As I rolled over in bed on day five of SXSW in Austin, Texas, I was fighting the sunlight hard. I peered at my Weight Watcher’s app that read, “16 breakfast tacos, bloody Mary, mimosa, steak taco,” then my friend Rachel’s text appeared on my phone. She was in New York City. “Lianne, put the flour tortilla down, Dave Grohl’s keynote at SXSW is at 11am today. Do not miss this.”
I didn’t know much about Dave Grohl besides the fact that he was a band member in Nirvana and is the frontman of The Foo Fighters. I’m a strict devotee of George Michael. (This is the man who taught me in the early ’80s that “guilty feet have got no rhythm”!) Could I find another musician as inspirational as George? After lugging myself, my face still caked in last night’s eye make-up, to the Austin Convention Center to hear Mr. Grohl speak, the answer is yes. I’ve never been happier to stand in a cavernous auditorium filled with hoards of people, some of whom had a lackadaisical attitude towards using deodorant, and be inspired by someone.
1. No one is you and that is your biggest power.
We’ve all heard this sentiment before, but this quote from Grohl’s speech breaks it down:
“It’s YOUR VOICE. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s f**king gone because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last . . .”
AND, my absolute favorite:
“Who’s to say what’s a good voice, and what’s not a good voice? The Voice? Imagine Bob Dylan sitting there singing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in front of Christina Aguilera.”
As soon as I heard these words, I was filled with the energy and enthusiasm of roughly 20 Baptist choirs. Grohl was talking about a singer’s voice, but you don’t have to belt on Broadway to have a voice. Your voice is your defining quality, your passion and your key opportunity to affecting this planet. Take as long as you need to figure out who you are and what turns you on. And when you do, don’t doubt yourself – just sing.
2. Don’t be afraid of not fitting in.
“I can truly say out loud that ‘Gangnam Style’ is one of my favorite f**king songs of the past decade. Is it any better or worse than the latest Atoms for Peace album? Hmmm… paging Pitchfork! Come in, come in, Pitchfork! We need you to help us determine the value of a song! Who f**king cares.”
Preach it, Dave Grohl! Mama hears you.
What is ‘cool’, anyway? Hipsters who wear lampshades as skirts and deadpan “ew” when they see you’re wearing a garment from The Limited Express? Maybe mall stores make you feel alive again. This is a vast culture. Take inspiration from where you want. Let your peers laugh at you for downloading Phil Collins remixes on your ‘Droid. People who design their lives to impress others are Ambien in human form: total sleepwalkers.
3. Give a damn about yourself.
Grohl said this early in his speech: “The Musician comes first.”
My friend Paul reminded me not too long ago of the first season of The Real World. This was back during the brief one-month window when reality TV was actually real. One cast member was an aspiring rapper named Heather. Heather went into the confessional amongst all the household drama of “Who is sleeping with whom?” and “Who called who fat and didn’t do the dishes?” and said, “Heather got to do Heather.” Putting yourself first doesn’t mean being selfish. It’s about taking care of yourself so you can be a better human being. A 2.0 version of you is way more equipped to help others in need. Take up yoga if you’re stressed. Ask for a big raise. Walk away from a relationship that is abusive or draining. Or just take a nap, for Christ’s sake.
4. Be humble.
Grohl, despite being a rock legend, said this with great sincerity:
“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 f**king ROOM!”
No one wants to go to lunch with a supermodel who says things like, “My cheekbones, if you’ve noticed, have a similar incline to an escalator.” One thing I’ve noticed is that if you are good at something, people will acknowledge it. Appreciate the hell out of those people. Should you be blessed enough to have the fortitude to work so hard at something that people celebrate you, your first reaction should be gratitude. And know that there’s a ton of people out there from all races and socioeconomic backgrounds who can still teach you something. I don’t care if you’re Bill Clinton or Jay-Z – always be learning; always be improving.
5. Spark a revolution.
Grohl, on his hope for his small daughters as they grow into women:
“As a proud father, I pray that someday that they are left to their own devices, that they realize that the musician comes first, and that THEY find THEIR VOICE, and that THEY become someone’s Edgar Winter. THEY become someone’s Beatles and that THEY incite a riot, or an emotion, or start a revolution, or save someone’s life.”
Always have the highest bar for yourself. Wake up everyday and no matter how crappy you feel, want to change something for the better. Even if that day it means organizing your grandmother’s spice rack. Do something that makes someone happy. Create something that inspires someone. Be someone’s light when they are hopeless. Or just eat an amazing sandwich. You know, a really good sandwich is a total game changer.