‘Sonic Highways’ Wraps Up In (Where Else?) New York City
Well, this is it. For eight weeks we've followed Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters around the country, listening to stories about how place influences music. Some of the previous 'Sonic Highways' episodes were great, and others not so much -- but they were all interesting.
The series had to end in New York City, there was really no other option. New York isn't just the cultural center of the United States, it belongs to the world. Frank Sinatra was inspired to sing, "If I can make it there I'll make it anywhere." Lee Ving and Fear, on the other hand, thought the city was "all right if you like saxophones."
That's the breadth of musical experience represented by New York City: standards to punk, hip hop to Broadway. Woody Guthrie wrote 'This Land Is Your Land' here, and Kiss knocked out 'Rock and Roll All Night,' too. The Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, the Cafe Wha? and CBGB.
New York City is home to Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland studios, for crying out loud.
"There's no way you're going to be in New York and only be aware of one kind of music," LL Cool J says. That's the both the beauty of and the problem with the climax of Grohl's series: There's just too much to cover in a one-hour episode. We're talking about the Brill Building, then we're talking about Bob Dylan meeting Woody Guthrie, then Chuck D is talking about the roots of hip-hop. This must be what it's like talking to Dave Grohl -- bouncing from topic to topic like a kid on a sugar high.
One of the sweetest moments in the episode involves kids, actually. Grohl is standing outside of this week's studio, the Magic Shop, when he's recognized by a passing family. He introduces himself, talks to the kids, and invites the family into the studio for a tour. Is it staged? Is Grohl really this nice of a guy?
I don't know, but I want to believe he is. This is really the magic of Grohl -- his ease with people, the fact that he's still in touch with his inner fanboy. We like him because he's our man on the inside, and bringing a couple passing kids into the Magic Shop for a guided tour reinforces that image.
Inevitably this episode isn't about punk, hip hop, or the long list of huge names past and present on the New York scene. It comes down to Grohl as our proxy, marveling at studio reports from the Ramones and sitting down with our other man on the inside, President Barack Obama.
Seriously, how in the hell did Nirvana's drummer land an interview with the President of the United States of America? That's really the point, though: Dave is just a kid from Virginia who made good, and Barry was pretty much the same American kid from Hawaii.
"We're all connected" has been the real message of 'Sonic Highways,' and that's something we, as a country, desperately need to hear right now. "There is nothing more unifying in this country than our music," President Obama tells Grohl.
Please let that be true. Please let something unify us right now. Anything.
This week's song gets its name from the waterway found beneath Electric Ladyland studios when Hendrix was having it built, but is that really what it's about? Decide for yourself, but prepare for a very, very powerful tune:
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