However, if you’re a fan of Foo Fighters the band, then, to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, “This is not the biography you’re looking for.” But if you are a fan of Foo Fighters the man (i.e. frontman Dave Grohl, “the nicest man in rock”), than this latest tome from veteran rock writer Wall lands squarely in your wheelhouse. Maybe.
Here, any notion of the Foo Fighters as a group gets dashed quickly by Wall, who sees the band’s story as Grohl’s alone. Wall writes, “There is only one real Foo Fighter and his name is Dave Grohl. The rest—the floating cast of members that surround him—play no part in the decision-making process. They are mere appendages. Staff members…And they are lucky to be there.”
Harsh words? Yes. But what rock biography worth its salt doesn’t court controversy?
There’s no shortage of controversy in this book, which follows Grohl’s life from birth through his star-making turn as the drummer for Nirvana, all the way to his current perch as leader of the multi-platinum, stadium-filling, radio staple Foos. One peculiar note, though, is that the book was written without Wall ever even interviewing Grohl or any of the other current members of the band. Another oddity is that the book spends almost half of its pages just leading up to the creation of the Foo Fighters.
Before readers get to Grohl’s current venture, much time is spent rehashing the rise and fall of Nirvana. Through interviews with old publicists and the scouring of past articles for quotes, Wall sculpts a crash course in punk history 101. Kurt Cobain’s drug use, quarrels with Courtney Love and eventual suicide, are all discussed with multiple pages often going by before some passing reference is made to Grohl, who’s described as making his way through the chaos by looking the other way.
Once readers get to the story of the Foos, more drama lurks around every corner. Is former guitarist Franz Stahl still upset about his dismissal from the band in 1999? You betcha. Did a drug overdose and inner-band tension almost lead to the group breaking up in the early 2000’s? Damn near. Wall spits these stories and more out in a rapid-fire style that glosses frequently over the details of such incidents.
Similarly, the birth of Grohl’s first child is noted to show his transition to a family-man, but the news comes without readers ever previously being informed of the existence of Grohl’s second wife, Jordyn, the child’s mother. Also, the song “The Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners” gets a brief mention as an album track, but with no corresponding information regarding why Grohl chose to write a tune about 17 men who survived a mine collapse in Tasmania.
Hardcore fans could have a field day pointing out Learning to Fly’s inaccuracies and omissions. But for those with a more casual interest in Grohl, Foo Fighters or even Nirvana, this book makes for a wide-ranging and entertaining sampler.