There goes my hero, she's ordinary
Hayley Williams came on stage for Foo Fighters' "My Hero" last night and it was kind of a full-circle moment
Howdy, and welcome to the music newsletter formerly known as Paramore For Dummies. I recently rebranded and am writing about just, like, music in general. Anyway, here’s some thoughts about Paramore.
Yesterday at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo music fest, Foo Fighters closed out a headlining set with one of their biggest hits, “My Hero.”
At that moment, I was in Denver, Colorado, splayed out unceremoniously on a picnic blanket with my friend and her friends, listening to lite-jazz versions of Beatles songs.
Prior to the park, I’d been loosely keeping up with festival updates, mostly in the form of Paramore stans retweeting shots from the band’s afternoon set: in honor of Pride Month, frontwoman Hayley Williams donned a white cutoff tee that said “GAYS, YES; CONTRAS, NO,” a 1986 news headline from the New York Daily News after the approval of an LGBTQ rights bill. Glitter-paint tears streamed down her face, in pride- and trans-flag colors. One thing about the This Is Why era, is that Hayley’s not gonna miss an opportunity to make an political statement with her on-stage style. (The sentiment’s not new, though; she and the band have prioritized LGBTQ rights advocacy for a while now.)
Close-ups of her flashy tears and clips of the power notes in fan-favorite “All I Wanted” fluttered through my Twitter feed that afternoon prior to the park. After catching up on the texts and posts I’d missed during the cell-service-vortex that was Denver City Park at 6pm on a sunny Sunday, I saw the first video of Hayley’s Foo Fighters cameo.
Of course she came on stage for “My Hero,” was my first thought. Two things a diehard Paramore fan would know: the band’s core members love Foo Fighters, and they’ve covered “My Hero” before. As my mutual @chrrypm put it in a quote tweet, “What a full circle moment.”
When I first encountered Paramore’s cover of “My Hero,” I was at the height of my Riot!-era fandom. I’d spend hours scouring YouTube for covers they’d done, or Google Images for rare behind-the-scenes band pics. This was one of the few covers I’d found that was a song I already knew and loved in its own right, and Hayley’s treasured vocals over the lyrics and melody I’d sung along to a hundred times seemed almost too good to be true.
Not long before all that, The Colour And The Shape had taught me how to love grunge. I was just a high school sophomore, and as hard as I tried, Nirvana was just too much for me. Foo Fighters, on the other hand, were just enough. While Kurt Cobain had hacked out dark paths I wasn’t quite ready to tread, Dave Grohl as a frontman gave me just the right amount of sonic angst without spooking me. I didn’t seek the album out; it came to me, in a selection of burned CDs curated by a boy who was eager to mold my young music taste. (I’ve always attracted those types, and sometimes, against some odds, their suggestions take.) I spun The Colour And The Shape with curiosity and pleasure, reveling in Dave’s cathartic shouting when I was alone in my car, occasionally shouting along to “Monkey Wrench,” “Everlong,” “New Way Home,” and, of course, “My Hero.” Getting lost in the shouting. Learning that shouting felt like freedom.
Of course, when Paramore played “My Hero,” Hayley wasn’t yelling. She doesn’t go off-roading, vocally; each note is deliberate, more like a gymnastics routine—however daring—than Dave’s meandering growls. The grit she brings to the words, though, makes the cover every bit as fierce as the original.
“There goes my hero / watch him as he goes,” Hayley howls. I wonder who, if anyone, she was thinking about at the time. They recorded the cover in 2006, as a credits track for the forgettable Superman Returns, and it exists only on YouTube (including a performance for some American troops in Kuwait??) and on a hard-to-find bonus track version of Riot!. “There goes my hero / he’s ordinary,” she wails, going toe-to-toe with Grohl for agonized intensity.
Hayley wasn’t always my hero. Or, I should say, there was a period during which her Katie’s-hero status lapsed. There was a point, after those first obsessive years of fandom, that I decided I didn’t like that she and guitarist Josh broke up, and I blamed her flagging commitment to evangelicalism. I needed an idol as obsessed with Jesus as I was—ironically so, because isn’t He the one that said no idols? I didn’t like that she was dating an atheist, that she wasn’t behaving as I thought my perfect Christian hero ought to behave.
And, on a childish level that was harder for me to admit, Hayley and Josh’s dissolution as a couple betrayed my vision of what my teenage self had hoped that love could be. How could she hurt me like this? In those couple of years, now hazy in the past, I so badly wanted a hero who showed me exactly what I wanted to see and be, and I didn’t like that Hayley proved herself to be, in a lot of ways that mattered, ordinary.
Bonnaroo footage from last night shows Hayley head-banging to a song she and I know by heart, to close out a festival on the same stage as one of the world’s (other) biggest rock bands. The cherry on top of a fully-packed Paramore set, in her home state, with unashamed Pride colors flying in support of the band’s loved ones and fans. She and I both stand for different things now—thank God. Now, more than ever, she is the artist I most look up to; and if I didn’t, it wouldn’t matter one bit for a superstar at the height of her career who knows exactly the fuck she is. Hayley’s star moment last night on that stage was a moment of triumph for her, for a smiling Dave Grohl, and for Paramore fans who have always loved the deep-cut covers.
“My Hero” is about Dave’s disillusionment with his older-brother figure, Kurt Cobain. There’s no hero more disappointing than a dead one. But then, beyond disappointment, or perhaps threaded throughout it, there’s grief. Dave was never going to get Kurt back, and his performance of “My Hero” bears compounded weight since the passing of his long-time Foo Fighters bandmate and friend Taylor Hawkins. For Dave, it’s a song of loss. But sometimes, some of us get to choose if we want our heroes back, just the way they are; extraordinary; ordinary.
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