Everybody's Pacemaker

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Some kids dream about being in a rock band. Dave Grohl dreamed of being in every rock band. "As a kid, my fantasy was that I would go to a concert, any concert, and something would happen to the drummer," says Grohl, 34. "The lead singer would look out into the audience and say, 'Is there anyone out there who knows how to play our songs?' And, of course, they'd have to pick me."

Now Grohl is another rock god living his dream. At 21 he was drumming for Nirvana, and after front man Kurt Cobain's suicide, he moved center stage as guitarist and lead singer for the Foo Fighters. In the past year, Grohl has also played drums on every track of acclaimed albums by heavy-metal rockers Queens of the Stone Age, female singer-songwriter Cat Power and goth princes Killing Joke (whose first album in seven years, Killing Joke, is out this week). Grohl has also released a platinum-selling Foo Fighters record, performed with Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello at the Grammys and been floated as a possible replacement for John Bonham on a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. "My everywhere-ness," Grohl says, "is kind of freakish — even to me."


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Like most modern adventures in ubiquity, Grohl's begins with Puffy. In 1998, P. Diddy called Grohl and asked him to do a remix for his song It's All About the Benjamins. Grohl says, "I was like, 'Well, I don't know how to do a remix.' And he basically said, 'Do whatever you want.' So I got a drum set, a guitar and a bass and made some rock music, and they put it under the song. That was my first collaboration."

Since then Grohl has got dozens of calls from bands looking for an expert fill-in drummer (inexplicably, bands go through drummers as fast as drummers go through groupies) and the cachet of having a former member of Nirvana play on their album. Grohl doesn't ask for much cash, but he is moderately selective. "It's great to jam with other people; inevitably you learn something," he says. "But to make it more than just throwing Legos together to see what you can build...I try to work with people I respect."

Rather than bring his frenzied Nirvana style to each project, Grohl strives to blend in. He usually spends a week or two in the recording studio ("Anybody who spends more than a few days laying down drums is an idiot," he says) and takes his cues from his collaborators' melodies. On Queens of the Stone Age's throbbing, bass-driven Songs for the Deaf, Grohl set the frantic pace and then stayed out of the way, while on Cat Power's You Are Free his style is more impressionistic, adding a layer of sadness to the songs. For Killing Joke's reunion album, Grohl went back to his punk roots and banged away.

November brings yet another Grohl collaboration, a self-produced album called Probot, on which he plays all the instruments while his favorite heavy-metal singers get the glory. "It's not a platinum seller; it's not going to change the world," he says. "It's just my tribute to all those guys I worshipped when I was 16." Meanwhile, the biggest of all drum cameos is still out there. "I have John Bonham tattoos all over my arms," he says of the drummer, who died in 1980. "I learned to be a drummer by listening to the Zeppelin catalog." But Robert Plant hasn't called, and Grohl is no longer practicing the Zep canon. "The most important thing is that if they do a reunion tour, they find the person most capable of filling in for John Bonham. Of course, I would cut off my c___ to have that gig." The dream lives on.