Today’s Top 40: Sept. 6, 2022.
I have always believed that music has the power to heal, to inspire and to bring people together. The truth behind this belief was on full display for all to see this past weekend when musicians and fans gathered at Wembley Stadium in London to honour the memory of Taylor Hawkins, the late drummer for The Foo Fighters. Ostensibly, this tribute stood in place of the traditional Celebration of Life that most families would hold for their lost loved one with the exception that it was being broadcast to the world and was being organized by arguably the biggest name in music today, Mr. Dave Grohl. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins were bandmates and best friends. No one outside of his family would have known Taylor Hawkins’ wishes for being remembered better than Grohl. Therefore, it was no surprise that Grohl managed to organize a celebration that captured both, the humanity and the humility of his friend, along with doing so in an amazing rock n’ roll show for the ages. The music was outstanding but the emotion and tender moments are what made this event one of the most positive and uplifting concerts that I have ever seen! What Dave Grohl managed to pull off with this spectacular tribute to his friend was something that so many of us…even those who didn’t personally know Taylor Hawkins…so desperately needed. We all owe Dave Grohl and the Hawkins Family a debt of gratitude. Here is why.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people from all parts of the world have had to live differently than we once had. Collectively, we have suffered tremendous losses in terms of people taken from us, families torn asunder and so on. One of the things that became common as loved ones died was that we, as grieving family members, were not allowed to gather together to mourn. If I had a nickel for every death announcement I read that stated that a service would be held at a later date, I’d be pretty rich by now. Grief postponed is grief unexpressed. Eventually, for the sake of our own emotional and mental health, we need to grieve properly. To do so is to cleanse our souls.
So, while the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert was about paying homage to the life of Mr. Hawkins, what really made the moment special was that it provided an avenue for all of us to participate in as emotionally cathartic an experience I have seen in a long while. But even more than that, this concert was organized so well that we, as an audience, were allowed to grieve other losses all the while honouring the past history of Rock n’ Roll, saluting the present and passing the torch, as it were, to the future…all in one show. The concert was a masterclass in organizational skill. It was also a showcase for how much of a community the music world truly is. Respect. Fellowship. Passion. Musicianship. These are all words that easily come to mind after having watched much of this show.
For a brief bit of context, I have written about the charismatic Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl before in previous posts. *(You can read the main history of his life, as well as Taylor Hawkins here). Dave Grohl has arguably been the biggest name in Rock music in the past decade and change. He has become loved and respected for his skill as a singer, guitarist and drummer. He is also much loved for the charming nature of his personality. He is a storyteller and a very supportive and generous presence in the lives of countless musicians from all genres and eras of music. However, for being so nice a guy, Dave Grohl seems cursed with the most tragic luck imaginable. It almost seems cruel. The short strokes of this tragic arc include being the drummer for the biggest band in the world at one point (Nirvana) and having your friend and lead singer die by suicide. Then, regrouping and getting a second chance at the spotlight by being the lead singer of the biggest rock band since Nirvana (The Foo Fighters) only to have your friend and drummer, Taylor Hawkins die unexpectedly. When Death came into Dave Grohl’s life the first time, he channeled his sadness into a new musical venture which became The Foo Fighters. When Death came into his life a second time, Dave Grohl responded by organizing the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert. In his most recent book called, Storyteller, Dave Grohl talked a lot about how lost and unsure of himself he felt after the death of Kurt Cobain. Initially, Grohl thought that he would never play again. But music was ingrained in his soul so as time went by, his feelings about not playing began to change. It suddenly felt as if not playing was a betrayal of what he and his friends had accomplished in Nirvana. So, Dave Grohl decided to write music again and to play around with recording his work. But, what gave him the strength and the courage to believe that his new music had worth and, just as importantly, that he had what it took to actually front his own band (which he had never done before) were his friends. One of his most important friends was drummer Taylor Hawkins.
Taylor Hawkins came into the public eye for the first time as drummer for one of the most influential new voices of the 1990s, Alanis Morissette. *(You can see him working as her drummer during this appearance on the David Lettermen Show. Alanis rips it up here. As you watch this energetic performance, you can clearly notice the energy and charisma of a young Taylor Hawkins as he plays). When word leaked out that Dave Grohl of Nirvana was making music again and looking to form his own band, Taylor Hawkins got in touch. The mere act of contacting Dave Grohl took a lot of courage because many in the music world considered Grohl to have been a drumming prodigy. Now, Hawkins was asking to sit behind the drum kit of one of the world’s greatest drummers. Luckily, Dave Grohl was looking to begin a band that was a departure from who he was in Nirvana. In The Foo Fighters, Grohl would be the main songwriter, the lead singer and the face of the band. So, he was relieved, in a way, to pass the drumsticks over to Hawkins. As it turned out, Taylor Hawkins not only had the musical chops to occupy Dave’s seat behind the drum kit but he had a personality that fans fell in love with immediately. In Taylor Hawkins, Dave Grohl had a new wingman and the two became best friends in real life.
Taylor Hawkins passed away in South America earlier this year while on tour with The Foo Fighters. The cause of his death was ruled a drug overdose. The one thing that was made clear was that the overdose was not a suicide. After what happened to Kurt Cobain, a second suicide of a best friend would have been unbearable. As it was, even an accidental death hurt more than words could say. So, when the band finally released an official statement some days after the death, their words sounded very similar to what I read in the many deaths that happened during the pandemic…they said that they were grieving, the loss was devastating and that they would have a proper ceremony for him at a later date. As it turned out, that later date was this past weekend.
It has long been said that when tragedy strikes, you really find out who your friends are. In the case of Dave Grohl, he found out that he had a lot of friends. When the Foo Fighters were actively performing, they often took time to cover the songs of artists they respected and admired. I have heard them cover Rush songs, as well as those of David Bowie, Queen, The Beatles, Black Sabbath and many more. So, not surprisingly, when Dave Grohl decided that the best way to honour his friend was with a tribute concert, he went one step further, he decided to honour the whole of the music community that Taylor Hawkins and he so admired and respected. One of the first people to step forward and volunteer to help were Geddy Lee and Alex Liefson of Rush. They were grieving their own recent loss with the death of legendary drummer, Neil Peart. So, not only did they get to help Dave Grohl honour his friend’s memory by performing for the first time in public since Peart’s death, Dave Grohl, in turn, honoured their loss by sitting in behind Peart’s drum kit while Rush played their short set. That’s what mutual respect looks like. *(You can watch that performance here).
It was a Whos-Who of music heavyweights that answered Grohl’s call. Paul McCartney showed up and played. So did Liam Gallagher from Oasis. Nile Rodgers and Omar Hakim from the band, Chic, helped honour David Bowie with a short set of Bowie tunes. Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders played, as did Brian May, from Queen. Even AC/DC reunited for this show. The musical influences from Grohl and Hawkins’ past were on full display, as were performances by artists and bands who are popular today such as Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age (doing his best David Bowie impression during the Chic set) and Blink-182’s Travis Barker, an excellent drummer in his own right, sitting in for awhile, as did Lars Ulrich of Mettalica..
But one of the most emotional and important themes of the day was family and that of tradition. In that regard, Dave Grohl took great pains to place the next generation of musicians firmly in the spotlight. He did this several ways. First of all, Grohl got to honour the passing of legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen by having his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, shred his guitar during a performance of his father’s hit, “Hot For Teacher”. Grohl played drums for that song. *(You can watch that performance here). Secondly, one of the nicest things Dave Grohl had been involved with during the past few years was an internet duel with an eleven year old girl named Nandi Bushell. Nandi had used the Internet (YouTube, in particular) to challenge Grohl to a drum-off. She had tremendous talent so Dave Grohl accepted her offer and the two engaged in a good-natured “rivalry”, back and forth via the Internet which culminated in Bushell being invited to perform live in concert with The Foo Fighters. Taylor Hawkins generously gave up his seat so that Bushell could play with the band. She ended up killing it! So, naturally, in Dave Grohl’s moment of need, Nandi Bushell reached out again and offered to help. Her offer was accepted and she played with the band again…this time at Wembley. *(You can watch that performance here). Dave Grohl’s own daughter, Violet sang two beautiful songs…a cover of “Grace” by Jeff Buckley and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse….Buckley and Winehouse being two other singers who left the world far too soon. But, by far, the most emotional moment of all was when Dave Grohl invited Taylor Hawkins’ son, 16 year old Shane, to join The Foo Fighters on the closing song, “My Hero”. Not only did Shane Hawkins put on a terrific display of drumming skill, he pounded those drums like he was exorcising demons! It was as emotional a performance by any musician as I have seen. It was grace under tremendous pressure. And, all the while the song went on, Dave Grohl and the other members of the Foo Fighters took turns walking over to check on Taylor’s son, making eye contact with him, making sure that he was ok. He was more than ok. He was phenomenal! *(That performance can be seen here).
The final important thing that Dave Grohl was able to pack into this tremendous concert was a lesson in humanity. Far too often in life, men are told to hold our emotions deep down inside. We are told that any outward show of emotion is actually a sign of weakness. Personally, I think that this mindset is one of the main causes of much that is wrong in our world. I believe that Dave Grohl would agree. During his solo acoustic performance of the song “Times Like These”, Grohl made no attempt to hide his tears. They flowed freely and frequently. Even rock stars are human after all. *(That performance is here).
When all was said and done, over fifty songs were played over the course of six hours in the first of two concerts. The second concert is scheduled to take place in California in another week or so. I can’t imagine it being any more perfect than the Wembley Stadium gig. But, I have also learned never to underestimate Dave Grohl. He seems connected to all that is right about live music. Grohl understands that music has the power to unite us all; the young and the old, the rich and the poor, regardless of gender or sexual orientation or economic status or religious affiliation or nationality. Music is a universal language that we all understand. It is a powerful force for good. It is certainly helping to heal a lot of hearts. Believe me, the world certainly needed that. Brilliantly done, Dave.
The link to the official website for The Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert can be found here.
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