Dave Grohl knows how to rebuild sound from silence.
His band of nearly 30 years, Foo Fighters, emerged from the awful hush accompanying the death of Nirvana mate and generational talent Kurt Cobain. But Here We Are, the Foos’ latest album (and best in at least 12 years) captures the sound of Grohl and company clawing their way up from caverns created by twin losses: longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins and Grohl’s mother, Virginia, both passed away last year.
Discussing the album, critics have underlined a pattern in Grohl’s grieving. He takes the music into his own hands, playing every instrument (save a lone guitar part) on the Foos’ 1995 debut. On But Here We Are, he takes Hawkins’ drum chair, literally pushing himself and his brothers-in-rock through shared sorrow.
Don’t assume, however, that Grohl is more in tune with grief than the rest of us. If anything, the record presses one point home: grief never makes sense, not in the linear, logical way we’ve come to define “sense.” The 10 tracks here dodge classical stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, and so forth—instead playing every note along the scale of sadness, rarely in order.
Foo Fighters sound out heartache’s uncanny ability to round a corner in ruinous surprise on “Rescued;” grief’s ever-changing nature on “Under You” (“Over it / think I’m getting over it / But there’s no getting over it,” Grohl sings); the particular burden of losing your guide through life’s cycles on “Show Me How” and “The Teacher,” both clearly written for Virginia Grohl.
Indeed, this is a survey of grief in all its sick cunning. Grohl dares to enter the soundless abyss on “Hearing Voices,” singing, “It’s quiet in my room / The silence is unfair / I’ve been hearing voices / None of them are you” to ringing guitar evoking The Cure.
Grohl dares to enter the soundless abyss.
We’re all losing, all mourning the death of something: a friend or parent, a marriage, a dream. 1 Thessalonians 4 galvanizes mourners, advising them not to grieve like those “who have no hope.” The more I read the passage, the less I understand what it’s asking. Grief takes no single shape, size, or sound. Hope comes and goes like a tease. Motion—the desire to do something with the absence—and inertia constantly trade places in broken hearts.
Christians believe life goes on after physical death. Perhaps the idea that some facet of a person stays alive—whether with us inside the space of a moment or beyond us all the way to eternity—is something we all might agree on. We may not completely or reliably define this hope, but know it when we hear it on But Here We Are. Yes, it’s present in the lyrics, but also in the way Grohl never wants a song to end; this music seems to be moving toward something, anything more.
What seem like the final measures of “Hearing Voices” feint toward a fade-out before Grohl carries on quietly, wistfully, extending the song’s presence. A visceral “hey” echoes throughout the title track; the call doesn’t return void but resounds. Grohl draws out phrases on “The Glass,” never bending them beyond natural shape, but granting his sentiments another beat, another breath. The end, at least where we typically draw it, clearly isn’t the end for him.
Certainly Foo Fighters knows how to rebuild solace from static. Over 10 minutes, “The Teacher” crescendos, then engulfs its chords in white noise, grief’s fog further scrambled and amplified. The static yields to something resembling prayer on the album’s closer, “Rest,” as Grohl croons, “Rest, you can rest now / Rest, you will be safe now.” Quiet and distortion alternate, a final reminder that grief never behaves within our boundaries.
Wracking pain, survivor’s guilt, confusion, tenuous peace—these are but a few of grief’s true stages, all heard on But Here We Are. Through all their trades and collisions, a desire emerges, embodied by the word more. Some of us trace the shape of a real, renewed world to come. We all want something else for ourselves and the ones we’ve lost, whether a few more measures of music or abiding rest.
Taylor Hawkins and Virginia Grohl receive that "more." They live on in lyrics no one understands quite like the band; in the rhythms of Dave Grohl’s heartbeat, keeping time with memories; in the curve of an undying melody; and in the very fact the band keeps making music at all. Grieving with hope is a moving target, but here we are, with proof it’s possible. And when you feel unable to muster hope, to muster anything at all, Foo Fighters will sing it out for you.