Saturday, August 23, 2014

Laying Down Track

A few days ago I finished This Is A Call, the unauthorized biography of Dave Grohl, written by Paul Brannigan.

It didn't offer much by way of new or enlightening information about Sir Davy Groltonmost of the best bits came from previous interviews and the documentary Back and Forth, filmed during the recording of 2011's Wasting Lightbut it did offer a clear musical road map.  It's obvious that Brannigan is a music critic.  One who loves and admires Grohl, but who views Grohl's life through the increasingly analytical lens of the soundtrack.  Childhood is told by dissecting the set lists of Bad Brains and Teen Idle concerts.  Rise to stardom is told in the recording studio.  Emotions are interpreted through chord progressions.

This hyper-observation of Grohl's musical landscape extends to discussion of Foo Fighters albums.  Each album is treated to pages-long reviews of the track list, the critical reception, and most interestingly, the recording process.*  Lined up one right up against the other, it's clear to see the evolution of all Foo Fighters albums, the way that the band, and Grohl, forces change and growth.  Grohl himself stated in an interview with Brannigan, "It seems like every album we've made is a result of the one that came before it, or in response to it."  There's no complacency.

I couldn't help but think about that as I watched the trailer for the new HBO mini-series following the Foos, Sonic Highways.

In This Is A Call, Brannigan intensely spotlights each Foo Fighters album.  One was completely recorded by Grohl himself.  Another was in a major studio, while the next was in Grohl's basement.  This one was acoustic.  That one was laid down on tape.  For the new record, the Foo Fighters visited eight cities and eight studios, recording songs with guest artists to try to capture the beating musical heart of America, filtered through the amplification of a unique Foo Fighters sound.  Which is a beautiful idea, and a beautiful method for a band continuing to push against boundaries.

I find that remarkably admirable.  It's easy to excuse laziness, especially after experiencing success.  With his fame and wealth, it would be simple for Grohl to merely churn out some the same grunge-inspired rock album, mix it by the best producer the studio can buy, and call it good.  But Grohl pushes for more.  He isn't resting on creative laurels, he's using his good fortune to continue to challenge himself.  I don't know if I would do the same in that position.

It reminds me of a favorite quote from writer John McPhee: "Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you."

On the one hand, that can be an exhausting viewpoint.  It could be interpreted that nothing is ever going to be good enough, so why try, life is pain and struggle.

But on the other hand, how inspiring!  That even those at the top of their field are constantly striving to improve.  It means that there's some recourse for the rest of us.  No one is ever perfect, so KEEP TRYING.  Keep working, keep pushing, and keep improving.  There is no capstone.  There is no limit.  And there is nothing to hold you back.

*It's actually pretty telling that discussion of the 2002 album One by One covers over twenty pages, while Grohl's divorce from Jennifer Youngblood is introduced and concluded in one sentence.

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