FRIEND OF A FRIEND
INSIDE THE SOUNDTRACK TO DAVE GROHL’S WILD EARLY DAYS LIVING WITH KURT COBAIN
Around Hallowe’en 1990, Dave Grohl moved into Kurt Cobain’s one-bedroom apartment at 114 North Pear Street, in Olympia, Washington. Though the 21-yearold drummer had spent the previous two weeks sharing a cramped tour bus and scuzzy hotel rooms with Kurt on a six-date Nirvana tour of the UK, nothing had prepared him for the squalor in which his new roommate lived at home.
“It was chaos,” Dave noted, recalling a filthy, foulsmelling, mould-covered residence littered with rotting take-away food, beer cans, rolling papers and the messy detritus of Kurt’s bachelor life. “You walked in and there was sculptures and paintings, there were turtles and medical books and Leonard Cohen records. It was like, ‘This is Kurt.’”
Dave Grohl spent the next eight months sleeping on Kurt’s couch. Homesick and lonely – “Olympia, Washington, is fucking depressing enough,” he later explained, “and I was living with this person that I didn’t know” – the drummer would wake up each day as the sun was going down, travel to nearby Tacoma to rehearse with Kurt and bassist Krist Novoselic, then sit up all night playing guitar, playing quietly so as not to wake his flatmate. On one such evening, he borrowed Kurt’s four-track home studio, and sketched out a delicate song based upon his observations of the intimate relationship shared by his new bandmates – the introverted singer who ‘plays an old guitar / With a coin found by the phone’ and his best friend who ‘thinks he drinks too much’. It was the first acoustic song Dave had ever written.
The drummer never played Friend Of A Friend to Kurt or Krist. But on December 23, 1990, while back in Virginia to spend Christmas with his mother, Dave recorded the song, along with a clutch of other compositions conceived on Kurt’s couch, at his friend Barrett Jones’ Laundry Room studio in Arlington. That same evening, Jenny Toomey, the owner of local record label Simple Machines and frontwoman of Arlington indie-rockers Tsunami, dropped by Barrett’s studio, and was given a playback of the session. “She said: ‘Wow, this is really cool, we should put out a cassette,’” Dave recalled. “I was like, ‘Okay…’ I was just excited that someone was excited enough to want to hear it.”
The following year, Friend Of A Friend emerged as track three on Dave Grohl’s debut solo album, Pocketwatch, released under the pseudonym Late! as part of Simple Machines’ cassette-only Tool Cassette Series. With Dave opting not to promote the release in any way, mindful of irritating Nirvana’s management, their new label Geffen and indeed the subjects of the song, initially Pocketwatch went largely unnoticed. That was until Nirvana’s Nevermind album exploded into the mainstream consciousness, and demand for their drummer’s low-key recordings almost torpedoed the indie label, leading Jenny Toomey to permanently withdraw it from sale. As such, Friend Of A Friend might have remained a cult curio, had Dave not decided to rerecord the song for Foo Fighters’ 2005 double-album In Your Honor, describing it as “a nod to the past” on an album “about looking ahead”.
“Of any song that I’ve ever written, Friend Of A Friend is most blatantly about my time in Nirvana,” he acknowledged that same year.
Undeniably, the 1994 death of Kurt Cobain gives Friend Of A Friend an added poignancy, as a reminder of a simpler, more innocent time for Dave and his new pals. But whichever version of the song you know best, it remains a charming, fragile and rather bittersweet sketch of a burgeoning friendship that would go on to transform the rock music landscape and change life forever for two young men sharing a shit-hole apartment in a nondescript American town.