Foo For Thought
The Big Issue
Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl has long since been regarded as rock's Mr Nice Guy, but is there some darkness behind the sweetness and light?
Dave Grohl hasn't said anything for nearly 30 seconds. "What do you mean what was the last really horrible thing I did?" he asks finally. Grohl is routinely referred to as The Nicest Man In Rock. But no one can be nice all the time, so ... "That's probably the kind of thing that I wouldn't want to reveal in an interview," he says with narrowed eyes. "But I'm not the Pope." So what was the last bad thing he did, then? "The bad things?" he says incredulously. "I'm not going to tell you the bad things. I'm going to ride out this nicest guy in rock thing for as long as I can."
Grohl, founder and front man of Foo Fighters and drummer in Nirvana during their heyday, is indeed a very nice guy. He has both the personal magnetism of a guru and the salt-of-the-earth touch of a Birmingham cabbie - he'd make a great cult leader. But even nice
rock stars get bored, and right now, defeated
by tedium, he's lying sprawled on a sun bed on the roof of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Munich. It's the best in town, the kind of place where the sand in the ashtrays by the lift is imprinted with the hotel's logo. Grohl, meanhile, is dressed in tatty jeans and scuffed trainers, his tattoos pOking out from under his black polo shirt. The reason he's fed up is the two day, break Foo Fighters are taking from the world tour to pomote their fifth album. "I'm getting to the
point where I don't enjoy days off any more," he sighs. "I love to play music. I don't love to sit around hotel rooms and order room service. I never want this to happen again."
It probably doesn't help that he gave up smoking eight days ago. "The only way to stop is to stop," he says in a faraway voice. Instead, he's drinking a lot of water, going for long walks and trying not to think about it. Meanwhile the other Foo Fighters are having no problems coping with the down time. They're lounging round the hotel's rooftop infinity pool in their swimming trunks sipping white wine.
Everything's peachy, though Hawkins has noted that at 63F it could be a bit warmer. Grohl looks over at them and seems to decide that he shouldn't dwell on his frustration. He sits up and flicks the dimmer switch on his million Watt personality up to a harsh glare.
"It's important to feel appreciative," he says, beaming appreciatively and spreading his plams upward. "It's a beautiful day. I have no complaints at all. Apart from that I wish I were playing tonight."
Oh well, he doesn't have to wait long. Tomorrow Foos play Salzburg. And there's plenty more to come. They're five months into a tour that could last as long as two years. 'In Your Honour' is a make or break record for the band, and they're working it hard. As Grohl notes, 2002's 'One By One' "wasn't a shitsandwich" but it was their weakest album to date. It's telling that all members of the band subsequently went off to pursue other projects, most notably Grohl, who drummed on Queens Of The Stone Age's 2002 album 'Songs For The Deaf'.
"It was sort of panicked," says Grohl of 'One By One'. "We rushed into making it and rushed out of the studio when we thought it was done. We should have done what we did with this album, which was lock the doors and not come out until we were completely happy with what we had."
'In Your Honour' is a convincing argument for the it's-done-when-it's-done approach to making records. When it was released in June it was declared a return to form. But it was also something of a surprise. The melodic heavy ,riffing of 'Best Of You', 'No Way Back' and the album's title track are vintage Foo Flghters, but there was a second, entirely acoustic disc.
"I really love the rock half of the record
that we just made, but I don't know if I'd want
to make another one like that again," says Grohl. "I look at the acoustic half of the album
as a bridge to something new. I think that it's the key that's going to unlock another 10 years of this band. We don't have to do the same things forever."
Grohl, is notoriously wary of talking about Kurt Cobain. But the best acoustic track on 'In Your Honour' is a song Grohl originally wrote shortly after meeting him for the first time. It's a sensitive and acutely observed portrait of his former band-mate that includes the lines, "He needs a quiet room/With a lock to keep him in". Not bad seeing as he barely new him.
And you can hear echoes of Cobain when he talks about rock star excess. He's enthusiastic about hard-living Motorhead frontman Lemmy rocking on into his 60s, but also says: "I think rock stars are shitty role models. They're dropouts; they're drug addicts; and they're dreamers." No need to read between the lines there.
When Taylor Hawkins almost died from an overdose of painkillers and booze in 2002,
it must have triggered nasty memories for Grohl. But, these days at least, Foo Fighters don't conform to the hedonist rock'n'
"We've got the plane," says Grohl, a reference to Led Zeppelin's famous flying circus of groupies and drug dealers. "We just don't have all the coke and pussy. I think that's why we're here 10 years later."
It's ironic because, until recently, he didn't think he was going to live very long. "As I've gotten older, the more I realise that life isn't as short as I'd imagined it to be when I was a teenager," he says. "I imagined my teen years and my early 20s to be about as far as I'd get." Why he should think that isn't clear. "Doesn't every teenager want to be Jimmy Dean?" he
suggests. Well, Cobain clearly did. It seems like Grohl didn't. "But I'm starting to imagine a future for my wife and family. Something that's a little bit different than the last 18 years of my I ife on the road."
Perhaps the best way to describe Grohl is as a recovering fatalist. There's certainly a murky side to him that often goes unmentioned, maybe because it seems to contradict his nice guy image. For example, remembering grunge, he tells a story about a T-shirt popular at the time. It read:
I Went To Seattle And All Got Was This Lousy Heroin Habit. He then chuckles darkly. Very darkly considering Cobain's substance abuse issues. But maybe it's this side to him, his fatalism, which is actually the source of his intense affability. He seems to think so.
"I worry about everything," he says in the slightly camp tone he uses when he wants to emphasise a point. "I'm a worrywart. It started in the mid 1970swhen I was about 10. We were reading about the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons in school. And then I saw a TV programme about tne Cuban missile crisis and this movie The Day After, about nuclear
holocaust. I started having dreams about nuclear war. I was terrified." Presumably the fact that his father's job as a Republican speechwriter meant the family lived just outside of Washington
DC made his dreams all the worse. Grohl's had therapy - not that he's prepared to discuss it - and there's something of the psychiatrist's couch when he makes the link between childhood worries and adult anxiety, concluding: "I guess I just want to make sure everything turns out alright. And I like pleasing people. I always have. I think that's one of my faults, actually."
Earlier in the day, Grohl checked his e-mail. He had a couple from Krist Novoselic, his former band mate in Nirvana. One was a picture of Novoselic's goat, Chickpea. The subject of the other was 'You asshole'. This sounds promising. After all, the Nirvana legacy has been messy. Have they fallen out? Is there some dirt?
"I opened it up," he says, pausing wickedly. "And it said,
'I love you, man.'"
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