I mean this as no disrespect to the long tenures, considerable talents, and sizable contributions of Nate Mendel and Chris Shiflett, but I have always thought of Foo Fighters as “Dave Grohl’s band with Taylor Hawkins.” That perspective is not, strictly speaking, accurate, but it does seem to capture the spirit of the band. While Mendel and Shiflett appeared content to exist in the background, both Grohl and Hawkins seemed impossibly massive. This is what rock stars look like. And, across all the media I’ve consumed, both guys seemed impossibly kind, the kind of guys who would make a fan’s night just because they can or who would turn human-meme Rick Astley into a conquering hero. They were the life of the party, and they wanted everyone to attend.
And if Foo Fighters is Grohl’s party, then Hawkins, who died last week, was much more than Grohl’s most charismatic wingman. He was a standout on his own; he was the human manifestation of the joy of playing drums in a rock band. That infectious enthusiasm and telegenic inclusiveness bled into their songs. In the band’s first decade, Foo Fighters released an absurd number of hit singles, as well as a huge catalog of deep cuts that would become beloved by an army of fans. Grohl’s vocals and songwriting were viscerally powerful and broadly appealing, yes, but some credit for that success has to go to Hawkins, who was both a visually arresting percussionist—all long limbs and flowing locks—and also an immense talent.
Hawkins has long been on the shortlist of my favorite drummers, alongside the likes of Nick Crescenzo and Rudy Gajadhar; he brought energy and soul to beats and fills that were technically impressive and, more importantly, so perfectly attuned to a song’s vibe that they felt as melodic as they were rhythmic, embodying the very heartbeat of the song. That style resonated with me and so, when song ideas flit through my head, the drumming often sounds like Taylor Hawkins, and when I played drums in Rock Band, every fill was the fill at the end of the guitar solo in “No Way Back.” Because, if I could really play the drums, I’d want to play them the way Taylor Hawkins did. I don’t know what higher praise I can offer than that.
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