Gray Areas: Grohl doc looks at road life
If this music thing doesn’t work out, Dave Grohl might have a future as a filmmaker.
I loved “Sound City,” the documentary Grohl directed in 2013 about the recording studio where everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Tom Petty to Nirvana recorded iconic albums, and the Neve soundboard used during those sessions.
The latest documentary from the Warren native, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Foo Fighters frontman is “What Drives Us,” a look at life on the road as a musician.
This isn’t a story of private jets and the tricked-out tour buses used by musicians of Grohl’s stature. Grohl focuses on the formative period of his career and those he interviews, when a band piled too much gear and too many people into a too-small van that became the musicians’ living space whenever they weren’t on stage.
There are some sad, horrifying stories. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea talks about his abusive childhood and how even the worst parts of being on the road were a welcome escape from what he had known. Drummer D.H. Peligro talks about the racism he encountered on the road with the Dead Kennedys and how it helped fuel his addiction problems.
But “What Drives Us” largely is a romanticized take on these experiences, where the good nights with a large, enthusiastic crowd can make up for too many nights when a band ends up playing to just the bar staff. And, if nothing else, even the worst nights make for great stories decades later.
Grohl talks to a wide range of talent — Ringo Star of the Beatles, Brian Johnson of AC / DC, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, St. Vincent, Tony Kanal of No Doubt, Ben Harper, Exene Cervenka of X, Jennifer Finch of L7 and young bands like Radkey and Starcrawler.
Grohl is no stranger to being interviewed, which no doubt helps him on the other side of the camera, and being a peer probably helped get some of the participants to open up to him. Some of the stories feel like the ones shared between friends over a pint instead of a Q&A in front of a camera crew.
Maybe the most informative segment in “What Drives Us” is an explanation of how the bands D.O.A. and Black Flag created the network of clubs, promoters and contacts that countless other punk and indie bands used when they mustered up the courage to get in their own van and go on tour.
“What Drives Us” debuted Friday on the Coda Collection, a music-centric streaming service that is available through Amazon Prime. It’s available for a free seven-day trial and then $4.99 per month after that.
I don’t know if Coda has enough content to merit adding another streaming service, but those who get the free trial to watch “What Drives Us” also should check out the documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine.” For music fans in the ’70s, Creem was the scruffier, snarkier and more adventurous sibling rival of Rolling Stone, and its behind-the-scenes story has as much drama as any of the musicians it chronicled.
“What Drives Us” isn’t Grohl’s only new project. Premiering Friday on Paramount+ is “From Cradle to Stage,” a series based on the book of the same name by Grohl’s mother, Virginia Hanlon Grohl. The six-episode series features other mothers of famous musicians talking about the challenges of raising creative kids who, maybe, dream of touring the country in a van instead of paying attention in class.
The debut episode features Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons and his mother, Christine Reynolds. Other episodes feature Pharrell, Miranda Lambert, Brandi Carlile, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Geddy Lee (Rush) with their mothers.
Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.