Sometimes a rock star passes away, and you think, “yep, saw that coming.” And then there are the ones that unexpectedly kick you in the gut. David Bowie (“Wait…didn’t he just release an album?”). Chris Cornell (“But, he was the strong one!”). My social media feed this weekend was awash with tributes to Taylor Hawkins, placing his passing firmly in the latter category. I must admit that though I admire their song craft, success, and longevity, I never considered Foo Fighters a particular favorite (I only own The Color and The Shape and the Dee-Gees thing they released for Record Store Day), but their omnipresence and the general affability of Dave Grohl and Taylor made them impossible to dislike. So this one stings more that I would’ve thought.
Amongst the many videos and articles fans have been sharing, two in particular hold a particular fascination for me: Grohl and Hawkins inducting Rush into the Hall of Fame in 2013, and Taylor’s guest turn as Coheed and Cambria’s drummer on their 2007 release, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 2: No World For Tomorrow (I swear, I’m not making up that title!). Both appearances illustrate how transformative music can be when artists drop pretense and just have a blast.
During their induction speech for Mssrs. Lifeson, Lee, and Peart, Grohl posted the question: when did Rush become cool? (You can watch their induction in its entirety here.) What’s surprising is not the fact that Grohl and Hawkins make a convincing case that Rush was always cool, but that the case was made by a former hardcore drummer and his current drummer! Back in my day (cue “grandpa voice”), punks wouldn’t go anywhere near a band like Rush, actually..specifically Rush, let alone publicly admit a reverence for the band. Hell, I was equally obsessed with all things hard rock and metal and snobbish about punk’s lack of musical sophistication, and even I avoided Rush like the nerd-plague (I’ve since repented and now worship the holy trinity with every fiber of my middle-aged dad being). Yet there we were in 2013, with these two scruffy rockers falling all over themselves with fanboy hyperactivity for Rush, but the best part came after the acceptable speech. As the whooshes and swirls announcing the opening of 2112‘s “Overture” began, backlighting revealed three figures on stage that, despite not revealing their facial features, were most definitely not the silhouettes of the three gentleman that just accepted their induction.
As the sound effects gave way to the majestic fanfare and the lights came up, we were treated to sight of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, accompanied by producer Nick Raskulinecz on bass, in matching white kimonos, complete with frighteningly period-accurate wigs – and Hawkins even going so far as to grow a handlebar mustache for the occasion!
As glorious as this sight (and their note-perfect rendition of the overture) was, it’s worth pausing to raise a question about this Raskulinecz guy. Why him? I’d be willing to bet one of those satin kimonos that 90% of the viewing had no idea who the guy was playing bass. A quick glance at his resume confirms that, ultimately, he was the obvious choice, serving as not only the producer for Rush’s final two (and awesome) studio records, but for several earlier Foo Fighter records.
Oh, and he also produced the previously mentioned Coheed and Cambria record…
So for those of you keeping score, two of the three musicians who paid tribute to rock’s most notoriously (yet gloriously) nerdy prog-metal bands had previously worked together with one of modern rock’s most gloriously nerdy punk/prog rock bands. I often described Coheed as what happens when emo kids discover their dad’s Rush albums in the basement, and in 2013 we got to witness this play out in real life. Turns out all rock stars, no matter the genre, are nerds in some way or another. The only difference is just depends on whether or not they choose to embrace it.
Going against the dominant themes of rock and metal throughout the ’90s, Coheed and Cambria fully embraced the overindulgence of ’70s prog. Not content with a side-long epic, or even a complete concept album, Coheed opened the new millennium with a multi-album sci-fi epic. Also in the “Rush” column: squeaky, stratospheric vocals, shredding guitar solos, and orchestral flourishes. But the songs themselves were short-blasts of melodic pop punk. When original drummer Josh Eppard left the band for personal reasons in 2006, Raskulinecz brought in Taylor Hawkins. Using guest and/or studio drummers is fairly common practice, but in this case it actually brought the whole band to another level. The fiery enthusiasm that Hawkins brings to the stage powers every track on No World For Tomorrow (jeez, even shortening that title, it’s still a mouthful), resulting in a less clenched and looser, more driving vibe. It’s the absolute apex of Coheed and Cambria’s catalog.
Ultimately, what higher compliment can you pay a musician then they elevate the game of everyone they play with? One quote that’s circulated on Twitter goes something like this: Taylor Hawkins is the only drummer that could play in Dave Grohl’s band and not make you wish Dave Grohl was behind the kit instead. Besides his obvious mastery of the drums, it was his joie de vivre that made the difference. Check out the wonderment on his face in the Los Angeles episode of the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways television series as guitar legend Joe Walsh lays down a solo for their album, or the gusto with which he channels his inner Freddie Mercury when he took over the mic for Queen’s “Somebody to Love” at his last show. There is no pretension, no snobbishness, just the enthusiasm of a free spirit who lived for music. Taylor Hawkins may no longer be with us, but he left the world a better place for music fans – all music fans.
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