I was about 8 years old when Kurt Cobain decided to kill himself. I had just bought Bleach, a record that to me, a Catholic boy from smalltown Italy, managed to induce tremendous excitement, shock and horror at the same time. Then you can imagine my dismay at the news of his death: with the exception of the other Nirvana records already existing I knew I’d never experience something like this again. And little did it matter that, if I took into account my earnings and CD prices, those two records would’ve lasted me at least 15 years: I had just learned the concept of things coming to an end, and it wasn’t an idea I liked.
Then Foo Fighters came along, brainchild of that crazy drummer by the name of Dave Grohl. Listening to them was a kind of a given for me and, albeit their beginning wasn’t as good as Nirvana, they started growing on me until they reached full form in the last two or three records.
The thing is, though, you can never be sure with bands these days. One day they publish a hell of an album, the next they’re printing out lemons (yes Kasabian, I’m talking about you). This is why I awaited the arrival of Sonic Highways with a good deal of trepidation. And I still do, for I haven’t heard the record yet; but there’s something that makes me think that it’ll be a hell of a good one, and this thing is a series of documentaries, called Sonic Highways like the album, that Dave Grohl and his mates have released recently. Which is also what I’m reviewing in this post, in case you were wondering.
Sonic Highways are a record that has been registered in different cities throughout the States; the documentaries are a tribute to all these places and to their musical heritage. The formula is quite simple: in each show the Foo Fighters team arrives in a different city – so far I’ve seen them visiting Chicago, Washington and Nashville – checks in a studio and pays a hommage to the city’s musical history while, at the same time, getting inspiration for a new tune which is, inevitably, blasted out at the end of the film.
Written as it is it could be the plot for a cheesy, MTV-like, “reality show” but rest assured it isn’t. Firstly, you have Dave Grohl’s approach as a director. I saw his documentary dedicated to Sound City and immediately loved his use of broad, fast and sweeping landscape views, which are ever present in Sonic Highways as, for example, a side street in freezing Chicago, or downtown Nashville. Honestly, it’s like being there.
Secondly, it’s because of the music itself. You might not like punk rock or blues or classic rock or all three combined, but you cannot fail to respect Foo Fighters’ utmost love for everything that is musical and of good quality. From Nashville to Washington, from Dolly Parton to Buddy Guy, from Steve Albini to Zac Brown, they interviewed and showed their true awe for anyone who made good music for the sake of making it, no matter the genre. They are a world-class band, respected and known by millions: yet, rather than posing as leaders of the pack as you’d expect them divas to be, you’ll have them drool over bands such as Naked Raygun which, in all honesty, had a fraction of their success.
Plus, finally, you have an interesting insight into the creative process of a band, of a group of individuals who cast aside their individualities and manage to create something great together, something that will never cease to amaze me (I’ve got the creative talent of an artichoke).
The beauty of this documentaries is their openness. They offer a privileged view on Foo Fighters’ record-making efforts, they are a guided tour into a city’s musical history but, more importantly, they show a group of people’s love for what they do and their desire to involve everyone – past glories, friends and viewers – into it.