The press biography Capitol Records sent out accompanying the Foo Fighters' debut two months ago wasn't a typical band bio - no glib hyperbole ("The greatest album ever"), no gushing praise, no discography; rather, it was a nine page autobiography written by band members Dave Grohl, William Goldsmith, Nate Mendel, and ex-Germs and Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear. Filled with childhood musical memories ("I was told to take [guitar] lessons because everyone was sick of hearing 'Smoke on the Water,' " Grohl recalls) and band history (Goldsmith blames the breakup of his and Mendel's Sunny Day Real Estate on a member's conversion to Christianity, "a condition unfamiliar with artistic tolerance"), it's a real biography - a get-to-know-your-musicians, introducing guys who for so long sat in the background garnering little acclaim and attention.
Its intentions were to diffuse the unreasonably high expectations placed upon the Foo Fighters' debut and help the nation's rock critics understand Grohl had a past that predated his joining Nirvana, and that he was more than just a guy looking to feast upon a corpse. "After Kurt's death, I was about as confused as I've ever been," he admits in the bio. "To continue almost seemed in vain. I was always going to be 'that guy from Kurt Cobain's band,' and I knew that." Grohl's role in Nirvana was as important as Cobain's - the Nirvana of pre-Grohl Bleach, so thin and derivative, pales in comparison to the pop blast of Nevermind - and he put so much power into the power trio, but few knew what to make of Grohl as a frontman. Ringo Starr did not set a good example - nor, for that matter, did Phil Collins or Don Henley. So here's a past, a man instead of a shadow.
That Foo Fighters is an extraordinary record has much to do with Nirvana's punk-as-pop legacy but little to do with the ghost of Cobain that seems to hover over the project like late summer ozone. It's powerful on its own -not as a side project, not as homage, not as descendant, but as a singular entity. To hear "This is a Call" on the radio between so much Pearl Jam and Hootie and the Blowfish and Tripping Daisy is to be thrilled by the punk-rock land mines placed carefully and unexpectedly between the catchy, harmonized verses; and it's to hear a great single that's disconnected from the Nirvana or Germs or Sunny Day Real Estate family tree but still clings tenuously to a nearby branch. Granted, Foo Fighters does indeed have much to live up to - themselves, a good band instead of an old memory.
Foo Fighters perform September 12 at Deep Ellum Live.