Dave Grohl appeared on latest episode of the Song Exploder podcast, where he discussed “The Teacher” from Foo Fighters’ latest album, But Here We Are. As Grohl explained in heart-wrenching detail, the 10-minute rock epic was written in tribute to his mother, Virginia Grohl, who passed away in July 2022.
“I was with her for all of the time leading up to her passing,” Grohl told Song Exploder host Hrishikesh Hirway. “Everyday during that period, I would write something on the guitar, because I felt that if I didn’t have that release, I would explode. I would spend the day at the hospital and then try to translate it musically — with no clear intention of what I was trying to achieve. I was finding these chords and progressions that mirrored the way that I felt.”
Having come up with two separate demos, Grohl then tried putting them together: “These two ideas were separate to me until I imagined that if I were put them together, it’s more than a three or four minute song. It’s something much bigger… I could have a piece of music bigger than anything that we’ve ever done that I could dedicate to my mother.”
“She was the most important person in my entire life,” Grohl continued. “So I thought this had to be the most important music I ever made.”
Discussing the lyrics of the song, Grohl said that the line “Where will I wake up?” was something Grohl’s mother asked him during the final days of her life. As for the song’s chorus, in which Grohl sings “Wake up!” he explained: “I think someone’s immediate reaction to seeing someone dying is to wish for them to wake up, but that’s not how it works. One of my greatest fears in life is that I would be gone when this happened — gone on the road, not present for this. I was there and we were there together.”
“The first half of the song is meant to build to a crescendo, going through the emotion of that experience. The second half of the song is reflection,” Grohl said.
As for its ending, “I imagined the song would collapse in on itself, deconstruct in this massive wash of noise. To me this was the sound of life ending. Your final moments just become this distortion of everything you’ve ever experienced in life — and then it just turns off.”
“But what I now realize is it doesn’t,” Grohl acknowledged. “I don’t believe everything just stops. I truly believe that this is just some sort of transition.
In remembering his mother, Grohl said, “I was probably my only friend who liked hanging out with their parent… We were best friends. I felt like I had to honor her, pay tribute to her with this piece of music. So that’s when it turned into something other than a song. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever written because I wrote it for such a gigantic reason.”
Listen to the full episode of Song Exploder below.
Virginia Grohl was a public school teacher of 35 years. In 2017, she published her book