That’s Enough Already, Dave Grohl
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Feb. 13 2014
Dave Grohl is one of my favorite dudes in the world but he needs to hop off my radar for a minute. I’m a mega Nirvana fan and I’ve always admired Dave for his talent and humor, but lately I can’t seem to get him out of my face. His mug is everywhere.
It all seemed to start almost a decade ago when Grohl became a talking head on VH1-type shows, providing expert commentary on some of his favorite bands. He was loose, informed, entertaining. Everybody loved him. Once his skills were exposed, he quickly became the go-to guy for a good sound bite as a talking head, a special guest or a drop-in drummer. He seems to be able to do everything (and do it well), so he’s useful in many situations. Producers have decided that he’s their No. 1 man — his presence is clearly seen as an improvement to any event. He slowly moved from his long-held role of rock & roll everyman into professional event attendee.
And now, oh now, the man is everywhere. I barely even watch television, and he still manages to make it on any screen near me with the frequency of the rising sun. Grohl is like a freakin’ jack-in-the-box — you know he’s going to pop up, you just don’t know when. One of my favorite games is to try to spot him during major televised events. I don’t know dick about football, so I spent the majority of the last Superbowl game scanning the crowd shots for his floppy hair — like a post-grunge version of Where’s Waldo. I didn’t see him during my Superbowl party, but I saw a photograph of him later after the game and felt validated. He was there. Of course he was there. I knew it.
Award show? Grohl is there. Major festival? Grohl is playing it. High-profile collaboration? Grohl designed it. Supergroup? Grohl is up in it. Featured drummer? Grohl can do that. Receiving honors? Grohl is good at it. Star-studded tributes? Grohl jumps in. Music documentary? Grohl makes them. Rock the vote? Grohl rocks it all night. Photobombs? Grohl kills. Film festival? Grohl can hang. One-off performances? Grohl makes it happen. Television cameo? Grohl picks the X-Files. Country music? Grohl loves it. Foo Fighters videos? Grohl does them perfectly. Charity events? Grohl participates. Led Zeppelin? Grohl digs ’em. Internet memes? Grohl makes a fresh one. Protesting? Grohl does it in costume. iPhone party? Grohl wants in on that action. Lemmy time? Grohl steals the show. Punk legends? Grohl knows them. Video-game conventions? Grohl is the wizard. Late-night talk shows? Grohl does Letterman. Roling Stones concerts? Grohl makes them better. Producing sitcoms? Grohl thinks it’s easy. Birthday celebration? Grohl works those. Saturday Night Live? Grohl is the most frequent musical guest. Video guest star? Grohl wiggles on in. Surprise gigs? Grohl is all over it. South by Southwest? Grohl gives the keynote address.
Forget about Kurt Cobain: Grohl is clearly the voice of our generation — if only because he never lets anyone else speak.
There’s a reason that his number is always called: He’s smart, he’s funny, he speaks well, he’s good-looking and he always seems to be in on the joke. He’s an affable dude, and his laid-back nature and casual cursing makes him seem like cool big brother. Grohl is nearly universally loved. He just gets it. And he seems to genuinely enjoy making fun, collaborative things happen during otherwise boring events. There are very few people who most of us would like to kick it with, and Grohl just seems like the kind of guy who would never have to buy his own shot in any bar on the planet.
Last year, Grohl released his Sound City documentary. It’s pretty excellent, though it did sort of seem like 108 minutes of justifying Grohl’s eventual purchase of the Sound City Neve board. (Apparently the most holy console since the Megasound 8000 in Josie and the Pussycats.) This documentary served as his official entrance into the film world, so expect him to expand his appearance résumé to include events that aren’t musical at all. In this and other mediums, Grohl seems to be the opposite of everything that his generation is usually accused of (unambitious, lazy, directionless). Homeboy is going to get it all done, no matter what.
Lately, Grohl seems to be fixated on sucking at the teat of Paul McCartney. But if you’re going to cling like a baby rhesus monkey to somebody, it might as well be the only living Beatle. (Shut up; nobody counts Ringo.) Still, Grohl seems to have been a barnacle on Sir Paul’s nards ever since they got together to make a Sound City song. They’ve played together many times since then and just a few days ago, Grohl performed “Hey Bulldog” in that Grammys tribute to the Beatles. (Shit, Grohl could even pass for George Harrison at this point.)
Despite his many ass-kissing obligations, Grohl always seems to find a way to give back, too. His counterprotests of Westboro Baptist Church, participation in charity/awareness events and the small ways that he always seems to try to give back to fans do not go entirely unnoticed — but sometimes it’s hard to see these beautiful little gestures through the absolute blizzard of Grohl appearances.
So is Dave Grohl good? Yeah, he’s fucking great. And if he is our new cultural king, then we should welcome him — we could do much worse. But right now he’s like the ex that won’t stop texting you. You feel smothered. You wanna be like, “Dude, if you would just get up out of my business, like, ever, I would like you so much more.” So go away, Dave Grohl. But don’t stay gone forever, just enough to make us miss you. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and we’ll be ready to love you again later, but for right now you just need to get up out of my face for a while, OK?
Rewind: Nirvana’s In Utero, 20 Years Later
By Jaime Lees
Tue., Sep. 24 2013
Today marks the re-release of Nirvana’s In Utero. The album recently turned twenty years old and this milestone is being celebrated with the release of a “Super Deluxe Edition.” The new edition offers remixes, demos, compilation tracks and rare, previously unreleased tracks, but we wanted to take a look back at the original twelve songs recorded by core Nirvana members Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl in 1993.
In Utero was a polarizing album. After gaining sudden world-wide popularity with the release of Nevermind in 1991, it would be an understatement to say that Nirvana’s second major label release was highly anticipated. The whole planet seemed to be paying attention and expectations were not entirely positive. People were waiting for Nirvana to flop, or to deliver Nevermind Version 2.0, but what came from the band was unexpected and brazen.
Because of sheer exposure, Nevermind was for everybody. But the songs on In Utero were a sharp departure from the pop tinged anthems that made the band popular. In Utero was louder, weirder, an artistic statement. To release an album with a combination of beautiful dirges mixed in with such a heavily corrosive rock sound was, well, ballsy.
From the off-kilter, screeching beginning of the first song, “Serve the Servants,” it is clear that the band was doing something different. And while Nevermind was written and recorded in relative obscurity, most these new songs were put together under while under the intense focus of an international microscope.
Main songwriter Cobain was keenly aware that his every word would be dissected and examined with medical precision, and many of his lyrics here are preemptive rebuttals to criticism, almost post-modern in their self-awareness. (The opening line of the album is “Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I’m bored and old” and “Tourettes” begins with the spoken phrase “moderate rock.”)
Many of the classic Nirvana lyrical themes like personal dissatisfaction and family trouble continued to pop up on this album. But after a few years in the spotlight, Cobain also seemed eager to explore the topic of his own public persecution, real or imagined. His words felt more aggressive at times (“You can’t fire me because I quit”) but he also seemed to ask for mercy, expressing his own vulnerability and fragility (“Cut myself on angel hair and baby’s breath”) throughout the album.
Cobain always claimed that with Nirvana the music came first and the lyrics were secondary– that they were almost an afterthought. Not buying it, Mr. Cobain. The lyrics here that might at first read as obtuse or purposefully nonsensical eventually morph into brain poetry, exposing the deeper meanings hidden in the phrasing. (“Bi-polar opposites attract / All of a sudden my water broke”)
Because Cobain committed suicide less than a year after this albums release, it’s tempting to go back and read all of his lyrics as deep and autobiographical, but to do that is to discount Cobain’s storytelling skills. His words are clever (“If you ever need anything please don’t hesitate / To ask someone else first”) and he was adept at using cultural references as a jumping off point or metaphor for another topic. (“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”).
As far as history is concerned, Nirvana is Cobain’s band. And that’s not just because he’s the idolized dead guy, he’s considered the driving force behind the music. Nirvana was shaping Cobain’s public reputation, and he knew it. And though he claimed to be deeply uncomfortable with his newly appointed “Voice of the Generation” title, Cobain still used his powers for good– pushing pro-woman, pro-choice and pro-gay values in interviews and liner notes. He was also acutely aware that he was perceived as a sell-out, another title that was offensive to his punk rock heart.
With this in mind, Cobain hired Steve Albini, the legendarily difficult no-bullshit engineer, to record In Utero. For a band concerned with its street credit, Albini was a step in the right direction. Albini is not only is the guitarist for original alt-rock heroes Shellac and Big Black, in his studio he uses ancient machines and records to tape. He is known for recording not just cheaply and efficiently, but also for imparting a certain nebulous honesty to his products. (Some of the songs on the album were also mixed by long-time R.E.M. producer, Scott Litt, but Litt’s contribution was downplayed in favor of highlighting Albini’s involvement.)
The album introduced unsuspecting Nirvana listeners to a whole new sonic palette. In the damp, dark sludge-fest that was the Seattle scene, Nevermind was a cute-sounding, almost child-like release. It was an album full of rhymes and hooks and sing-alongs, really. With In Utero, Nirvana seemed determined to prove that it could out-grunge the grunge-sters. The sound is abrasive. The drums are relentless, the guitar frequently feeds back and Cobain howls like an injured animal, all bitterness and bile.
At the time of its release, In Utero seemed to be a dare to the listeners. Songs like “Scentless Apprentice” and “Tourettes” tested their endurance for chaotic, grinding expression. It was as if the popular band was saying, “Oh yeah? You liked Nevermind? Well, here’s In Utero. Do you still like us?” As a whole, the album sounds like a defiantly bold statement for a band that was so well-known. Even now, 20 years later, In Utero still stands as a piece of art and a proud, defining bookend for a troubled, yet brilliant band.
About twenty years ago, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore asked his friend, filmmaker Dave Markey, to document the band’s short European tour, including its performance at the massive Reading Festival.
Markey (best known for his underground classic Desperate Teenage Lovedolls) left with his passport, a camera and a suitcase full of Super 8 film. When he returned he had nine hours of raw footage and the makings of the best visual documentary of 1990s indie rock before the grunge explosion. The film features many indie bands in their prime, including Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr and Babes in Toyland. It’s sort of the video companion to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life.
1991: The Year Punk Broke existed for years as an out-of-print VHS with a cult following, but it was finally released on DVD last week. The DVD release contains the original documentary and a shit-load of extra features, including more than an hour of interviews, bonus footage and rough edits.
Lovingly described by Moore as a “home movie,” TYPB is gritty, shaky and absolutely perfect. Live concert footage is spliced with scenes of the bands shopping, eating, exploring various cities and just kind of hanging out. Sonic Youth serves as the main subject of the documentary, with Moore emerging as particularly hammy and entertaining. (See: Thurstonitis)
To truly understand TYPB, viewers must first watch Madonna’s Truth or Dare. Madge’s classic black and white tour doc had just been released at the time and it was a major moment in pop culture. There are many skits and inside jokes included in TYPB that reference Truth or Dare. (Including a brilliant scene where Kurt Cobain plays the role of Kevin Costner.)
In the two decades that have passed since 1991, grunge took over and indie stopped meaning anything. But what has all this change wrought on the specific bands featured in 1991: The Year Punk Broke? We check in on some of the featured personalities below:
The doc was filmed one year after the release of Goo, but still before the release of Dirty. In the film, the members of Sonic Youth come off as just a little bit older, cooler and more harder-working than their peers. This has never changed. Sonic Youth will forever be populated with people that seem like cool older brother/sister-types. And they’ve become even more prolific: the band has released nine studio albums since the documentary, and the members have embarked on countless solo projects ranging from music to books to photography to art to fashion. Sonic Youth has always been a band that stood on a well-earned mountain of cred, and this has only become more true over time. Still, it is totally shocking that the band is still as well-respected and, well, as good as it was twenty years ago.
Babes in Toyland
The Babes were fresh off of a tour with Sonic Youth and seemed to be extra feisty. The band only had one song featured on the video, but it was the tribal and violent “Dustcake Boy.” This song is one of the better examples of singer Kat Bjelland’s trademark angry leopard-like yelps. Babes released its biggest album, Fontanelle, in 1992 and had a couple more albums after that before calling it quits. There have been a few reunion shows, but the most interesting story to come out of the demise of Babes in Toyland is what happened to Kat Bjelland. Anyone familiar with Bjelland’s work would should not be surprised to find out that she began to suffer from multiple personalities and was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 2007. She spent a year under medical mental care and came out just as stubborn and creative and badass, releasing albums with her new band, Katastrophy Wife.
Mr. Cole was not in a band included in TYPB, but it is fitting that he was included in the film. Cole was known as a roadie for Black Flag, the best friend of Henry Rollins and was a cheerleader for seemingly every band on the SST roster. He can be seen in the background many times, and there is one long shot of his face, watching a band from the side of the stage, radiantly happy with his arms around his girlfriend, Michelle Leon of Babes in Toyland. Tragically, Cole was shot and killed just a few months after this summer in a random act of violence in Los Angeles. Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins and Hole all dedicated future works to his memory.
We all know what happened with Nirvana. Mere milliseconds after Markey wrapped filming, the whole world fell into Nirvanamania. The little band would soon eclipse its heroes, becoming the biggest thing that happened to popular music that decade. Amazingly, Markey manages to capture a side of Nirvana that the general public would never know: the happy side. In TYPB, the band members are still relatively unknown. They are wide-eyed and playful, with frequent smiles and passionate stage show. But that levity was lost when the fame came along. The band would only release one more studio album, In Utero, before singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Drummer Dave Grohl went on to form the ultra-successful Foo Fighters and bassist Krist Novoselic expanded his interests from music to politics, even running for office in his home state of Washington.
Miss Love can be seen in the original doc (and in the extra footage) trying to get the attention of cameraman Markey. Her role in the video is very small- she wasn’t performing, she was in England to hang out with Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. Of course, she went on to marry Cobain of Nirvana and the two became the Sid & Nancy of the ’90s. Love’s band Hole was also on the verge of fame, having released its debut album, Pretty on the Inside, in August of ’91. Hole went on to release a few more albums, including the highly successful Live Through This in 1994. Love went on to become a famous disaster and the topic of much tabloid speculation.
Dinosaur Jr was always bigger in Europe, due to constant touring of the Continent. This is most apparent during on of the most beautiful, chill-inducing moments of the film. The band is playing “Freak Scene” and at the very end of the song, the whole dang audience sings along to the all-important line “Cause when I need a friend it’s still you.” Dino went on to release five more studio albums and the band is still active today (with years of breaks in between). The members have also put out solo albums and they remain some of the mostly highly respected individuals in indie rock.
Though his band, Mudhoney, wasn’t featured in the film, Mark Arm can be seen in several scenes in TYPB. His little blond mop is always bopping around, accenting a goofy smile. Mudhoney was kind of Nirvana before Nirvana was Nirvana, and it certainly had a longer career. The band has put out ten studio albums in its career and is still active (and awesome) today, mostly playing large international festivals.
The Ramones were included in The Year Punk Broke, but the band’s time in the film was so short and so stiff that it seemed like the Ramones were more included as a tribute to punk elders than as a viable band. Still, the Ramones had one of the most interesting careers in music history. In 1991 the band was already 27 years into its career and it would be another five years before it officially disbanded. After TYPB the band put out three more studio albums, but it didn’t much matter. The Ramones were already considered the greatest American punk band.
Gumball is the only band included in TYPB that never quite achieved any level of mainstream success. Despite releasing 1991’s Special Kiss (featuring both Thurston Moore and members of Teenage Fanclub), Gumball never really caught on with indie audiences and was dropped from its label in 1994 due to disappointing sales. Gumball disbanded shortly after that, but the band members went on to have very successful individual careers. For example, frontman Don Fleming is a noted producer and participated in many other musical indie ventures, including Half Japanese, Dim Stars and The Backbeat Band.
Nobody really hates the Foo Fighters. That might seem like an odd distinction, but this is a rarity for a modern rock band. For how highly anticipated a Dave Grohl project was in the wake of Nirvana-cide, the Foos has really been a sleeper of a band. Though it has always been high profile, the FFs went from being those dudes who made funny music videos to one of the most solid rock bands in the States. The bands reputation has been building, along with its fan base, for over fifteen years, making the Foo Fighters genuine stadium rockers at this point. Sometimes good guys win.
After The Show: Expect a near-religious conversion into full fandom. You’ll be telling your friends to call upon the name Foo and ye shall be saved.
- Riverfront Times – link