Last night I was lucky enough to see the new Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth which was screened for ‘one night only’ in selected UK cinemas (but will most certainly be pushed out on DVD pretty soon). It was followed by an exclusive live performance of their new album Wasting Light.
Why the film was awesome in general
I’ve always been a big Foo Fighters fan, but never a die-hard follower. In fact because of their UK-festival-saturation in the late 90s I actually got really sick of seeing them live. So much so that after the release of The Colour and the Shape I took a break from their music until the release of One by One which re-ignited my interest in the band.
Back and Forth was great because it charted the early period of the band that I had let pass me by. I had NO idea that they had had such a hard time finding a final line up. I had no idea that the original drummer (William Goldsmith) quit after Dave Grohl underhandedly re-recorded over all of his drum-tracks with his own on the 2nd album. I had no idea of the stories which went into recording each of their albums and how they toured solidly for almost 2 years after their initial inception. I also had no idea just how much the band were in the shadow of Nirvana and how during the first tour the crowd (made up of 99% Nirvana fans) would scream for the song ‘Marigold’ an old Nirvana b-side that Grohl did the lead vocals for at every-single-show only to be left disappointed as the band never ever played the song.
All of this new information painted a really engrossing and humbling story. I’d always though of the Foo’s as having it pretty easy in the early days but it was far from it. The film went on to describe how Nirvana fans deeply resented Grohl even starting a band never mind becoming a lead singer/guitarist rather than sticking to just being a drummer and how much pain the new-members felt being in his shadow.
There was a great line from Grohl which summed up this dark period that I knew little about before seeing the film:
“most bands go though all of this crap BEFORE they get famous”
(I’m heavily paraphrasing but you get the idea).
Why the film was awesome for me personally
Making a rock-umentary isn’t a new idea, but they are pretty rare these days. When I was young and entrenched in music fandom my friends and I would watch hours of these things back-to-back.
I still remember scenes from Skid Row’s Road Kill, Smashing Pumpkins’ Vieuphoria and the Guns n’ Roses Use Your Illusion tour videos. This was the early days of MTV when we would stay up late to watch the Headbangers Ball show only to re-watch the recorded (VHS of course) version again the next morning. It was addictive and the only way to really get close to the bands we were into at the time.
The other major reason I really enjoyed the film was the final scenes of the band recording their new album, on classic analog magnetic tape and in the Dave Grohl’s garage.
This part was especially interesting to me not only because of the technology and production methods being shown (I did my college degree in music recording before falling in love with the web) but also because of the way the whole process was so comforting to watch. It really was was more like a family recording an album in their basement rather than the reality of the biggest band in the world recording their next big release. Even the notoriously intense Butch Vig came across as a different person in this setting.
What the film teaches you about business
The music industry is a strange place. Its a million miles away now than when the Foo Fighters first entered the scene in 1994 but they have managed to maintain a level of success and quality throughout.
The film subconsciously attributes most of this success to the leadership and genius of Grohl who like an up-start entrepreneur came up with a great product on his own (he recorded the first album alone in 5 days, writing and performing every track) and then matured it over time with new people by tirelessly working (in this case touring) on perfection.
He has poured his heart out over every Foo Fighters song, live show and recording leaving no prisoners along the way – this is the trademark of success in any arena.
The Foo’s now have a great product that is known by pretty much every music fan. They are the evolution of almost every stream of modern rock music able to cross into many different sub-genera’s without shame or hostility.
No other band on the planet has this reach or experience and this film is a tribute to this.