This Band From Nowhere (In Honor of Taylor Hawkins)
In the early 2000s, Foo Fighters performed in Reykjavík while on their One By One tour.
Prior to the performance, they invited an unknown garage band from a tiny fishing village to perform a song in front of 6,000 energetic fans.
I was in the audience that evening and this is a fictional story inspired by their show.
I dedicate this story to the memory of Taylor Hawkins.
So This Kid, he’s stuck in this crow’s nest of a small town. The village where nothing happens. Isolated on the edge of the ice, nothing but a few houses, and as blocked off from culture as he could imagine. The capital is an hour away but it might as well be the other side of the universe because he doesn’t have a license and his dad wouldn’t let him borrow the car anyway. So This Kid, he’s bored after a day of monotonous education in their so-called school, whose textbooks are so ancient they still have the letter Z. The letter Z hasn’t been in the Icelandic alphabet since the war yet somehow that’s all they got to learn from.
He stares out the classroom window over the cloudy bay where slate-colored waves crash onto the black beaches. The spume looks like warm cotton through the window but the waves deceive. If he touched the water he’d freeze his fingers so hard he couldn’t do his paradiddles properly.
And this outdated town sits by a pile of rocks on the hillside, fierce winds coming in from the southwest, blowing so cold that you can feel your fingers turning into icicles that burn blue from the inside. They call icicles Grýla’s Candles, Grýla being the old troll that eats kids if they don’t get new clothes in time for the Yuletide. And This Kid feels the wind turning his fingers into frost on his way home. He looks down the street to where the asphalt turns into the Atlantic, the wind blows over his body chills his very core.
So he drums. It’s the only thing that excites him and keeps him warm. Every day after school he bangs his drums to keep his temperature from dropping him dead. The house does have thermal heating from the nearby plant, but even the geothermal heat can’t warm away his angst.
There’s nothing here for him in this carrion quarter on the edge of the world except the music that blows in off the airwaves from America. Hard rock music with pummeling drums, edgy guitars, and howling vocals that make him come alive. The airwaves understand him. They sing him stories of heartbreak, angst, boredom, and broken hearts. He’s not looking forward to understanding the broken heart, This Kid who hasn’t had a girlfriend yet but is already preparing for the breakup. The music is the only thing that matters to him. He never leaves home without his Discman and plays his CDs until they skip. His uncle brings him new stuff from the record store in Reykjavík and he listens to each CD on repeat until he knows every fill, every break, and every beat. If he’d spend a fraction of his time obsessing about his homework with the same intensity as he does his drumming he’d be a Greek philosopher by now. But philosophy didn’t choose him. Music did.
Meanwhile, This Guy’s grown up. He’s on tour and this town is amazing! He’s never seen anything like it. It’s a beautiful fishing village at the edge of the island, something he’d only ever seen in photographs. Rustic would describe it if rustic was a species of fish old weatherworn sailors in orange rubber suits caught from their creaky trawlers. They’d catch the fish while their beards would harden, dry as sandpaper from the howling winds, the temperature of their hands never rising above the arctic cold as they bring in the Rustic from the sea to feed their families. They’d sail their creaky trawlers, once brightly painted white wood, but the beating of the brim would’ve pummeled the panels, chipping the paint into the sullen grey color of wet, only an occasional white streak to remember the early days.
But that’s not what This Guy sees. He sees beauty in the harshness, an amour necessary for the angst he evokes in his anthems. He’s here to bring it tomorrow at Reykjavík‘s biggest arena which sold out months ago in a record-breaking 47 minutes. His band sells out stadiums all around the world, and it seems that the entire rock population of Iceland is itching to pile into the arena to watch in awe as they play the hits.
So on the day before the show, the tour manager takes them to see the sights and Stokkseyri is on the menu. He’s here to sample the delicacy of Icelandic Lobster Soup. The ingredients are easy, similar to any bisque, but simmered with the tenacious survival of a thousand years. Butter, cream, lobster broth, vegetables, tomato paste, and curry. It is the warmth that thaws you from the inside, casting out Grýlas icicles and turning your blood red once again.
And This Guy, he’s energized by the warmth as he skips down the steps of the restaurant onto the single shopping street, humming old songs stuck in his head and joking with his bandmates. Life has treated them well on this tour. They don’t know even what day it is or even how long they’ve been away from home. Their latest album hit Platinum all over the world so wherever These Guys go, they’re heralded as rock royalty. The saviors of rock music, bringing it back from the death grips of Pure Pop, giving angsty teenagers all over the world another chance to let loose their emotions through distorted guitars and pile-driving drums. Nobody could criticize their music without alienating themselves from the mainstream. If you thought it was too aggressive, you were too Basic. If it was too loud, you were too old.
And This Guy, he’s savoring the taste of his success when he hears faint banging in the distance. It’s rhythmic. Pop. Pop. Boom. Pop. Boom. Pop. Boom. Pop. He smiles as he starts playing the Hot and Cold game, letting his ears inch him ever closer to a lonely garage at the end of the street, walking in time to the distant drums.
And This Kid hears a loud knock on the garage door. The band stops playing mid power-chord. The feedback squeals from the amps. Sticks hit metal rims and cymbal crashes fade as This Kid walks over and hits the garage door opener. The old door jerks around and creaks open, revealing the world-weathered Converse All-Stars and torn jeans of This Guy. The warm air inside the garage cools as it exits into the cold. It seems to turn to steam as it wafts around This Guy’s silhouette. This Kid’s eyes adjust to the brightness of the snow reflecting from the outside. And then his eyes get wider than a ride cymbal when he realizes who’s standing in the doorway, smiling enthusiastically, nodding his head, and tapping his feet to the rhythm of their previous beat.
And This Guy asks, do you wanna… and before he can even finish his sentence This Kid exclaims YES! before he even knows what he’s agreeing to.
Then the crowd goes wild. They’ve been chanting their name non-stop since the lights dimmed and when the stage darkens the crowd roars with elation. And This Guy steps out onto the dark stage and walks toward a solitary microphone spotlit by a lone light from the sky. This Guy steps into the light, water bottle in hand, wearing an Icelandic Black Death Vodka shirt and chewing gum. He raises his hands and the crowd falls quiet so he can tell the story of This Kid. He slicks his hair back and tells the story of how he ran into This Kid at a fishing village he butchers the name of. This makes the crowd roar with laughter like he delivered a hilarious punchline but in reality, he just couldn’t pronounce so many consonants in a row. And This Guy tells the transfixed audience the story of This Band from Nowhere and how much their music impressed him. He tells them how it reminded him of old times when he was just That Kid and how he wished he could get The Big Break.
He tells them that music is universal and that you can make it anywhere with any instrument you have lying around. And that music is better with friends, even when you suck. You’ll still have a great time because when you’re a teenager the world sucks anyway and everybody is against you. Nobody understands you except the raw rock riffs on the radio and the pulsating drum beats banging in the back of your head like your anxiety personified.
This Guy continues. He tells the crowd how succeeding is about putting in the work and deciding to suck because it’s the only way to get better. And being alone sucks when you’re a drummer so it’s better to find some friends so you can each suck on your respective instruments. But hey, you’re together and the girls don’t care about you yet, so what else are you gonna do? And then you practice and get better. And being better isn’t given to you on a silver platter like you’re chosen by some random producer on The Voice. Being better is earned through each failed fill, countless broken snare skins, and every double-kick drum pattern that doesn’t line up to the grid. Because when you’re actually good, some gatekeeper doesn’t get to decide you’re not good enough. You’re so good you get to drown out their voices with your drumming because their decisions don’t matter. You’re better now and you’re so good they can’t ignore you.
He delivers a rock ’n’ roll speech for the ages and the audience is so quiet it feels like a bookstore reading rather than a rock ’n’ roll show. Everyone with an instrument waiting at home holds their breath: The Girl with the bass guitar, That High-School Weirdo with the lyrics, Those Siblings with the saxophones, and even Them Tough Guys with their sensitive sides and out-of-tune acoustic guitars. They’re all strangers united by a common force. They follow the energy of This Guy’s every word.
He takes the mic off the stand and walks over to a giant sheet hanging over something big and bulky. In a dramatic motion, like a waiter yanking a table cloth off a dining table without moving the 12-piece dinnerware sitting on top, he pulls the cloth off and reveals This Kid’s drum kit. And This Guy tells the crowd…now he wants to pay it forward. He’s put in the time, paid his dues, and built a platform that he wants to share with This Band From Nowhere. Is that something they’d be cool with?
From backstage, This Kid can hear 6,000 screaming faces roar with approval, yelling at the top of their lungs with their rock-on hand signals thrust into the air. And This Kid is so nervous his sticks keep sliding out of his sweaty palms. He’s standing there terrified, with a beating heart that’s sunk into his pants. His bandmates look wired, and if This Kid knew anything about drugs he’d think they were hopped up on crack, but his only experience of this type of furious heartbeat is from drinking five cups of coffee and three Redbulls in one sitting so he could stay up to watch the Grammys until 4 o’clock in the morning.
The Roadie In All Black waves his hands frantically and pushes them onto the stage and the rest is a blur of energy. This Kid couldn’t tell you if he walked over to the drum kit or was teleported there by the Roadie but thank god the bright lights are washing out the audience because otherwise the crowd would petrify him with fear and he’d spend the rest of his life as That Drumming Statue on the Shopping Street, playing the first episode of Amanda Palmer’s career over and over again for the tourists, trapped in some weird version of purgatory. His guitar player stares at him in anticipation with a face like Dude, DO SOMETHING! And then This Kid remembers. He’s holding his sticks and he’s sitting on the drums in front of the biggest audience he’s ever seen and he takes a deep breath before he smashes the cymbals into their first song.
The music fills the stage. The bass locks in with his beat, the guitar riffs scream through the stage monitors and he’s transported to another world where his life will never be the same.