By Niall McCrae
One of the most disillusioning aspects of the Covid-19 drama is the silence of rock musicians. Are they not meant to be libertarian, to ‘stick it to the man’, to rage against the machine? Sadly, few figures in the music scene spoke out (among them Richard Ashcroft of the Verve, the Right Said Fred brothers and Van Morrison). Recording contracts and festival slots were more important, apparently, than standing up for freedom. For some rock stars, however, it was not mere compliance but participation in authoritarianism.
On 20th June 2021 the Foo Fighters headlined the resumption of live music in New York, after a severe Covid-19 regime. The first major concert, however, was not for everyone. Dave Grohl, founder of the band, insisted on a vaccinated event. A few dozen protestors gathered outside Madison Square Garden, but the arena was filled by fifteen thousand fans happy to show their QR codes certifying two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
‘Here’s what went down at the Foo Fighters’ huge, fully vaccinated New York show’, reported the NME on a successful evening of pseudo-medical segregation. With his considerable influence, Grohl was effectively pushing the mass vaccination programme, conveying the message that anyone refusing the shots would have a diminished existence as a social pariah.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Grohl was asked what he thought of Eric Clapton, who had complained of vaccine injury. Would he want to grab Clapton by the neck and say: ‘hey brother, we gotta get this together, what are you doing here?’ This was an insult to a rock maestro whose fingers had been numbed after the jab. Grohl side-stepped the question, explaining that he wanted to make each concert ‘as safe a place as possible, and I hope that we can continue to do it together’.
This togetherness was a prominent theme of the authorities in subverting individual rights for the ‘greater good’. Collectivism, as history shows, is inherently exclusive. Grohl had no interest in the minority who value their bodily autonomy and do not blindly follow orders.
Stay safe; do what your government says – how did Grohl get here? His autobiography The Storyteller (2021) gives us some clues.
Grohl began as a punk rocker on the local scene in Washington, DC. He joined the band Scream in 1979, abandoning his education to perform in indie venues across the USA. In 1990 the band fell apart on a European tour, but soon after Grohl was contacted by a band from Aberdeen, a small town in Washington state, who needed a new drummer. This was Nirvana, fronted by Kurt Cobain.
Nirvana drew a massive global following, their 1991 single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ played constantly on MTV. But there was a problem with Grohl’s new band mate: –
‘I was in Los Angeles in January 1991 when I first learned that Kurt was using heroin. I had never known anyone who used heroin before and knew very little about it, so I was shocked. I had joined the band only three months before and was living with Kurt in a tiny apartment, and perhaps naively, I didn’t peg him as someone who would do that sort of thing. To me, heroin was a dirty street drug, used by prostitutes and junkies in dark alleyways downtown, not by gentle, kind, beloved artists with the world at their feet’.
On 3rd March 1994 Grohl heard that Cobain had seriously overdosed in a hotel room in Rome, two days after the last Nirvana gig in Munich. A month later Cobain was found dead at home in Seattle, with a gunshot wound to his head and a suicide note. Grohl neither mentions the incident nor the controversy around it (suspicions of murder abound online).
Finding catharsis in writing music, Grohl had plenty of good tracks bot no band. He took inspiration from Stewart Copeland, drummer of the Police, who pursued a solo project under the pseudonym Klark Kent. For a new venture Grohl chose the name ‘Foo Fighters’, after Second World War military slang for unidentified flying objects.
With Grohl as guitarist and vocalist, the Foo Fighters became one of the biggest rock bands in the world (though never as iconic as Nirvana). Unsurprisingly, Grohl’s story features numerous rock and pop celebrities met at recording studios and awards ceremonies. Although not boastful, Grohl’s describes performing with Elton John and Paul McCartney as confirmation that he has really made it.
‘Crossing the bridge to Washington’ is a revealing chapter on Grohl’s outlook. His hometown was mostly inhabited by government administrators who commuted daily to the Beltway As a boy he went to the annual Rock against Reagan festival in downtown Washington (later renamed Rock against Racism): ‘I was no poli-sci major by any means, but I did join along and lend my voice to fighting for the freedom to express myself however I pleased’.
In 2004 Grohl was on the other side of the fence, performing at the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. On that occasion the honourees were The Who. Dining at the White House on the preceding evening was ‘not unlike a brunch buffet at your cousin’s wedding, it’s a relatively informal affair, except instead of sharing the salad tongs with your crazy uncle, you’re passing them like a baton to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright…I found myself trying to keep a straight face while surrounded by the people who made the planet’s most important decisions as they fumbled with the smoked salmon sliding off their bagels.’
Grohl shook hands with President George W Bush and the First Lady. He was soon back for more hobnobbing with the political class, having been invited by Barack Obama to perform on the Fourth of July concert in 2009, dedicated to the armed forces. Grohl’s pride is palpable: –
‘This was a personal invitation to join our first African American president in his backyard to celebrate the men and women who defend our right to have the freedom to celebrate, or protest, or elect our leaders by democratic process. This wasn’t just a barbecue; this was an honor.’
In 2010 Obama called Grohl again, for an award for Paul McCartney. This was apparently the pinnacle of Grohl’s career: –
‘The long journey from my childhood in Springfield, Virginia; to cutting my teeth as a musician in Washington, DC, music scene; to performing in the White House for a Beatle and a president made this in every way the most full-circle moment of my life.’
Perhaps the journey was not so lengthy, either in miles or mind. A journalist in Washington, Grohl’s father James was appointed as campaign manager for Republican senator Robert Taft Junior. As Mark Devlin wrote in Musical Truth (volume 2), ‘Robert’s father was William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, and his father was Alphonso Taft, a founder of Skull & Bones’ (a secret society recruiting carefully selected students at Yale University and believed to engage in Satanic ritual). Grohl is a staunch Democrat but really a man of the uni-party establishment. As comedian George Carlin said, ‘it’s a big club, and you ain’t in it’
Thankfully, the pseudo-medical Apartheid pushed by Grohl and other artists has ended, at least for now. Concerts and festivals are open to all again, with no masks in sight. People come together to share a communal experience with their favourite bands and fellow fans – not in ordered collectivism, but as a collective of individuals. Music thrives in a free spirit.
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