It wasn’t all that long ago when Dave Grohl was sitting down with Pharrell Williams and telling him that he’s “the most basic f–king drummer.” And asserting that most of his fills are borrowed from elsewhere, as he explained: “If you listen to Nevermind… I pulled so much stuff from the Gap Band and Cameo and Tony Thompson [of Chic] on every one of those songs, all that… that’s old disco. Nobody makes the connection.”
However, the irony is that borrowing disco fills and transposing them into the rhythm of grunge is an act of creative originality in of itself. It’s where you steal from and how you steal it that counts. As Nick Cave recently asserted: “The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation — everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time.”
Vitally, however, he goes on to add, “Plagiarism is an ugly word for what, in rock and roll, is a natural and necessary — even admirable — tendency, and that is to steal. Theft is the engine of progress, and should be encouraged, even celebrated, provided the stolen idea has been advanced in some way. To advance an idea is to steal something from someone and make it so cool and covetable that someone then steals it from you.”
That is very much the case with Grohl. That slightly off-beat tom-pounding which he has made iconic is now echoed all over the shop in thinly veiled disguises, but as he says, he ripped it off from the Gap Band in the first place. And ultimately, all that disco affiliation signposts, is that Grohl has a keen eye for drums driving the melody. He has a marching style as opposed to a jazzy flourish and the drumkit assault he launches with ‘Monkey Wrench’ is proof of that.
Perhaps the added frenzy to his stick snapping style on this occasion comes from the place he was at personally as his marriage to photographer Jennifer Youngblood dwindled to a bitter end. “It’s about living with someone and feeling like you’re living in a f–king cell,” Grohl once explained. “And then I wound up getting a divorce.”
Although Grohl laid down the drums for the track, the video was the first to introduce the late, great and sorely missed Taylor Hawkins as a member of the band. In live shows, Hawkins was able to perfectly capture Grohl’s pounding, straight swinging approach to ensure that the song remained frantic.
Now, the song is definitive of an era. Captured in its iconic sound is a sense of reminiscence, and part of that may well be because of Grohl’s sense of adventure behind the kit. This is archetypical rock ‘n’ roll, but there is still a little bit of the Gap Band underpinning it when you strip everything away and listen closely.