This past June, Taryn alerted me to, what was at the time, the only officially announced Foo Fighters concert of the year: they’d be the closing headliners of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans on November 2, 2014. I’ve dreamed of seeing the Foo Fighters in concert since I was at least 14 years old. I had even recently told Taryn that after having seen the great Sir Paul McCartney the previous summer at Bonnaroo, that left the Foo Fighters and Fleetwood Mac as my next big ‘dream concerts’. So when she told me about Voodoo, and I looked up how cheap tickets were, I immediately jumped on it. Nothing was standing between me and my man Dave Grohl.
Like all important moments in my life, I need to place this in context. The Foo Fighters hold a very special place in my heart. For one, they were the first band that was really ‘mine’. I can barely play an instrument (the recorder and the dulcimer for those who care) and I suck at reading music, but I was raised to be a passionate music fan from birth. My parents and my older sister were all music lovers and they in turn passed that on to me. I got my knowledge of classic rock and oldies from my hippie parents. I kept up with pop music via my big sister (seven years my senior –so thanks to her I was hip to the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and Ace of Base while my peers were still singing along to the Barney theme song). For most of my life, I was exposed to some great music, but mainly music that was from others. I hadn’t really discovered anything on my own yet.
Very appropriately, it was back in November 1999 when I was watching Saturday Night Live that I first saw the Foo Fighters. Their third album There Is Nothing Left to Lose had just come out, and I remember this was the first time I heard “Learn to Fly”. I sort of recognized Dave as the drummer from Nirvana (though I was 11 years old at the time and hadn’t really ‘gotten’ Nirvana yet, so this was inconsequential to me at the time), but beyond that I was pretty unaware of the Foo Fighters. I was immediately intrigued and can remember how excited I use to get whenever I’d catch them on the radio. You see kids, back in ‘the day’ there was no iTunes or mp3’s and while there were these cheap things called cassettes that a lot of us got our music on, they were being phased out by these things called CDs that were expensive as fuck –so my primary source of music was the radio. Thanks to the Foo Fighters I discovered the contemporary rock station in town. Which in turn helped spark my continuing love of radio in general, because radio is always free ya’ll!
So the Foo’s were my first musical discovery outside of my family or even friends and classmates at school (this was 1999, and so the late 90s as some of you older peeps might recall was dominated by pop acts like the Spice Girls, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, etc –so again, I was aware of those groups because I went to public school, lol), and given that they were the first sign of me branching out, opening my mind, growing up, and so on, that alone warrants the place they hold in my heart. They symbolize my first step into the larger world.
Fast forward to spring 2004, and by this time I’d discovered Nirvana. Now, for anyone who loves music as we do, we all know how you go through a ‘Led Zeppelin phase’ at some point in your life. Even if it only lasted a hot second or for a decade, everyone has had a Led Zep phase, so don’t deny it or act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. [For those who need a more in-depth explanation of what the ‘Led Zeppelin phase’ is go pick up and read Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by the brilliant Chuck Klosterman.]
Well, I’d also argue, based on personal experience, that for a lot of music fans who were too young for Nirvana during their heyday in the early 90s or were maybe even born afterwards, they have a ‘Nirvana phase’. I seriously knew kids in middle and high school, and even college, who discovered Nirvana for the first time and much like the Led Zep phase, this could last for a short period or a long period in which it was all Nirvana all the time. For me, this phase hit exactly at the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death in April of 2004.
Today I still like Nirvana, but I won’t pretend it’s at the same level it was a decade ago. And unlike some people who aren’t really going through a Nirvana phase, but a Kurt Cobain phase masked as a Nirvana phase; I was seriously in a Nirvana phase. I simply loved the band and their music. Obviously Kurt was the center of it, but I genuinely loved Krist and Dave too. In fact, I already liked Dave before liking Nirvana, so I can say my Foo Fighters love isn’t born out of trying to keep that Nirvana love alive. If anything, discovering Nirvana actually just made me love the Foo Fighters more, because it made me happy to see that Dave Grohl wasn’t content with having only been the drummer (in an admittedly long list of drummers) for a band that had had its moment in the spotlight and had since passed on.
My Nirvana phase lasted roughly from spring 2004 until the winter of 2007 and in that time the Foo Fighters were probably the only contemporary band I really loved. In this time frame, the Foo’s released two albums and put out some of their most popular singles (I can still remember being excited when they released the music videos for their songs “The Pretender” and “Long Road to Ruin” –in this day and age, who actually gets excited about music videos anymore?!). I can remember a friend making me a mix cd around the time I was first learning to drive, and it was dominated by ‘80s and ‘90s bands except for the Foo Fighters. Learning to drive was a nerve racking experience for me at the time, so having Dave sing me through it was pretty comforting! Actually, high school in general sort of sucked, so just having Dave Grohl to serenade me through those boring, awkward years was a much-needed blessing.
So far, it probably reads like the Foo Fighters are simply loved because of their nostalgic value to me. And yes, there is a heavy dose of nostalgia going on here. They remind me of important milestones in my life and helped me through my teenage years. But I’m about to wax poetic here and explain why they still matter, so hang in there!
I’m going to get honest here and admit that until this most recent decade, I pretty much avoided and hated on most forms of contemporary music. That probably places me in a special Hipster category of some kind (the annoying kind that is adamant that good music died before my time). Ask Taryn, I would go on rants in high school about how rock music pretty much died somewhere in the 90s, probably with Kurt Cobain, and beyond the Foo Fighters (because Dave is just that awesome), there just weren’t any bands taking up the mantle and trying to go forward.
Now my opinions weren’t based in pretension alone. I did genuinely attempt to try to listen to contemporary rock music. I tried and failed at liking Green Day, Interpol, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers, Coldplay, and even U2 (only The Killers and Coldplay got reevaluated over the years) amongst others. If this reads as ‘too mainstream’ for you Hipsters out there, um do you remember the last decade? The era before smart phones and high-speed internet? For those of us not rolling in money CDs were ludicrously overpriced, I was growing up in a small hick town in southeast Tennessee, and I had dial-up internet until 2007, so my means of hearing music were much more limited than they are these days. By the time I had internet faster than dial-up (but not as fast as what we have now) the first musical thing I did with it was bootleg the Pixies catalog and then scrounge around for old David Bowie concerts from his Thin White Duke era. When technology finally caught up with me, I was over trying to ‘get’ contemporary rock music. It was obvious to me that the fun stuff had already passed me by. While I might feel different about that today, I will still argue that last decade was a low point for rock music. I might not have had the means to seek out good music, but looking back it’s not like there was a lot of it I missed.
I bring all of that up because while rock music has arguably had a creative resurgence in the last five or so years, as has my fandom for it (there is sooo much great music in general out there right now), the Foo Fighters weren’t just my water in the desert years, they also helped me transition from being snobby about classic rock, to being more enthusiastic for music in general. Our idols and heroes are a reflection of us in a lot of ways. We admire people for the qualities we feel they represent.
Dave Grohl is one of my musical heroes and has been for what seems like most of my life. And one of the reasons why I love him and continue love him is probably best exemplified in the Foo Fighters latest album and documentary project, Sonic Highways. Dave Grohl for all his guitar and drummer god awesomeness is first and foremost a student. Even after two successful bands, dozens of hit albums and singles, more than one concert film, and even now a tv documentary program –he isn’t just out there trying to preach to the masses or teach his fans anything, he’s out there still taking it in, still learning, still trying to do better. To most people it looks like he knows it all, has seen it all, done it all –but he hasn’t, and he knows this.
I’m going to be bold and compare him to probably one of the few artists I love more than him, and that’s Sir Paul McCartney. Not because they’ve collaborated together, played together, or even covered each other’s songs, but because they both share essential qualities that I admire them for. They both could easily be out there doing what a lot of other artists do, and are encouraged to do, puffing themselves up, glorifying themselves and their art, but they’re not. Through the years, despite the criticisms, they’ve in their individual ways, kept open minds and have always strived to do something different.
After over 50 years in the music industry, people are only now starting to realize how much of a trendsetter Paul McCartney was in his day. Maybe he wasn’t hitting the top of Billboard charts, but look back at that man’s catalog and you can see how innovative he was (and not just in The Beatles or Wings, but even as a solo artist), how he’d be experimenting with reggae and electronic music before either was even popular. Maybe he didn’t always do it successfully, but he at least was open to hearing different kinds of music and trying to incorporate it. He’s 72 years old, and he’s still putting out music and doing his thing.
Dave Grohl, while much younger, is similar in this regard. Even if it’s not successful, he at least has proven that he’s capable of getting out there and experimenting with how he makes music. Maybe only Jack White and Radiohead can say the same things these days, but neither of them are as popular and successful as Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters (not arguing their musical merits here, just stating the obvious: the average person on the street knows the Foo Fighters, they might have only heard of Jack White and Radiohead).
Over the years, we have all seen various pop, rock, and even indie acts come off as arrogant fucks who think too highly of themselves in one way, or another. They all come off as distant, out of touch, the sort of people that you might like singing along to their hit single on the radio, but you probably wouldn’t ever want to have a beer with them and chill. But in this day and age of ostentatious and grandiose celebrity, Dave Grohl has continued to stick out as the one guy you could hang out with, and have a cool time doing so.
I don’t care how cheesy it might sound, but of all the various musicians out there, he still comes off as one the humblest, nicest, most relaxed guys in the business. For years, he’s been proclaimed as the ‘nicest man in rock and roll’, and for good reason. I’ve been to my fair share of concerts and to see a huge band like the Foo Fighters and a big time artist like Dave Grohl come out on stage and talk to the audience like he’s your bro and he’s one of you is rather cool. If you watch any interview with him or see any concert footage where he’s talking to the audience, he comes off as genuine and sincere (and has a great sense of humor), never pretentious or uptight. With Dave Grohl, what you see is what you get.
Living in this manufactured celebrity culture of ours, it was easy for a guy like Dave Grohl to become very important to me. He showed me that fame didn’t always destroy you or give you a big head. Dave has always kept it real. There’s no fakery, hypocrisy, or media machine spinning with him, which is refreshing. When I was young and impressionable, looking for someone to admire, I’m glad there was a genuine guy like him around.
My love of Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters is more than just nostalgic based. I’ve been in love since 1999 and over the years I’ve more than once attempted to see them live. Every time they came to Nashville or Atlanta, even if it wasn’t feasible that I could go, I always checked out ticket prices and availability. Somewhere way back in high school, I made a list of the top five currently active and touring artists I’d love to see live in concert, and the Foo Fighters were number two…right behind Paul McCartney. My hope at seeing them live was rekindled after having the good fortune of seeing Macca at Bonnaroo in 2013. Dreams did come true, and if I was lucky enough to see a Beatle in concert, there was still hope for Dave.
When the means and opportunity finally presented themselves this year to make it happen, I jumped on the chance in a heartbeat. Seeing the Foo Fighters live would be a dream come true! To be able to see them up close, would be another dream. I can’t begin to thank our good friend Kayla, of Roam Free Collective, enough for convincing me to get down there into the pit and try to get as close as possible to them. She told me afterward that she knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go down there and try, and she was right. I was scared to do it, but she convinced me to take that risk and go for it. Sometimes life’s greatest moments only happen because we take a chance, and this was definitely one of those moments for me.
To back track one last time, I’m going to tie in a concert going legend in my family that makes all of this even more significant for me. Growing up, my parents were huge classic rock fans, and they gave me my introduction to most of the bands of their youth, except for The Beatles. My mom gave me my middle name from a Beatles song, and they were her favorite band in the ’60s, but my dad only liked The White Album, and could care less about them otherwise. Somehow my father’s indifference and my mom’s waning enthusiasm meant that I was never raised on them or their music. But I was raised on the story of the one time my mom saw them in concert.
It was August of 1965, Houston, Texas. She was barely fourteen years old, and it was her first concert experience. She went with my aunt and one of their friends, and had always told me about how they had seats close to the stage. So close, in fact, that she could remember seeing Ring Starr’s blue eyes. That left an extraordinary impression on me as a kid growing up. I mean, my mom was up close for living history! Ringo was the drummer, so you know he was sitting behind John, Paul, and George. My mom was practically in the front row!
Later, after my mom passed away, my aunt and I were swapping stories about her, and the Beatles concert came up. I remarked how amazing it must have been to be so close to the greatest band in history. My aunt corrected me and said that they weren’t that close at all. The real story was that they were short, teenage girls, so they had to stand on their seats (which were considerably farther back then my mom had let on) to even see the band, not to mention they couldn’t hear the music for all the screaming girls around them. At one point, my aunt had to borrow the binoculars of the guy sitting next to her so she could see the stage.
I told her my mom’s version of events and asked her if she just had an overactive imagination about seeing Ringo’s eyes. She said no, what had happened was my mother was frustrated at being so far from the band that she kept getting up and going to the front of the stage over and over again. The police officers who were there for crowd control had to keep dragging my teenage mother back to her seat. Apparently this went on the entire concert, so my mother did virtually spend half of it up close at the stage!
I couldn’t help but think of my mom and that story when Kayla insanely convinced me to go down into the pit for the Foo Fighters set at the Voodoo festival in New Orleans two weeks ago. I didn’t get to see Taylor Hawkins eyes, but I did get to see the beautiful whites of Dave Grohl’s teeth! So it worked out.
This concert is one of the best I’ve ever been to, and it’s one that I’ll never forget. By the end, I was both high on life and exhausted. I lost my voice after singing along to nearly every song. I not only got up close to one of my favorite bands, I got to see the mighty Dave Grohl and company rock their hearts out for us as we screamed our heads off in appreciation. This was real life; this was actually happening to me! From the beginning chords of “All My Life” to the last note of “Everlong”, I was living the dream.
All images provided by the author unless otherwise noted. To see more from this Foo Fighters performance, view Kayla’s images on Roam Free Collective’s Photo Essay, “The Grace of (A Rock) God.”