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Sonic Highways: The World According to Grohl

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What is it with Dave Grohl, anyway? Is he really one of the hardest working guys in music, or just an overachiever? Is he fulfilling some kind of double life, rockstar/filmmaker fantasy these days?

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If you ask anyone who is relatively familiar with his work if they thought the former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters‘ front man could make a movie as well as he can play an instrument, they would probably tell you “yes.” He’s that kind of good… It’s not just that he’s one of the best drummers on the planet, nor the brain-child behind one of the most successful rock bands of the last 20 years, it’s that he’s also just a really, really cool guy… And while I’ve never met him in person, what I’ve seen of him over the years tells me that Dave Grohl is something of an anomaly. A genuine modern day rock star.

As much as I loved Kurt Cobain, and his poetry, I’ve always said a really good drummer can make a shitty band sound great.

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No matter what part of the country, from the smallest town to the biggest city, music has touched nearly every single one of our 300 million lives. Whether it’s listening to the radio alone in your room as a kid or seeing your first live concert, music has the power to transform an individual into part of something bigger… Something greater than the sum of its parts. Whether the musician on the road, stopping in city after city, or the crowd that greets them wherever they go, we as Americans, love music. From the Smokey Mountains to the Big Apple to the Hotel California, music makes up so much of how we see ourselves and who we see ourselves as.

Just like every one of us has had a favorite song or album at one point, one of our other shared experiences is the tried-and-true ritual of figuring out just what the heck the lyrics mean. We’ve all done it. Whether it’s a song you’ve heard a thousand times or a lyric you hear on the radio in passing, there has come a point in every music lover’s life when they’ve wondered what an artist was thinking when they put pen to paper. In HBO’s mini-series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways, musician and wunderkind Dave Grohl breaks the mystery wide open and examines one of the last common languages in America, the music that we love…

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What started out as an idea to shake up the recording process for their latest album by recording in different studios across the country, turned into one of the best things to happen to music since MTV aired Teen Mom. Dave and his band the Foo Fighters hit the road with a camera crew and the goal of recording a different song in a different city each week.

As they trace the highways of America from city to city stopping in various recording studios, they uncover the history behind each one, as well as the city’s music scene in general. With interviews and a rock-umentary style, we see how each city influenced what people were listening to in the rest of the country. In doing so, Grohl gives us a peek inside all of our lives, musicians and listeners alike, through the music we’ve all shared. It’s a fascinating point of view, and no matter if you have even heard of the Foo Fighters, there’s a little bit of you in there as well.

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Starting in Chicago, Dave, Taylor, and the rest of the Foos stop at legendary producer Steve Albini’s studio to record the first song on the album. While working around the clock on a new song, Dave interviews various artists from the Windy City, from Cheap Trick to Bonnie Raitt, who talk about the evolution of music in Chicago. Then he sits down with a pen and pad and writes, using various lines and references from the interviews. The episode ends with the Foo Fighters performing the song with the lyrics scribbled out behind them. It’s really cool to listen to the song, read the lyrics, and connect back to the stories and interviews from the episode. It gives it more emotional weight than just sitting down to read the lyrics and trying to figure out what the song is about, plus the songs are for the most part, really good. Simply because of the way they album is being recorded, it’s more experimental than “classic” Foo.

Dave has always been able to turn a catchy phrase, but I’ve always thought he’s at his best when he’s from the heart on classics like “Everlong” or “The Best of You,” and the strict concept of the show doesn’t allow for the necessary process to take place. That being said, the songs aren’t the highlight of the show. In all honesty, the album Sonic Highways, which will be released after the final episode, is more of a companion piece to the episodes, which are filled with great music from each city anyway. That is to say, Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways is a much, much better show than it is an album, and so far it’s a really good album. Which works, because many of the people that will thoroughly enjoy this show probably wouldn’t sit through an entire Foo Fighters album. It’s that good.

So far they’ve hit Chicago, Washington D.C., and Nashville, where Dave and the gang jam with the Zac Brown Band and interview Dolly, Willie, and many, many other country legends. It’s hilarious to watch the guys go from cracking jokes about the Women of Country dressing room at the Grand Ol Opry to all sporting cowboy hats in the studio by the end of the week. It probably didn’t help that the chef at Brown’s own Southern Ground Studios had the barbecue going around the clock. From the Blue Bird to the Grand Ol Opry, Grohl’s journey through the Country Music Capital of the World is a fascinating hour of television. Especially when Dolly tells a great story about Elvis’ ill-fated attempt to record “I Will Always Love You” after calling a young, clean-shaven Willie Nelson a dork. It’s a must-see for any music lover out there with the ability to watch HBO.

Sonic Highways is on Friday nights on HBO, or available anytime on HBO Go. The show also has custom playlists of the non-Foos music from each episode, along with commentary from the band and interviews on Beats Music and iTunes. This Friday night, the guys make a stop in Austin.

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