When Grunge Grows Up

Foo Fighters

Last week I did something that I had not done since mid-2011. For the first time in over three years I did not publish a post in the Weekly Music Commentary. Several bloggers have mentioned in the past that sometimes it becomes necessary to take a break to recharge your batteries. I never felt that way before and really did not feel that way as I approached the last week. However, the small change in routine gave me an opportunity to really say upon the past years and look at how far I have moved ahead. Now that my brief hiatus has passed, I realize how good it was to stop and take a breath. One of the great benefits of my short break is that it gave me ample time to work on this weeks’ post. This week I chose to feature the rock group Foo Fighters.

Just thinking about the name of the group made me think back to my time working for a regional music magazine here in Florida that mostly featured alternative music. The strange names of some of the bands was a constant source of amusement. It seems that little has changed as bands continue to choose unique, if not bizarre handles. I began to wonder what exactly a foo fighter is. Here is a Wikipedia description: “The term foo fighter was used by Allied aircraft pilots in World War II to describe various UFOs or mysterious aerial phenomena seen in the skies over both the European and Pacific theaters of operations. Though “foo fighter” initially described a type of UFO reported and named by the U.S. 415th Night Fighter Squadron, the term was also commonly used to mean any UFO sighting from that period.” Interesting choice of a name for a band, but I certainly would not call it unusual. The story of the band’s beginning is more remarkable.

Formed in Seattle in 1994 and founded by drummer Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters started as a one-man project after the death of Kurt Cobain and the resulting dissolution of Grohl’s previous band Nirvana. Many of us were hurt by the suicide of Cobain, especially after the realization of his songwriting abilities. Nirvana had come on the music scene aggressively and appeared poised to offer music of historic proportions. But then tragedy struck and closed the book on any more Nirvana music. The influence of Cobain’s songs and grunge music overall left a powerful impression upon the world music scene. Grohl was among those impressed by Cobain. During tours, he took a guitar with him and wrote songs. Grohl held back these songs from the rest of the band; he said in a 1997 interview in Guitar World, “I was in awe of [front man Kurt Cobain’s songs], and [I was] intimidated. I thought it was best that I kept my songs to myself.”

Dave Grohl did keep his songs under wraps while a member of Nirvana, but of course Nirvana concluded as a band in April 1994 with the death of Cobain. He received offers to work with various artists; he almost accepted a permanent place as drummer in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Ultimately Grohl declined and instead entered Robert Lang Studios in October 1994 to record fifteen of the forty songs he had written. He played just about every instrument and sang every vocal on the tracks, and handed out cassette copies of the sessions to his friends for feedback.

Grohl hoped to keep anonymity and therefore released the cassette under the name Foo Fighters. As the cassette began to generate interest in the music industry, it also created interest among record labels. Grohl needed a band and thus Foo Fighters was born. The story of the birth of Foo Fighters is somewhat different from most band beginnings, but it has worked very successfully.

Foo Fighters released their eight studio album on November 10, 2014 titled Sonic Highways. I have listened to the album since its release and I must say it is good. How good? It is possible the band will build upon the eleven Grammy awards they have received over twenty years in the music industry.

After listening to Sonic Highways and thinking about Dave Grohl and his days playing drums with Nirvana, I thought about the grunge music genre of 1980’s Seattle. Grunge was not just a musical genre, it has been defined as a movement. It came from Seattle’s independent music scene that grew to young folks all around the world. The grunge aesthetic is stripped-down compared with other forms of rock music, and many grunge musicians were noted for their unkempt appearances and rejection of theatrics. According to AllMusic, “The grunge sound is characterized by a sludgy guitar sound that uses a high level of distortion, fuzz, and feedback effects. Grunge fuses elements of hardcore punk and heavy metal, although some bands performed with more emphasis on one or the other. The music shares with punk a raw sound and similar lyrical concerns”.

Most music writers agree that grunge music died in the mid to late 1990’s, shortly after the death of Nirvana’s front man Kurt Cobain. Or did it? Grunge bands Pearl Jam and Soundgarden retooled and are still popular and performing. Nirvana even enjoyed some success posthumously into the early 2000’s. Foo Fighters, who many characterize as a post-grunge band, basically was born in 1994, with drummer Dave Grohl leading the way. When I look at bands like Foo Fighters, maybe the point can be made that grunge did not die, but just grew up. The guys who were teenagers when they started grunge bands in the 1980’s, are now over forty years old. Experienced, adult musicians who better understand how to make good music.

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