I can feel the inspiration coursing through my veins – the visceral, tingling feeling of being driven to action that comes from listening to someone passionate about their life and their living. I’ve been getting small doses of it here at SXSW, but this morning, it came in one big shot, courtesy of Dave Grohl.
Donning spectacles that he got “from a pharmacy”, the Scream/Nirvana/Foo Fighters musician took to the stage of Ballroom D in the Austin Convention Centre to school those gathered in the room (and listening online) about the importance of finding one’s voice and putting the musician first. Whether or not you’re a musician, Dave’s words had relevance and meaning. And aside from that, he’s a compelling storyteller (even when not singing or playing instruments) with a killer sense of humour. (Witness the laughter at his telling us about entering a battle of the bands with a group called Nameless – “you think it’s easy coming up with a band name? It’s the hardest f***ing part. Foo Fighters is a dumb f***ing name!” he roared.)
I still have some of Bruce Springsteen’s words from last year’s keynote written on a piece of paper pinned to my fridge door. The lesson I took away from that stirring speech was “have ironclad confidence but know that you suck!” – a healthy balance of self-belief and humility useful to any profession.
From Mr Grohl, who called delivering today’s keynote “his musical life’s greatest honour,” I took away a few more insights into what makes him one of the industry’s most loved and respected artists, starting with the beginning of his musical fire. How first hearing Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein made him want to make his own music, even if at first, it was “only about [his] parents, [his] dog and friends down the street.” How listening to his cousin Tracy’s punk rock collection was the “first day of the rest of [his] life.” How he wanted to “incite a riot, or a revolution, or save someone’s life, or inspire them” – just as he’d seen happen around him with the music scene of the Regan-era. But most importantly, how he found his independence, his space and place in the world, by “being left alone to find [his] voice.”
“Am I the best drummer in the world? No, he chuckled. “Am I the best singer? Not even in this room!” he bellowed. But I have a voice.” The self-confessed Gangnam Style fan proposed: “Whose to say what’s a good voice and what’s not a good voice? The Voice??, he answered himself, incredulously, before asking us to imagine the scenario of Christina Aguilera adjudicating Bob Dylan.
“As a proud father,” Dave said of his two children, “I pray they’re left to their devices to find their own voices.”
There’s no doubt Grohl’s words today – just like his music – will certainly inspire the very aim he’s wanted his whole life. At the very least, he’s made this fan-turned-student-for-a-day, who feels a little like she’s lost her voice, feel thrill of determined passion once again.