The call came late one Friday afternoon in January. On the line was John Silva, manager to one of the world’s biggest rock stars. He began to brief me on how, after quietly spending a sizable sum of money on an exploratory bid for the Oval Office, said rock star was ready to make an announcement—and his team wanted HARP to be the first media outlet to deliver the news. Dave Grohl, frontman for Foo Fighters and drummer of the legendary Nirvana, was ready to dive headfirst into the nasty political waters of the 2008 presidential campaign. This all came on the eve of a U.S. tour—or campaign blitz, depending on how you want to look at it—starting (by no mere coincidence) in the key primary state of Florida.
Prior to boarding the next flight to Miami, I was given a couple of caveats by Silva and his small but highly organized campaign team. From here on out, the dates on this Foo Fighters tour were no longer “gigs” but rather “stops on the campaign trail,” and the band’s rabid fans were now to be respectfully referred to as “the votes.” OK, I got it. Dave Grohl wasn’t fucking around.
As the questions mounted in my brain (under a Grohl administration, would Courtney Love be considered a homeland security threat or would she be FEMA’s responsibility? Would he make Kurt’s birthday a national holiday? Reagan was known for his well-stocked jellybean jar on his Oval Office desk—will that jar now be filled with Mentos?), I couldn’t help but wonder if all of the fame and fortune that comes with selling over 30 million albums could’ve gone to Grohl’s head—a head that I feared may have come slightly unglued. Of course, politics is littered with less-then-sane Oval Office wannabes—raise your hands Pat Robertson, Ross Perot and Lyndon LaRouche—but Grohl is the American Dream, the Rock ’n’ Roll Everyman, and I certainly didn’t want to watch a public implosion of such a revered figure.
On paper, Grohl’s story reads like a high-powered political strategist’s wet dream: born to a struggling public school teacher mother and Republican speechwriter father, a small-town kid from way outside the Beltway goes on to tour the world in Nirvana and later forms Foo Fighters, becoming the CEO of a multinational corporation known as Foo Fighters LLC; helps campaign for Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election; and continues to raise awareness for a number of non-profit do-gooders like Democracy for America, CarbonNeutral and instant-runoff voting. Add all that to Grohl’s infamous “nicest guy in rock ’n’ roll” persona and his 100-watt smile, and you’ve got yourself a pretty compelling candidate. Maybe he’s saner than I thought.
Choosing to run as an Independent dark horse candidate because, as he says, “I’ve made all of my own rules up until this point and I don’t want to live up to anyone’s party expectations,” Grohl could certainly shake things up between the current frontrunner Democrats, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as John McCain and—gulp—Mitt Romney on the Republican side. As refreshing as it is to have a woman and an African-American for leading candidates, it’s made for a lot of polarizing within the Democratic Party. Which means regardless of who gets the Democratic nod, the party will be left with an abundance of disenchanted votes that could be up for grabs by an Independent candidate.
As Grohl outlined his platform with me between an endless stream of Marlboro Reds, it became clear that much of it was still in an embryonic state, but his convictions made up for whatever policy details his campaign team seemed unable to provide. Sitting in his motorcade bus with the South Beach sun setting through the deeply tinted windows, Grohl spoke candidly and passionately about what he can bring to the 2008 political discourse—and if the stars align just right, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
HARP: The question on everyone’s lips right now must be, should a rock star really get involved with politics? What makes you think you’re qualified for the job?
Dave Grohl: Here’s the thing: Some people might see me as a boy from Springfield, Va., who got lucky, but at the end of the day I’m an American citizen. I’ve been traveling the world for 20 years and I know what it’s like to be the kid from Springfield, Va., in Prague, Helsinki, in Osaka, in Moscow, in Newcastle, and Ottawa. There was a time when you could travel from country to country and people would ask you, “What’s it like in Chicago, or Seattle or Los Angeles?” These people dreamed of coming to America and experiencing what a great country it is. It’s totally the opposite now. There’s this redneck image of America that’s been cultivated over the last eight years by our redneck president. America has blue states, red states and all kinds of divisions, but we need someone to bring them all together—and that person is me. I’m willing to give up the rock-star thing for four years to better serve this country and the world.
HARP: Did you start to get the political itch when you helped campaign for Kerry in 2004?
I went out with John Kerry not only to support him, but because Bush was evidently using some of our music at his rallies. I was personally offended that he would take a song like “Times Like These” so far out of context. He was running on a platform of fear and war, and it’s a song about love and hope! So I met Kerry’s family at a fundraiser and said, “if there’s anything you need me to do” and it wasn’t long before they asked me to come out and support his campaign in a motorcade. Nobody knew who the fuck I was—you had schoolteachers, factory workers, retirees and homemakers who were there because they were desperate to be rescued from the Bush administration. I would talk to them about being an American in other countries and how much the perception of this country has changed.
Every night when I’m on tour, I bring my message to thousands and thousands of people. There’s 10 thousand people that woke up this morning and felt like America is the right place to be because at our show last night they were spilling beer all over themselves and tongue kissing for two hours. What other candidate can do that? With all due respect to Obama, Hillary, Huckabee and all the others, they’ve got nothing on me.
HARP: The one prevaling theme in all of the candidates’ platforms this election seems to come down to “change.”
Right. I want to present a different kind of change, though. I want to change change. If you continue to change change then it truly becomes change whether it’s technology, society, the economy, or the spreading of democracy. I want to be the president that takes change and changes it over and over again. Together, we can decide what direction we wanna take that change.
HARP: Let’s talk about policies. There are some pretty radical immigration policies that a number of the candidates are proposing this election. The scary part is that they seem to be resonating with some voters.
Let me make a musical analogy if I may: I look at America as if it were Wembley stadium—it’s only so big but you can fit a lot of people in it. As president of the United States of America, I promise to rock the fucking house—and everyone’s invited.
HARP: Would you have a specific policy for kids with emo haircuts caught crossing the border?
Kids with emo haircuts could come to the party, too. We have to be careful about making stereotypes. I encourage kids to explore their individuality—I want the kids of today, our future, the presidents of tomorrow to follow their own path. Whether that’s some freaky goth kid or some kid that shops at Urban Outfitters, takes mushrooms and goes to concerts in Vermont.
HARP: Have you thought about who might make up a Grohl adminstration?
It’s a little early, but a few people to mind.
Krist Novoselic really excels in the political arena. When I need to a shoulder a cry on, when I need real advice all I have to do is call Krist and he reminds me what it is to be that kid with big dreams from Springfield, Va. The kid who worked at a furniture warehouse, mowed the lawn, and didn’t have enough money to be a member of the neighborhood swimming pool.
HARP: So how did you keep cool in the summertime?
You know what I did? I turned on the hose and I drank from it. I want America to come back to that place where we’re all drinking from the hose. I think that’s a perfect metaphor for what’s gone wrong in this country. Water is now more expensive than gasoline. How is that possible? It’s because in this country, corporate domination dictates our daily lives. We need to get back to drinking from that hose.
HARP: As Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee pardoned Keith Richards for a minor traffic offense in 1975. As president, who would you pardon first?
Well, Foxy Brown has been in the clink for a while now. I know she has a temper, but come on! And what about Boy George? Is he still doing community service?
HARP: As president, would you help to uncover the mystery of Dennis Kucinich’s wife? I mean, have you seen her?
That’s the David Copperfield factor at work. It’s like when Lemmy [from Motorhead] first met my wife he said “Ms. Grohl, it’s very nice to meet you” and he turned to me and said [in gravelly, British accent] , “She’s far too good-looking to be with you mate!” But in this day and age it’s important for people to move away from that superficial image of love. In my America—the America that I can help create—somebody who looks like Angie Everhart can date or marry a politician who looks like Tattoo without a second thought.
HARP: The conservative evangelical vote has become increasingly important for candidates. John McCain saw the power of their votes in the
2000 election when he denounced Jerry Falwell, along with Pat Robertson, Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, as “agents of intolerance.” They were instrumental in Bush winning both elections. How can a rock-star outsider like you even hope to get 1 percent of their vote?
One of my strategies is to capture the evangelist vote with my music. There’s nothing like a good church band, y’know? I’m planning on assembling a gospel band and campaigning to the evangelicals through my music.
HARP: That sounds more like hypnosis.
I’d rather not use such a strong word.
HARP: You’re a married man now with a beautiful two-year-old daughter. What do family values mean to you? The Republicans have perverted that phrase for their own cause while Hillary says it takes a village—
[cutting in] You know what it takes? It takes a barbecue. I think that what the country needs now is a good, smoky barbecue—family style, at least once a week, winter months included. Every Sunday.
HARP: Every Sunday?
It could be Tuesday, I don’t want to say. It’s important that people bring
it back to cooking over the fire as a family unit. If you think about it, the microwave has taken so much away from the American culinary experience. You know what I do when I sit around a grill with my family? I talk. We talk. It’s something about that hickory smoke that brings my family together—and friends. And that’s where I really get to share and learn with my family and fellow Americans. It’s around that grill. It’s two beers, it’s three beers, it’s four beers, it’s 10 beers. This is what America needs—beer, and barbecue. It’s the red, white and barbecue, there it is.
HARP: Senator Barack Obama has been very candid about his past drug use. Bill Clinton never figured out how to inhale. Isn’t it true that the term “party like a rock-star” was coined by somebody who’d been on an all-night bender with you?
It’s important that you believe in your president for their strengths and their faults. I’m just going to come clean, I have inhaled bags of ’shrooms. I haven’t done drugs for the past 20 years, to be really honest. I’ve smoked, fuck, like six hits off a joint in the last 20 years. I have never done cocaine, ever in my life. I have never done heroin, I have never done speed. I have had my share of acid and mushrooms and I have smoked fields of marijuana, but by the age of 20 I realized, if I don’t stop now, I’ll never have the chance to be the President of the United States of America. This dream is a long time in the making, it’s been almost 20 years of preparing to run silently. Gathering my ideas and support. I haven’t done drugs in a long time. Because they are against the law.
HARP: Would you be opposed to the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes?
I don’t think we should deny the sick or the suffering from any sort of remedy. Whether it’s a bad tummy or maybe a little spell of glaucoma or perhaps even a bad hangover. I’ve got a cure. One bong hit. It’s just a bong hit, is that so wrong?
HARP: It’s been reported that you have a fairly wide stance. If that’s true, do you really think you can lead this country effectively?
On stage, I keep my stance pretty wide. Because I gotta move; I don’t want to stay in one place too long. There’s too many people, there’s too much to do, there’s too much change to change, so I have to keep light on my feet. I want to live in an America where your stance can be as wide as you want it to be. I don’t want anybody to tell me where I should put my feet when I take a shit.
Just imagine if we suddenly made wide public stancing against the law. And then you have Mr. Smith who has a condition where his balls have swelled up to the size of a hippity hop and he needs to go the bathroom in an airport. What are you going to do, throw him in jail? Just because his foot is touching yours, he’s knocking on the door, and performing sign language underneath the stall?
HARP: You recently said that you thought Paris Hilton was a lousy role model for your daughter, Violet. Who do you think is a good role model in 2008?
Natalie Portman. She’s obviously an incredibly gifted actor, a beautiful woman who decided to focus on her mind rather than the superficial world of pop culture. I hope that my daughter does the same thing because I know that a lot of girls—young girls—have this new idea of celebrity that’s been presented to them by people like Paris Hilton or Britney. Now Britney, God bless her. I think what’s happening to Britney right now is a good reminder—a good example—of what happens when people lose sight of the hose. I think it’s time for Britney to drink from the hose.
HARP: It’s been said that George W. Bush is the worst president in this country’s recent history. Do you agree?
I can’t think of one president that’s been more detrimental to this country than George Bush. He’s not only set us back 50 years, I think he set us back 10,000 years. Morally this country has become prehistoric. I want us to be morally futuristic. I want to be so forward focused that we redefine American morals: family, music, barbecues.
HARP: What approach do you think we should take in Iraq? Clearly, we made a mistake.
I’m going to make war illegal. I’m going to make war against the law. No war. None. Anywhere.
HARP: Do you have any kind of exit strategy?
When I’m elected President, my cabinet and I would come up with an exit strategy that would involve no killing, no bloodshed, a safe return home and some sort of compensation...
HARP: Compensation for the people of Iraq?
I don’t know, I just said that. I’m not sure. Before I present a plan like this, I have to do a lot of thinking. But, all I want to say to the people of America is: No more war. No more war.
HARP: With that logic, would you consider trying Bush as a war criminal?
Upon my inauguration, I would set up a lunch date with George and just ask him why we went in the first place. I want to hear it from the man himself. How come we went to Iraq? How come we’re still there? And then I’m going to tell him how I’m going to get everyone home safely, how I’m going to bring peace to the Middle East and school his ass with my skills. George Bush is going to leave the luncheon saying: Why didn’t I think of that?
HARP: As you approach your 40th birthday, you’ve accomplished so much in your career. Do you see politics as your next great challenge?
First of all, most people see politicians as evil, maniacal freaks on a world domination trip. That’s not me. When I step out in the spotlight in front of 100,000 people. It’s not about me, it’s about them. When I ask the audience to sing along to a song like “My Hero,” or “Everlong,” or “Best of You,” or any of our hits, it’s not because I want to hear how many people love me—it’s because I want each one of those people to hear how much they love each other. I’m not doing this for me; I’m doing this for you.
Michael Ian Black/Comedian
“Dave Grohl looks better in drag than Rudy Giuliani and he has done more to promote and support post-punk and alternative rock ’n’ roll than all of the other candidates combined (except Mike Huckabee, who is truly a musical wunderkind).”
“Dave Grohl for President. Terrific. Anyone who would give up being a rock star, who gets millions doing what he loves doing, to become the President of the United States, make a few hundred thousand, and be despised around the world... is a better man than I.”
“If you think, during these scary times, that the American public’s going to get behind some confused East Coaster who’s never had any military service and probably used drugs in his past, you’ve seriously lost touch with reality. “Maybe if Grohl and Huckabee could have a jam-off, I might change my mind. But for now, forget it.”
Warren Haynes/Govt Mule
“Let me start by saying that I am in full support of Dave as a candidate. I believe in his politics (we’ve all heard ad nauseum about his wire-tapping skills). I am, however, concerned about his ability as an actor. Can he lie to the people effectively? As musician/actors go he’s among the best but he’s going to be competing in a whole new arena where he’s constantly compared to the great actor/politicians of our time and let’s face it: music videos can’t compete, historically speaking, with Bed Time For Bonzo, the Terminator, and Law & Order. ”
Dr. Brian May/Queen
“Grohl? The most frightening All-Rounder in Rock... hate him!!”
Billy F. Gibbons/ZZ Top
“We were disappointed when our buddy Taylor Hawkins decided not to run since we’re all for the concept of ‘giving the drummer some’ but since Dave’s in the race, we’ll support him since he qualifies on both the skins and frets. We’ve closely examined Dave’s platform and have determined that it’s riddled with termites. If he succeeds in being elected despite this problem, we’ll be happy to play his Inaugural Ball for our standard fee and an overnight stay in the Lincoln bedroom… or in the backseat of the Presidential Lincoln – his choice.”
Senator Orrin Hatch/R, Utah, aspiring songwriter
“Dave Grohl? Never heard of him.”
Over The Rhine/socially conscious pop band
“Wouldn’t we all love a kick-ass musician for president this year! We hope you remind citizens that regardless of political affiliation, we can all be proud of the music we’ve given the world as a nation.”
Danny Goldberg/legendary record label exec, Air America CEO
“I think it’s important to support Dave because he is a good guy and he needs a lot of emotional support since he failed to get his real dream-job, being Led Zeppelin’s drummer.”