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SXSW: Dave Grohl talks Chicago, inspires the aspiring

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Dave Grohl stepped to the podium Thursday morning to deliver the keynote address at SXSW 2013, rolled up his sleeves, tucked his hair behind his ears -- and put on reading glasses.

The move spoke not only to rock's AARP eligibility but to the paternal tone of his address. Largely an autobiography of a lifetime spent pursuing some measure of independence in his music, Grohl's speech aimed not at the media and industry crowding the Austin Convention Center ballroom but at any indie-rock kids who might hear him.

"There is no right or wrong there is only your voice," he dispensed. "It's your voice. Cherish it, respect it, challenge it ... Everyone's blessed with at least that."

In Austin to hype his new documentary, "Sound City: Real to Reel," Grohl barely mentioned it, largely trying to inspire with his speech rather than merely shill for his flick.

The Foo Fighters leader and former Nirvana drummer began his hourlong talk with the moment of his birth, but wrapped it up by stating hope that his own two daughters will find their own way in the world. His remarks retraced that wayfinding, beginning with a K-tel record. His sister bought it in 1975, and it contained Edgar Winter's instrumental "Frankenstein," which he proceeded to scat for the audience. Hearing the tune was a life-changing moment, he said, adding, "It was the riff. I gave it all up for a f---in' riff."

Much of his tale he has told before, including the other pivotal musical moments he experienced during summer family visits in the Chicago area. He described (somehow) getting into the Cubby Bear to hear local punk legends Naked Raygun ("The most ferocious noise! Bodies were flying everywhere ... piss and puke. I was in heaven!") and making the pilgrimage to Wax Trax! Records to begin stocking up on the requisite punk catalog.

Grohl demonstrated the crude multitracking technique he came up with as a teen. With one tape machine, he recorded a few bars of a guitar riff. He placed that tape into another player and played it back, while recording some drum beats on the body of his guitar. Voila -- the new recording contained both sounds!

Grohl's rewind was full of life-changing moments -- a political punk show in Washington, D.C., a single question ("Have you heard of Nirvana?"), the death of Kurt Cobain.

"When Kurt died, I was lost. I was numb. The music that I had devoted my life to had now betrayed me. I had no voice. I put away my drums. I turned off the radio. I couldn't bear to hear someone else singing about their own pain or happiness."

He re-emerged with a self-made album, which he labeled the Foo Fighters, which became -- as once described by Pitchfork, a media outlet he disparaged midway through his speech -- "his generation's answer to Tom Petty -- a consistent hit machine pumping out working-class rock."

Grohl's talk about Grohl was a bit thin after recent SXSW keynotes -- Bruce Springsteen's rousing music history lesson last year, Bob Geldof's still-poignant pleas for rock's social conscience in 2011 -- but it contained nuggets of self-awareness and inspiration for aspiring contemporary musicians.

Repeating a mantra about finding one's individual voice, he confessed, "F--- guilty pleasure! How about just pleasure? ... I can truthfully say out loud that 'Gangnam Style' is one of my favorite f---ing songs of the past year."

Dave Grohl's Sound City Players is a temporary supergroup featuring Grohl, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Nielsen and many more. They perform an anticipated showcase later tonight.


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on March 14, 2013 2:08 PM.

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