Google “dave grohl nicest man in rock” without the quotes, and more than 400,000 results pop up; throughout his rise from ’80s hardcore stalwart to Nirvana’s drummer before sealing his commercial durability with Foo Fighters, Grohl has miraculously maintained a reputation as a genuinely nice guy. He’s also a private man, as he admits to music writer Paul Brannigan more than once in This Is A Call: The Life And Times Of Dave Grohl, the first stab at a Grohl biography: “I don’t understand the need for someone to expose themselves entirely to the world,” he admits. “If there were two million people that knew me really well that would be kinda weird.” Brannigan begins with an anecdote about drinking with Grohl in a London pub in 2005, with the latter saying “I would consider the two of us to be friends.” Brannigan is understandably not about to test that relationship. The resulting biography is surface-level, a nominally unauthorized take, well within its subject’s comfort zone.
Certainly Brannigan isn’t about to delve too deeply into subjects like Grohl’s first marriage, to Jennifer Youngblood; the most detailed comment that gets is Grohl’s observation that during the divorce proceedings, she “was not being cool at all.” The only real sense of conflict comes when detailing the Foos’ often-fraught recording sessions, with details often plucked from the 2011 documentary Back And Forth. Grohl is available for predictably enthusiastic, endearing commentary, but there’s little fresh material. What’s a biographer to do?
Brannigan’s solution is to double down on contextual history and recommendations. Before Foo Fighters form (more than halfway through the book), Grohl is a recurring player in his own history, disappearing for 10 or 15 pages at a time while Brannigan sketches the history of DC hardcore, recommends records, and gets sucked into far-better-known stories. It’s questionable whether the world needs another tribute to Nirvana’s Nevermind, at one point described as “an indecently thrilling body of work, a collection of breath-robbing, heart-pounding songs… twelve deathless shards of noise,” only to be deemed a mere two pages later as “this intoxicating tangle of angst, attitude, screaming guitars and fragmented lyrical riddles.” Once more, Grohl is reduced to playing bearer for Cobain’s already-well-dissected legacy.
Much of This Is A Call follows in a similar vein, alternating hyperbolic critical fragments with hardcore history, interrupted occasionally by its ostensible subject. The back half is a straight recap of the highlights of Grohl’s discography. What makes it tolerable are unpretentious quotes from the man himself, who remains garrulous, though not revealing; in spite of his amiably profane availability, This Is A Call never seems particularly eager to fill out 353 pages on Dave Grohl by concentrating on the man himself.