For any rock band dynamic, the drummer is usually the last person looking to come up with a song. Even Dave Grohl, frontman of the iconic rock band the Foo Fighters, subscribes to the theory that the last thing a drummer says before getting kicked out of a band is that they should try some of their songs. In the case of Nirvana, though, there was no question about who the leader of the group was.
During the band’s prime, Kurt Cobain was always the lead songwriter, making perfect pop melodies with lyrics that were fairly abstract, either saying contradictory statements at once or going for a bleak mood on songs like ‘Polly’. Around the time Nirvana started getting famous, the music went from being a group effort to being exclusively Cobain’s work on paper, seizing songwriting credit for all of their songs.
The only song to be credited to all three band members was ‘Scentless Apprentice’, one of the fiercest parts of their album In Utero, which stemmed out of a jam session that the band had been toying with during rehearsals. During the final sessions for the album, Grohl stepped up to the plate with one song of his own, which became ‘Marigold’ on the B-side to ‘All Apologies’.
By the time Nirvana were on the road, Grohl had started writing his own songs, which had caught Cobain’s attention. After making a few demos for his own fun, Grohl had heard that Cobain liked the beginnings of songs tentatively titled ‘Exhausted’ and ‘Alone + Easy Target’. Cobain was so taken aback that Grohl said he kissed him when he heard them.
Speaking after Cobain’s death, Grohl mentioned Cobain wanting to use the song ‘Alone + Easy Target’ for Nirvana, saying (via Youtube), “Kurt really liked that song a lot, and he liked the chorus. I think he wanted to use that chorus and make it into something. There’s another song called ‘Exhausted’. Kurt liked that song a lot, but he just wanted to write his own lyrics to it, but he was too afraid to ask me”.
Any chance of any new Nirvana songs would end in April of 1994, when Cobain was found dead of a self-afflicted shotgun wound. For the next few months, Grohl talked about being lost, not knowing what he was going to do after losing one of his best friends. Having not listened to music for years, Grohl got out of his funk by recording his favourite songs at a studio near his house, which would then become the beginnings of the Foo Fighters.
Despite never finding a voice in Nirvana, Grohl said that he was sure that he would have still written songs if Cobain had lived, remarking later, “I know there would still be recording and writing stuff on my own. Everybody in [Foo Fighters] goes out and does side projects. I was doing that in Nirvana, but no one was hearing it because I was too nervous”. Grohl might not have had his chance to work with Cobain as a writing partner, but pulling himself out of the creative doldrums remains one of the biggest stories of redemption in rock music.