Even those, such as myself, who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves Foo Fighter fanatics would have a hard time arguing that Dave Grohl is one of the true modern day G-ds of Rock and Roll. He’s kicked assholes out of his concerts from the stage, insisted on recording 2011’s Wasting Light in a garage on analog tape, randomly filled in on drums for bands of much less stature, and, after showing up not just on time but early for a festival gig, happily unleashed a set of classic-rock covers on an unsuspecting beach crowd when a rapping R&B crooner took the stage over half an hour late.
During his tenure with the Foo Fighters, Grohl has established himself as an undisputed champion of whatever right and good is left in today’s hostile and discouraging entertainment climate in such a dominating fashion, it’s almost impossible to believe that this hero of the aughts and beyond was in a former life a member of one of the most critically heralded, mystic and legendary bands of all time. Morose as the line of thinking may be, one is only left to wonder how things would have worked out if Nirvana did not end in the exact manner in which it did.
Even without Kurt Cobain’s still highly conspiracized suicide in 1994, it’s entirely possible that 1993’s In Utero could have been Nirvana’s final album: A row over songwriting royalties in the immediate wake of Nevermind‘s unfettered success caused a deep-seated rift among the band’s three members and Cobain’s health problems – an interconnected melange of alcoholism, severe heroin addiction and a chronic, yet undiagnosed, stomach condition – began threatening Nirvana’s solvency as early as the spring of 1992. Add to that the classic tropes of a major label unhappy with a band’s finished product, the band unhappy with the producer’s final mixes and a cancelled world tour, and In Utero begins to more and more take the shape of the precipitate of a buzzband’s demise.
But as the unwitting poster-children of the commitization of the Pacific Northwest’s “grunge” culture, it is indeed far more likely the music industry would have kept Nirvana churning out records until their utility had expired; and Cobain’s tortured public persona and private life – including a toxic and tumultuous relationship with Courtney Love – had already begun to exhaust the good will engendered by his seminal songwriting even before he tragically took his own life. Nirvana existed in a time when every band regardless of talent seemed inevitably doomed by the superficiality of popular music in general, and – by almost any calculation – the fall of Nirvana would have been set against (and probably expedited by) one of the ugliest cultural backdrops of the last 50 years.
A true second act in rock and roll is a luxury afforded to a very seldom few, and while the timing and nature of Nirvana’s dissolution probably caused Dave Grohl more stress than ease, it may have left more daylight for a true follow-up than if Nirvana ended battered and destroyed a decade later. Still, as the grunge audience surrounding the 1995 release of Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut began to take on the appearance of nothing more than a series of splinters, Grohl was forced to both start from scratch and exist in one of the largest and darkest shadows of the era. That he emerged at all – let alone as the leader of what has become one of the most successful and popular bands of all time – is an astonishing testament to his musical talent and seemingly preternatural knack for handling almost every situation in the most awesome way imaginable.