Albums Inspired By Grief and Loss
Even if you’re not a fan of alternative rock music, you’ve probably heard of the Foo Fighters. Led by Dave Grohl, a former member of the O.G. grunge band Nirvana, the Foo Fighters have won 11 Grammys, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, and have released 11 albums since their formation in 1994. Their latest album, “But Here We Are,” dropped in May to widespread acclaim.
One reason for its popularity is the album’s themes of mortality, grief, and loss. In his review of “But Here We Are,” NPR’s Stephen Thompson describes the album as “heavy, in every sense of the word.” He adds that Grohl’s lyrics (which he uncharacteristically completed before beginning to record the album) “ache with loss.”
“They’re songs about the loss of memory, the loss of comfort, the loss of the past, the loss of home” Thompson says. “Once again, plumbing the depths of anguish has led to some of the most vital music of his career.”
There are a couple of reasons for the heaviness of “But Here We Are.” Grohl, who has written or co-written most of the Foo Fighters’ hits (and several of Nirvana’s), turned 54 this year. While that’s not necessarily old, it’s another year past the 50-mark, and a decade in which a lot of people start to contemplate their existence. Last year, his mom died.
But perhaps the most profound loss Grohl and his band endured was the sudden, shocking death of band member Taylor Hawkins, who passed away at age 50 from cardiac arrest on March 25, 2022. Hawkins’ death hit Grohl hard, and no doubt resurrected the grief he felt when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. In both situations, Grohl and his respective bandmates were left stunned, confused, destabilized, and uncertain about their next steps, both personally and professionally.
The deaths of Cobain and Hawkins devastated fans and represented a profound loss to the music community. But it was more than that for Grohl; these were his friends, people he knew well, saw often, worked side-by-side with, and maybe even loved like family. Like anyone else suffering from the death of a loved one, he needed to grieve. For many folks, including, perhaps, Grohl, one of the most natural ways to process losing something, or someone, is to create something else, something new and beautiful. For Grohl, that meant making music, and letting that music stand proud and loud as a tribute to his friend Hawkins.
Birthing beauty from loss
Dave Grohl isn’t the first songwriter to use his craft to heal. In fact, an incredible number of epic songs albums were the product of the writers’ personal struggles with grief and loss.
- “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton: Clapton wrote this beautiful ballad after his four-year-old son, Conor, died when he fell from the 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment building in 1991. His 1992 album, “Rush,” which features this song, is filled with dark and haunting instrumentals that echo the artist’s grief.
- “Tonight’s the Night” by Neil Young: The songs on this 1974 album were borne from Young’s grief (and, some say, his guilt) over the overdose deaths of two close friends, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. While the songs have been called “dark,” “depressing,” and “a record about loss and destruction and the end,” today’s listeners may also find it surprisingly “raucous.”
- “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor: Each verse of Taylor’s heartfelt song addresses a different personal bout with adversity, with the first tackling the suicide death of his friend Susanne. Taylor said writing the song was “therapeutic,” and “actually a relief, like a laugh or a sigh.”
- “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill: Gill began writing this funeral staple soon after losing his friend Keith Whitley, a fellow country singer who died in 1989 at age 33 of alcohol poisoning. He didn’t finish the song until 1993, though, when he lost his older brother to a heart attack.
- “Slipped Away” by Avril Lavigne: Lavigne was on tour when her beloved grandfather died, and it’s said that she wrote this song as a sort of apology for not being able to say goodbye in person.
- “You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell: The country singer co-wrote this #1 song about the loss of his father, saying he wanted a song “that would honor him but also help others” who were suffering from the loss of a loved one.
These are just a few of the songs and albums written by someone who was working their way through the grieving process; there are countless others, and there most definitely will be more to come. However, the 10 tracks on the Foo Fighters’ “But Here We Are” album could possibly be the most comprehensive exploration and representation of grief and all the complicated feelings it brings.
“Still,” writes NPR’s Thompson, “all the talk of death that pervades ‘But Here We Are’ shouldn’t overshadow what a truly formidable rock record it is — so catchy and vibrant, so brimming with wild-eyed wonder.”