Taylor Hawkins and Prince

It was in the middle of Prince’s Musicology Tour circa 2004 when I discovered the Foo Fighters. This epic group of musicians whose lead singer’s heart was on the proverbial sleeve. I didn’t know much about them at the time but their sometimes angry, not-today-Satan, gnashing of strings embodied everything that I couldn’t vocalize. For every syllable I wanted to scream out of my unspoken angst, The Foos had already read my mail, responded and blasted it through vinyl.

I loved them. Dave Grohl was my spirit animal. Pat Smears was my smirky sibling. Chris Shiflett, Nate Mendel, co-signers of my emotional turmoil; but Taylor Hawkins always stood out for me. His wide smile. Crinkly eyes that belied a mischievous mirth. All the attributes of a human being enthusiastic about life. In nearly every show I saw, he felt like was the embodiment of joy. His presence made me happy. His wild, controlled drumming pumped my rage-filled joy? Anger? Could never really pin down the way the Foos made me feel. Maybe it was alive? They gave me a voice I didn’t know I had in expressing some of the emotional weight that plagued me. Definitely, alive. Their music fueled me.

2005 was a tough year. Prince was going through a personal metamorphosis that would take him into 2006. Internally and externally, those two years were heady with shows, launching new albums, filming a movie, legendary house parties and music. Lots of music which would inevitably lead us to the 2007 Super Bowl XLI.

During that stint in L.A., Prince wanted to go to every show that was playing. I discovered Radiohead through Prince. He asked if I would arrange for us and DJ Rashida to attend the show at the Greek Theater. We got there and the sound was incredible. I joked that the bass had cleared up the phlegm from the bronchitis I was still battling. This made Prince laugh. I remember sitting by the sound booth, the crisp night air enveloping us like a velvet wet mist while Thom Yorke’s haunting voice echoed above the lawn, hovering over us like an aurora. One of Prince’s favorite shows. One of mine.

Afterwards, Prince ensnared me into a discussion about music, specifically rock music and he asked me what I liked. Growing up in church I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music, so I told him the list was short, but growing.

“After that show,” I said, “Radiohead is DEFINITELY on the list. I love Coldplay, Muse, and honestly The Foos are my spirit animal.” I clutched my invisible pearls, rolled my eyes and a feigned a swoon. He laughed.

“What about Nine Inch Nails?”

“Oh, I haven’t really listened to them.”

“You mean him,” He said.

“Who?”

“Trent Reznor. He is Nine Inch Nails. I really like him and what he’s done. He’s a bit of an outlier, like me.” Prince was looking at me head down, eyes up like a school marm ready to give me a pop quiz.

“Do you have Coldplay and The Foo Fighters last album?” He asked sternly.

“Uhhhhh, no I don’t.”

“I do. Chris’ last album was pretty good.” He smirked.

“Yeah, I know because I bought them for you.” Sometimes I was little too quick with the one-liners. He glowered a bit and exposed the side smile with the dimple expressing exasperation.

“The point is, Ruth, if you really enjoy the artists you need to be buying their music and supporting them in concert. Most don’t have a 401k or insurance. This is how they make their living. They live through their art.”

Like a scorned pupil, I kept my head down and sheepishly nodded. His tone softened at his next question, “Why do you like The Foos?”

We were in the upper living room of Carlos Boozer’s home that we were renting. It was a multilevel estate, his master bedroom was just above the first living room. Yes, I said first living room. There were technically three. I think.

My head popped up and I brightened. “OH!” I nearly shouted. “I love this grunge rock thing they do, angry, melodic, dark music but with bright chords.” He looked at me quizzically as he softly padded his way up to his bedroom. “What do you know about chords? Keep talking,” he said as he disappeared.

“I love how Dave Grohl just screams everything like his guts are on fire!” I yelled. I mean, Prince was pretty far away. Yelling seemed natural.

“WHAT ELSE?” he yelled back.

“That drumming and the melodies, they get in my veins! And they play your song, “Darling Nikki” like they own it!” I screamed. I instantly realized my fat mouth was going to do me in. Prince reappeared with two shot glasses of Patron Platinum tequila. As he got closer, his big eyes had become slits. He stared hard at me as he handed me my shot glass and said, “What did you say? Also, sip this don’t gulp it. I don’t need you running around the place laughing like a hyena.” This was in reference to a hideous laugh that on occasion emerges from the hollows of my black soul and which once brought Prince to real tears as he slid down a staircase laughing at my screeching yowls.

“I promise I’ll sip.” I said as I daintily took the shot glass from his hand and sipped with my pinky finger hailing a cab in a direct mimic of his own grasp. He noticed and rolled his eyes as he sat next to me on the curved golden couch.

“What do you know about “Darling Nikki”? You know we don’t play that anymore.” I did know. I had just discovered The Foos version of the song as someone had handed me a burned CD of it. I had initially heard them play it live when I was attempting to arrange a meeting with Prince and the band. I told him they had played it at one of the shows he missed and he acknowledged that he was aware of it.

“What did you think?” I asked him between miniscule sips of my Patron.

“I thought they were great.” He was so blunt with the statement I thought he was clowning me.

“Shut it,” I said, “I thought you said in that interview with Entertainment Weekly that you didn’t like it. Seriously, what did you think?”

Prince turned and looked me square, octagonally in the eye and said, “Firstly, don’t believe everything you read. That statement was taken out of context. Secondly, that band embodied the song in the way it was meant to be played. They are so good they could do a whole album of my rock songs.”

“REALLY?” I was practically leaning full on into his face because, well, tequila. “WOULD YOU REALLY DO THAT?” My head was exploding from the comment.

“Truth be told, Ruth, I better see this much enthusiasm with my music.” His face was back to school marm mode and then that warm, little smile kicked in. “You really would like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Prince, I would die.” I squealed quietly. Quietly for me.

“For you.” He responded. “I would die for you.” I ignored his corny pun.

“Prince, your work takes me to a different level that I’m not sure I even comprehend, mostly because I don’t know most of your catalogue and I get the lyrics wrong.” I joked.

“Yeah, we really need to talk about that.” He grunted. There was a silent pause and then we both laughed.

“I’m serious Prince, a rock album with The Foos or maybe a few others covering your songs, would be epic. I have their burned CD with your cover.”

“Have you? I want that CD. In the meantime, I’ll think about it. Maybe,” he mused.

A few months later, NBC executive David Saltz came by the house for dinner with John Meglen, Paul Gongaware of AEG and two NFL executives to discuss a possible Super Bowl performance for the following year. Afterwards, Prince asked me to lead them to the “3121 Club Room” which was on the terrace. There, he and the band gave an approximate forty-minute performance to seven people in the room and the cleaning staff.

I think those executives knew within the first minute of Prince playing that this show was going to be epic. I could see more whites in their widened eyes than in the Himalayan snow capped mountain tops.

At the end of 2006, we moved to Las Vegas for his residency at the Rio. Prince had asked if I could repurchase some music. Not just any music, specifically the anthology of the following:

N.I.N., Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age (we had seen them in Vegas and he was wild about the show), Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Coldplay, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, War, Bruce Springsteen, Betty Davis, David Bowie and others.

Prince mentioned that he didn’t like other’s covering his music because they couldn’t do it justice. He had no problem re-envisioning other’s work. “I can play their music, they can’t play mine,” he would often say. He had an uncanny ability to find the right lyrics, melodies and tone that would convey how he felt at the time. His creative expression was honest whether it involved other’s works or his own.

I was shocked when I heard the final medley during rehearsals. He had incorporated The Foos, “Best of You” into the performance. “What did you think?” he asked over the phone after he sent me a rehearsal link to forward on to the Howard Stern show. “I think it’s fantastic, Prince. Once again, you’re brilliant.” “I know,” he sighed. He wasn’t being arrogant, just exhaled a regular, ol’ run of the mill statement that we both understood as fact.

“Did you hear I used the Foo Fighter’s song?”

“Yes, I did. It’s amazing.”

“Do you think they’ll like it?” It was a genuine question.

“I can’t imagine they wouldn’t. You killed it.” I wasn’t kissing his tuchis. It truly was great.

“Good.” CLICK. He hung up on me. No goodbye, no I’ll talk to you later. Just, CLICK. I hate it when he does that, and he does it often.

As we all know, Prince slayed the Super Bowl til the end of time with his performance and we received word back that The Foos were pleased with his rendition. Prince finished out his residency in Vegas and we headed to London for his residency at the O2.

Later that year, when we were back in Los Angeles, I received a request for music licensing for “Darling Nikki”. The Foos, along with Ceelo Green, whom we had recently met in Vegas, wanted to perform the song for MTV’s VMA’s.

At the time, Prince wanted to personally review licensing requests and would then scrawl his 17th Century Victorian approvals or rants over paperwork, then I would fax in return. Yes, I used an ancient device called a fax machine. Most of the time I would try to save trees and email the approval. This proved to be unmanageable though, even with my hovering. Timing was always an issue.

One of the Foo’s managers called me in a small panic. The Foos and Ceelo wanted to perform it the next night. Could I ask Prince to rush the request through? COULD I?! We are currently renting a 36,000 square foot home in Beverly Glen from George Santo Prieto. The clackity-clack of my hooves reverberated up the twenty-foot ceilings as I lady raced-walk the marathon mile to his office.

I was a tiny bit winded as I stood before him at his desk. He was speed reading a book our agent Keith Sarkisian gave him called, “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey. His eyebrows raised above the book as his pointed finger hovered over the word he was presumably reading to hold his place. His pinky, per usual, was hailing a cab.

“Why are you breathing like that?” He asked.

“I just ran down the hall.” I huffed.

“What for?”

“This licensing request. I need you to approve it ASAP.” He glared at me when I said, “ASAP.”

“I’ll look at it later, leave it on the desk.”

“NO!” I blurted rather loudly.

He glanced up in surprise. I explained to him it was for the use of “Darling Nikki” for MTV’s VMA’s. He put his book down and grabbed the paperwork from my hands and with the same pointed finger and cab hailing pinky, perused through the agreement.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Nope. Thank youuuuuuu!” My voice trailed off the ‘you’ as I ran back out of his office to call Universal Music Publishing to give them go ahead.

The next night Prince and I were watching the VMA’s downstairs in the movie theater and as Ceelo and the Foos came on screen, he looked at me and said, “This better be good, Ruth.” As if I was standing next to the guys about to shred it out.

“It’ll be great,” I said confidently. Nervously. Very nervously.

The sound seemed to be a little muted when Ceelo began to sing, but then Dave’s guitar kicked in and they began to shred. I had one eye glued to the gigantic theater sized movie screen and another peripherally on Prince. Pretty sure I looked like a pug at that moment. The one eye on Prince watched as his hand hovered over his chin and his forefinger stroking his lips. Gratefully, the pinky was at ease. I breathed a sigh of relief.

After the performance Prince looked at me and said, “You happy?”

“Yes. Thank you. Are you?”

He grinned. “They did a good job. I do like the way Dave keeps the integrity of the song in his performance. I’ll give your idea some thought.”

Eventually, sometime during 2008 Gaby Skolnek (manager) and Gus Brandt (tour manager) helped me arrange a brief meeting after a show in which Prince met the band and later remarked how genuine they were.

“Dave’s really nice, isn’t he? They all are. I think I really like them.”

“Yes! I was so excited to meet them.”

“Yeah, I bet you were.” He mocked me for half a minute before he continued, “The entire band was excellent. You know how much I admire excellence. They were raw and edgy in their playing. I bet they rehearse a lot. You don’t sound like that unless you’ve rehearsed til the dirt falls off and the shine comes through.” I imagined a bald Mr. Clean breaking through the clouds as The Foos played and Taylor Hawkin’s broad smile gleaming rays of a shining sun.

I grinned. I was elated that Dude loved them as much as I did. After their meeting, Prince told me, unbeknownst to all, that he was going to show up with his guitar and jam with them during one of their shows in L.A. He asked me to advance the venue and I told management he may appear. Sadly, he decided against it as he wasn’t feeling well. That night, The Foos played a rendition of “Darling Nikki” that nearly made ME crawl on the floor begging for her to come back. It was THAT searing. Prince later called me to ask how the show was. I gushed. Once again, Prince reminded me that I needed to have that same level of enthusiasm for him.

“Prince, I love the Foos but I love you more.”

“I know.” He said. I laughed.

“Send Dave a dozen white roses with a note that says we’re sorry we missed their performance but we definitely want to see them when they’re in town again.” He gave me a few other details to include, and I secretly hoped that their next interaction would result in a performance.

My tenure with Prince would come to an end early Fall of 2010. The following year, Dave would be reunited with Prince via a rehearsal that is probably recorded and stored in the messy annals of Prince’s Vault. (Someone please release it!) I didn’t get to witness my two heroes together, but in my heart I knew their common ground was fertile and something amazing would come from it. I was confident of this and the fact that I would see Prince again but April 21st, 2016 took that moment away from us all.

A few weeks ago, the world heard the news of Taylor Hawkins sudden transition. I was stunned. The fantastical scenario that one day the Foo Fighters would eventually create a tribute album of Prince covers quietly subsided while I felt my heart overflow in sorrow for Taylor’s family. The band. Their management. Their friends. Their fans. It is a tight knit community; and my insides are a mess for the whole of them. We know what it feels like to lose a light like Taylor. We know.

Days later, my friend Pierce sent me an article that perceived a “feud” between the onery Prince V. Anyone Who Covers His Music and that included The Foos. They used a quote from Taylor that said, “I hаve no ideа why he did it,” Hаwkins joked, “but I’d love to find out.” “I meаn, it occurred to me thаt he might be doing it аs а kind of ‘F — you’ to us, or thаt he might genuinely enjoy the song.” In аny cаse, hаving Prince cover one of our songs — аnd do it better thаn we did — wаs pretty incredible.”

I was a bit chagrined that the article had included the words “Prince’s revenge” in the headline. Not revenge. An homage. A thank you. Prince respected The Foos and had only wonderfully warm things to say about them. Prince harbored no ill will towards anyone. “It’s a waste of time,” he would say.

Later, I found a clip online of Taylor drumming on his bed, and there, hovering peacefully, was a painting of Prince.

As in life, I hope the minute Taylor opened his eyes in the next realm, that Prince’s large doe eyes were there to greet him. I hope Prince threw Taylor a new set of golden sticks and shouted, “Let’s rock!” And I hope that a searing rendition of “Darling Nikki” rattled the holy halls with wails of excitement and inconceivable, vibrant, ecstatic joy. I hope they are both shining together and rocking on forever.

If you’re wondering, Prince never did give me my burned CD of The Foo Fighter’s version of “Darling Nikki” back. He still owes me.

Remember to play your music loud and be present this very day in your life. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

We miss you, Taylor. We miss you, Prince. Rock on babes, rock on.

You can find The Foos and Gnarls Barkley performance here:

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Ruth Violette

Ruth Violette

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