Last saturday was Dave Grohl’s serie « Sonic Highways » finale.
I have been following the serie every week and I thought it was really well made. I guess it’s a must-see for anybody interested in music.
I am not a huge Foo Fighter fan – which you obviously don’t need to be to enjoy the show -, but I remember when their first record came out in 1995. After Cobain’s suicide and the end of Nirvana, I was expecting Grohl to bounce back at some point. Some of his songs were already available on Nirvana’s B-sides and I liked them. Grohl already had a style of its own.
Foo Fighters’ first album was a fine record to release after the Nirvana madness. Grohl couldn’t be accused of copying, or rushing into something new just to keep himself in the race. It was obvious that he has been practicing songwriting for a while, and that he had something to say. So, of course, it worked out well and it was fully deserved. I lost track after ‘The Color And the Shape’ released in 1997 : the band’s sound and songs became a little too polished for my taste. Nevertheless, I always respected the guy and what he achieved.
Grohl is a major figure of American rock music and “Sonic Highways” was the logical continuation to his movie “Sound City”. After being the drummer of one of the most exciting acts of the nineties, he has become the leader of one of America’s biggest rock band. How wouldn’t he be jaded ? Grohl seems to have kept his feet on the ground and what strikes me is how he always focused on fulfilling his dreams. Now that he has accomplished so much, he works on passing his knowledge and passion on to the new generation. Most great artists do that. He has a vision of himself, and of the music as a whole, which makes people want to hear what he has to say.
“Sonic Highways” obviously has an educational purpose. Grohl focused on emblematic cities according to his major musical influences. Of course there are a lot of omissions, but I believe you cannot make any exhaustive list of what America has in store musically anyway. It would simply take ages to mention everyone. The choices of the studios, and all the people interviewed create a patchwork of what American music is to Grohl. It’s interesting precisely because we watch America through his prism. Generations of musicians, producers, journalists, famous rockstars, and all kind of people involved in the musical development of their city… all episodes are tethered by Grohl’s idea of music.
And the Foo Fighters, of course, trying to make a record.
As expected, the last stop of this musical tour of America is New York.
As you may know, I am a frustrated non-New Yorker. Needless to say I watched the latest episode voraciously. In comparaison to other episodes, Grohl really focuses on the Magic Shop, as a studio of course, but as the mirror of how New York has changed. More than the recording studio itself, it’s Steve Rosenthal, the owner, that makes the episode so heart-warming. New York is still where everything happens, and everybody praises its energy and movement. You need such vitality to make art, and nobody denies it. Magic can happen anywhere but New York is obviously the best place to give it a try. Unfortunately, as any metropole in the world, the city is changing : business is taking over. Recording studios, record stores, independant bookstores, they all close their doors and are replaced by fancy-shitty restaurants or whatever it may be. It happened to Headgear, where my second opus “Bandit” was mixed (one of the last records mixed there), and to a bunch of other great places.
I guess we cannot really change that, and if Grohl’s aim was to make people understand that those musico-historical places define a city, and, when it all adds up, define America in general, he is right. But more than places, it’s the people involved that make a city special and resistant to standardization. Of course, Grohl points that out too. Since it’s an American show, it has this happy ending, and Grohl’s conclusion is, as he says to President Obama, “anybody can make anything out of nothing”. The American Dream, always. But who will deny that America is a land of opportunities ?
In conclusion, “Sonic Highways” is half between Grohl’s dream and Grohl’s reality. It’s a tour of America’s legendary venues and studios, according to the personal trajectory of a guy, Grohl himself. This is why it’s better than any documentary looking for completeness. The serie is guided by curiosity which helps making it interesting. Although the album that came out of it is not his best work, it was probably exciting to make it that way, and the whole approach is conceptual enough to satisfy the fans. But it’s also a great marketing move, in order to promote another Foo Fighters record.
If only Grohl could do the same musical tour over Europe for next season it will probably really affect his confort zone, and help him make a record as good as the show itself. But maybe that’s already the plan. Who knows ? Wait and see.