Foo Do You Think You Are?

9

When Dave Grohl was seeking refuge from the world following the death of Kurt Cobain, he turned to what he knew best: music. In 1994, he booked studio time to record a collection of his own songs, simply because it was something to focus on. He played every instrument himself, and recorded an albums worth of material in just five days. In a bid to maintain anonymity and avoid the media circus that pursued him in the wake of Cobain`s death, the final product was put out under the name Foo Fighters, the name given to UFOs by allied pilots in WW2 and an indication of Grohl`s nerd-like obsession with the prospect of little green men. And what do you know? Soon “the drummer from Nirvana” is the front-man of the biggest rock and roll band the world has seen since Led Zeppelin. It is a story firmly rooted in music folklore. And yet it is only the very beginning of the story. The Foo Fighters have endured longer, and survived more turbulence than Nirvana ever did. Now for the first time, the band speak candidly about their whole ride in the feature length Back and Forth.

Released to coincide with their seventh studio record, Wasting Light, The Foo Fighters have also given us what is hands down the best rockumentary since Julien Temple`s masterpiece on Joe Strummer, The Future Is Unwritten. Directed by Emmy and Oscar winning director James Moll, Back and Forth is in places brutally honest, with some home truths that might shock even the most avid Foos fan. One of the revelations that struck me and my friends who I attended the one off screening with, was that Grohl harbours some past misdemeanours which are fairly unfitting for the supposed “nicest man in rock”. The most damning of these was the way in which he handled the sacking of first Foos drummer William Goldsmith, who interestingly is also on record in the documentary to give his version of events. As is former guitarist Franz Stahl, a lifelong friend of Grohl`s and member of his first band Scream, yet again someone who was seen as a disposable asset to Grohl when differences arose. We also see a forthright Taylor Hawkins discuss his hurt at watching Grohl abandon the Foos to play with Queens of the Stone Age, an obvious knock to their famously close relationship.

For whatever reason, either Moll’s skill as a director, or simply that those interviewed appear to be completely open, we feel as though we are granted a real insight into the thoughts and feelings of all those who are, or have been, a Foo Fighter. There are of course some generic rock band tales of drug overdoses and musical differences; however these pass without a trace of cliché due to the skill and honesty with which this amazing story is told. It is as entertaining as any other film you are likely to see this summer, with several genuinely hilarious moments, often courtesy of bassist Nate Mendel, who I had previously always thought of as “the quiet one”.

There are some critics who have accused the film of being merely an extended promo for the new album, which in essence it is. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad thing. The latter half of the picture does indeed document the making of the new record, yet this is a fascinating insight into the bands working ethic rather than a run of the mill behind the scenes. This is mainly due to their decision to record in Grohl`s house, with all of their families in tow, which provided some genuinely heart warming moments in the film (cue Grohl`s young daughter tapping him on the shoulder, pestering him to come for a swim whilst he was recording guitar parts.) Earlier on in the film we had seen Hawkins talking about his drug induced coma, which was a result of him living the life he thought rock stars were meant to lead. And now, watching him arrive at Grohl`s place with his wife and kids is an overt reminder that the whole band have reached maturity. Hawkins also re-evaluates himself by saying profoundly “I’m not a rockstar, I’m a musician.”

The fact that the band are now all family men, approaching middle age is so clearly evident on the new record. After the documentary finished, we were then treated to a live performance of the new record, front to back. And sitting in the cinema, able to just watch and listen to every word Grohl sang, I am very soon convinced that This Wasting Light is the most poignant, heart wrenching album the band have ever made. It sounds as though Grohl is trying to make sense of everything in his world up until this point. There are several haunting moments, most notably on the spine tingling ‘I Should have Known’. Not about the death of Cobain like many have speculated, rather it is Grohl opening up on the death of yet another close friend, Jimmy Swanson, who was lost to a drug overdose in 2008. The emotion is almost unbearable when Grohl proclaims “I cannot forgive you yet”.

Musically, it is not at all the heaviest record they have ever made like Grohl told fans it would be. In fact, I would say it is their most dynamic. There are no all out acoustic tracks like those which grace In Your Honour and Echoes and Silence, Patience and Grace, but we certainly still feel both sides of the Foo Fighters, and it is without doubt the most well crafted of all their albums. Tracks like ‘These Days’ and ‘Dear Rosemary’, which features Husker Dü frontman Bob Mould, are among the most poignant they have ever penned, and yet the switch into tracks like the shatteringly powerful ‘White Limo’ are so seamless as to hardly be noticed.

All in all it just feels as though The Foo Fighters have reached a point in their career when they can simply climb no higher. But I recall thinking that when they released Echoes… and played two sell out nights at Wembley Stadium. And yet here we are again. The record is already getting rave reviews, and the band are playing two nights at the Milton Keynes bowl in July as well as a cluster of European festivals. What evolved from Dave Grohl`s reclusive recording stint in 1994 into this world wide freight train seems to be unstoppable. Provided they don’t want to stop. We can only hope that the albums opening “These are my famous last words” is one of Grohl`s famously amorphous lyrics rather than a statement of intent. I wouldn’t know what I’d do without Foo.

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. avatar

    This is an amazing and very enjoyable read.
    Stops me feeling so bad that i missed the film myself
    Well done 😀

  2. avatar

    biggest rock band since Led Zeppelin? Guess the world never saw RHCP, U2, Oasis, Radiohead, Bon Jovi, Guns n’ Roses or indeed Nirvana themselves. Try actually reviewing next time instead of being an embarrassing fanboy! Woo! Soulja Boy > Foo Fighters. Prove me wrong! Ice cold like a polar bear!

    • avatar

      I thoroughly enjoyed this article, and would argue that being a fan of a band doesn’t make this article any less true – Foo Fighters tickets sell out in minutes, Wasting Light is a fantastic album, and Dave Grohl’s persistent movement from one band to another keeps the Foos fresh relevant and exciting. I would also argue that bands such as U2, Bon Jovi, and Guns N Roses were relevant a long time ago, whereas the Foos are relevant now. I would also argue that RHCP have none of the same appeal as the Foos now – did anyone see their last set at Reading Festival? Or listen to Stadium Arcadium? Both were shocking.Difference is, Foos are still good, and still together (so, Oasis…?) And Nirvana, obviously, never had the longevity that they may have had, so they can hardly be described as the biggest rock band since Led Zep…
      I really enjoyed this article! And it’s getting read. So, nice one Ben 🙂

      • avatar

        I don’t agree that a band’s current relevance should be so important in deciding whether they are a “big” or “important” rock band. No doubt Foo Fighters are ONE OF the biggest and most important rock bands around today, but that in no way means they’re, as pointed out, “the biggest rock band since Led Zeppelin”. This is in no way even close to the truth. If you made a list of “the biggest bands since Led Zeppelin”, which is clearly impossible, Foo Fighters would be at least below the top 30. At least.

        Decent article though, Ben. I think it’s clear you have a passion about the Foos and this definitely makes the article a good read.

    • avatar
      Benji Bradford on

      Cheers for the feedback, Anon. I didn’t realise that one passing line could have been the source of such controversy or detract from the rest of the article! Naturally, this could spiral into a thread of petty back and forths on musical opinion, which as much as some love, I tend to avoid. But I will just say when I said “the biggest rock and roll band the world has seen since Led Zeppelin”, I was nodding towards the type of band that the Foos are these days, and Led Zep simply sprang to mind as a comparison as they sort of encapsulate that “big” rock feeling which I wouldn’t necessarily attribute to Radiohead or RHCP, both of which are actually two of my favourite bands, and mean a lot more to me than Led Zep ever have. But, as I say it was just a nod to that era of Rock, and seemed really fitting given that they were Grohl`s favourite band growing up, joined the Foos on stage at Wembley and of course the recent collaboration between Grohl and John Paul Jones in TCV. Merely opinion, as it was when I said that I felt the film was the best rockumentary since The Future Is Unwritten, which I’m sure lots of other people would disagree with me on. Other than that, I feel everything there is pretty much a review of their current position, and nothing straying too far into blind fan love. Though I do of course like them a lot, or I wouldnt have wanted to write the piece! (I couldnt think of anything worse than writing about Oasis for example, who for the record I wouldnt class as a rock band at all; again, all my opinion). I agree with Andre that the current relevance of the band means very little (otherwise the Beatles would have pretty much been written off in the 70s). But on the other hand if “the biggest bands since Led Zepplin” list is impossible, which it clearly is due to an endless array of ambiguous factors mainly like musical taste, how could you state that the Foos would be “at least below the top 30”? Really not picking a bone, merely just using that point to illustrate the whole crux of this debate is just that; each of our musical opinions are different to the next person. That is what makes what we listen to and talk about so interesting and why we feel so passionately about it. And on that I will bow out. Cheers for commenting!

  3. avatar

    “You know I have a friend at the police station who can tell whether you actually brushed your teeth or just ran the toothbrush under the faucet…” We also can identify you by the bands you listed, dude. I didnt think there was anything embarrassing about this at all, great piece.

    • avatar
      Nick Barrett on

      I thought I’d comment on the article as I only just properly read it all. I tried to find a stream of the film on the internet but that failed, and it’s probably not good to mention all the other perfectly legal methods I tried ;).

      It’s a well written article, and an interesting one, however I think it needs to mention how ‘Being the drummer’ from Nirvana really did help the Foo’s become a massive act.

      I’m not sure if it mentions this in the documentary, but as you’ll probably know; Foo Fighters played their first main gig in the UK when they headlined the tent at the 1995 Reading Festival, and apparently, THEY PACKED THE SHIT OUT OF IT! Grohl even said the organisers wanted them to go on the main stage after that day’s main stage headliner due to safety fears, but he didn’t want to, because he thought they “weren’t famous enough”. The band packed that tent out because Dave Grohl used to be in (arguably) the biggest band of the nineties, the band that MTV shoved down everyone’s throats and the band that forefronted the new wave of alternative/mainstream rock; NIRVANA. There’s even an interview with Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden, where the interviewer says about the strong Seattle representation at the festival what with Mudhoney playing and Neil Young’s backing band being Pearl Jam. When the interviewer brings up Foo Fighters, they’re seen as ‘Dave Grohl from Nirvana’s band’ and not responded to with as much acceptance as the other two.

      Foo Fighters got a HUGE head start from Nirvana, and would be nothing without them, however, Dave Grohl has never trashed Nirvana’s legacy or stepped on it to get anywhere higher. I think it’s awesome he’s never done a shoddy Nirvana cover in a set for example, and he has never teamed up with Krist Novoselic to do a history-ruining Nirvana medley (That’s a jab at John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page). That is why Dave Grohl is the man.

      And on the whole how big are Foo’s thing, I consider a band pretty big when they sell out 120,000 tickets for MK bowl in few hours, and whilst I prefer their older stuff, they’re not a nostalgia act.

  4. avatar
    David Gilani on

    Great article, Ben.

    After that, I feel like I know enough to actually hold a conversation with someone about Foo Fighters. As long as it’s not you though… you know too much.

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