I like to think I’m not a cynic, but I am skeptical more often than not. So when I first watched “Live at Wembley Stadium”, a concert film of the Foo Fighters, I was skeptical of the sincerity of the emotion singer Dave Grohl displayed as he spoke to the crowd.
Granted, if you’re looking for sincerity, rock ‘n roll lead singer stage banter isn’t the best place to look. Just ask Paul Stanley. But during this concert, it stood out because he seemed increasingly emotional as the concert wore on.
A little background on the concert: the film mixes together footage from two nights of shows, recorded on June 7th and 8th, 2008. The show was held at Wembley Stadium in London, one of the most famous venues in the world. The concert that night was sold out, 87,000 people in attendance. Most of the footage on the recording is from June 8th, a night when Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, childhood heroes of Grohl, joined Foo Fighters for two Zeppelin songs. Grohl moved back to play drums, his original instrument, for those songs.
After the two Zeppelin songs, Grohl came back to the microphone and proclaimed this the best night of his life. Again, pretty standard stage banter after a special guest appearance at a concert. But when he then launched into an intro for the final song of the night – and perhaps the Foos most famous song – “Best Of You”, he implored the crowd that in a moment like this, they had to sing a song, together. Following his lead, the 87,000 present obliged and sang along in eerily perfect harmony and timing. The result is an amazing moment, my favorite live musical performance.
On top of the singing; there was rain falling, the crowd was exhausted, and the band was exhausted. Grohl’s voice was nearly shot after two hours of an intense performance. It appeared, though, that the crowd and the band, particularly Grohl himself, sensed from each other that this was, truly, a special moment, and a symbiotic relationship formed – each pushing the other to give a bit more. None of the 174,000 eyes in the stadium were turned away from Grohl, and in return, he was pouring every calorie of energy that he could into the performance.
At a break in the middle of the song, the music stops, and Grohl breaks down. Not quite sobbing, but fighting back tears and taking a minute to compose himself. It’s a poignant moment, the emotional apex of the show. The first few times I saw it, I thought “this is just too good to be true. It has to be at least a tiny bit contrived.” Like I said, on stage is usually not the best to look for emotional transparency.
Later though, I watched the documentary of the band’s history, “Back and Forth”, released in 2011. It was more or less a formulaic music documentary, but watching Grohl explain the formation and early years of the band, I realized that in that moment in Wembley, he was 100% genuine. There was no bullshit. It really was that special.
See, as you probably know, Dave Grohl first achieved fame as the drummer for the legendary rock band Nirvana. You can probably get a decent idea how old someone is by asking them “Who is Dave Grohl?” If their answer is “drummer from Nirvana”, they’re probably over 40. If the answer is “singer for Foo Fighters”, under 40. If they just answer “I’m a MAN!”, they’re 40.
When you watch Grohl explain the choices he had in front of him in the aftermath of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the Wembley emotion starts to make sense. The entire world saw him as the drummer in arguably the most popular band in the world – but that’s what he was, a drummer. Well, what if he didn’t want to be ‘just a drummer’? What if he wanted to, God forbid, be something else?
He received, and subsequently turned down, offers to be the drummer in myriad popular bands. Some up and coming, some established legends. Those around him started to question if he was doing the right thing – I mean, why would he waste all these opportunities? He was a drummer, and this was as good as it will get for a drummer.
Grohl took a leap of faith, and started a new band. As a singer and guitarist. The majority of casual fans don’t realize that on Foo Fighters eponymous first album, Grohl played all the instruments. He did so, largely, so he could secretly produce the music and offer to others to critique as “some new band” so he could get an honest assessment of it; he knew he wouldn’t get that if they knew it was a post-Nirvana project of his.
Alas, the Foo Fighters were born. From 1995 until today, the identity of the band, and Grohl specifically, has slowly shifted from “that Nirvana guy’s band” to simply “the Foo Fighters”. Now, that moment in 2008 made perfect sense. Grohl knew the risk he took in the beginning. He could have very well gone from rock god to “where are they know?” trivia answer. But he didn’t. He made it. He now stood in front of 87,000 souls who came there to hear Foo Fighters music, not Nirvana music. He became, arguably, once again part of the most popular band in the world, and it was completely, entirely, on his terms.
This, my friends, is perhaps the best metaphor for how I ended up where I am today: unemployed, sitting in a café in Paris, and writing for the sake of writing. I don’t know where or how I will succeed next, but I know that, this time, it will be on my terms.
There’s an unspoken expectation people have; of all the skills a person has, they are supposed to build a career around the one that will earn them the most money. A 7-foot-4 man is supposed to play basketball, after all. I mean, if he didn’t, that would be such a waste, right? Well, what if he just doesn’t want to? What if he wanted to just open a small bakery somewhere?
To his face, most people would tell him “oh, that’s nice!”, and on the drive home tell their spouse “wow, what a waste. He totally could have gotten rich in the NBA.” When you step back and view life as a finite period of time, though, what is the bigger waste – money left on the table that could be earned, or days that are spent doing something you don’t want to be doing?
I know that someone needs to collect the garbage, someone needs to answer the phones, and the world needs to keep turning with the work of people who would rather be doing something else. I know it’s not realistic for everyone to live their dreams – after all, that would be a dream world covered with trash and no electricity, because no one wants to deal with that shit. But as well as I know that, I know that you can get a hell of a lot closer to complete happiness by making the honest pursuit of it your first priority, and earning money simply a necessary evil to support it.
I don’t know where this ends. I know that as account balances go down, anxiety goes up. Maybe I end up somewhere close to where I left, but I can’t accept that as destiny just yet. In the meantime, I take comfort in the fact that every day you spend trying to get closer to your happiness is never a day wasted. With a little luck, someday I’ll have my Wembley moment.
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