Taylor Hawkins Was There

By JP Spence

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Taylor Hawkins Was There
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I remember asking my dad when I first started hunting albums at record stores, “What’s YOUR favorite band?” And before I could even finish asking, the answer was already there, “Van Halen.” And silly, but logical, me goes, “Yeah but they’re like everyone’s favorite band.” And again, before I could even finish, pop goes, “Yeah, but you weren’t there! I was there. I was there when they were in Pasadena. I was there at the Whiskey. I was there before you were even a glint in my eye.” Ouch. Lesson learned. Never question a fan’s authenticity. Especially the real ones. Before Eddie became a guitar god and Van Halen became synonymous with all things cool, Camaro, and cocky, they were called Mammoth. The Van Halen brothers (Alex and Eddie), Bassist Michael Anthony, and frontman David Lee Roth owned Pasadena and the Sunset strip before future world domination. Those fortunate enough to go on the ride from beginning to end grew up with the band. Partied hard in the ‘80s, sobered up in the ‘90s, and dad-rocked it until the bitter end. Van Halen was one of Taylor Hawkins’ favorite bands so I don’t think he’d mind me using them as an analogy. Before Foo Fighters became the 15-time grammy award winning, rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-inducted, festival-headlining, world-conquering FOO FIGHTERS. They became my favorite band after a friend gave me their first CD, after proclaiming they didn’t sound like Nirvana enough. Nine albums and countless concerts later, the band and I had settled in a great relationship together, this was the band of my lifetime. On March 25th, I received a text. Multiple texts. From multiple people asking what happened, if I had any inside info on what happened as to the cause of Foo Fighters’ drummer, Taylor Hawkins’ death. I’ve made it a point to my friends that I’m the biggest Foo Fighters fan they knew so it’s no surprise that the news hit like a death in the family. Writing this whole thing seems crazy but I also must stress that you weren’t there. Other obituaries will highlight his impeccable career, as they should. I want you to know that Taylor Hawkins was a fan. Of music. Of performing. Sadly, of excess. Dave Grohl is the principal songwriter and frontman for Foo Fighters but some of the band’s best traits were Taylor Hawkins signatures. They’d love to play live, and loud, and a lot. If you’re a resident of the greater San Fernando Valley and a fan of the band you could probably catch them under one of their pseudonyms White Limo, The Holy Shits, or (my favorite) Chevy Metal. You could almost catch them monthly at Route 66 in Northridge or Paladino’s in Reseda. Every time Foo Fighters were about to go on a years-long world tour, they’d say goodbye to home by playing a string of shows at The Canyon in Agoura. Hawkins lived in Topanga, you probably bumped into him as he was buying some smokes. I’ve seen the band enough times that I can see the marked difference between a pre-Taylor and after-Taylor live performance. First of all, they sounded great. They weren’t one of those bands that didn’t live up to their studio work (looking at you Blink-182). “So we started coming with jams, and free forms, and expansions of the song on stage and really working out a show,” Hawkins has said. “Not something like, with dancers, or something. But we needed to develop a set so our show was impressive.” It’s those sing alongs that have come to define them live. Between “My Hero,” “Learn to Fly”, “Best of You,” and “Monkey wrench” you were guaranteed to not have a voice the next day. I saw them last at what would be Taylor’s, and potentially the band’s final Los Angeles performance. However it was a series of firsts. Not only was it the first time seeing the Foo Fighters for my best friend, Michael, but it was his first time at the legendary Los Angeles Forum. More importantly, in all our years of friendship it was our first concert together. And what happened next was true catharsis. House lights down. Stage lights up. A single note played by organist Rami Jaffee, it’s their life-affirming single “Times Like These.” And like a church choir everyone sings, “It times like these you learn to live again.” Even a frontman as seasoned as Grohl can barely hold on with his voice cracking. “It’s time like these you give and give again.” You had to be there. This was the eye of the storm before Covid-19 and its Omicron variant. Before things got worse. “It’s time like these you learn to love again.” I’ve gone to hundreds of shows, this was easily the most communal moment I’ve ever had. I’m crying, Michael is crying, the punk rocker with liberty spikes is crying, the rocker-dad with his kid on his shoulders is crying. “It’s times like these, time and time again.” Always with the perfect timing, Hawkins kicks in with the drums and the band delivers a career defining set in what would sadly be their last Los Angeles show. Sheer power, physicality and drum technique, yes, sure, but the ability Taylor Hawkins had to bring people together will be missed. No, we’re not friends. He was a world class drummer and I, a humble columnist for an amazing paper. But we were aware of each other although I’m sure the ratios were different. I got fired from a job for leaving early to sneak into a Foo Fighters show at Paladinos, a heavy metal bar in the heart of Reseda. After their set and still hanging out, I had the nerve to tell him I quit my job to see this show. Without missing a beat he goes “well that deserves a drink.” I still tell this story whenever I get the chance. Years later, I spotted him at a Steel Panther show at the Rainbow Room. Not that he needed me to buy him a drink but I told the bartender I got his next round. Hawkins looks across the bar and as we make eye contact he yells “Paladinos! Thank you!” Taylor Hawkins will be loved and missed because he wasn’t a rockstar, he was a musician. Moreover, he was a fan. He got it because he was there. And now he’s not.

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April 15, 2022