Remembering Taylor Hawkins & the Foo Fighters

I’m writing this on the day that Taylor Hawkins, long time drummer of one of my favorite bands, the Foo Fighters, died. He was just 50-years-old; gone, like many rock stars before him, far too early.

I met Taylor, and the rest of the band*, just once, and only for a few seconds while part of a long queue to get their autographs. That’s not special or unique, but the circumstance that led to it was.

The Foo Fighters were opening up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers** in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee later that night. Instead of doing what most (or pretty much every band) does: wait around in their hotel and/or tour bus until the show starts, they put on an acoustic show at a locally-owned record shop, the now-defunct Disc Exchange (rest in peace, Disc Exchange).

Oh, and it was completely free. They didn’t charge a penny.

And they signed autographs for all 500 people who showed up to see them.

There’s caring about your fans, and then there’s this. It was simply above and beyond anything I’ve seen, then or since, from a band of their stature (even back then opening up for the Chili Peppers seemed an insult).

I was just 17 at the time. My mom, to her eternal credit, both picked up the tickets–they were free, but they had to be picked up from the Disc Exchange in person–and wrote a note for me to skip out on the last couple of classes of the day to see this show.

So there I was, packed in between the racks of CDs with my friends and a select few hundred fans, in the middle of the day, skipping English class, watching the Foo Fighters perform an acoustic set. I was probably a whole 20 feet (~6 meters) from one of my favorite bands, then or now.

Fans were shouting requests left and right between songs, which were largely being ignored. One dude kept shouting “X-Static” like his life depended on it. I decided to get in on the action, shouting “Play ‘New Way Home!'” It was the last track off their fantastic album The Color and the Shape, and remains one of my favorite Foo Fighters tracks. Dave looked in my general direction and said, “That would sound really cool acoustically!”

And then they fucking played it.

If I wasn’t already a Foo Fighters fan boy for life, I would be now.

And that was all before I got to meet them.

In preparation, I had bought a vinyl*** copy of their latest album There’s Nothing Left to Lose. It’s still my favorite Foo Fighters album. It was the first album featuring Hawkins on drums, and the songs run the gamut from hard rock (“Stacked Actors”) to pop (“Learn to Fly”) to melodic (“Aurora” and “Learn to Fly”) to even a hint of country (“Ain’t it the Life”).

The store said ahead of time that the Foo Fighters would only be signing their albums, though my friend only had a free magazine with the band members on the cover, and they gladly signed it anyway. I’m wondering if that was more of a “store policy” to sell more records, but I digress.

Of course, I was especially guilty of being focused on Dave Grohl, the rock legend that he already was at the time. Being in a shitty garage band myself, I asked him if he had any advice (in the approximately 3.7 seconds I had).

“Just keep rocking” he told me with a smile.

It’s still extraordinary for me to think back on now. I don’t even like to tell the story about them playing a song I requested. None of it seems believable. Part of me questions whether I just made the whole thing up. Is it really possible that one of the biggest rock bands in the world came to my small city in East Tennessee, played a free show at the record shop I frequented, played a song I requested, and then signed autographs for everyone? And then showed up the Red Hot Chili Peppers later that night to top it off?

It’s crazy to me that it was 22 years ago. And that Hawkins, who was relatively new to the group then, was a mainstay on the drum kit for 25 years. Half his life, as my wife remarked, with more than a hint of sadness.

I’ve seen the Foo Fighters several times since, most recently in Horsens, Denmark, in 2019.

I was in a foul mood before the show.

We had been “pre-gaming” with some friends who lived nearby, when I got a call from a job I had just interviewed for. It was another rejection, and an absolutely devastating one at the time. My wife was 12 weeks pregnant, so the pressure of real, adult life, paired with years of immigration struggles and hundreds of job rejections, was just becoming too much to bear.

And yet, when the Foo Fighters took to the stage, and started into the first few notes of “The Pretender,” some of those sorrows and stresses took a backseat for a couple of hours. I was 17 again, watching one of my favorite rock bands. Music has the power to transport you to another time and another place, and help you cope with everything life throws at you.

Carl Sagan once wrote, “One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” I think the same can be said for any great art, including music. Taylor’s voice and influence will be felt for a very long time, indeed.

Although we only briefly met–if you can even call signing an album “meeting”–Taylor, and the rest of the Foo Fighters became a huge part of my life. They helped me get through some tough times, and helped me celebrate the good ones. And everything in between for most of my life.

The beats that Taylor laid down will live on, as will the countless memories he created for me, and the millions of Foo Fighters fans worldwide. And that is a legacy worth celebrating.

*They were a four-piece at the time, Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, and Taylor Hawkins.
**The opening band, incidentally, was Muse! Talk about a stacked line-up!
***This album–along with the signatures–has since been lost to time. I’m guessing it ended up in an attic when I went to college, and then tossed shortly thereafter. I’m now particularly gutted that I wasn’t able to keep it during my many moves from then to now. Of course, I have it on CD, MP3, and even vinyl (again), but obviously it’s not the same.