Born out of tragedy, they’ve lasted more than a quarter-century and have no plans to slow down. Dave Grohl and his band of lifers on not being cool (and not caring), dreaming of Kurt Cobain, and why rock doesn’t have to “come from a place of darkness”
Even a hospital visit for caffeine-induced chest pain a decade ago couldn’t persuade Dave Grohl to ease up on his manic coffee consumption, and he still doesn’t sleep much. Five hours a night, maybe, which qualifies him as a “total fuckin’ insomniac.” He just can’t wait to get back to his waking life, is the thing. There’s always some kind of project he’s excited about: a documentary series he’s directing, a Foo Fighters album, a book, a tour, sometimes all of the above. He thinks of his schoolteacher mom grading papers late into the night, and gets to work.
“I actually tried to get back into smoking weed last year, thinking it would help me sleep,” Grohl says one morning in mid-June, just before the Foos’ first shows since Covid-19 hit. “And I would fuckin’ just sit until six o’clock in the morning watching a bunch of stupid shit on YouTube.”
At the moment, Grohl is cruising around Los Angeles’ Westside in a black Ram SUV the car company tossed his way after he did some ads for them. He woke up at 5 a.m., and already spent an hour editing his upcoming memoir, The Storyteller, before driving one of his three daughters to school. He saved time on wardrobe selection, at least, slipping into his usual black jeans, along with a thrifted black Yokosuka Beer T-shirt and brand-new mustard-colored Vans.
What sleep Grohl does manage to get tends to be overstuffed with dreams. Since he was a kid, he’s had recurring, not-unpleasant, real-seeming ones where aliens take him away in spaceships, which is the real reason he named his band after a World War II-era nickname for UFOs, and called his label Roswell Records. A psychic once told him the abductions weren’t dreams at all, which is weird, but maybe she was attempting a metaphor for Grohl’s actual escape from the orbit of ordinary life.
When Grohl was 18, he dropped out of high school to become the drummer for the Washington, D.C., hardcore band Scream, which promptly whisked him away from the D.C. suburbs. His dad, James Harper Grohl, a journalist, speechwriter, conservative Republican, and accomplished flute player who split with Dave’s mom when he was six, responded to his son’s life choice by disowning him. Then he showed up in a new car that Dave suspects he paid for with a liquidated college fund. The disowning was temporary, but James later warned Dave that his musical success would “never last,” which his son chose to take as a challenge.
Dave forgave, and reconciled with, his late father long ago, to the point where he named his middle daughter Harper. He can see James’ perspective now. “One thousand percent,” he says, with a laugh. “I totally understand why he would say, ‘Please don’t get in that van with six stinky older men and sleep in squats for two and a half months in Europe.’ ” But back then, nothing could have stopped Grohl, who conducted a homespun séance in front of an altar decorated with John Bonham’s three-circles logo from Led Zeppelin IV and the number 606, asking the universe for a musical career. When it actually happened, he “got really scared that I sold my soul to the fucking devil. At what point does Satan come to reclaim the contract I signed with him?”
Grohl’s next band was Nirvana. The one after that was the Foo Fighters, which began as a solo recording experiment, quickly turned into a real band, and keeps becoming more of a true collaboration with his expanded cast of bandmates: bassist Nate Mendel and guitarist Pat Smear, the two original members, plus drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Chris Shiflett, and, most recently, keyboardist Rami Jaffee, imported from fellow Nineties refugees the Wallflowers.
The Foos are about to become Grohl’s second band to enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, an achievement he’s reluctant to dwell on for too long. “I mean, climbing anything, you don’t want to look down while you’re climbing,” he says, “because it’ll scare the shit out of you. And so I don’t.”
At a stoplight, Grohl rolls down the window of his SUV, lights a cigarette, and takes a lengthy, ambivalent drag. He quit for a long while, until, he explains, “I smoked a cigarette.” He’s trying to stop again, especially with a tour looming.
Grohl has spent a substantial portion of his 52 years on the road, onstage, and it all creeps into his subconscious. “I’ve always had these live-performance anxiety dreams,” he says. “They’re usually Nirvana-related. Like, Kurt’s still alive. And we’re doing a show, and I’m so excited that people get to see this once again. And I walk onstage. And my drumsticks are the size of telephone poles. And then the audience just kind of begins to scatter.” He affects a meek little voice: “No, no, wait!”
Though it was awkward in the earliest days of the Foos, when the world was pushing for details on grief that was still raw and new, Grohl has long since figured out how to talk about Cobain. Nevermind and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” turn 30 this year, which puts them even further in the past than, say, the Beatles’ debut LP was when Nirvana entered Sound City Studios on May 2nd, 1991. (When Jaffee told Grohl that Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan avoided interviews because they “turned into the Bob Dylan story,” his new boss scoffed: “You don’t think all of mine turn into the Kurt Cobain story?”)
Kurt Cobain, actual guy, Grohl’s friend, bandmate, and one-time slovenly roommate (complete with a pet turtle that kept the drummer up at night tapping on its terrarium), was long ago transfigured into a legend, a tragedy, a face on a T-shirt. Shortly after Cobain’s death, Grohl escaped to rural Ireland, only to freak out at the sight of Kurt’s face on some kid’s torso. Even his eldest daughter, Violet, a talented singer and Nirvana fan, asks him about Kurt; recently, she wanted to know if he was shy. These days, Grohl just drops the name when he feels like it.
During what he calls “the pandemic thing,” Grohl kept having a new kind of concert dream. “It’s more like a celebration, where I just walk onstage, and there’s the audience, and we just stand face to face for a minute or two. I hope it happens.” It does, in fact, happen, six days later, when he faces a fully vaccinated crowd, unmasked, full of unbridled, pre-Delta-variant, it’s-all-over optimism at Madison Square Garden in New York. Hey, he’ll tell them, this is just like this dream he’s been having.
“It’s times like these you learn to live again,” Grohl sings at the very beginning of the Garden concert, on a nearly dark stage, and when the crowd erupts in response, he leans his head back, eyes shut, to take the moment in. “Times Like These” was a post-9/11 song retrofitted as a pandemic-era anthem, but the sentiment could pass for the Foo Fighters’ overall mission statement. As Grohl himself sees it, he’s a McCartney, not a Lennon, and if he’s filling the world with silly love songs, the object of his affection tends to be existence itself.
Just ask the Foos’ Smear, who started out as guitarist for storied L.A. punks the Germs. (“When the Germs first started,” he says, “we were known as the worst band with the worst musicians in the L.A. scene. We got better, and the Go-Go’s picked up that title, which is what I love about this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions.”) In 1980, Germs frontman Darby Crash died of a deliberate heroin overdose, and Smear spent a decade hanging out in L.A., hitchhiking around, playing some music, working as a TV and movie extra. (“The punk-rock look,” he says, “was very in-demand, in every movie and TV show, for a while.”) In 1993, Kurt Cobain asked him to flesh out Nirvana’s sound on guitar, and Smear toured with the band for eight months. Then Cobain, too, was gone.
“Dave is a life lover,” says Smear. “And I love that, because in the band I was in before with Dave, we did not have a life lover.”
“Well, look at the life we lead,” Grohl responds. “What’s not to love?” Later, he continues, more seriously: “We were people coming from bands that ended prematurely, that were not finished making music. So we imagined this to be some sort of continuation, and that our band was about life. So why not celebrate it every way that we can?”
Grohl dared long ago to insist on a generational heresy: that being in a band could be . . . enjoyable. “Of course, I get cursed for considering music to be light and fun sometimes,” he says. “There’s this idea of rock & roll — that it should come from a place of darkness and there should be some sort of torture, that it should be dangerous. Because I’ve seen all that shit firsthand, I have to disagree. It’s not why I started playing music. Taking the danger out of rock & roll — we get accused of that. And it’s like, ‘Really? Do you want to put it in?’ I’ll take that criticism all day long.”
He’s just built this way, or maybe chose to be this way. He’s from a generation of kids who were scarred by their parents’ divorces, but he sees his parents’ split as a blessing. He’s grateful to have been left in the custody of his creative, empathetic mom, Virginia Grohl. (“Assure your child that you see an achiever, not the underachiever that others might suggest,” she wrote in her book, From Cradle to Stage, advising “support, nurturing, and determination.”)
“The Gen X aesthetic was kind of based on childhood dysfunction,” Dave says. “I didn’t necessarily have dysfunction. I was raised in a household where I was allowed to become myself. Had I lived with my father on Capitol Hill, there might have been more tension. But I can honestly say I really liked my childhood. I didn’t have much trouble, other than being a fucking idiot and getting terrible grades and not going to school.” Even in elementary school, he’d sometimes skip class, and “then, like, sit at home and light shit on fire all day long.” But just as in later life, he never burned it all down.
So Grohl and the Foo Fighters survived. They kept going, way past the point where coolness was an option. “I don’t know if we’ve ever felt cool,” retorts Grohl. In the beginning, he felt he was fighting a perception that the Foos shouldn’t even exist, that it was somehow inappropriate to have another band after Nirvana. “I was thinking, ‘It’s inevitable: People will not want me to do this.’ And there were people, even friends, that were offended. And I just thought, ‘How dare they? This is how I’m going to get through life!’ And then, I would sit in an interview, and they’d say, ‘With all the crashing cymbals and distorted guitars and the screaming, did you intentionally want to sound like Nirvana?’ ”
Grohl started to feel alienated from prevailing musical trends way before rock itself slipped out of the mainstream. First, he responded to the rise of nu metal by going in the opposite direction, unleashing his most melodic music with 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose. “And then, all of a sudden, everyone’s got fucking skinny ties and listening to fucking Joy Division. Where do we fit into that? We don’t! We’re just the fucking dudes who make funny rock videos. Whaddayagonnado?”
No one has to digitally alter a picture of Dave Grohl at age 27 to imagine him in middle age. Here he is, looking pretty good, shoulders still broad, full head of hair. Mostly. “I have my insecurities,” he says. “Oh, my God, when I look up at the LED screen and all I see is a fucking gigantic bald spot?” He’s self-conscious about his front teeth, visibly missing chunks of enamel after 25 years of slamming his face into the metal grate of his stage mics: “I look like a fucking meth head, but it’s really from the microphones.”
Every single member of the Foo Fighters is a dad, a fact they embrace and carefully plan their schedules around. Smear, so unimpeachably cool that he was one of the zonked-out kids in Penelope Spheeris’ infamous 1981 punk documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, (but also a fan of Mariah Carey and the Spice Girls), loves it all as much as anyone. “At my kid’s school,” says Smear, “and at all of our kids’ schools, there’s always dad bands, right? I always laugh: ‘I’m already in one. I’m in a better one! I’m not doing your dad band!’ ”
“My life, in a rainbow-colored display of Post-it Notes,” Grohl says, cracking up. He’s looking at a long list of comically on-the-nose highlights from his career (“Dave joins Nirvana”!) stuck to the wall of an office in his San Fernando Valley creative headquarters. They’re left over from an episode of From Cradle to Stage, his latest TV series, based on his mom’s book. We’re in Studio 607, his immaculate new facility devoted to film and TV production. “After Sonic Highways,” says Grohl, referring to an album that was also an HBO series, “I was hellbent on furthering this documentary-film thing.”
He was, for a while, contemplating offers for feature films, and came pretty close to directing one based on the true story of the time Kiss visited a small town in Michigan in 1975. In general, though, he says, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for it. I can’t imagine trying to pep-talk some male model on how to emote.”
If a bit of his energy has been pulled away from music making, it may be working to the band’s advantage. On 2014’s Sonic Highways, they recorded all over the country, dipping into music scenes from blues to go-go, but still ended up with an album that sounded a whole lot like Foo Fighters; there’s a scene in one episode where Grohl reflexively vetoes a lap-steel lick he deems to be too Nashville-sounding. But their last two albums, 2017’s Concrete and Gold and last year’s rhythm-conscious Medicine at Midnight, suggest some actual late-period evolution is taking place. The expansive musical vocabulary of a new producer, Greg Kurstin, helped, but Grohl also began allowing the other band members to work on overdubs while he’s not around. “I started thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I’m what’s getting in the way of the Foo Fighters,’ ” Grohl says. “I need to back the fuck off and let it happen.”
In the back of Studio 607, away from the brushed-wood floors and state-of-the-art mixing equipment, is a messy space, smaller than a suburban garage, packed with amps and instruments, where the Foos have been practicing for their return to the stage. “We prefer to rehearse in a small space like this because it kind of tightens you up,” Grohl says. “And it’s loud as fuck. And I’m still the jackass who doesn’t wear hearing protection.”
In the beginning, there was just Studio 606, next door, which he started building in 2004. The halls there are filled with memorabilia, including the actual ray gun from the Foos’ first album cover, a Nevermind platinum record, and some prized rock photos: Dave is particularly fond of a Ross Halfin picture of Eddie Van Halen with Brian May and Tony Iommi in 1978. Studio 606 eventually became the home of the storied Neve recording console featured in his first documentary, Sound City, and the Foos still record there sometimes, including for their recent, gleefully pointless collection of Bee Gees covers. The facility also serves, Grohl says, “as a place to store all our shit. So when we go on tour, the trucks literally pull up to that door and we just go and split for the road.”
After the studio tour, we start our long drive around L.A., where Grohl points out some spots from his history, including the Laurel Canyon bungalow where he was stranded when his final tour with Scream ended with the disappearance of the band’s bass player. He lived on canned beans and the generosity of the house’s occupants, two female mud wrestlers, one of them the sister of Scream’s guitarist, until he got word that a band from Seattle might need a drummer.
Driving along, he does his Dave Grohl thing, jumping from anecdote to anecdote with minimal prompting. He talks about how Mick Jagger texted him to play drums on a solo song, “Easy Sleazy,” earlier this year. “Sometimes I’ll get that call,” he says. “ ‘Hey, we’re recording something and we want it to sound really raw and not perfect. So would you like to play drums on it?’ No one’s calling me for, like, a Toto remake.”
That, in turn, reminds him of his very first post-Nirvana gig, as the drummer for the alt-rock all-star band on the soundtrack to the 1994 Beatles-in-Hamburg movie Backbeat: He mistook Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli for a professional John Lennon impersonator, and watched producer Don Fleming try to teach Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore “normal guitar chords” — “Like, this is ‘A,’ this is ‘D.’ ” (Grohl laughs when he hears I once accidentally cleared a party with that soundtrack: “I’ve done that a few times too,” Grohl says. “Nothing like being at a Polish disco at two o’clock in the morning and convincing a DJ to put on a 311 song.”)
He also recently played on an as-yet-unreleased song by Miley Cyrus, who once got him and Smear superhigh backstage at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. “I do love that Miley is kind of fuckin’ becoming the next rock star,” he says. “About a month and a half ago, I was going to Greg Kurstin’s studio to deliver him a snare drum for his kid, and he’s like, ‘Do you have five minutes? I’m trying to program drums on this new Miley Cyrus song, but I suck. Can you just, like, do a couple takes?’ So I think I’m on a new Miley Cyrus record!”
At a birthday party last night, a musician who plays with Cyrus and Taylor Swift told Grohl about Swift’s current project of rerecording her entire catalog to foil the venture capitalists who bought the rights to the originals. Grohl is deeply impressed. “Like, fuck yeah, girl,” Grohl says. “Hell hath no fury. Now I’m scared of her! I would be so nerdy and into it. I think it’s so much fun.” Grohl once tried to enlist his own band on a smaller-scale but similar project; the idea was to redo the Foos’ self-titled debut, which he recorded alone over six days, jumping from instrument to instrument, with the current lineup of the band. “I was really into it,” Grohl says. “I was like, ‘It would sound like Styx, you know, instead of like a fucking garage recording.’ . . . Everyone was like, ‘No fucking way, dude. People will wipe their asses with that.’ ”
Dave Grohl doesn’t get stage fright anymore, but the man with the unenviable title of “Dave Grohl’s drummer” most certainly does. “I’m really nervous about tonight,” says Taylor Hawkins, sitting in the guest bungalow behind the pool of his Hidden Hills property, which he’s turned into a studio and rock & roll clubhouse that his wife absolutely can’t stand. The Foo Fighters are facing their first real audience in 18 months at a warmup club show tonight, and it’s all Hawkins can think about. “I’m in hell right now,” he adds.
Hawkins feels guilty about admitting it, but he was flat-out grateful that the pandemic offered him a reprieve, after 28 years on the road, from his nerves and the pressure he feels to live up to his standards. “I’m trying really hard to figure out how to continue to keep the intensity of a young man in a 50-year-old’s body,” he says. “Which is very difficult.”
Hawkins is, as usual, wearing board shorts without a shirt, revealing the bronzed, ropy, increasingly Iggy Pop-like physique he maintains with endless mountain biking. (“When I first went to California,” says Grohl, “I assumed everyone would look like Taylor Hawkins.”) There’s a full drum kit on one side of his clubhouse, and electric guitars and basses hanging on the walls. Every other surface is covered with posters, clippings, and memorabilia from his rock heroes, among them Queen, Jane’s Addiction (Hawkins has separate side projects with both Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro), Van Halen, David Bowie, and the Police. “How sick is this place?” Hawkins asks. It is, honestly, pretty sick.
Hawkins is the least punk-rock member of the Foos, and his true-believer faith in the power of stadium-scale rock helped push the band toward bigger venues and shameless showmanship. “He came into a band that was pretty scrappy, in general,” says Nate Mendel, “and kind of acclimated to that for a second, and then was like, ‘Hang on a second, what if we become good?’ That was Taylor’s thing, like, ‘Why don’t we learn how to be better as a band and pay more attention to what we’re doing live?’ And I was game for that.” (The band’s longtime manager, John Silva, likes to prod Hawkins about his tastes: “He goes, ‘Everyone else was listening to punk rock while you were listening to Winger.’ ‘I never listened to Winger, asshole!’ I love Silva.”)
Ever since Hawkins joined the Foo Fighters as their second drummer in 1997, practically everyone he meets asks him the same question: “What’s it like being Dave Grohl’s drummer?” Even Axl Rose, one of his heroes, posed that query when he ran into Hawkins. So, uh, what is it like? “I’m rich,” says Hawkins, cackling. “That’s what it’s like being Dave Grohl’s drummer. Next question!”
The real answer is that it wasn’t easy, especially at the beginning. The Foo Fighters’ first drummer was William Goldsmith, recruited by Grohl, along with Mendel, after he watched the pair perform with their band Sunny Day Real Estate, who were, conveniently enough, already in the process of breaking up. On the Foo Fighters’ second album, The Colour and the Shape, Grohl ended up rerecording songs with his own bestial drumming in place of Goldsmith’s, and suddenly tracks that hadn’t been working sounded like instant modern-rock classics. The idea was that Goldsmith would stay in the band and try again on the next album, but he found the experience shattering, and quit.
Hawkins bonded with Grohl backstage at Euro-pean festivals while Taylor was playing for Alanis Morissette, and he was an obvious choice for the Foos. When it came time to record the band’s third album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, though, Hawkins found himself terrified. “I had red-light fever so bad,” says Hawkins, who was also partying too hard at the time. “Because the last guy fuckin’, you know . . . So how am I gonna make it through this? And the producer was like, ‘Couldn’t Dave just play drums?’ I could just hear it in his face. Like, ‘Why is this kid trying to learn to play to a click track right now in front of me? Let’s get this record done.’ ”
“And at one point, I just said to Dave, ‘Listen, dude, I just don’t think I can do this,’ ” says Hawkins, his eyes welling up at the memory. “And what he said chokes me up a little. He’s like, ‘You’re gonna play some drums on this.’ I did half the drums on it, because he fuckin’ held my hand through it, like an older brother, best friend does. That’s why we’re here today.”
There was one more period of drama. After Hawkins recovered from a near-fatal overdose in 2001, it took him a while to come “out of the fog.” He had also somehow convinced himself that the Foo Fighters should be a full democracy. At the same time, he was furious with Grohl for recording Songs for the Deaf with Queens of the Stone Age and touring as their drummer. Grohl, in turn, was hurt that Hawkins hadn’t come to see him play with QOTSA.
“We had a big argument because I was being a fucking smartass,” Hawkins says. “And he just fucking said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna tell you right now. This is how it is. It’s my fucking band. If you don’t like it, fucking beat it.’ And I went, ‘All right, I quit.’ ” But Hawkins soon reconsidered, and went to see Grohl play with Queens of the Stone Age, too, where he “had to deal with the fact that there’s the best drummer in the world again, and I’m the little dumb shit behind him that just fucking does whatever I’m told and tries to play ‘Everlong’ as good as him and I can’t.”
“I think Taylor really underestimates his importance in this band,” Grohl says. “Maybe because he’s not the original drummer, but, my God, what would we be without Taylor Hawkins? Could you imagine? It would be a completely different thing. . . . Taylor’s insecurity pushes him to overachieve.”
And in the end, Hawkins is glad he accepted Grohl’s leadership. “He’s a fucking beast,” says Hawkins. “There’s no competing with him. . . . I was a loudmouth kid. I was like, ‘I have ideas.’ And finally I just went, ‘You know what? You have the best ideas.’ ” Sometimes those ideas exceed Hawkins’ wildest hopes, as on the 2017 track “Sunday Rain.” “I have a song on a Foo Fighters record with me singing my lyrics, putting my Eagles and Queen harmonies all over it, with Paul McCartney playing drums. I have my own Wings song, right? Because of Dave.”
And even on the days Hawkins’ ideas get rejected, “I come back to my mansion next to the Kardashians,” he says, grinning. “And I make fucking records with my goofball friends that nobody gives a fuck about.”
Two days after the Madison Square Garden show, Grohl is in a New York hotel room, talking about the “brutal” physical aftermath of his first big rock show after the break. He’s wearing thick-framed glasses, and today’s jeans are, again, black; today’s Vans are checkered; today’s black T-shirt is merch for the L.A. rock band Kills Birds. He’s got a “headbanger’s hangover,” though the pain isn’t nearly as bad as the time he actually gave himself whiplash onstage.
“Running back and forth on the side of the stage, you know, it doesn’t get any easier,” he says. “There are certain muscles that are only used when running around belting out. It’s like doing sit-ups and singing ‘Who Are You’ for three hours. It’s a lot. So you throw your neck out.” He has no particular exercise regime, and notes that Mick Jagger told him he rented a dance studio during the pandemic to stay in shape; maybe he could get his own studio “and just run around screaming.” He takes a quick hit from a vape, which he’s already substituted for his cigarettes.
Despite the pain, he wants to keep it all going. “I don’t imagine the band slowing down,” he says. “It still blows my mind that when you go to see someone like Paul McCartney, he does a one-and-a-half-hour-long soundcheck for fans, all the songs that they won’t be playing that night. Then he goes and has a dinner, walks out and plays for three fucking hours. And then afterwards, hangs out all night? And is the last one on the dance floor? For real? Where does that energy come from?”
Probably from the same place Grohl’s does. “Yeah, I guess, like, you still feel like the kid sitting on your bedroom floor playing along to your favorite band’s album.”
There are vague ideas about the Foo Fighters’ next album, though Grohl hasn’t written anything yet. “Every album that we’ve made is a response to the one we made before,” he says. “So now there are whispers of making an insane prog-rock record.”
He’s all-too aware of Nevermind’s 30th anniversary in September, but he’s running out of anecdotes. “I mean, what is there to say, to be honest?” he says. “I realized that every five years, I’ll have this conversation again. I’m sure Dinosaur Jr. made their fucking record the same way we did, you know. There was no crystal ball or Magic 8-Ball.”
In his book, Grohl talks about watching Cobain’s Converse-clad foot, waiting for him to smash his distortion pedal and switch into the loud part. “Just before he stomped on the button,” he writes, “I would blast into a single-stroke snare roll with all of my might, like a fuse burning fast into the heart of a bomb, signaling the change.”
“His Converse Chuck was the conductor of that band,” Grohl says. “It really was one of the most simple bands, in that there were really only four elements: the drums, the guitar, the bass, and Kurt’s vocals. That was it. So when we would arrange songs, there was no professional conversation of a bridge and a verse and a chorus. We had a song called ‘Verse Chorus Verse,’ because who wants to have that fucking conversation?”
He and Krist Novoselic and Smear do play together as some approximation of Nirvana from time to time. Their most recent public performance was at a charity club show last January, with St. Vincent and Beck on vocals. “Linda Perry was curating the event,” Grohl says. “She asked if the Foos would play, but it was around the holiday, so most of the band was gone. I was like, ‘People are so sick of “Everlong.” What am I gonna do? I’ll call Krist and Pat.’ ”
They needed one more singer, and Grohl ended up asking his musically gifted daughter Violet, then 13, if she was interested. “She’s the most talented musician our family has ever known, beyond my father, beyond me,” Grohl says. “The tools that she inherited are so far beyond anyone else in the family.” Violet selected “Heart-Shaped Box,” Kurt’s twisted ode to Courtney Love. (“You do know the song is about my vagina, right?” Love asked Lana Del Rey via social media after she covered it years ago.)
“Oh, my God, she picked the fucking darkest one of them all,” Grohl says. “I failed as a parent!
“And, it was great. And one of the greatest parts about it was that I think that she most represented the original aesthetic of Nirvana in that she’s a kid going through those difficult years of discovering identity.” It ended up being an unusually emotional performance. “I’m used to playing that song with Kurt standing in front of me. And looking out and seeing Violet was . . . I beat the fucking shit out of my drums. The drums weren’t big enough for what I was doing. It was fucking amazing.”
At just about every Foos concert, the band plays 2011’s “Walk,” which has some of the most audacious lyrics Grohl — or anyone, really — ever wrote. “Every night when he sings the line ‘I never want to die,’ ” says Smear, “I look at him every time and think of Kurt. Every single time. Because Kurt was, ‘I hate myself and I want to die.’ And that’s the opposite-ness of them. And I do so love being with life lovers.”
As it happens, Smear is correct about the inspiration behind that song. “It kind of comes from the day after Kurt died,” Grohl says, his voice a little softer than usual. “Waking up that morning and realizing, ‘Oh, shit, he’s not here anymore. I am. Like, I get to wake up and he doesn’t. I’m making a cup of coffee. And he can’t. I’m gonna turn on the radio. And he won’t.’ That was a big revelation to me.
“I think also in life, you get trapped in crisis, where you imagine there’s no way out. When really, if you dare to consider that crisis a blip on the radar, it’s easier to push through. And, yeah, I was just like, ‘I don’t want anyone to have that feeling that I had that morning.’ ”
But in any case, he really means it. “I’m serious,” Grohl says. “I don’t want to fucking die! I know it’s inevitable, but I don’t want to. That’s gonna be such a drag.” He’s silent for a rare moment, and smiles, baring those battered teeth. “I’ll fight it as fucking long as I can.”
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