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‘This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl’ – Book Review

Dave Grohl
Courtesy, Da Capo Press

Dave Grohl considers his biographer, British journalist Paul Brannigan, a friend.

We know this because almost as soon as we open ‘This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl,’ Brannigan quotes the legendary Nirvana drummer turned Foo Fighters leader as saying just that. Then Brannigan jumps into into an accounting of the many times he and Grohl have talked, dined, kibitzed and otherwise met at recording studios, Grohl’s Encino, Calif., home, various restaurants and clubs, and all kinds of places in between through the years.

Yup, they’re friends, all right. But in a way Brannigan, a former editor at the U.K. music magazine Kerrang!, makes this just-released book published by Da Capo Press, more about himself than his friend and the subject of this book.

However, there is a lot to like about this book in which Brannigan gives us a real insider’s view of Grohl and his rise to the top. The problem is that Brannigan is so captivated by his subject and rightfully so proud of his association with him that he inserts himself too fully into this book. Add to that Brannigan’s clear pride in his extensive knowledge of rock, specifically punk, and there’s little room for Grohl.

Consider the first quarter of the biography: Brannigan lets us know that he’s uber knowledgable about the Washington, D.C., punk scene in which Grohl honed his teenage musical talents. In fact, Brannigan is so knowledgable about the scene, that he makes one feel as if they’re reading his thesis on the subject, complete with quotes from other musicians shoring up his opinions about various bands in the scene.

It’s easy to see how he and Grohl could form a bond over their deep knowledge of such punk pioneers as Black Flag, Scream, Pussy Galore and many others. The problem is that Brannigan approaches the subject more like a debate in which he researches the heck out of the subject and lays all of the evidence of their greatness out, almost as if he’s countering what may be conflicting opinions.

It’s not until the second half of the book that we get to hear more from Grohl, specifically about Nirvana and Foo Fighters. The stories are interesting in that they show Grohl as not just a rock hero but as a huge admirer of music who basically just wanted to join the scene that moved him so. There are also more than a share of personal stories that humanize Grohl and his various band mates exposing their vulnerabilities perhaps more than ever before.

Consider this paragraph in which Grohl speaks about Kurt Cobain:

“What do you think of when you think of Kurt?” Brannigan quotes Grohl as asking him. “You think of a rock star that killed himself because of this guilt of being a rock star, [because] he was unhappy with his success. But he was a complicated person, and it’s hard for anyone to this day to completely understand. He may have seemed like this punk rock iconoclastic misfit, but he still f—ing loved Abba, we danced to Abba a hundred times. So, when I think of Kurt, I think of the way he giggled, or Abba…”

But instead of following up, prodding Grohl for more personal recollections such as these, Brannigan again takes his readers on a ride through his and other rock journalists’ opinions about Cobain and Nirvana. He basically continues that same structure throughout the book, which is especially unnerving when he writes about the Foo Fighters and specifically about Grohl.

Here’s just one example:

“If Dave Grohl is the real deal, then so too is ‘Probot’ [a side project of Grohl's] a treacherously heavy collection instantly identifiable as a genuine labour of love. Probot has about it a heft and a greasy gravitational pull that is nothing if not authentic, that is nothing if not the sound of a kind of music made simply for it’s own sake.”

Does Grohl agree? Disagree? We really don’t know.

In his introduction, Brannigan talks about how Grohl’s status as “The Nicest Man in Rock” keeps him “hidden in plain sight, unknown to all but his closest friends.”

After reading this book, that still remains true.

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