Dave Grohl is sprawled out on a couch inside his trailer, flipping through photos on his Blackberry, largely ignoring everything happening around him (a list of potential distractions that, at this moment, includes "Pat Smear getting makeup applied to his face," "Nate Mendel sitting next to a plate of vegetables," and "Taylor Hawkins shouting about Queen's 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' ") when all of a sudden, he stops, looks up at me and thrusts his phone in my face.
"Look at this, man, let me show you something," he says, presenting me with a photo of him shaking hands with President Barack Obama. "Don't f--- this up."
He is only kidding, in that faux-serious way that he is better than pretty much anyone (or at least anyone who used to be in Nirvana) at trying to psyche me out minutes before we go live on MTV for the premiere of the Foo Fighters' "Rope" video. So, I make a joke about how he was really slumming it with me, at which point he quickly pulls the device back to his chest, finds another picture and shows it to me.
"Don't be like that," he scolds. "Be like this."
It's a photo of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, decked out all in white, addressing the masses during the band's legendary 1985 Live Aid performance, a photo that captures everything that was great and majestic about not only the band, but rock and roll in general. And in showing it to me, not only does Dave Grohl confirm the fact that he is a terrifyingly huge Queen fan (the kind that carries photos of Mercury on his Blackberry), but he also reveals what may very well be his guiding principle: Believe in nothing less than the life-affirming power of rock.
It's an outlook that has led him to share the stage with Jimmy Page and record albums with Lemmy Kilmister, an enthusiasm that belies the fact that he is 42 years old and has been playing in bands for nearly 30 of those years. And above all else, it is why — despite being (at the very least) a key cog or (at the very most) the driving force behind two of the biggest rock acts of the past 20 years — he is not above messing around with a guy like me, or keeping pictures of Freddy Mercury on his phone. He is, first and foremost, a rock-obsessed super-fan, a true believer. In other words, he is not all that different from you or me. Only with better connections.
But what makes Grohl different is that he uses those connections to spread the gospel. It's why he decided to record the Foos' new album, Wasting Light in his own garage, why he recruited Bob Mould (of Grohl's all-time favorite acts, Husker Du) to sing on the song "Dear Rosemary," and why he reunited with former Nirvana mate Krist Novoselic on the stunning "I Should Have Known." It's what any of us would've done if we were in his shoes: make the record of our dreams, our way, with our heroes and friends. On one hand, it's a selfish move, on the other, it's selfless ... dutiful even. Rock has been good to Dave Grohl, and so now he will be good to it, by honoring — and harnessing — its powers for good.
And all of that may seem like utter nonsense, but take one look at Grohl any time he's onstage — the goofy smile, the wild eyes, the genuine sense of abandon he displays — and try to tell me he's not being sincere. Or, better yet, watch him interact with his fans, like I did on Thursday in Northridge, California, at the home of Shivan Somaratne, the Foo Fighters fanatic who was chosen by MTV to host the premiere of "Rope." Grohl truly was in his element, cracking jokes, posing for pictures, signing albums and T-shirts and even a chest or two. He was genuinely touched when Somaratne told him that the first song he ever learned to play on guitar was the Foo's "Everlong" — though he was quick to laugh, "Well, it's a simple song" — and seemed grateful when Somaratne handed him a demo CD he had just recorded with his band. You got the feeling he was even going to listen to it.
This was a man who put himself on the same level as the kids in a California suburb, despite 20 years of evidence to the contrary. A man who showed up to the premiere of his new video wearing the same clothes he wore in the video. A man who purchased, customized and fully stocked a white limousine, for no real reason other than it's sort of an awesome thing to do. In other words, this was Dave Grohl doing what he does best: living as the embodiment of rock's true power, and by doing so, encouraging others to do the same thing.
It's what makes him so likable and humble, and what separates him from 95 percent of other rock stars in his strata. He does not take himself seriously in the very least but he takes rock and roll incredibly seriously.
Which is probably why, minutes before we went live, he grabbed me, looked me square in my eyes and said, "Don't be nervous." Or why, after we had made it through the premiere, he smiled and said, simply, "You didn't f--- it up." And he wasn't joking this time. He is perhaps rock's purest ambassador, a man on a mission to spread the good word (or at least buy some Queen albums). On some level, Dave Grohl wants us all to be rock stars.