photo & text by nacrowe
given DAVE GROHL's reputation for being an affable, righteous dude i had some initial misgivings about reading the biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (DA CAPO, 2011) by former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN. i was worried it would veer towards hagiography, especially given author's decades-long relationship interviewing and covering the towering ALTERNATIVE ROCK musician. but i am glad to report that THIS IS A CALL is a pretty even-handed accounting of GROHL's sprawling career up to the point of the FOO FIGHTERS' WASTING LIGHT (ROSWELL RECORDS, 2011) record a decade ago. this book is unauthorized but includes interviews with past band members and the man himself, many culled from past publications and documentaries, but also from BRANNIGAN himself.
i should state that i have read numerous NIRVANA books at this point, but what makes this book interesting is obviously seeing it from GROHL's perspective. at this point in 2021 GROHL is effectively the flag-waving elder-statesman of ROCK AND ROLL writ large. this has only been further cemented given his actions over the past decade (since this book's publication) in connecting more and more musicians and their stories to a wider audience with his personal television (SONIC HIGHWAYS) and documentary projects (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US).
so it is interesting being taken along for the ride with GROHL, as his story in popular culture is so unavoidably intertwined with his time in NIRVANA and its doomed frontman KURT COBAIN. and that is unfortunate, because the sense you get from THIS IS A CALL is that for GROHL the defining relationship of his life is with music itself. time and time again you sense that for him music was a means of community, escape, passion and above all else, fun. like COBAIN, GROHL lived a childhood marked by divorce. unlike COBAIN, GROHL grew up in a nurturing, supportive environment. my sense is that PUNK ROCK to GROHL represented an extended family/community of like-minded individuals with a similar pragmatic DIY ethos towards life and art. i am not sure that was the case for COBAIN, who seemed to have boundless ambition maybe in hopes of proving his value. im playing armchair psychiatrist here, and i probably shouldnt, but it seems obvious from the get-go that GROHL never had the same hangups or guilt in following his musical ambitions, especially post-NIRVANA.
again, from the beginning GROHL's enthusiasm was all about chasing the fun of playing music. as a child he became aware of the neighboring DC HARDCORE scene and started teenage bands in his native VIRGINIA. from his first serious project in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to his stints in other outfits like DAIN BRAMAGE and local PUNK legends SCREAM, you get the sense these experiences provided him a vocabulary about how to interact with others. and obviously the musical shorthand faired him well in his later career with outside projects (THEM CROOKED VULTURES, PROBOT, LATE!, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE), session work (GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS, SLASH, DAVID BOWIE, KILLING JOKE and TENACIOUS D) and soundtrack work (TOUCH, RISING SUN: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI).
but a lot of this i already knew, what made this book interesting for me where the details about how if personal life affected his lyrical content in the first few records. there are several songs i didnt read as autobiographical that now i can plainly see were. i also appreciate the fact that BRANNIGAN didnt shy away from presenting GROHL at times as being highly opportunistic and unempathetic to the feelings of his "friends" like former FOO FIGHTERS WILLIAM GOLDSMITH and FRANZ STAHL, both unceremoniously booted with little patience or grace, just echos and silence.
if anything, this biography is a great primer for GROHL's upcoming memoir which will highlight stories from his career. make sense, the dude is about connecting people. it is what makes him, well, him.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
as its pragmatic title entails, SALAD DAYS (NEW ROSE FILMS, 2014) is a comprehensive look back at the evolution and enduring cultural legacy of the WASHINGTON D.C. HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. utilizing interviews from both from members of countless participating bands as well as (interesting choice) scenesters of the period, you really get the sense about how an idea sparks a scene which sparks a movement and the implications of such. what blows my mind is that everything discussed was accomplished for the most part by a bunch of kids in their teens and early 20s. makes me wonder what ive accomplished.
at the essence of this whole scene is a strong DIY ethic. in the aftermath of the PUNK explosion of the late 1970s, there was a small group of like-minded teenagers in D.C. who listened to THE CRAMPS, IGGY POP and THE RAMONES and fought off redneck suburban kids attempting to beat them to a pulp for dressing different. this confrontational day-to-day existence manifested itself in a small scene of kids who picked up instruments and started bands. these bands developed to the point that a local record shop, in a very HIGH FIDELITY (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 2000) moment, helped them learn to record at a nearby studio with a producer and manufacture vinyl records. enter DISCHORD RECORDS.
at the hear to the scene is DISCHORD, which was essentially an excuse for IAN MCKAYE and JEFF NELSON to self-release and EP by their band THE TEEN IDLES. eventually the also released records by their friends and D.C. bands they thought people should hear. DISCHORD through MCKAYE's next band MINOR THREAT become well known and helps draw attention to the label's roster, which some complain sucks the oxygen out of non-DISCHORD affiliated INDIE and PUNK groups from the area. some of those bands even start their own labels like TEEN BEAT RECORDS and SIMPLE MACHINES.
as the scene gets bigger in the mid-80s through the increasing notoriety of the DISCHORD roster of bands (GOVERNMENT ISSUE, VOID, FAITH, S.O.A., etc), things begin to change. kids show up from the suburbs and shows become decidedly more violent. original bands grapple with the fact that these newcomers do not share their values. things get increasingly desperate as racist SKINHEADS and destitute DRUNK PUNK show up and reek havoc. all this while, again, most of the bands involved are barely in their 20s.
the scene begins to change as bands mature and get more introspective lyrically and experimental sonically. a new generation "emotional hardcore" bands become prominent like EMBRACE and RITES OF SPRING and which result in effectively challenging their audiences expectations. things also get more splintered as some bands get political as exemplified by the local outreach group POSITIVE FORCE who put on numerous shows as well as musical protests of the SOUTH AFRICAN embassy for its then-APARTHEID government. this came to be known as REVOLUTION SUMMER.
for some this new explicitly political focus through benefit shows and protests was pedantic at best and HIPPIE-ish at worst. it splintered the bands much as the STRAIGHT EDGE movement had done years before. STRAIGHT EDGE was a MINOR THREAT song about not needing intoxicants to have a good time, in fact not doing so gave them the "straight edge." people took MCKAYE's personal affirmation as dogma, as followers tend to do, and it created confusion amongst the scene about how people could act at shows. was drinking now bad?
through all the variations and misinterpretations of this scene, it seems the biggest impact was their intense DIY ethic and sense of community. in the end the idea of creating a scene from nothing showcases how empowering an idea such as PUNK ROCK can be. the democratizing of instruments to all levels of musician's most have been exhilarating when PUNK ROCK first came about.
my only grief is that the empowerment of the still relative dearth of prominent modern PUNK or INDIE bands that express the perspectives of minorities and those of the LGBTQIA community. watching this documentary cognizant of what came in its wake, it still feels like PUNK ROCK is a white boys club pissing on one another. the industry has changed but the players have not, no matter how woke they.
hopefully this next generation will take the cue from PUNK ROCK and empower themselves to advocate structural change moving forward. they'll have to do it themselves.