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Damn You, Dave Grohl, You Made Me Cry

by Taru Anniina Liikanen 10 months ago in literature
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A letter of appreciation to my personal hero after reading The Storyteller.

Grohl's new book. Grainy image by author.

To say I wasn't always as impressed with the man's work as I am today would be an understatement. 

It was around 1996 and my big sister was going through her angsty Nirvana phase. Wearing flannel, a pair of Levi's 501s and a bomber jacket, her hair with that poor girl's Billie Eilish look, black with blue roots, that comes from the dangerous combination of teenagers and box dye. Nirvana's Nevermind playing every day, at ear-shattering volume. Her room, always with the windows covered with black curtains, with a huge poster of her idol, Kurt Cobain.

"Not this AGAIN???" I'd think, heading back out the door. I hated that noise.

By then, I'd had an introduction to rock through MTV, the channel I also credit for teaching me English at age seven (no subtitles back then, so either you picked it up or you didn't get it). But I was about 11 and firmly in the Spice Girls-Backstreet Boys stage of youth, even though I lived in southern Finland's hotspot for mid-'90s grunge. I'm only slightly exaggerating.

I've always been more in the pop camp, an addict to a good, light melody. No Doubt, Oasis and Blur spoke to me at the moment, and grunge, well, it was a little scary.

My sister's grunge fandom was short, and by the time I was 13 she had gone from idolizing Kurt Cobain to 2Pac, both after their deaths, showing an adolescent need for melancholy I never shared. Then she reached a Celine Dion phase, and our musical tastes officially and irredeemably parted ways forever. 

That was also when I met Mari.

Know Your Rock Trivia

Mari came to my school at age 13 and we quickly noticed we shared more than we competed over, an important thing to establish when it comes to teenage girls. 

She became my rebellious ride or die, all through middle and high school and after. We got piercings, drank beer, smoked cigarettes, dreamed of getting out of our home town. I was already obsessed with bands like Blur and Garbage, but she introduced me to so many things I didn't know. 

Mari and I- Image by author.

As soon as we were old enough to drive, we spent our summer weekends traveling from one festival to another. This might surprise you, but Finland is a fantastic country for rock fans with some time off on the weekends and a willingness to spend a couple of days sleeping in the car. During the summer months, there's always a festival somewhere, and we followed the trail from one to the other.

In the winters, we spent our weekends in the legendary rock cave of my hometown. Torvi wasn't just the place my parents met, it was also the kind of place that felt like true rock and roll. It was barely bigger than a living room, so small the bands were almost on top of you. You could taste their sweat, but you could barely see them from all the cigarette smoke. I loved it.

But most importantly, when I first met Mari, I discovered what a great band the Foo Fighters was. I knew of them, of course. The "Big Me" video that parodies Mentos commercials had been on MTV in the same time period when Nirvana had filled every corner of my home, and I had always loved funny music videos. That might be the reason why I always loved Weezer and the Beastie Boys, too. 

And that goofy dark-haired singer just had something, but there was no way I could ever have connected the dots to the dude behind the drum set in "Smells Like Teen Spirit". 

And I didn't know The Colour and the Shape until Mari put on "Everlong". 

"What is this song?" I thought to myself, trying to act like I'd heard it before. By this time, we were about 15, and "Learn to Fly" and "Break Out" were playing everywhere. I liked them, but The Colour and the Shape was something different. It was a little less pop, a little more irregular and surprising. A little more interesting for a young person who's just learning what rock is.

Then, when I was 16, my sister got a new boyfriend. A music fan. 

The dude turned out to be not a great choice for plenty of other reasons, but he did introduce me to some music, including Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age. l loved the album, but then I saw the video for "No One Knows". 

"Isn't that… Dave Grohl, on the drums?" 

Um, duh. 

For you youngsters out there, back then we didn't walk around with tiny computers in our pockets, my cell phone had actual buttons and we still had dial-up internet at home. Going on Wikipedia meant a ten-minute battle with our old desktop computer. Music was music, but unless you really dedicated yourself to it, you didn't know everything about the people you listened to.

I already knew the guy's name, but not his story.

This was the first time I discovered Dave Grohl had been the drummer of that band I so detested when younger, Nirvana. And now he was there, with another band, banging on those drums like he was possessed. Only this time, I loved it.

Around this time, I also discovered other two things. First, how important it is to know some rock trivia. Two, what true envy is. 

One by One came out and the Foo Fighters started a European tour. My sister's boyfriend participated in a rock trivia competition organized by a Finnish radio station and won not just tickets to the band's show in Stockholm, but a meet-and-greet backstage with the band.

To this day, my sister has a picture with Dave Grohl wearing a Nordic wool hat, with his arm around her shoulder. There's nothing in the world I envy more. 

She probably wishes she could cut out the ex-boyfriend from the picture, though, so I guess nothing's perfect. 

I Can Work With This

Over the years and after moving countries and continents, Foo Fighters has become, undeniably, my favorite band. It's my default, the one I go to when I need energy to clean up the apartment, to write, to smash a workout, or when I need to remember to have faith in myself. Or just to keep me company when working or chilling.

Whenever the band comes out with a new album, I'm actually scared. What if I don't like it? And after one listen, I'm in love, every time, because their music has a rare quality to it that no other band has. It never brings me down.

This is the band that for years has left a mark on the defining moments of my life. 

When I broke up with my ex and had slept on the floor of my friend's apartment in Buenos Aires, far from home, Wasting Light was on repeat on my iPod. As I was trying to convince myself I could build my life anew on the other side of the world, "Walk" was my power song, the one I listened to with the goal of reminding myself that I would learn to walk again after spending so many years in a relationship I had forgotten who I was. 

When my father died, I had a hard time listening to music. The first band I eventually turned to was my friend, the Foo Fighters. 

Just before the pandemic, Sonic Highways was my soundtrack. In December 2019, I went to say my final goodbyes to a bad relationship. Getting out of that quick meeting, I walked all the way across the city of Buenos Aires with "I Am a River" playing on repeat. Feeling free of my past, the calm but empowering song marking my steps.

On my first date with Diego, the guy I'm currently seeing, I posed the question I'm always the most afraid to ask.

"So, what kind of music do you listen to?" He had a nice beard and some tattoos and wore a green parka and Adidas sneakers that could have easily situated him in the rock cave of my hometown, but you never know.

"Rock," he answered plainly, but I asked for specifics. "My favorites are from the '90s, grunge mostly."

I gave myself a mental high five. I can work with this. I can listen to music with this guy.

And that's just what happened. We sit around listening to music, from Pearl Jam to Black Sabbath. Sometimes salsa, because, well, he is Colombian and I need to learn how to dance it or I'll never be accepted into the family. But mostly rock.

We talk about music, too. Everything from our favorite Led Zeppelin songs to Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Whenever I throw in some random detail, I see I've impressed him. The only way a girl who looks like me and spends her days surrounded by books can get some street cred is with Nirvana trivia. 

Oh, and I do love Nevermind, nowadays.

Look, I even have a Nirvana t-shirt now. Still zero street cred, though. Image by author.

Turn It Up

When I heard the Foo Fighters had performed in the Chicago Lollapalooza in 2021, I knew they'd come here, too.

But when the lineup for the Buenos Aires Lollapalooza of March 2022 was confirmed, I was going through my broke phase of 2021, caused by some Covid, burnout and bad decisions. Bottom line, I was so broke I couldn't even use my credit cards to pay for the tickets. Also, international concert tickets and Argentinian salaries don't exactly go well together. 

So I decided to keep the faith and keep trying to improve my finances to get the money.

On January 5 this year, I won a writing competition on Vocal Media with a personal essay. Guess what was the first thing on my mind when I got the money? Yep. 

"I don't care how much they cost, I'm going to get those tickets," I told myself. 

Surprise. They were sold out, all of them.

To feel a little better, I bought myself the consolation prize. The Storyteller, Grohl's new book, and it just arrived this week. Pacing myself a little bit, I read it in three days. 

It's a beautiful book, for both its writing and design, and I will cherish it forever. It's filled with photos from Grohl's life, from a young kid to postcards to his family from touring with Scream in Europe, his times with Nirvana and later, the Foo Fighters and the many famous musicians he now calls friends. 

There are lots of nice details included, such as Grohl's notes for the chapters on the inside cover. When you remove the dust jacket, the outside includes a drawing of the author. On the back cover, the words from Grohl's introduction:

"Turn it up. Listen with me."

Which I did. Sorry, neighbors, but it's impossible to read a musician's life story without listening to the songs he mentions.

Details when you remove the dust jacket. Image by author.

But I was truly surprised at how good the book is. Grohl knows how to tell a story, how to grab a reader at the beginning of every chapter and maintain their interest as he weaves his journey together with a special moment of his life.

A lot of these moments are about meeting his heroes, from Iggy Pop to AC/DC and Joan Jett. Because, in the end, he's a fan. He's just a guy who loves music and is grateful for being able to make it, sometimes with some of his heroes, like Paul McCartney or John Paul Jones.

Other moments are smaller, but filled with vivid detail and appreciation for the simple joys of life, like this one from a past road trip with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins:

"Windows down, speakers distorted from blasting rock at ninety miles per hour, just two best friend/drummer dudes racing down the highway without a care in the world. All sunglasses and hair, cigs hanging from big smiles, risking our lives air drumming while speeding past eighteen-wheelers blowing like sails in the desert wind."

It transports me straight to the Finnish summers with Mari, traveling to festivals in her dad's car, listening to the Clash and smoking from the car window. Different setting, but I understand the feeling. 

At this stage of fandom, having listened to Grohl's work for decades, I shouldn't be surprised to find out what a great writer he is. He's kept me hooked for over twenty years, after all. I can't stop listening to his music, and I couldn't stop reading this book.

But it's not just skill. It's a personal connection. This man who's never met me has a way of pushing me forward in life with his art.

Coffee, Drugs and Dad Issues

I found a lot of similarities I can identify with in Grohl's stories, like his caffeine addiction and decision to never try hard drugs because he knows he's that guy who will never be able to stop. I get it, because I'm that girl, too. 

Then, there's always being the weird kid, and his sometimes difficult relationship with his Dad, which reminds me of mine. His tendency to just jump into the void, letting life take him where it wants to.

But most of all, his appreciation of his mother made me cry more than once because of her similarity to my mom. There's something really special about a mother who encourages you to travel the world even though she'd love to have you live close by, because she knows you'll never be happy living a conventional life. That's exactly what mine did.

But while I was moved to tears several times, the book is not at all sad. I laughed out loud at the amazing stories from his life, more than I laughed with many books written by my favorite comedians. 

I also discovered what it is that really draws me to his music. It has to do with the relationship he has with the Beatles. The catchy melodies that inspired Grohl in his songwriting were my father's favorite, too, and I think that's what I identify with. 

Foo Fighters songs always have a hopeful tone. They might be sad or even angry sometimes, but they always leave me feeling good. Grohl's music doesn't plunge me into desperation, it helps push the darkness away. It's a celebration. 

Music Is Magic

Through these past couple of days as I was reading The Storyteller, I've been exploding with happiness.

Art has always been important to me, and I think it's in my genes. My parents were both photographers, and my mother is amazing at painting and drawing, as is my sister. 

I'm obsessed with reading and writing, of course, but my first love was music. Lacking the patience to learn how to play instruments, I always focused on singing, but was too afraid to pursue it. It was safer to surround myself with books. 

Grohl's book came at the right time for me, after a couple of truly life-changing months. After decades of finding excuses to not fully dedicate myself to following my dreams out of fear, I've finally done it. 

I'm writing, but most importantly publishing, without fear of the consequences. This Friday, I just got back on a stage to do comedy. And I'm going back to singing, too, because it makes me happy. Even though I'll never be a rock star and I sound like Laura Ingalls of Little of House on the Prarie  ( actual words of my former vocal coach ) I need to find a way to do it, because music is fucking magic. Making music with other humans is divine. 

I must be in something of a mystical moment myself, having recently made these important discoveries, but this book made me immensely grateful for art and for knowing I can make art. It made me remember that the best things that have happened to me in life have always come when I've left my fears behind and jumped. 

While I may never stand on a stadium stage in front of tens of thousands of people like Grohl, what I've learned is to appreciate that feeling more than anything. Knowing that if I had all the money in the world, I would still want to do exactly what I'm doing now. Creating for the sake of creating. Writing and performing. 

And I would leave my day job, of course.

Take It From Dave

After reading The Storyteller, what I wish more than anything is that I could let my idol know how much his work has meant to me over the years. 

Idols are important. Take it from Dave himself:

"Why do these people mean so much to me? Because people inspire people, and over the years they have all become a part of my DNA. In some way, I have been shaped by each and every note I have heard them play."

Dave has been my idol, whose songs have carried me through more than two decades, through friendships and relationships, across countries and continents. Now his work is inspiring me to do something new again. 

With this book, I realize he's something more to me than just a rock star I look up to. In his way, he's a mentor, someone who's guided me along, without ever knowing it. 

I hope to be able to let him know someday, and that's why I'm writing this story. If, through the magic of six degrees of separation, this story ends up in the feed of someone acquainted with Mr. Grohl, be a friend and forward my gratitude to him. 

For writing this book, for the decades of beautiful music, the inspiration, the company. 

--

This story was originally published by me, on Medium.

literature

About the author

Taru Anniina Liikanen

Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Recovering political ghostwriter. Fiction, relationships, politics, bad puns, popular and unpopular opinions. Occasional dinosaurs, because dinosaurs are the best.

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