s or early 90s, the notion that we all sort of go way back with Dave Grohl shouldn’t be unfamiliar. Nirvana was such a seminal part of my musical upbringing that, without him "banging the piss out of the drums" — his words, not mine — the experience surely wouldn’t have been the same.
He’s the king of second chances.
Sometimes bands just don’t work out. I mean, sometimes band members don’t get along or — let’s face it — the music sucks and no one is into it. But when Kurt Cobain died in April of 1994, Nirvana just ended.
And lest you forget, Kurt’s tragic suicide occurred just months removed from the release of an album that had debuted at number one, a Nirvana appearance on SNL, the recording of the now hallowed MTV Unplugged performance and the launch of a European tour. And though the tour was cancelled early on — due to issues with and concerns over Cobain’s health — the band was still one of the biggest acts in the world at that time.
But then it all came crashing down.
In interviews since Kurt's death, Dave has talked about how music was too painful at that point, too strong a reminder of the horrific loss of a close friend — scary, even. He didn't even want to turn on the radio, let alone resume playing.
But as time passed, there was a realization that music was the one thing that could help him work through all that had happened.
Which is how the Foo Fighters were born.
He’s obsessed with the craft. (Maybe a little too much.)
As part of Dave’s recovery, he went into the studio in late ’94 to record some songs he’d written under the name Foo Fighters. He may have hoped to remain anonymous, but the songs eventually made their way into the hands of interested parties who came calling about a record deal.
Reminiscing about that moment, Dave has said in interviews that his response went something like, “What?? That’s a demo. That’s not a band. That’s a thing I did by myself in five days.”
But after some thought, the idea of being a lead singer and guitar player took hold — and Grohl started looking for a band.
William Goldsmith, drummer of the then-recently defunct Sunny Day Real Estate, along with former SDRE bass player Nate Mendel and Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear were recruited.
But things didn’t go well for Goldsmith. Maybe you know the story. Perhaps you’ve even heard his side of what Dave did to him.
“I just wish that I’d never met him,” he said of Grohl in an interview back in 2018.
When the Foo Fighters went into the studio to Record The Colour and the Shape after touring for nearly a year and a half in support of Grohl’s debut work, Goldsmith says he felt doomed from the start.
“I think from the get-go, I think that the producer wanted Dave to play drums on the record. I think Dave wanted to play drums on the record. I think the people at the label — I think everybody wanted Dave to play drums on the record.”
And by the time all was said and done — that’s exactly what happened.
After the band had settled on the arrangements of the songs for the new album, Dave took the mixes with him to finalize the guitars and vocals and — dissatisfied with how Goldsmith’s drumming turned out — opted to re-record the drum tracks himself.
Understandably, Goldsmith felt betrayed. And though he was offered the opportunity to stay on as the touring drummer, he’d had enough and left the band. And then came Taylor Hawkins and the rest is history.
He’s seems like a genuinely good human.
Look — I fully realize that the last bit was mostly about what a colossal dick Dave Grohl was to William Goldsmith twenty years ago. I also realize that following that with a section about what a nice guy he is probably ironic at best and dissonant at worst, but hang with me.
So many frontmen in the modern era have fully embraced the full-on rockstar mentality and all the bullshit and bravado it comes with.
But not Grohl.
In a 2014 interview with 60 Minutes, he said, “Listen — any fucking rockstar that calls themselves a rockstar is a complete asshole. There’s no fucking way I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a rockstar.’ You just can’t do that.”
And the thing is: I have absolutely no reason not to believe him.
Watch any interview with him and he seems like a fairly normal guy. Somebody you’d want to hang out and jam with. One of my favorite glimpses into the Grohl persona is the black-and-white Off Camera session he did with Sam Jones. In the interview he talks about how he approaches the guitar, the industry and the musical process in an honest and refreshing way.
Not to mention — and this hits home for me in a new way now that I have kids — he comes off as a caring dad, as well. In that same 60 Minutes interview he talks about his family and quips toward the end, "I just want to get home safe now. I just want play my music and go home."
And during a different interview from 2015 with Anderson Cooper, he puts it all in perspective: “All I do is shuttle kids around in a minivan and then come down here and be in the Foo Fighters. That’s it. And I’m not lying.”
Consider for a moment though, that that’s a statement from a nearly 50-year-old drummer with more than 100 million records sold worldwide over the last two decades.
And to go back to the William Goldsmith stuff, I have to sort of give him a pass on that now. For someone who was one of the most respected rock drummers on the planet at that point, I sort of get why he did what he did. Having everything ‘just right’ was of the utmost importance — even if it meant going back and doing it himself. Was it a nice thing to do? Absolutely not. But I’m guessing he learned from it.
He just loves it.
If look back across the expanse of the Foo Fighters legacy, you’ll see some fairly significant risks.
First and foremost, there’s Grohl making the leap from drummer to frontman. It’s something he says took years to get comfortable with, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that the move paid off.
Then there’s the early goofball music videos, the Probot, Tenacious D and Queens of the Stone Age experiments, the polarizing Foo Fighters double album, the politicization of his music — and most recently — the development of Sonic Highways, a musical journey that took Grohl and Co. across the country to soak up and record the influences of several historic musical regions on the spot.
In all of that, he shows off what a creative force he is. But watching Grohl perform, it’s easy for me to see just how passionate he is, too.
I mean, name another rockstar (yeah, I’ll call him that, even if he won’t say it about himself) who would tumble off a stage in Sweden, break his leg — and then return to the stage later that day to perform for two-and-a-half hours from a chair.
Either the guy is a little nuts or he’s about as rock and roll as they come.
In fact, it may be equal parts of both, but there’s no doubt he loves what he does. In one point during an interview I mentioned earlier, he’s asked if he ever thinks about wanting to do anything else and immediately says no.
“I don’t know to do anything else. This is it,” he says. And then, with his signature grin adds, “That sounds like bullshit, but it’s true.”
Interestingly, that whole sequence is set into footage of the Foo Fighters’ 2008 rain-soaked show at Wembley Stadium. And even all these years later, watching him get a little emotional on stage in front of 87,000 people still speaks to me. As a player. A performer. And a person.
And for that I must say: Thanks, Dave.
Note: This article was originally featured in Tone Report Weekly