A tribute to Mark Lanegan, the most distinctive voice of his generation
Celebrating alt.rock pioneer Mark Lanegan’s extraordinary life and impeccable musical legacy…
A lot of times, when we think about rock stars, we think about excess: drugs, sex-addiction, egos that begin to fester from too much time under the literal and figurative spotlight. But the truth is, the real rock stars, the ones whose impassioned lyrics get under our skin, the ones who work hard to bring their music to the world for rock’n’roll’s sake – the ones who ultimately go on to define entire generations--are kind, positive, humble workaholics, whose sights never stray far enough from their devotion to their craft for long enough to get distracted by their own fame.
Dave Grohl, from his time as the drummer of Nirvana, to his goofy antics as the frontman of the Foo Fighters, to his many eclectic side projects, to his silly, enchanting grin, has proven himself time and again to be one of the real ones – or, as I eloquently gushed in one of my teenage diaries next to an article I cut out of Time Magazine, “Dave Grohl is the symbol of cool. If you looked in the dictionary for ‘cool,’ I’m pretty sure Dave would be in there somewhere.”
The truth is, Dave Grohl was the first musician I ever had a massive crush on.
I was 14 years old when it happened. It was 2002, and the single All My Life was being played at least once an hour on every rock-leaning radio station I could pick up in my little hometown of Davis, California. The first time I heard it, I was transfixed: From the intro’s mysterious palm-muted downstrokes to the explosion of dissonant riffs, it was easily the heaviest thing they’d ever done. You couldn’t get away from that song if you tried, and I didn’t want to.
In all honesty, I hadn’t paid much attention to Dave’s work before that: I was only six years old when Kurt Cobain died, so my Nirvana fandom bloomed later in life (though believe me, I got there). But this – THIS was dark and cacophonous, despite somehow still being an upbeat song, and my angsty, goth-leaning, Nine Inch Nails-obsessed self felt like I could get lost in it forever.
I finally got my hands on the One By One CD for my 15th birthday in early 2003. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, opened the CD with the stark, cartoonish-looking heart on the cover, and popped it into the stereo. My heart did its usual flip-flops in anticipation for the buildup in All My Life while I thumbed through the pages of the liner notes and came across the spread of dark, high-contrast black and white portraits of each of the band members. There was Mr. Grohl, sporting a brand new goatee, and looking weathered, wise, and, I was shocked to see, downright gorgeous. Perhaps it was a convergence of my teenage hormones and Dave’s move away from his impish, pigtail-swinging days, but in that moment, I fell hard. I listened to the rest of the album, stealing glances at his photo between poring over the lyrics in the liner notes.
Every song was heavy – whether it was emotionally or sonically so – but the track that hit me the hardest was Tired Of You, the quiet, understated love song about the uncertainties and personal demons that emerge during the beginning of a relationship. (Dave got married to his current wife, Jordyn Blum, shortly after the album was released, so it stands to reason it was written about falling in love with her.)
As a 14-year-old just beginning to understand my young sexuality, I had no idea what it meant to be 'cursed by love so dire', but I wanted to find out, and I spent many hours staring at Dave’s photo in the liner notes while I wondered what it would be like to be in love. (It didn’t hurt that Dave later explained that the lyrics in All My Life were about how much he loved performing oral sex on women, and I secretly hoped all of my straight male peers took note.)
Later that year, it was announced that Foo Fighters’ minimal-budget video for Low was so raunchy that MTV and VH1 both banned it from the airwaves, and the band would be releasing it on DVD instead. I didn’t know the details, only that it had something to do with hanging out with Jack Black (with whom he had previously worked when he played The Devil in Tenacious D’s video for Tribute) in a hotel room. Naturally I had to see it, so I rushed to Tower Records the day it came out to buy it. I waited until my parents weren’t home, put the DVD in the tray, and watched in a complete amazement as two men whose music I loved went to a hotel together, drank a bunch of liquor, put on women’s clothing, and danced for each other. All I remember is a desperate desire to be their friend.
After that, my newfound love of Dave Grohl subsequently introduced me to three of the greatest musical loves of my life, which went on to shape the majority of my obsession with heavy music.
The first one Queens Of The Stone Age’s stoner-metal magnum opus, Songs For The Deaf, for which Dave took a sabbatical from the Foos to play drums. As the story goes, Dave was looking to blow off some steam because the recording process for One By One had been so drawn out and frustrating. He got an urgent phone call from QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, who was down a drummer at the time, and Dave was so on board to get behind the kit on a major record for the first time since his Nirvana days – and play some bizarre time signatures, to boot – that by 8pm that evening they had already tracked a few songs. You can feel his ecstatic excitement in every song (even the basic 4/4 ones), but the spastic intro solo in Song For The Dead captured his state of mind at the time perfectly – and still raises the hairs on the back of my neck, 16 years later.
The second was the one and (so far) only record from Dave’s heavy-metal project, Probot, for which he invited all of his favorite metal musicians to come play with him. (Presumably because he’d thus far chosen to be in decidedly un-metal bands, and as One By One showed us, Dave had a proclivity toward the darkness we didn’t get to see often.) He rounded up King Diamond, Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, Wino from Saint Vitus and The Obsessed, Max Cavalera from Sepultura, and a bunch of other long-haired, tattooed weirdos to help him create an eclectic project that ran the gamut from thrash metal to regular ol’ rock’n’roll, and—again, as I was 16 at the time – it was a window into a lawless, deliciously hedonistic world of heavy music I’d never peered into before.
As the major single from the album Shake Your Blood (for which Lemmy wrote the lyrics in 10 minutes) told us us, everything could be made right within ourselves if we just rocked out. 'Looking for relief in your miserable life, you need some rock’n’roll,' Lemmy barked in the video, surrounded by beautiful women from the website Suicide Girls as Dave frantically bashed the drums in a way that likely made Motörhead’s Philthy Phil proud. 'Rock out, feeling good. Break your heart. Shake your blood.'
And I listened.
The third Dave record after One By One to truly move me was his 2009 one-off project with Josh Homme and John Paul Jones Of Led Zeppelin (talk about an absolute dream squad), Them Crooked Vultures. In fairness, that’s mostly because it sounded like a raunchier, sexier sequel to Songs For The Deaf. Dave and Josh had grown up, and at 20 years old, so had I. The songs, with titles like Scumbag Blues and No One Loves Me, And Neither Do I explored the realm of tongue-in-cheek self-loathing that comes with late nights, too much whiskey, and an inner poet that only emerges at 2am.
Fittingly, when TCV came to Oakland on their only tour that year, I was gifted tickets by a guy who had taken a liking to me, but I had recently been through a terrible break-up and was in no shape to give attention to anyone. I had a few drinks, and “lost” him in the crowd as I made my way to the front to gaze up at three men who had shaped so much of my musical tastes, and taught me to bang my head when life beat me down. The purchaser of the tickets was not happy, and I couldn’t have cared less. (If you’re reading this, sorry – shoot me your Venmo and I’ll pay you back!)
To the man who taught me the healing power of rock’n’roll, laid the foundation for my lifelong pursuit of heavy music, and the one dude who is probably the reason I still, to this day, like ’em dark and swarthy, I salute you.
Happy 50th birthday, Dave. I know you’re happily married to an amazing woman and you’ve got three beautiful children… but let me know if you want to get coffee sometime.
Celebrating alt.rock pioneer Mark Lanegan’s extraordinary life and impeccable musical legacy…
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