Paul Brannigan has been writing about rock music for a while now. He was editor of Kerrang! in its most successful period. He released a collection of Lemmy’s great platitudes in 2009. Now he’s written Dave Grohl’s biography. We talked to him about it because it’s going to be the biggest music book of the last few years and Paul’s a dude.
This is probably the most anticipated rock star biography since Slash’s 2007 autobiography which was probably the last since The Dirt in 2001. What genuine rock stars have emerged since Grohl? Is there anyone left to write about? Could this be the last great rock biography?
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is the end of history, right here. What human endeavour could possibly top this? Seriously though, what else is there? Nothing, I’m saying. But if pushed and prodded and probed, and I know you love that shit, I’d deftly brush aside your splendidly OTT questions, and say that there’s plenty of rock stars yet to have their innermost thoughts and darkest secrets exposed to the light: unless I’m mistaken there’s no great definitive biography on Mike Patton or Chris Cornell or Josh Homme or Trent Reznor as yet. I’d buy all of those. But the Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Story Still Untold is surely the story of The Wildhearts. That’d make The Dirt look about as rock ‘n’ roll as Harry Potter. So until Ginger spills his guts there’s still mileage in the genre.”
Obviously I’m asking these questions because I believe there haven’t been any worth a book. Assuming I’m correct, does that make you the last of the great rock journalists? The current ‘state of the industry’ would point towards that…
“Now you’re plainly just taking the piss pal. I like that. Is there an emoticon to suggest that I’ve simultaneously winked, ruffled your hair, pinched your cheek and then dragged my knuckles roughly upsides your skull? If there is, please insert it here. That’ll save me spouting any more nonsense. If there’s not then I’ll sigh, and then emit a Stephen Fry-style paternal chuckle and say ‘No, dear boy, that would be a foolish thing to say.’ The best music journalists in this country are low-key and humble, the ones you don’t find cluttering up Twitter feeds, genuinely brilliant writers like Keith Cameron and Tom Doyle. I’m still learning from those guys.”
Tell us about the first time you met Dave Grohl.
“This story makes me look really good. I interviewed Dave for the first time along with Brian from Placebo and Tim from Ash in November ’97. As I took the bus back home afterwards I checked my recording of the interview and realised that I’d somehow contrived to tape over the whole fucking thing: I had 45 minutes of muffled bus passenger conversation and not the slightest fucking trace of Dave, Tim or Brian. Genius. Fortunately, being nice men, all three of them agreed to be interviewed a second time. And none of them called me a dumb c**t…to my face at least.”
What were Dave’s initial thoughts about the book?
“I didn’t talk to Dave directly about the book until it was underway. By then management had already informed me that Dave would prefer to wait until his career is over before penning an autobiography. Which is fair enough, obviously, but I can see Dave making music for 20 more years, at which point I’ll likely be too infirm to be able to feed myself much less use a computer. The first time we had a conversation about the book was in the toilets of a Los Angeles bar one year ago. We were both drunk, Dave was peeing in one piss trough, I was peeing in another and obviously that was the perfect time to discuss the book. We ended the conversation with a hug: we’d both ‘tucked in’ first, obviously, though I can’t remember if we’d washed our hands. Whatever. Then I asked if I could interview his mum. He told me to fuck off. And then we went back to the bar and got another beer.”
Did anyone decline to be interviewed for the book or make life difficult?
“People didn’t so much decline as just not respond to interview requests. I was surprised in some cases and not in others: for instance, some Nirvana crew guys didn’t want to talk, which is to their credit I guess. I wanted to talk to Paul McCartney but had no joy there. Though I did get to stand beside him watching Them Crooked Vultures at the side of the stage when they played Hammersmith. I suppose I could have tapped him on the shoulder and done some sneaky hidden taping, but what kind of scumbag would entrap Macca?”
Have you ever had a tough time interviewing Dave?
“No, Dave is a dream interview subject. You could interview him every single week of your life and never be bored. I did make him cry once though. That was awkward. He said ‘You’re going to tell everyone that you made me cry, aren’t you?’ OF COURSE NOT! I responded, all horrified. So I haven’t. This is just between us, like.”
Did any surprises crop up in your research?
“Hmmm, I think there’ll be plenty of things in the book that would surprise people who only know Dave in that cliched two dimensional Nicest Guy In Rock way. But for me personally? No, there were no OMG lol wut??? moments. I’m 41, I’ve no idea what I just typed in that last sentence by the way. Er, btw. That’s right, innit?’
What was the most difficult part of the book for you to write?
“The Nirvana section. Only because that story is so well known, so you have to really think to find new ways of approaching it. One thing I discovered though is that there are tons of factual mistakes in the ‘classic’ Nirvana biographies. I hope Keith Cameron will tell the band’s story one day, because that, for me, will be the definitive Nirvana book.”
And what was the easiest?
“Writing is never easy darling. It’s an act of creation, a Sisyphean ordeal which requires massive mental resources and strength beyond strength. Let’s go with that, eh?”
What is your favourite part of the book?
“Personally I like the first part of the book best, the story of Dave’s life up until he joined Nirvana. Talking to Dave’s childhood friends and old bandmates from Nameless, Mission Impossible, Dain Bramage and Scream was a genuine pleasure. As was talking to Tracey Bradford, the girl who first introduced Dave to punk rock. That was the first interview I did for the book, and I wasn’t sure if Tracey would talk as she’d never been interviewed before, but she checked with Dave’s mom and then agreed to chat. From that moment I was sure I’d get a good story.”
Foo Fighters or Nirvana?
“Sorry, you’re breaking up there mate… Hello? Raz? Hello? Sorry mate, I can’t hear you… No, nothing… Hello?
See what I did there? Haha! I pretended we were doing this on the phone in order to evade the question! Hahaha! Feel free to use that one, that’s an old school trick my old friend Bono taught me when we were penpals in the 1970s. I owe you for that one Voxers, ya wee bollox.”
Paul Brannigan’s new book, This Is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl was released on 29 September 2011 and can be found in bookshops all over the place. We’ve stuck up Amazon links but go buy it from a bookshop or else they’ll all go bust.