Dave Grohl: The Path To Nirvana

The following day the Novoselics threw a barbecue at their house for the visiting British journalists, and the drummer sat quietly in the background chowing down on surf and turf as Cobain, Novoselic, and Peters outlined their future plans to Cameron. The next day he joined Cobain and Novoselic at the Dutchman, the grubby Seattle rehearsal room where the pair had written “Sliver” with Peters just a few months earlier, and auditioned for a vacancy Peters understandably thought had already been filled. Before the trio had finished running through their opening number, Cobain and Novoselic knew that they’d got their man. The following day Kurt Cobain dropped in unannounced to Calvin Johnson’s KAOS radio show to play an impromptu four-song acoustic session. During the show he casually informed Johnson that Nirvana had a new drummer, nothing less than “the drummer of our dreams.”

“His name is Dave and he’s a baby Dale Crover,” he enthused. “He plays almost as good as Dale. And within a few years’ practice he may even give him a run for his money.”

Dan Peters missed Cobain’s surprise announcement on KAOS. So when Nirvana’s frontman called him the following day, Peters assumed Cobain wanted to talk about the band’s imminent UK tour. Instead, he was sheepishly informed that the band had recruited a new permanent drummer. Communication had never been one of Cobain’s strong points, as Grohl himself had immediately discovered.

“I don’t remember them saying, ‘You’re in the band,’” Grohl admitted years later. “We just continued.”

Nirvana’s new drummer played his first gig with the band at the North Shore Surf Club in Olympia, Washington, on October 11, 1990. The 300-capacity club had sold out within a day of the tickets going on sale, a feat which so impressed Grohl that he felt compelled to phone home to share the news with his mother.

The show was sweaty, frenzied, and intense. Grohl had to start the set’s opening number, a cover of The Vaselines’ “Son Of A Gun,” no less than three times, as the band kept blowing the power in the tiny venue. A few songs later the bare-chested drummer put his sticks right through his snare drum skin: Cobain held the broken drum aloft like a war trophy to the cheering crowd. Grohl had officially arrived.

“I felt I had something to prove,” he later recalled. “I knew we sounded good as a band. And we were f__king good that night. Absolutely, I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone — no one in the audience, no one in the band. I was completely on my own. That was the only thing that mattered, that hour on stage. That’s what I was focused on.”

“Grohl was simply a monster,” says Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross, then editor of Seattle’s The Rocket. “Chad Channing is often underrated; he was a great drummer for the early van-touring Nirvana because he was an affable guy, a talented drummer, and he played the punk-era songs of Nirvana as well as anyone. However, with Dave Grohl Nirvana became a very different beast. He powered Nirvana’s shows and made them spectacular events. It was Grohl who turned Nirvana into the powerhouse it became.”

“His contribution transformed us into a force of nature,” said Novoselic. “Nirvana was now a beast that walked the earth.”

This Is The Life

After returning from a whirlwind ten-day U.K. tour in late October 1990 with L7, Dave Grohl moved in with Cobain at 114 North Pear Street in Olympia. He was quite unprepared for the squalor in which his friend lived: 114 North Pear Street made the scuzzy European squats where Grohl had laid his head during his days with Scream look like palatial Georgetown townhouses. The kitchen was filthy, covered in mold and littered with half-eaten corndogs, beer cans, and putrefying takeaway food. There was only one tiny bedroom, which Cobain had painted black. The living room was cramped and foul-smelling, the TV was broken, and the floor was barely visible beneath the detritus of Cobain’s bachelor life. Half the room was taken up by Cobain’s stinking turtle aquarium, the other half by a couch which doubled as a spare bed. This was to be Dave Grohl’s home for the next eight months.

Grohl did work on his own music while under Cobain’s roof, sketching out song ideas with an acoustic guitar on the singer’s 4-track tape recorder. But the priority, obviously, was Nirvana. The band had rented out a rehearsal space in Tacoma, essentially a carpeted barn with a P.A., and Cobain insisted they practice every day. Grohl soon settled into his new routine, and in Tacoma new songs began to take shape.

“My day would start about three or four in the afternoon,” says Grohl. “It was winter in the Northwest, and we’d wake up when the sun was going down. We would go to the AMPM and buy corndogs and cigarettes. Then we would go up to Tacoma and rehearse in the barn until about midnight, then drive back down to Olympia.

“We’d always start rehearsals with a jam, an open, free-form jam, and a lot of the songs came from that. At the time we were really experimenting with dynamics, with the quiet verse/loud chorus thing. A lot of it was derivative of Pixies and Sonic Youth. You just knew when the chorus was supposed to get bigger, and you just knew the point of the song where just when you think you can’t take it any higher you do take it one step higher. From that came songs like ‘Drain You’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I didn’t really think that much of ‘Teen Spirit’ at first. I thought it was just another one of the jams that we were doing; we had so many jams like that, that we’d record onto a boombox tape and then lose the cassette and lose the song forever. But ‘Teen Spirit’ was one we kept coming back to because the simple guitar lines were so memorable. That song definitely established that quiet/loud dynamic that we fell back on a lot of the time. And it became that one song that personifies the band.”

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