Before I was a teenager, I started playing music in my room by myself. I fell in love with the Beatles, then I started to discover classic rock. I went from Kiss to Rush to AC / DC, but in 1983 I discovered punk rock music through a cousin in Chicago. My world was turned upside down. My favorite bands were Bad Brains and Naked Raygun; I heard Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. My introduction to live music came when my brother took me to a punk show in a small Chicago bar. I didn’t have that rock festival / stadium / arena experience; I just saw four punk rock guys on stage, playing this fast three-chord music, with about 75 people in the audience clambering over each other. I change my life. One of the most prolific scenes in American hardcore punk rock was in Washington, DC, across the bridge. [from Grohl’s home town of Springfield, Virginia]. So I started watching bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi. When I was 14 years old, I cut and dyed my hair and wore leather jackets. All I wanted to do was drop out of school, get in a van, and tour shitty clubs in the basement with my punk band.
My mother was a teacher at the high school I went to. She spent her career dealing with unruly little idiots like me, but was known as the cool teacher. She understood that each child learned differently and that having a difficult time in school does not necessarily mean that a child cannot learn. I think I was his most difficult student, but he saw the passion in my musical obsession. So when I got to that stage of rebellion, I just went through it. My mother was completely supportive and encouraged by the independence and creativity of the underground punk rock scene, because everyone did everything for themselves. There were no record companies helping anyone – you just started a band, wrote a song, played a show, got $ 50, went to the studio, recorded something, pressed your own vinyl, and put out your own record. Seeing your child passionate about anything at that age must have been very inspiring. It’s always the things you want to do the most that you do well. Really, all I did was listen to music.
At 13 or 14, I had a narrow view that everything could only be punk rock all the time. I searched the record racks for anything dissonant and subversive (death metal, industrial music), anything that wasn’t on the radio or seemed rebellious. By the time I was 15 or 16, my friends and I had already made records, played shows out of town. He had learned to play drums by placing pillows on the floor and on the bed as drums and playing with Bad Brains. We discovered Led Zeppelin just as I started to progress as a drummer and became obsessed with John Bonham – what he played and why. It is difficult to explain, but its feel and sound are unmistakable and indefinable. Anyone can take the graph of what they played, but it would never be the same again because it was as unique to that human as a fingerprint. I became like a monk, listening to these records and memorizing them. For me it was like poetry. I got so obsessed that I got a John Bonham tattoo of three interlocking circles on my arm with a fucking sewing needle and some ink. They marked me for life.
Travel and travel
Like most musicians who played punk and underground music in the 80s, he had no aspirations to make a career out of it. When. When I was in my teens, the reward was just a kind of thank you from the audience. At best, I hoped that one day I would not have to continue working in the furniture warehouse I was working in at the time and would have my own apartment. Hitting the road at that age [with the Washington punk band Scream], it is such a beautiful moment in anyone’s life. You are discovering identity, finding some freedom, and you are becoming who you are. So it was the perfect window of time to get out of the house and start roaming the planet. I started touring at 18: I would carry my things in a bag, sleep on the floor, and if I was lucky I would get seven dollars a day to budget for cigarettes and Taco Bell. He was open to experiment.
If we were playing squat in Italy, I would be learning about their sense of community, their political ideas, and their language. Then Amsterdam and ending in a coffee shop every night. I saw America for the first time through the window of an old Dodge pickup. It was John Steinbeck shit. I had a five-year plan: learn music and become a studio drummer, then with the money I earned, go to college and become a graphic design artist. When Nirvana became popular, all that shit went out the window. I still can’t read music.
Later, I realized how lucky I was to be around really amazing creative people as a teenager. He wasn’t locked into any high school social scene. I hung out with people from the Washington arts and music scene: photographers and writers or musicians who had their own labels. As I reconnected with them in more recent years, I realized that they all did wonderful things. One of my oldest friends from the Washington DC punk scene became director of the Sundance television channel and worked with BBC America. Another became a chef in Brooklyn. Another became editor of Enjoy your meal. They all did great things, I think, because they raised us in the free-thinking, freak community that decided we weren’t going to go the straight line. We were great when we were young.
In my teens, I also realized that I could record music on my own. When I was 13, I discovered how to play multitrack things with two cassettes. I’d record songs with my guitar on my little handheld cassette, then take that cassette and put it on the home stereo, then hit play while I was recording another cassette on the cassette recorder. Then I would add a voice. I could multitrack that way.
Eventually, I became friends with another musician who had an eight-track track in his basement, so at 17 or 18 I started recording songs by myself, playing drums first, then adding guitars, then vocals. Really just as an experiment. I never played the songs for other people, but it was wild. I could do this and 15 minutes later I would have a song that sounded like a band but it was just one person. I learned to write and record, and that became Foo Fighters.
• Foo Fighters album Medicine at Midnight is released February 5 on Roswell / Columbia Records.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism