In my twenties I worked with a guy in a job I really hated, a mundane human resources post, one of a few in a career I just couldn’t steer right for reasons I only learned decades years later. Keep that in mind, because in there is the essence.

Well, this dude, a mad Croat, was one of the nicest guys you could know and just wouldn’t stop talking Foo. “Foo Fighters man, last night I played their new album. It blew my mind; you have to hear it.” Now, this was around 1997, so I’m sure he was talking about the band’s second studio album, “The Colour and the Shape” released only months before Taylor Hawkins, then Alanis Morissette’s drummer, hopped on board.

At that moment I still resented Nirvana for killing the world’s best couple of decades of pop-rock. You know. The time when it was either a “Genesis Year” or a “Phil Collins Year”, and Paradise City shared the airwaves with Jessies’ Girl. I’d heard of Foo, the cartoon, of a nose overhanging a wall saying he “was here”, and through my work buddy I knew of the band whose lead was Dave Grohl, ex-Nirvana.

Five years passed, we’d both moved on. Foo Fighters had cut their fourth studio album by the time curiosity had me buying their existing CDs in one grab. Today I have them all. Yes, I’d become a fan. Not just of their unique mainstream appeal and eclectic style built around a core of power guitar: I’d learned these guys were also some of the hardest working and most generous musicians around.

Their Direct TV “Super Saturday Night” concert streamed live and free globally in 2019 just blew me away. Two hours, no charge, just sit back and take it all in like you were front row, nothing withheld from you—and a production that was fully pro. Who else does that?

This past Australian Saturday afternoon, in fact, I was listening to their latest (and most bizarre) album released only the night prior, “Dream Window”.

When “Angel with Severed Wings” came around—with three more songs of death metal thrash still to go (definitely uncharacteristic for Foo)—I hit Spotify’s pause, lifted what had become a thousand-yard stare to my Mac—and in a moment of peace checked Facebook. A post from the band’s page froze time:

The Foo Fighters Family is devastated by the tragic and untimely loss of our beloved Taylor Hawkins.”

I read it again. What? No. That can’t be … WTF?

Foo Fighters was a large band by rock standards, six regulars, four guitars, all virtuosos. All but two were comfortably humble in stage presence and persona. The exceptions were frontman Dave Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins.

Grohl was the maestro. The band’s professionalism flowed around his lead. Yet, while he and other members dressed in street gear: shirts, tees, sweats, jackets, chinos and jeans oozing a nonchalant cool, the thing you immediately noticed about Hawkins was that he didn’t.

Coupled with a toothy grin and surfer’s shock of long-blond hair, Hawkins was the friend some of us had, who just wouldn’t conform. He wore a loose singlet. He wore board shorts or bright Lycra pants. His drum kit was centre stage, placed close-in. A breeze blew over him. Gantry lanterns lit him. He had a mic. He was meant to be seen.

Hawkins in other words, served as Grohl’s adjunct. He was the band’s battery reserve—an alter ego for Grohl balancing the fans’ need for constant charisma.

The point here though, is not to write a Foo biography nor offer Hawkins an obituary. It’s rather to explore what made Hawkins’ passing such a shock to so many, me included, who are finding it hard to shake.

This is where the concept of expectation and personal struggle I alluded to earlier kicks in.

The kernel of an answer came in a Twitter thread I chanced on yesterday, where a fan called The Rude Pundit wrote:

Celebrity deaths don’t jar me much anymore, and I’m not the biggest Foo Fighters fan, but Taylor Hawkins is stuck in my brain. Because of Dave Grohl, maybe it’s just churning up the genuine despair I felt when Kurt Cobain died. Or maybe because he seemed like a good guy. Dunno.

Another fan called YesBiscuit replied:

I’ve been asking myself why his death is affecting me so much. I like the FF, I like the little I know of Taylor Hawkins but there’s no significant personal connection. And yet, there is measurable grief, as if for a friend.

The epiphany came once I realised that these two Tweeters pretty much asked the same question racking my brain: Why was Taylor Hawkins death so visceral to me when all I knew of him were his band, energy, panache and virtuosity? Indeed, why especially after all these years of pandemic pain, political corruption, natural disaster and now a war in Ukraine?

I Tweeted back:

This is def one of those moments when what we see in the exterior makes me wonder what’s ‘real’ and what’s not.

After two years of Covid, of conspiracy mills, of a media that no longer serves as an honest guardian of the news, of democratic foundations being laid waste—my naivety was finally smashed.

In the past I’d seen in Taylor Hawkins someone who “had it all”. With his passing came the raw truth that he was just a human with demons like me, like us all.

I didn’t know it till then, but on reading Foo Fighters’ announcement I had re-entered a period of long overdue introspection.

Like Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, I’m in my 50s. But I think I’ve finally realised that in a life spent looking for heroes, the only reliable place has always been within. No matter one’s age, that’s a daunting prospect.

And that’s why it’s so hard to escape.

© 2022 Adam Parker.

Picture credits: Super Saturday Night © 2019 Foo Fighters.