It’s hard to imagine a famous rock band with a happier image than the Foo Fighters. Their frontman is the famously nice Dave Grohl, who managed to come across as a fairly joyous figure even when he was drumming for the significantly angstier Nirvana. Their music is punchy, rich in memorable riffs, and easy to sing and/or scream along. Some of their most famous music videos, like "Everlong," "Learn to Fly," and "Big Me," lean heavily on comedy and absurdity. Heck, as Rolling Stone tells us, they once made sure that their road crew was fed properly by issuing their concert venues a 52-page children’s activity book of catering do’s and don’ts.
Sure, all that easygoing humor and childlike whimsy is part of the Foo experience, but it’s by no means the complete thing. Foo Fighters are still a famous rock band, and like so many of their peers, they have plenty of drama and tragic incidents in their history. Today, we’ll take a look at the tragic real-life story of the Foo Fighters.
The Foo Fighters are a band born of tragedy
In 1994, Nirvana broke up in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Dave Grohl told Louder in 2018 that he was at a loss after the grunge group came to an end, though it was not for lack of options. "I was asked to join a couple of other bands as the drummer, but I just couldn’t imagine doing that because it would just remind me of being in Nirvana," he said. "Every time I sat down at a drum set, I would think of that."
Grohl’s solution to the problem was to not sit down at a drum set. After contemplating his options, and even considering quitting music altogether, he remembered Steward Copeland of The Police. Copeland, a fellow drummer, had a solo project called Klark Kent, which allowed him to make music as someone who was decidedly not "Stewart Copeland from The Police." Grohl chose a similar approach, and became the Foo Fighters, writing and playing all the songs for the project’s self-titled debut album by himself. For live show purposes, he recruited bass player Nate Mendell and drummer William Goldsmith, as well as former Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear.
Grohl initially found the frontman role difficult, but the album came out in 1995 and was a success. Just like that, the Foo Fighters were an esteemed band.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The William Goldsmith controversy
The Foo Fighters’ first drummer, William Goldsmith, was not a happy camper when it came to his tenure with the band. As NME tells us, Goldsmith drummed for the band between 1995 and 1997, but he ended up leaving in the wake of recording their sophomore album, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. Goldberg took issue with the fact that the finished record had replaced all Goldberg’s drum tracks with ones played by Dave Grohl, and has stated that he was essentially fired from the band. What’s more, Grohl reminds Goldsmith of a school bully. "He was a bit like the kid who is popular but is mean and everyone likes them," the former Foo drummer has said.
In an interview with Beats 1 (via NME), Taylor Hawkins had some words about his predecessor’s claims. "The first drummer for the Foo Fighters buckled under the pressure, and still blames Dave for that," Hawkins said. "It’s like, no, dude, and Dave never fired him, by the way." In a 2018 interview with Louder, Grohl more or less concurred with Hawkins’ version of the events. According to him, Goldsmith’s drum work simply didn’t sound like the frontman wanted them to. When the band took a Christmas break, Grohl says he started working on some new songs, and played the drums for them — and when Goldsmith found out about it, there was a "breakdown" and he walked out.
Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighter divorce
According to Rolling Stone, Dave Grohl didn’t have a great time recording the Foo Fighters’ second album, The Colour and the Shape. Not only did the sessions cost him a drummer when William Goldsmith walked out of the band, but his personal life was also in trouble, as his marriage with Jennifer Youngblood was falling apart. This reflected heavily on how the record sounded and was structured, and Grohl has even stated that the album reminds him of a bunch of his journal entries from late 1996.
As Louder tells us, Grohl’s turbulent domestic situation made the famous rock star’s living arrangements resemble those of aspiring young musicians who are yet to taste fame. "I was living out of my duffel bag on this cat piss-stained mattress in my friend’s back room with 12 people in the house," the frontman describes the era. "It was f***ing awful. Made for a good record, though."
The irony of the fact that The Colour and the Shape has helped other people through similar hardships hasn’t gone unnoticed with Grohl. "People come up to me -– it’s usually men -– and say: ‘Man, that album, it helped me through my divorce,’" he says. "I’m like: ‘Really? It caused mine.’"
The ‘One by One’ fiasco
The Foo Fighters’ fourth album, 2002’s One by One, won a Grammy. So did its hard-rocking lead single, "All My Life." However, in a 2018 interview with Louder, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins were quick to comment that the creative process for the esteemed record was less than pleasant. "The making of that album was a fiasco," Grohl said. The band had added guitarist Chris Shiflett in the fold, and Grohl wanted to hone the album’s sound to perfection. Unfortunately, this ended up killing everything that the band was supposed to sound like. "I’d listen back to rough mixes, and think this sounds like another band playing our songs," the frontman not-too-fondly reminisces.
Faced with the fact that he was about to embark on a promotional tour for an album he could not proudly stand behind, Grohl realized that his only viable option was to discard the entire thing, along with nearly $1 million they had spent recording it. The Foo Fighters ended up having a three-month timeout, and Grohl focused on his side gig as a drummer for the Queens of the Stone Age. When Grohl and Hawkins eventually started demoing new songs again, the magic was back, and the band ended up recording One by One in about two weeks.
Pat Smear’s departure almost broke the Foo Fighters up
Pat Smear is one of the most iconic members of the Foo Fighters, but the former Nirvana touring guitarist and member of the legendary punk outfit Germs hasn’t always felt that life as a Foo Fighter is for him. As Rolling Stone tells us, Smear had a history of disliking flying and interviews, and as such, he has a reported tendency to quit bands rather quickly. Dave Grohl got a taste of this in 1997, when Smear told the Foos that he wanted to leave the band behind — before their second album, The Color and the Shape, was even released.
As Louder tells us, this came at an extremely inopportune moment. William Goldberg had quit the band just a short while ago, and new drummer Taylor Hawkins had just stepped in a couple of weeks before Smear dropped the bomb. This left the band in total shock and disarray. "That was a splintered f***ing band at that point," Hawkins remembers the situation. "It really was," Grohl agrees. "The band was just holding on by our fingertips this whole time."
Fortunately for the Foo Fighters and their fingertips, Smear agreed to stay with the group until they could secure a suitable replacement. In September 1997, Smear handed his guitar duties over to Franz Stahl midway through the band’s set at the MTV Video Music Awards. He ended up returning to the band in 2005.
Foo Fighters fired Franz Stahl
The Foo Fighters’ original rhythm guitarist Pat Smear made his exit from the band in 1997. His replacement was Franz Stahl, an old bandmate of Dave Grohl from their days in the hardcore band Scream, but as Alternative Nation (via Spin) reports. the new guy’s acquaintance with the band leader didn’t secure his place in the band. In 1999, Stahl was fired in a conference call, and while he’s quick to note that his two years with the band were the best ones in his life, he’s still pretty sore about the unceremonious way his life as a Foo Fighter ended. "There’s never been any sort of closure on any of it," Stahl said in 2015. "And we’re going on 20 years now."
If the interview Grohl gave to Louder in 2018 is any indication, Stahl may have to wait for his closure, at least when it comes to public statements. The Foo frontman’s only comment about the guitarist’s departure was: "It didn’t work out with Franz." However, it must be noted that there doesn’t appear to be too much bad blood between the two. After all, Alternative Nation notes that the year 2018 also saw the release of NMC17, a remixed reissue Scream’s No More Censorship album that was honed at Grohl’s 606 Studio.
Taylor Hawkins overdoses
The ideal number of overdoses in a rock band is always zero, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In an interview with Matt Wilkinson of Beats 1 (via NME), the Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins told of his very personal experience in this particular matter. Hawkins overdosed on heroin on a trip to London in 2001, and it was so bad that he spent two weeks in a coma. "I wasn’t like a junkie per se, but I was partying," Hawkins described his state of mind at the time. "There was a year where the partying just got a little too heavy."
In hindsight, Hawkins is grateful that he had this terrifying experience, because it turned him right off the hard-partying lifestyle. It probably didn’t hurt that the overdose came during a time when he genuinely feared that the Foo Fighters would break up — either because of him, because of Dave Grohl’s involvement with the Queens of the Stone Age, or because of the band’s bad experiences recording the One by One album. Fortunately, his fears were unfounded. Even more fortunately, his former fondness of narcotics has given way to other interests. As Hawkins reveals in an interview with Kerrang!, these days he’s more about mountain biking.
Foo Fighters’ strange AIDS controversy
It’s not uncommon for bands to lend their name to charitable causes, but as Spin tells us, the Foo Fighters once supported a pretty shady one. In 2000, the band played a benefit show for a fringe organization called Alive and Well, which claimed that there’s no connection between HIV and AIDS. They also put a link to the Alive and Well website on the Foo Fighters’ home page, and as MTV News reported at the time, their website even included a statement that started: "The current thinking on AIDS is in serious need of reconsideration."
Aligning the band with Alive and Well appears to have been bass player Nate Mendel’s idea. After reading founder Christine Maggiore’s books and being in touch with her, he started questioning the HIV-AIDS link. "The rest of the band also looked into it, and as a group we are sure we are doing the right thing by speaking out about this," Mendel said. Unfortunately for him, the band’s fans wholeheartedly disagreed, as did several experts, up to and including Sandra Thurman, director of the office on national AIDS policy for the White House.
Fortunately, this seems to have been a fairly short phase. According to Look to the Stars, a website that lists celebrities’ charitable activities, Alive and Well is nowhere to be seen on the Foo Fighters’ supported charities. Meanwhile, the site notes that Dave Grohl very much supports the actually noteworthy Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Foo Fighters is a difficult band for drummers
When the singer and lead guitarist of your band also happens to be one of the most famous drummers in the world, providing the beats can be difficult – and Dave Grohl isn’t afraid of making things hard for his drummers. As Rolling Stone tells us, the Foo Fighters lost their first drummer, William Goldsmith, when they made their sophomore album, The Colour and the Shape. The first sessions were an awful experience for everyone, but Goldsmith got the brunt of it. "Dave had me do 96 takes of one song, and I had to do 13 hours’ worth of takes on another one," the drummer later told Miami New Times. In the end, even this wasn’t enough, and Grohl ended up playing all the drums himself. Ouch.
Goldsmith’s successor, Taylor Hawkins, has been with the band since he joined in 1997. Still, even he has admitted to Kerrang! that the gig is an incredibly demanding juggling act, and the studio process has always been difficult. "It’s not an easy gig, I won’t lie," he says. "But that’s not because [Grohl’s] a jerk, because he’s not. It’s just hard to impress him."
Dave Grohl’s drunk-driving incident
Drunk driving is never a joke, but in 2000, Dave Grohl managed to be involved in a DUI incident that might not end up on a list of worst celebrity crimes in history. According to Alternative Nation, the Foo Fighters were touring Australia at the time, and Grohl enjoyed local beverages so much that he got, in his own words, "thrown in jail for being drunk on a scooter."
As MTV News tells us, the Foo frontman had enjoyed a few beers before rocking a rental scooter and getting stopped by the local law enforcement. When it turned out that his blood alcohol level was .095 and the legal limit was .05, Grohl was promptly taken in. He ultimately received a fine of AU$400 (roughly $280) and was forbidden from driving in Australia for three months.
While Grohl said that he regretted his DUI conviction, he also pointed out that it wasn’t like he was "out here on tour, wrapping cars around trees." Meanwhile, local Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesperson Tresa Hardt noted that the singer did break the law. "I hope this incident is a learning experience for Dave and his fans and that they remember not to drink and drive," Hardt said.
Dave Grohl breaks his leg
As Consequence of Sound tells us, the Foo Fighters tour in 2015 hit a serious snag when Dave Grohl fell off the stage during a concert in Gothenburg, Sweden. Grohl broke his leg, but managed to return to the stage, and finished the concert in a sitting position. However, this put the rest of the tour in jeopardy. How could a frontman with a broken leg sing and play guitar, night after night?
Fortunately, Grohl was able to find a solution to the dilemma. As Louder tells us, the band leader decided he’d play the upcoming Washington, D.C. concert regardless of what happened. He took some Oxycontin and morphine, and in the ensuing fever dream he came up with a magnificent guitar-themed throne, which enabled him to rock out in a sitting position. Drummer Taylor Hawkins later told Louder that the rest of the band thought the idea was crazy, but it ended up working extremely well — and not just for Grohl, either. As Louder notes, the Foo Fighters frontman let Axl Rose borrow the throne for the Guns N’ Roses reunion shows in 2016, after Rose had broken his foot. Synergy!
The Courtney Love feud
As ABC News and Rolling Stone tell us, Dave Grohl feuded with Kurt Cobain’s widow for roughly two decades. After Cobain died in 1994, Courtney Love and the surviving Nirvana members were at constant odds. In 2001, Love sued the pair over the limited liability company that controlled Nirvana’s assets, arguing that Nirvana was Cobain and, as such, his widow and daughter were the rightful heirs. Grohl and Novoselic promptly counter-sued in order to kick her out from the LLC altogether.
The cases were eventually settled, but bad blood persisted and Love and Grohl pelted each other with nasty remarks. Sometimes, things got quite ugly. As the A.V. Club tells us, the Foo Fighters song "I’ll Stick Around" is about Love and contains the barbed line: "How could it be I’m the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity?" Though Grohl hasn’t admitted it, there are allegations that other Foo songs, like "Stacked Actors," also reference her. Meanwhile, the Hollywood Reporter reminds us that in 2012, Love insinuated that Grohl was sexually interested in her and Cobain’s then 19-year-old daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. Eventually, the young Cobain had to step in and tell her mother off — in a statement released through the Foo Fighters’ publicity company, no less.
Fortunately, this long story of animosity comes with a happy end. In 2014, Grohl and Love seemingly buried the hatchet, and hugged it out at Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.