A Gathering Voices post by Greg Garrett
Most people don't immediately connect spiritual wisdom with the multiple-Grammy-winning rock band Foo Fighters, fronted by Dave Grohl (formerly of Nirvana). People may know that they are one of the most successful bands in the world (the album Wasting Light debuted in April atop the Billboard charts, as well as atop the charts in Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and Australia, and the band’s recent and immediate sell-out of 110,000 tickets at Milton Keynes induced the BBC to call them “Britain’s Favorite Rock Band”). But one doesn’t immediately think of their music as having a spiritual quality.
Foo Fighters plays arenas. They play loud, they play well, and that in itself, as we’ve argued in this space, is a good thing. When one reviewer described “Dear Rosemary,” one of my favorite songs from Wasting Light, as “a brilliantly chiming, anthemic song of real restraint and grace that shows the parts themselves to be very much secondary to their sum,” I was reminded that even though we’re talking about arena rock, clearly this reviewer finds grace and beauty present.
To play a song so well that its grace and beauty become apparent is a step in the direction of spirituality. But the lyrics of many of these new songs demonstrate real life wisdom—some of it hard-earned—and a real attention to the spirit. They are songs about how we spend our lives on the way to death, on decisions we made we should have made better, on living with regret. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke summed up the album’s thematic emphases by noting “There are references to death—and the responsibility to leave things better than when you came in—all over this album.” And Paul Brannigan wrote in Q that this “soul mining” by Grohl had led to the “most life-affirming, positively-charged record of his career.”
And that is the spiritual wisdom that informs many of these songs: whatever has happened, we are capable of more, we are capable of better. In my tradition, we usually close those statements with another clause: “By God’s grace.”
One example of many: the album’s opener, “Bridge Burning,” refers to that thing human beings often do, burning our bridges behind us. Generally we’re taught not to do this. But what if our bridges to the past are the very things holding us back? Grohl sees this pyre not as the end, but as something capable of leading to new life—to the thing, perhaps we have been seeking:
Your bridges are burning down
They're all coming down
It's all coming round . . .
Gathering the ashes
Everything thrown away
Gathering the ashes
Scatter as they blow away
I am not the only person suggesting recently that the band has a spiritual side. In April, chaplain Tim Barrett put together a lovely resurrection-y clip to the song “Come Alive,” and the Catholic Diocese of Camden used Foo Fighters last fall at a men’s retreat.
Why don’t you take a listen—or listen more closely—and tell me what you hear?