Twenty years ago today saw the release of the debut album from Foo Fighters, a name that began as a cover for the fact that Nirvana’s drummer had created the entire album by himself (a single guitar contribution from Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli notwithstanding). Drums, bass, guitar, vocals—it was a one-man Dave Grohl show all the way. Not only that, it was the first release of new music by a former member of Nirvana, which made it an automatic listen for still-grieving Kurt Cobain fans. Now, two decades later, Foo Fighters are well on their way to becoming a classic rock band, in both senses of the word. In that spirit, this question comes from The A.V. Club’s staff:
What was your first impression of the Foo Fighters, and/or Dave Grohl in his new role as effusive frontman?
I got to interview Dave Grohl on the phone for a cover story when The Colour And The Shape came out. I clicked in for my 20 minutes just after Grohl talked to Musician, and he immediately led with something like: “Gwen! Oh my God! I just got off the phone with this guy from Musician magazine, and he talked the entire time. I barely said anything! What is he going to write about?” I don’t really blame the guy; we were all nervous to talk to a bonafide rock legend, which is why it was so nice that Grohl started off by talking to me like he actually knew me. And since I stayed far away from the subjects we had been warned not to bring up (Nirvana and Courtney Love), Grohl stands as the best and friendliest phone interview I’ve ever had. And that record is still one of my all-time favorites.
If I could be best buds with any celebrity, I seriously might choose Dave Grohl. I’m hard-pressed to think of a world-famous frontman who seems more down-to-earth, more good-natured, more… well, just like a swell dude. My man-crush on the guy probably dates back to my first exposure to his band—namely, the “Big Me” video, a proudly stupid spoof of Mentos commercials. It was immediate proof that Dave and his Foos didn’t take themselves too seriously, which was a very appealing quality for a rock band (and a rock star) in the mid-’90s—or now, for that matter.
I was 14 and not really much of a Nirvana fan yet, but I liked Dave Grohl, and I remember really liking the “Big Me” video, what with all its Mentos imagery. Plus, I thought there was something fun and cool about that Pat Smear, who I now—not unlike Grohl—realize had this whole cool punk career before he went full Foo.
I loved the Foo Fighters because I really wanted to—because I loved Nirvana and Sunny Day Real Estate, and what could possibly be wrong with putting them together? I even saw that now-legendary 1995 tour with Mike Watt headlining (with Eddie Vedder “secretly” in his band; Vedder also opened as part of Hovercraft) and Foo Fighters opening. It was exciting as hell, but the Foos pretty quickly lost my attention not long after. I can’t remember the last time I pulled out any of their records to listen to. (They probably don’t need me at this point, so it’s all good.)
I distinctly remember the summer “This Is A Call” broke, and the local alternative station in Houston playing the living shit out of it. I wasn’t blown away by it or anything, but I liked it all right, and I was glad to see the drummer from Nirvana moving onto something else following Kurt Cobain’s death, which was still on everyone’s mind in 1995. And hey, the guitar in the chorus is still pretty great.
At some point in the late ’90s, vox populi interviews replaced VJ introductions in MTV’s daytime lineup, and I recall tuning in one afternoon after school to hear a couple of kids describing what sounded like the wildest, strangest clip imaginable: Characters jumping in and out of dreams, a giant hand, mutton-chopped villains pulling their own faces off, a bed that turns into a full drum set. Turns out they were setting up the Michel Gondry-directed video for “Everlong,” a beautifully surreal visualization of a perfect ’90s rock anthem—and, in retrospect, kind of a dry run for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It was a first impression so strong, it immediately became one of my favorite songs, and nearly 20 years, I still recall the tossed-off way it came into my life.
I originally came to the Foo Fighters through The Colour And The Shape, but it wasn’t “Everlong” that pulled me in—although I inevitably hit a point where I would play that single on repeat for days on end. “Up In Arms,” the simple pop tune that Dave Grohl once said was written to be a teenage make-out song, was my first favorite, and given that I was all of 15 upon first listen, it makes sense that I was into the somewhat formulaic pattern of the music and its lovelorn lyrics.
Outside of knowing “Learn To Fly” from its inescapable reign on the radio back in 1999, my first memory of (or about) Dave Grohl was hearing the guys on Never Not Funny rag on him as the archetypal “musician who’s funny—for a musician.” And while he’s never taken that persona to dark, John Mayer-esque levels of self-indulgence, the impression of Grohl that’s permanently burnt into my mind will always be of a guy who’s just as content making C- jokes as he is making B+ music. (The dad-joke-filled press release he put out after breaking his leg in Sweden this year did nothing to dissuade me from that point of view.)
So here’s a strangely personal story I never thought I’d share. In 1994, I struck up an unlikely email correspondence (it was via America Online, way back in those days) with someone whom I quickly realized was Dave Grohl. It was during that year-plus interim between the end of Nirvana and the beginning of Foo Fighters, so I guess his days weren’t exactly hectic. After he realized that this little punk kid in Milwaukee wasn’t going to reveal his email address to Entertainment Tonight or anything, he became a friendly and genuine person. He mentored me on recording and touring. He gave useful guidance and advice about the drums (also my instrument of choice). And he was incredibly kind and self-effacing—when my sister was in the hospital for really grave surgery, he asked me for the address and sent her flowers.
Once Foo Fighters started up in earnest, that was basically the end of hearing from him, which made sense. Prior to disappearing from my life, he sent me an unmastered copy of the Foo Fighters album before it came out, along with their very first T-shirt. This made me incredibly popular with the small group of music nerds at my school, and made me excited to see my mentor start his new band. My favorite song? “For All The Cows.”
I still have all those emails, printed out and stored in a box. It was an unbelievably kind thing for a guy who had much bigger issues to deal with, to take time out of his life every day for almost a year to talk to a lonely, young punk rock fanatic half a continent away. The postscript to this story: When I met Grohl in person this year for the first time—when I covered the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ceremony—he said he had no memory of any of this. Which is totally fair; I have a tough time remembering emails I sent yesterday, let alone more than 20 years ago, and who knows how many other people he was also corresponding with. But all else aside, I’ll always be a fan of Dave Grohl.