While yesterday’s pick for best YouTube video was pretty glaringly obvious, today’s pick, on best feature article (which I’m expanding from last year’s history because it seems like a lot of the history is pretty recent!), I’m finding to be a heck of a lot harder. And I think the reason for this is that it’s not a clean victory.
There are a lot of deserving pieces this year, many in the realm of popular music. I think, for example, that Pitchfork’s Sunday Review series, which is often just as much historical reporting as it is review, perhaps hit its peak when it decided to chat about Living Colour’s Vivid, which did an amazing job of contextualizing the album as a truly ambitious work of its era—and a success story years in the making on the part of the band’s guitarist, Vernon Reid.
I think as well that this piece on the long, seemingly bipartisan legacy of George Carlin, by New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff, highlights a fascinating role that few carry in modern society.
But I keep going back to the Rolling Stone piece on Taylor Hawkins, “Inside Taylor Hawkins’ Final Days as a Foo Fighter,” which I’ll be the first to emphasize has some flaws. The big one is that a couple of the sources quoted in the article (fellow famous drummers Matt Cameron and Chad Smith) have since disowned the piece, which to me suggests something other than inaccuracy—rather, that it hit an uncomfortable chord with the rock establishment during a sensitive time. Which is understandable, as it implies that one of the most beloved rock bands was working one of its most beloved rock ambassadors to the bone, which is an uncomfortable thing to imply.
But at the same time, the piece overcomes some of that discomfort by painting a fascinating picture of Hawkins as a rock star whose sheer passion for the drums and music in general had led to some of the world’s biggest stages. And that picture becomes clear the further in you read it:
But playing with the Foos was a chance for Hawkins to become more than a hired gun for a pop star and join a real group. “It seemed like he was made for that band,” Tobias says. “Just from the physicality to loving all different kinds of music and just how he was playing for one of the best drummers in the world. The fact that [Dave] trusted Taylor to run that engine says a lot. And I don’t think any of that was wasted on him. I think he was well aware that it was a huge honor and was going to knock it out of the park no matter what.”
Even when Hawkins was playing drum parts that Grohl had originally recorded, he performed them with a hyperactive energy all his own. He could channel Grohl’s powerhouse pummel but added a limber deftness that reflected his appreciation for busier, more meticulous drummers like Rush’s Neil Peart and the Police’s Stewart Copeland. When he played a drum solo, often on a riser towering 15 feet in the air on Foo Fighters’ later tours, he improvised, giving each city a unique performance.
Hawkins for decades was a drummer with seemingly boundless energy, but as he hit 50 years old, the article strongly implies that pounding the skins was becoming an increasingly arduous task at the rate Hawkins was being asked to do it, that rock is a young man’s game that some musicians eventually grow old in.
The piece highlights how the work of being a Foo Fighter remained a grind well into the band’s third decade, and implied that he was not getting a chance to pursue other interests because of the demands of being in the band.
“Foo Fighters, however, remained at the center of his life. And while their peers in Pearl Jam and Radiohead slowed down as they reached middle age, leaving time for their members to focus on solo projects and family, Grohl ramped up,” the piece, by authors Andy Greene and Kory Grow, stated.
We may or may not get a clear picture of how accurate this portrayal of Hawkins really is from the band itself, but as an obituary of an important drummer in an important band, it does something very key: It makes you rethink your relationship with him and his work. That’s a hard thing for any story to do, let alone one whose sources likely felt pressure to disown it immediately because it said something so uncomfortable about the rock and roll lifestyle in the end.
Like I said, not a clean victory. But a vital piece nonetheless.
“Giving Web Standards a Seat at the Table,” The History of the Web: The best stories often paint in the details of what was previously seen in a simplistic light. And this piece, by The History of the Web’s Jay Hoffman, explains a bit of tech history that has often gotten pushed off to the side—that is, the moment when Microsoft began to take web standards seriously again. The secret? A little cooperation.
Hinckley is an active YouTuber these days.
“John Hinckley Jr. speaks: ‘I’m trying to not dwell on the past’,” Input: The really heartbreaking part about Input was that it was just hitting its stride when it was shuttered earlier this year. This interview, done by Max Collins of Eve 6 and facilitated by editor Mark Yarm, focused on a complex story—the tale of would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. and his attempts to build a music career after being released from long-term psychiatric care. Some people would rather not have this discussion, so it’s to Collins’ and Yarm’s credit that they asked anyway.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 13 seconds