Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dave Grohl's SXSW 2013 Keynote Address, 3/14/13

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 2:39 PM

The Nutty Professor
This morning, Foo Fighter, Nirvana drummer, Sir-vana drummer, filmmaker and bona fide rock god Dave Grohl delivered the South by Southwest keynote address in the Austin Convention Center. Grohl cast a wide net with his speech, detailing his own arc as a musician and a music fan, hammering home F-bomb-riddled points about the importance of finding one's own voice and the fact that "the musician comes first."

Grohl demonstrated his own early method of bedroom "multi-tracking": He played an acoustic Gibson into an old tape recorder, placed that tape into a stereo and recorded "drums" (tapping on the body of his guitar) onto a second tape while the first tape played. It was via this method that Grohl recorded his first songs — songs about his bike, his dad and his guitar — before joining a high school group that entered a battle of the bands under the name "Nameless." Why? Because choosing a band name is "still the hardest fucking thing." Foo Fighters, he admitted, is a stupid name.

Grohl described his "first hero," a punk-rocker cousin by the name of Tracy who lived in Chicago and exposed him (circa 1982) to Black Flag, White Flag, The Descendents, The Ramones and everything in between. His first show was Naked Raygun at a little club across the street from Wrigley Field, and that show propelled him back home to DC, where he joined the punk scene, dropped out of high school and took up his dream of traveling in bands, sleeping on floors and stages and on floors under stages.

But the greatest discovery for Grohl came when — while stranded in Los Angeles — he heard about a band in Seattle looking for a drummer. What was different about this band Nirvana, Grohl explained, is that in addition to having the punk-rock, anti-establishment attitude, they also had songs. They practiced in a barn all day and all night, eventually — as we all know — going on to be courted by some of the biggest labels in the industry. He discovered that Kurt Cobain's dream of being "the biggest band in the world" was no joke, and together, Nirvana became about "three distinct personalities ... proudly on display." No one ever told Grohl what or how to play, he explained, and thanks to Nirvana, no one ever will.

"Guilt," Grohl went on to claim, "is cancer." He proudly noted that "Gangnam Style" is one of his favorite songs of the past decade, and that when it comes to methods and practices of ranking and rating and judging songs (a la Pitchfork or The Voice), "Who fucking cares?!"*

Grohl described his process of grieving after the loss of his friend Kurt. He had a hard time playing or even listening music for a time after Cobain's death, but soon came to start over completely, "forming" Foo Fighters (a one-man project at its inception) and launching Roswell Records. Grohl described recently bringing home a Beatles box set to his two small daughters, watching proudly as they placed the needle on the record and danced along to "Get Back." He ended on the note that he hopes one day they will perhaps be someone's heroes, and know and recognize that the "musician comes first."

Watch Grohl's keynote address here.

* While this statement elicited wild applause, I think Grohl fails to recognize (or at least to mention) the importance of analysis and criticism. The craft of thoughtful, analytical music criticism can sometimes be conflated with the rather artless practice of "ranking," "listing" and flatly "judging" songs. But that's a keynote for another day.

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