The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world



Napalm Records | Release Date: October 30th 2015


BOOKS & DVD'S 2009-2014 

For a writer who is the music biographical equivalent of a meaty potboiler scribe in the novel world it's an interesting gambit for a book on the Foo Fighters to loudly proclaim this book isn't about the Foos it's all about Dave Grohl. I like Mick Wall, find him easy to read and often very insightful, but there’s something about the first part of ‘Learning to Fly’ that seems somewhat irrelevant and also a bit unnecessary.


To plod through Grohl’s early pre-Nirvana years with little insight into the man and no direct interviews with him comes as a huge anticlimax. Worse still - to then spend sixty pages on Nirvana, and not only that, but on Nirvana mainly focused on towing the Courtney Love and Charles Cross line, despite a complete lack of direct quotes or evidence seems like a not particularly well researched kick out at recent conspiracy theory documentaries (which had at least substantially more direct evidence to support their theorems) and seems incongruous at best and to be honest largely irrelevant in the context of a book on Grohl. I wouldn't mind that background so much except that Wall then goes on for pages about Cobain, and at times Grohl hardly gets more than a perfunctory mention.


Another slightly annoying thing in this biography is the use of supposed Grohl quotes about such things as contains Rome suicide attempt (only Love and cross have ever called it a suicide attempt). For example in 1994 Grohl is said to have been ‘freaked out ashamed and worried’ about the incident with nothing to back up the claim let alone a quote from the man himself. Years later a direct quote that Cobain in Rome had just ‘made a mistake’ with a quote from Grohl (p114) is passed off as Dave being nice. Not often you read a bio where the author uses a direct quote from someone to dispute they meant it without providing any evidence for the theory ... It almost makes you wonder if Wall’s next subject may be Courtney Love herself?


Just to press the issue (before I get over it) there's even a quote from the alleged Cobain ‘Rome suicide note’ (which only Cross and Love seem to have seen) that Wall takes at face value. Oddly on the same page there's mention of Cobain locking himself in a room full of revolvers and shotguns and being suicidal just prior to his death. So when it comes to the room and the weapon found with his body the question that beckons is “why he would have chosen a weapon that made it very, very difficult to ‘top himself’ and not one of these readily available firearms?” Does it make sense to you?


Wall even repeats the alleged myth that Cobain had repeatedly threatened and attempted suicide in the weeks before he was found dead – now find me a quote from anyone bar Love and Cross to that effect or any such quote that precedes his death - they don't exist, or if they do no one else seems to have seen them… The point though surely is what the fuck does any of it have to do with Foo Fighters? Why is the demise of Curt Cobain such a large part of this book?


OK now that’s off my chest, (and by the way I’m no conspiracy theorist!) the post-Nirvana portion of the book works better, though is perhaps necessarily less enlightening though sadly somewhat brief (Wall only devotes just over half the book to the time the Foo Fighters were in existence).


I fully appreciate that Grohl’s reticence to really open up in interviews, let alone thrust himself into the limelight makes this bio somewhat difficult to be anything more than an illuminated and annotated timeline of the band’s rise to global dominance as it’s an understandably difficult subject to crack open, but I had hoped for more. The odd thing though is that Wall seems to lose his desire in the latter part to add his own insights into the Foos (when he was more than happy to in the Nirvana portion) other than to repeat the mantra that ‘The Foos is Grohl’ and everyone else is completely irrelevant.   


Sure there is an interesting story to tell about the ins and outs of the band and the twists and turns of fate, the echoes of drugs from Nirvana days and the seeming reluctance of Dave to face potentially difficult situations especially with regards to ‘removing’ band members. And then of course there is the whole ‘what a great bloke’ mythology around the man which Wall oft repeats without really digging into with gusto.


Integral to the Foo Fighters story  is that whole ‘Commercial versus punk ethics’ battle and at face value Dave’s reluctance to trade on Nirvana’s legacy is one of the most interesting aspects of the timeline. Sure he started out wanting to push that aside whilst you feel being completely and utterly conscious of both the power it gave him and at the same time took away, but it’s not really explored here. As the Foos sold more records and filled out bigger stadiums they did discard that punk ethic to the point they not only embraced but joined the mainstream but so what? Dave is still at the least doing interesting stuff, sure it’s fueled by the dollar, but at least it pays homage to something far more real and meaningful. As with any band becomes that huge they attract detractors who question their integrity, it’s a fact of life. The question is of course is the integrity of Grohl, and to be honest I think the majority are on his side. He may only have been the drummer in Nirvana, (and a damned good drummer at that) but he’s done something that has opened more than a few eyes and had real meaning in an age where autotunes and reality TV has devalued music to a point where it’s hard to see how it can recover as an industry.

If you are a die-hard fan then sadly it’s hard to see what you would get out of ‘Learning to Fly’ but as a casual fan then the latter portion of the bio may give you some hope that someone out there actually cares about music, even if he has one eye on the cash register.


If Wall wanted to court controversy with this bio then he’s achieved that to a degree with the Nirvana portion of the book. As far as the Foos go though the book succeeds in mapping the ground and the timeline of the band without really offering much of an insight into the man he purports this bio is all about. Whether that is because Wall has less of a passion for the Foos than he has for other recent subjects I’m not sure, but on face value it seems like that may be the case. As always though Wall writes engagingly on his subject and the narrative is solid as ever, but there seems to be little passion, and due to the number of times the phrase ‘The nicest man is Rock’ is used by the end it almost seems like an ironic dig at his subject …  



by Leslii Phillips




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