Dave Grohl’s amazing keynote speech at SXSW 2013

Dave Grohl solidified his status as rock’s biggest ambassador when he delivered an impassioned speech at South by South West that covered his own laser-focused path to becoming a musician, the state of music today and the amazing opportunities social media and cheap recording gear provide to musicians now. He talks about the rise and fall of Nirvana, the birth of the Foo Fighters, the state of the music today and his own inspirations.

The whole thing lasts about an hour but is really worth your time. Grohl’s frank, no bullshit approach proves him funny, intelligent (did not expect him to be a high school dropout!) and passionate. And you have to admire a man who was in two of the biggest rock bands of the last 20 years, playing two different instruments.

Some of my favourite quotes from his speech:

And, that’s when I heard the 5 words that changed my life forever:

“Have you heard of Nirvana?”

Nirvana were one of “us.” Raised on Creedence, and Flipper, and Beatles, and Black Flag, they seemed to share the same ideals, the same intentions. But they had something more. They had songs. They had . . . Kurt. What they didn’t have . . . was a drummer.

So, without hesitation, I packed all of my drums into one big, U-Haul cardboard box, grabbed my old army duffle bag, and flew up to Seattle.

And the Number One song of 1990 . . . Wilson fucking Phillips, “Hold On”

How Kurt could even THINK we’d make a ripple in this ridiculous mainstream world of polished pop music was beyond me. It was beyond everyone. It made absolutely no sense. It was simply unimaginable. It was the type of hopeless, shallow aspiration that we had been conditioned to reject, ultimately relieving us of any intention other than to just be ourselves.

Guilt. Guilt is cancer. It will confine you, torture you, destroy you as a musician. It is a wall. It is a black hole. It is a thief. It will keep you from YOU. Remember learning your first song, or riff, or writing your first lyric? There was no guilt then. Remember when there WAS no right or wrong? Remember the simple reward of just . . . playing music? You are still, and will always be that person at your core. The musician. And, The musician comes first.

Fuck guilty pleasure. How about . . . just pleasure? I can truthfully say, out loud, that “Gangnam Style” is one of my favorite fucking songs of the past decade. It is! Is it any better or worse than the latest Atoms for Peace album? Hmmmm . . . If only we had a celebrity panel of judges to determine that for us! What would J-Lo do? Paging Pitchfork, come in, come in!!! Pitchfork, we need you to help us determine the value of a song!!! Who fucking cares!!!! I fucking LOVE IT!!! Who is to say what’s a good voice and what’s not a good voice. The Voice? Imagine Bob Dylan standing there singing “Blowin in the Wind” in front of Christina Aguilera. “Mmmmm . . . I think you sound a little nasally and sharp. Next . . .”

I have to imagine that the reason I am here today in front of you all is exactly this. Am I the best drummer in the world? Certainly not. Am I the best singer-songwriter? Not even in THIS fucking ROOM! But I have been left alone to find MY VOICE since that day that I heard Edgar Winter‘s “Frankenstein” on that public school turntable in my bedroom.

To see the speech: http://www.npr.org/event/music/173331505/dave-grohls-sxsw-2013-keynote-speech

To read the transcript: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/dave-grohls-sxsw-keynote-speech-the-complete-text-20130315

Jean-Frederic Vachon
Follow me


  • yanbarikad , March 16, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    It was truly inspiring. More interesting than a lot of Keynote or sessions I’ve seen in the past.
    “The musician comes first” I think I”ll adapt it for me. 🙂

    • jfvachon , March 16, 2013 @ 11:36 am

      From my experience on the MIGS Advisory Board, people are divided when it comes to keynote speeches. Some want them practical and down to earth, others inspirational. I’m firmly in the later camp. I want to come out of a keynote pumped and ready to take on the world. Grohl’s speech was on that level. Rock on Dave.

      • yanbarikad , March 16, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

        I agree with you 100% on this.
        Also another great thing of this keynote: NO POWERPOINT!

        • jfvachon , March 16, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

          True. Just a bad ass rocker with reading glasses. m/

Comments are closed.