The toxically beautiful culture of the grunge world, the one that creates the guitar riffs we hum and the drum beats we foot tap to, is the same one that leads to the tragedies of the most beloved frontmen of the genre — and in this case, the tragedy of the drummer.
Taylor Hawkins’ death on March 25, while heartbreaking for grunge lovers around the world, is yet another mourning period they are all too familiar with.
From Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain to Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, premature deaths have plagued the scene since its inception in the ‘90s. After Cobain’s untimely death in April 1994, Hawkins’ passing comes as another tragic loss for Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer.
The reliance on drugs is likely a combination of many factors; drug use by musicians may be for stress relief, enhancing music-evoked emotions or simply the ever-mounting pressure for musicians to be “on” at all times. The allure of the needle is strong, and often the pinprick of death for the rock gods of today and yesteryear alike.
Though Hawkins’ cause of death has yet to be officially confirmed, a toxicology report found 10 drugs in his system.
However, it is in life that Hawkins shined. Whether it be his percussion contributions to Foo Fighters or his own personal project, Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, Hawkins left an indelible mark on the rock world, with passion projects immortalized into albums that fans will continue to cherish.
From sold-out stadium tours to personal CD collections, fans across the world who seek to honor his memory with songs felt Hawkins’ impact on the industry.
The death of Taylor Hawkins is yet another heartache for the rock industry, and one it is unlikely to forget. While tragedy in art is often inevitable, it remains a heavy burden to bear for artists and fans alike. The legacy of the fallen rockers will never be forgotten, perpetually tangible in vinyl and CDs.
And somewhere, in a land of broken hearts and broken guitars, Kurt Cobain steps forward, hoping to shake Taylor Hawkins’ hand.
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The bridge in the studio version of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” is nothing extraordinary. Everything slows to a near-silence before a brief Dave Grohl drum pattern announces the end of the section, and the song ends with one last chorus.
But when Taylor Hawkins played it live, that drum pattern became something else entirely. He held it out for a few extra seconds than necessary — eyes closed, wrists snapping back and forth at a seemingly inhuman rate — and let the anticipation build just long enough for his bandmates to explode into the final chorus with total abandon.
That’s why it feels difficult to believe that someone who could instantly manufacture tension to last a lifetime could be gone after one night.
I was never much of a Nirvana fan. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but the anger never spoke to me. That’s a big part of the reason I was drawn to Hawkins: it was joy, not bitterness, that propelled each hit of the hi-hat.
The pervasive public reverence for Nirvana is partially why the outpouring of love for Hawkins centered on the fact that he could stand out as a drummer in a band that also featured Grohl. But I always saw it the other way. It must have been difficult to be the frontman in a band whose drummer’s smile, somehow both sheepish and beaming, rarely left his face throughout a three-hour concert. Grohl was the face of the Foo Fighters, but Hawkins was its heart. His nonchalance behind the kit set the tone for everything.
I saw the Foo Fighters for the second and final time when they reopened Madison Square Garden last June. A pair of tickets was $200 — ostensibly a Father’s Day gift, but really it satisfied my desperation for live music after a year and a half of lockdown.
It was the perfect setup for Hawkins’ tension and release playing style: there was no greater buildup imaginable than a year filled with masks and isolation, and no greater arena in which to finally let loose. The floor vibrates at any rock show, but this time it felt as if the air itself was shaking.
The night hinged around the song “Aurora,” a rarely played fan favorite that Hawkins said was the first drum track he was truly proud of. It’s also my favorite Foo Fighters song. It’s a sprawling, meditative piece, and once the opening chords began, the entire Garden fell to a hush. Strangers looked at each other wide-eyed, and audible gasps steamed up from the general admission section.
The song gently crescendoed into the final drum solo. I closed my eyes and held my father’s hand. It felt like we were floating.
When I first read about Hawkins’ death, I laughed. I thought it was a joke to promote the band’s new horror movie. Once I realized that was not the case, my mind quickly flashed back to that night at the Garden. Tension and release with each breath in and out as I sat alone in my cramped kitchen, trying to process the loss of my favorite drummer.