You might view the arrival of Taylor Hawkins into the Foo Fighters fold - who, it has been announced, has passed at the pathetically young age of 50 - as the moment the lights were switched back on. After Nirvana. After death. After all that hurt, all that pain, all those achingly unanswered questions; like a window being opened during a house clearance, Hawkins joining the Foo Fighters in 1997 is the moment that the music helmed by Dave Grohl once more bypasses catharsis.
It is difficult to fully recall the true misery of Nirvana’s demise in 1994, such is the ubiquity of Kurt Cobain’s perfect face within the subsequent iconography of pop. Nirvana’s end felt, and sometimes still feels, like a let down; here the underground offered up an alternative to the corporate fuckery that blights the enduring brilliance of rock - and for a time there we were winning! Until, like it always does, though rarely in such tragic fashion, the weight of principles and ethics became too heavy and too soiled and we all went back to listening to Guns ‘N Roses again.
And yet, when Hawkins arrives in the Foo Fighters after two and a half very good albums already to that bands name, there is swagger and there are wide toothy smiles and we can talk principally about music again. And you know what? I hated him for it for a time. It is around this time that Grohl detaches himself from the alternative prefix and becomes a rockstar, and permanently by his side is the handsome blonde dude from the Alanis Morissette promos. It’s some kind of bullshit that you’d begrudge a musician becoming notable for making music again, certainly one who’d inadvertently become a spokesperson for a generations collective grief, but I did.
But over time, the way I’ve come to view the Foo Fighters is the triumph of light over dark. The prolonged absence of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic within music spaces speaks much to the infernal heaviness born in the death of Cobain. But where there once was only loss, somehow Grohl built things anew. And he built big. A group with name value across the globe. A band who - perhaps owing as much the broken machinations of the industry star making machine as simply the band’s flair - are top of the list of any festival promoter seeking to sell out their event. And a band with a clutch of great singles to their name too. A band beloved by many.
Where once there was sorrow, there was now singing, and laughing, and the formation of new memories and collective joy. It’s little exaggeration to say that Hawkins - his playing style one of equal swing and power and perhaps better suited to the classic Cali rock of the seventies than one formed from the detritus of grunge - was one of the twin engines powering that. Sure, I might have been found slightly off to the side of it all tutting, writing my snark and looking for any angst that had fallen into the crevices, but that’s my shit to work out, not theirs. And certainly not Taylor’s, a proper rockstar, perhaps the only percussionist who could make you forget - nor care - that Dave Grohl was in a band but not the drummer in it. Here was a band who not only proved that there was life after death, but that death needed to be repelled, and that it is always preferable to run, screaming and singing, towards the sun.
The big problem with the sun is – with apologies to the population of Norway - that, at some point in every day, the darkness comes around once more. Certainly for Grohl, whose friends have fallen too frequently and too unfairly in recent years for one with such zest for living. Kilmister, Cornell, Bennington, Lanegan… And within his band too; let us not forget it’s not just Grohl who lost Cobain but guitarist Pat Smear too (and somewhere in and among all of this the ghost of The Germs’ Darby Crash lingers on). The problem with the sun is that ultimately - and as impossible as it ever is to imagine when you’re in the glare of it - it will burn out.
What happens now is a question only the geographically dispassionate can ask – there are now more unanswered questions, as well as more hurt and pain aplenty. Even asking that question at this time feels like an afront to decency. There are real people of real flesh and blood to grieve – children, a wife, friends, family. There will be a time, as there was with Cobain, where this will make more sense to a music journalist on the other side of the world. And yet we who write about rock deal in the business of mythology and magic making, rarely resting, always thinking - chiefly of narrative - trying to make sense of something as ethereal as sound, tap-dancing mice in a world that rumbles and roars and cares not for doing so.
Now, as then, we make sense by our writing. Now, as then, it makes no sense at all.
Rest now Taylor. You did great.
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