The Good Fight

Another bandmates and friend overdosed, Courtney Love was on the warpath again, and his band couldn't even get it together to record a new album. Dave Grohl was experiencing some serious Nirvana deja vu. But somehow, the Foo Fighters survived—wiser, and more metal, than ever.

Dave Grohl SPIN Cover November 2002
Foo Fighters on the November 2002 cover of SPIN / Photo by Shawn Mortensen
WRITTEN BY
Alex Pappademas

But the band only became successful after you joined. Do you allow yourself to think, "This wouldn't have happened without me"?
Shit, it could have been better [without me]. What happened in Nirvana happened because of timing. It could have been us or Jane's Addiction or the Pixies or Hüsker Dü.

What's the latest with the Nirvana legal situation?
I think things are maybe getting better. I think that there's some movement and [long pause] — it's just become warped. Let me think about how I have to say this. Okay, go ahead, ask me anything.

Well, okay, has it —
I can't answer that. [Laughs]

A lot of this is Krist's deal, right?
Well, you have to understand that Krist is Nirvana. He said at one point, "How many Nirvana shows have you been to? Because I've been to every one of 'em." It was kind of profound. Nirvana was Krist's idea and project as much as it was Kurt's.

What was it like preparing for your testimony?
The night before I had to go to court, I was in my room, packing. My girlfriend's in bed, and she says, "Oh, [Nick Broomfield's documentary] Kurt & Courtney is on." And for a moment, I thought, "Wow — maybe this is supposed to happen. Okay, I'm gonna watch this." And I turned it off within ten minutes. I thought, "Is this what it's really become? Documentaries and murder-conspiracy theories?"

People may be surprised that you didn't watch that movie, which is pretty anti-Courtney throughout.
As much as Courtney and I dislike each other, the few times that we've bumped into each other in person, we've kinda laughed at how ridiculous it all is. The last time we saw each other was at the Reading Festival a couple years ago, from the side of the stage. We glared at each other. And I just laughed. I thought, "This is so stupid."

It's easier to just go off on someone in an email.
It's hard to do that to someone's face. That's what diaries are meant for, y'know? [Pause] I hope no one ever publishes mine. [Laughs]

Has it been draining to do a Foo Fighters record, with this court stuff hanging over you?
Yeah. But I also have something to go home to after sitting in court all day. I don't consider the lawsuit reality a lot of the time, because it's so far beyond anything the band ever stood for or anything we ever imagined. It has nothing to do with what Nirvana was.

So are you more hopeful about a settlement?
I'm ever the optimist. I like to think that there's good in everything and that there's light at the end of every tunnel. But for something like that to happen, you have to be dealing with rational people. If that's what we're dealing with, then, shit, I hope it happens. If that's not what we're dealing with, then I'm sure it won't.

What would you say if you were to sit down with Courtney?
[Laughs] Nothing I can say to you.

If you crave rock star antics, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins is your guy. During the week I spent with the band, Hawkins did the following: 1) started an endless and essentially one-sided food fight, involving grapes, broccoli, and cheese dip, with his long-suffering drum tech; 2) colorfully disparaged the drummer of another prominent rock band, recounting a possibly apocryphal story that ended with Hawkins telling said drummer, "Okay, dude, how 'bout next time we play, you sit behind me again, and I'll give you another free drum lesson"; and 3) appeared to subsist primarily on Red Bull and Parliament Lights.

Like former Foo Fighters guitarist/flamingly straight cross-dresser Pat Smear, Hawkins is a sideman with a frontman's flair. And it makes sense that he'd thrive in a band whose frontman seems to crave the anonymity of a drummer. Grohl claims it just worked out that way by chance — "It's not like we put an ad in the paper: 'Looking for kick-ass drummer who's also a big star.'" But he admits that he's waiting for the inevitable Hawkins solo album. The other two Foos, longtime bassist Nate Mendel and new guitarist Chris Shiflett (late of Sunnyvale pop-punks No Use for a Name), are frequently found reading quietly in their dressing rooms while "The Taylor Show" unfolds. As Mendel puts it, "When Taylor's good, you remember why you love him. And when he's bad...."

Hawkins lives in Topanga Canyon, a tony community tucked away in a rocky hillside about 30 minutes (traffic permitting) from Hollywood and — dude! — just ten miles from Malibu. Notable rock Topangans of the past include Captain Beefheart and Neil Young (who recorded his '70s-burnout elegy After the Gold Rush up here).

Today, Hawkins, tan and ripped, lounges poolside in blue surf shorts, a Laguna Beach-bred dude at ease in his own personal Rancho Relaxo. Except he's not really at ease; he's got the nervous energy of a 12-year-old at a spelling bee. While he talks, he perches froglike on a pool chair, stabbing the air with an unlit cigarette. There's also a fair amount of air-drumming going on.

Caffeine and coffin nails aside, Hawkins has been clean since last August, when a cocktail of booze and painkillers almost killed him. The band was on tour in London at the time; Hawkins spent weeks in a hospital, where he was comatose for two days. "I took it too far," he says, "but thank God I did take it too far, and I didn't fuckin' croak, and I'm here to know how retarded I was and how lame my life had become. I was just becoming a cliched rock idiot. But I wouldn't take any of it away—none of the times I got high, not even the overdose. Because I learned so much about myself through the whole thing."

Hawkins spent some time in rehab, but for the most part, he was at home, working out, surfing, playing drums. He was still recovering when the band went into the studio to record One by One, and the sessions went badly — Grohl, a studio perfectionist, scrapped entire songs midtake. "I don't think we were really ready yet," Grohl says now. "We basically made what Taylor called 'the million-dollar demos."'

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