Toronto Star 1996
True punk that he is, Dave Grohl is happy that rogues and thieves have been stealing his music. Calling from a tour stop for his new band, Foo Fighters (performing Wednesday at the Concert Hall), the Artist Formerly Known As Nirvana's Drummer raves about his growing collection of illegal Nirvana bootlegs.
Grohl has already had enough fortune and fame to last a lifetime, and in the case of Nirvana, it surely will.
When the books are written on the rapidly closing 1990s, the two rock bands most likely to be remembered are Seattle rivals Nirvana and Pearl Jam, with Nirvana's song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" the undisputed anthem of the decade. Before Nirvana and Pearl Jam made grunge rock the rage, pundits were predicting rock's demise. Grohl doesn't dispute the critical kudos and popular acclaim of Nirvana, but neither does he dwell on the topic. He says he doesn't understand the success of Nirvana now any better than he did when he was in the eye of the hurricane.
"I don't even want to," he says.
"To me, it was just a fluke, really. It was a shitload of fun, that's what counts. But when something like that happens to any band, they're immediately granted this kind of magic. You're basically guaranteed you're going to be considered this special kind of thing forever. "Then it's a question of, okay, what if Jimi Hendrix was still alive? Would he be performing at the lounge down the street, playing Prince covers? What would he be doing? People probably wouldn't consider him as much of a rock idol. So that's kind of a shame. It's weird." Grohl's natural reticence grew following the suicide death two years ago of Kurt Cobain, his friend and Nirvana band mate. Since that traumatic event, which has further pushed Nirvana to immortality, both Grohl and third band member Krist Novoselic have maintained an almost monk-like silence.
They said nothing for months after Cobain's death, and Novoselic is still turning down interview requests, preferring to concentrate on his new dual role of civil rights activist and leader of a slowly evolving new band, Sweet 75.
Grohl has been reluctantly thrust into the public eye. A year ago this month, he decided the period of mourning was officially over when he unveiled the Foo Fighters as a four-member touring act, including ex-Nirvana/Germs guitarist Pat Smear and ex-Sunny Day Real Estate rhythm section Nate Mendel (bass) and William Goldsmith (drums).
One of their first gigs was touring with California punk icon Mike Watt and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, on a low profile, low budget trek that brought them to the Opera House last May. The show found Grohl out in front of the drum kit, playing guitar and singing as if he was born for the job, and giving the boot to people who figured him for nothing more than a solid disciple of the John Bonham/Keith Moon school of rock drumming.
The Opera House show was followed a month later with the release of the eponymous Foo Fighters album, which was recorded when Grohl was the sole Foo Fighter, a band name chosen from World War II slang for flying saucers.
Grohl wrote and sang all the songs himself, and also played all the instruments, with the exception of a guitar overdub on the tune "X-Static" by his friend, Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs. If Grohl wanted to make a big splash, he would have granted interviews galore, signed on for the Lollapalooza tour and made appearances on MTV and Muchmusic, perhaps priming the emotional pump by doing his own versions of "Teen Spirit" and other Nirvana songs.
For further heart-shaped bathos, he would have put the song "How I Miss You" on his album instead of relegating it to B-side status of the single, "I'll Stick Around." Never mind the fact the song was written in 1991, long before Cobain's death, as were most of the songs on Foo Fighters. Just imagine how people would have reacted to lines like these:
"How I miss you - I should never call
How I hope that you still miss me
Did I lose you, somewhere down the line?"
In short, Grohl could have acted like a rock star. But he chose not to, refusing all interviews until a Rolling Stone cover story broke his silence several months after the release of Foo Fighters.
He has since done a few more interviews, including this one with The Star, but setting it up involved months of discussion and several false starts. No wonder Grohl goes by the nickname "Late."
The lack of hype surrounding Foo Fighters' first flight doubtless cost the band some album sales momentum. The band's debut recently hit the platinum mark of 1 million U.S. sales, but it fell short of the Top 20 in Billboard's albums chart.
That's just fine by Grohl, who would have sold a lot fewer records if he'd followed his first inclination.
"It was really just meant at first to be fun," he said of the recording sessions that led up to the creation of Foo Fighters, and which initially included Novoselic.
"I wanted to release it on my own label and maybe make 10 or 20 copies and not put my name on it. Just make this anonymous release and see what people thought of it."
Grohl first started writing the songs that ended up on Foo Fighters as long ago as 1991, during breaks from touring and promoting Nirvana's breakthrough Nevermind album.
One of his early songs, "Marigold," was used as a B-side for Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" single of 1993, but Grohl insists he harbored no ambitions for the solo spotlight.
"I was perfectly happy with Kurt being in charge of the songwriting," he says. He was such an amazing songwriter, it was an honor, you know? He wrote really good songs, and it sounded so great. I came in late in the game, so why should I come in and fuck it all up for everybody? "It was so nice to be in that band and not be in the spotlight. You don't know how great it felt every day when I went out to the market, and there was nobody hassling me and nobody ever approaching me. It was like, 'Oh, this is the best of both worlds - I can be in this cool band that's very popular, and I can still go to the movies and not get hassled.'"
Grohl was initially shy about his singing, even though he had proved his worth while still in Nirvana. Cobain and Novoselic had taken him onboard Nirvana in late 1990 (replacing the fired Dale Peters, one of several early Nirvana drummers) [this is completely incorrect...I think he means Danny Peters who was not fired...or maybe he means Dale Crover?] because they wanted someone who could both drum and sing backup vocals with Cobain.
On the video for Nirvana's MTV Unplugged show, Grohl's ability to harmonize with Cobain is there for all to see and hear. His singing voice is not unlike Cobain's, and he could cover many Nirvana songs if he chose to, but he chooses not.
Just as he and Novoselic choose not to do what the surviving Beatles did, by using leftover tapes to create "new" songs, despite the death of a key member. There are some Cobain vocals and Nirvana outtakes still in the can, but Grohl turns back the suggestion of working with them the way the Beatles did with Lennon's archived tunes, "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love."
"I'm not really into the concept of the 'new song' thing," he says. He dislikes "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love."
"It's just weird. I think with having a friend in a band die, I would never do anything like that. To me, it's almost like a desecration."
Grohl is more respectful of Cobain than Cobain apparently was of him. In Michael Azerrad's Nirvana biography Come As You Are, published shortly before Cobain's death, the bluntly outspoken Kurt complained that both his band mates weren't contributing enough to songwriting: "They don't take the lead and they're always kind of following."
What might Cobain have thought of Foo Fighters?
"Oh, I hate to speculate on that," Grohl says. "He probably would have hated it, but I don't know."
Rumors that Nirvana had broken up were rampant in the days before Cobain's body was discovered at his Seattle home on April 8, 1994. Earlier that same week, a terse announcement from the Nirvana press office said the band was pulling out of plans to headline that summer's Lollapalooza tour. Were the rumors true?
"Not really...uh, no," Grohl says, uncomfortable with the question and unconvincing in his reply. "I don't really ever talk about that kind of stuff with people I don't know.
"It's weird. There's a big scoop there for everybody. Everybody wants the scoop and everybody wants the inside information and you're not going to get it from me."
It's unclear whether the "big scoop" would involve the allegations - which recently surfaced again in a new book by two Montreal writers - that Cobain's death was not suicide, but rather murder. A private detective hired by Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, has been telling anyone who would listen that there was foul play involved.
These are not questions for an interview with Dave Grohl. He can't even bring himself to think about where Nirvana would have ended up, had Cobain lived.
"That kind of speculation sort of ruins it for me," he says.
"You can't change what happened. It breaks my heart to sit around and think about everything that happened. But at the same time, there were so many great things that happened, and it was so much fun.
"It was a tragedy and it fucking destroys me to think of the final result, so I sort of tend to think of the good things that happened, like the insane fall of 1991 and how crazy it was and how things were so out of control.
"That part of the band I wouldn't trade for the world. But to try to think about what would have happened to the band and whether we would have gone on, it's just kind of sad. It's like a rocking chair - you sit there and you move around, but you don't really go anywhere."
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