Dave Grohl Reveals the Documentary That Inspired His Music Career

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At a Sundance event earlier this week promoting his new music documentary Sound City, I had the chance to ask Foo Fighters frontman (and now filmmaker) Dave Grohl about some of his favorite music documentaries. His thoughtful and wide-ranging answer was interesting enough, I thought, to warrant including in its entirety.

“The soundtrack to a documentary actually inspired me to start a band and become a musician in a band. There’s a documentary called The Decline of Western Civilization by Penelope Spheeris, in the early ’80s, about the punk rock scene in Los Angeles. And it’s just awesome. It’s so raw and gritty and real, it totally captured the vibe of that era and that genre of music. I think I was like 12 years old when I heard it, and I had the soundtrack first. I didn’t see the movie for years! So I fell in love with the record first.

“But as a kid, I was just destined to be a musician — because I hated school, I didn’t like being told what to do, both of my parents were musicians, and I could hear something on the radio, pick up a guitar, and sort of play it. Like the first time you play ‘Smoke on the Water,’ you’re like, oh my God, I’m a guitar player! That just kinda keeps happening over and over again.

“So yeah, that inspired me immensely. And Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack, that inspired the acoustic album — we made an album called In Your Honor, it was a double record, one record was rock stuff, the other CD was acoustic-based music. And it weren’t for the Paris, Texas soundtrack, I don’t know if I ever would have appreciated that dynamic, that beautiful, delicate acoustic vibe. That is maybe one of my top three albums. It’s amazing.

“It’s awesome, what film can do for music. Everybody appreciates what music can do for film, but what film can do for music… Not just to have like a three or four minute clip that you put to a song, what about an entire story that gives depth to the artist and makes people connect to the artist or connect to the song, because they understand that this person has been through, y’know, hell and suicide and wonderful, beautiful things, great highs and incredible lows, and all of that into an album. Wow, that actually means something. But you’ve gotta give it more than four fucking minutes! Give it a whole film.

“I really feel like music should be a bigger part of American culture. It sounds like a funny thing to say. But if you travel around the world, you’ll see live performance television shows every day. Whether you’re in France, whether you’re in England, whether you’re in Canada — all over the world people really get into seeing musicians playing music. Here in America, you see it on the Grammys, and you see it at 12:25, at the end of every one of those late night talk shows. And that’s it.

“And I honestly believe if you had more stuff, like music documentaries, or live performance shows, that people would be more involved and love music more. Because you can see that it’s people.”

Sound City screens this week at the Sundance Film Festival. It hits VOD on February 1st.