Dave Grohl and Ringo Starr Share Emotional Discussion About Grieving Kurt Cobain and John Lennon
Dave Grohl and Ringo Starr recently sat down together in a kind of legendary drummer summit for Rolling Stone. The two men became friends in 2013 and Starr, a visual artist and photographer, went on to shoot photos of Foo Fighters for their Sonic Highways book.
Perhaps it’s because of this friendship that the two men seem so comfortable opening up to each other about the tragic and untimely deaths of their close friends and musical collaborators John Lennon and Kurt Cobain. Or perhaps surviving the death of a friend who just so happens to be your creative partner in a legendary band such as the Beatles and Nirvana is such a rare and unique experience that the two couldn’t help but unpack their feelings together.
The topic was broached when Starr was asked what he thought of Nirvana.
“Absolutely great, and the man himself [Cobain] had so much emotion. That’s what I loved. I’m an emotional guy. No one can doubt Nirvana, ever,” Starr said. “And who knew he’d end up where he ended up. I don’t think anyone who listened to music with any courage could doubt him, ’cause he was courageous.I don’t know the end story, and it’s not about him, and we lose a lot of people in our business early … This is the famous 27-year syndrome. A lot of them went by 27, like it’s that number—what, had they got it all in by then? Or maybe that’s just the way God planned it; I don’t know.”
From there, Starr recounts receiving the call from his stepchildren to tell him that Lennon was shot.
“When John went, I was in the Bahamas. I was getting a phone call from my stepkids in L.A. saying, ‘Something’s happened to John.’ And then they called and said, ‘John’s dead,'” Starr recalled. “And I didn’t know what to do.”
“And I still well up that some bastard shot him. But I just said, ‘We’ve got to get a plane.’ We got a plane to New York, and you don’t know what you can do,” he continued. “We went to the apartment. ‘Anything we can do?’ And Yoko just said, ‘Well, you just play with Sean. Keep Sean busy.’ And that’s what we did. That’s what you think: ‘What do you do now?’”
Starr went on to explain that the song “Grow Old With Me” from his new album, What’s My Name, was originally from Lennon’s 1980 Bermuda Tapes demo, and that it was one of the last songs the late Beatle wrote before his death. According to Starr, Lennon is heard saying on the demo tape that the song would be perfect for the Beatles drummer.
“I well up every time I think [about it]—he’s talking about me. He says [imitates Lennon], ‘Hey, Ringo, this’d be great for you.’ And I can’t help myself. [He chokes up.] I’m emotional now thinking of him 40 years ago talking about me on his tape and thinking of me,” Starr said. “The four of us were great friends with a couple of side issues. And it was far out. So anyway, I didn’t know how to act. And then I got back to L.A., and I grieved, and then of course you always go through the grief.”
Grohl then discussed his own relationship with grief in regards to Cobain’s passing.
“Well, I realized when Kurt died that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. It takes funny turns. You’ll be numb. You’ll remember the good things, then you’ll turn and remember some dark times,” Grohl explained. “I stayed away from music for a while. I wouldn’t even turn on the radio. And then I eventually realized that music was the one thing that actually made me feel better. And music was gonna help me through that. So I started writing songs and recording them by myself.”
“And it’s also difficult when one of your friends or someone that you’re very close to, in real life, has become something more than a human being to others,” he added. “So you sit in an interview and someone asks you these questions that are really emotional, that you’d never ask another stranger … So it was tough for a while, but I realized that it was important for me to continue with life, and the thing that saved my life was music. More than a few times before that, my life was saved by playing music.”
Grohl opened up to CBS This Morning in July 2018 about the Nirvana frontman’s death, and discussed how Cobain’s suicide colored his view of the music industry.
“Still, to this day, whenever I see a new artist that’s young that blows up and becomes gigantic overnight, I kind of get worried for them,” Grohl said at the time. “I don’t think anybody’s cut out for it. I was the kid with long hair in my face behind drums that looked like washing machines, and I could walk in the front door of a Nirvana gig and not really get noticed. So, I didn’t have to suffer a lot of the pressures that Kurt did as the frontman.”