Deep Thinking Science from Dave Grohl and the Foos

I don’t know who Dave Grohl thinks he is, but he just isn’t afraid to be bold with his songs and the ideas that generate the lyrics. “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” the latest release from the Foo Fighters, is about knowing our place connected to the universe. It’s a huge concept. 

Grohl told Rolling Stone that he wrote the song when the band took a break from working on their upcoming album. He was looking at the night sky in Hawaii which reminded him of a comment from physicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, when asked about the "The Most Astounding Fact" about the universe. 

Tyson said that most astounding fact was that the atoms that make up life on the earth are just the “exploded guts” of stars from across the universe over billions of years, meaning that we are part of the universe and in the universe but the universe is also in us. He adds that while some might look at that sky and feel small, but he looks at the sky and feel bigger because the atoms in the stars are the same atoms in him. It makes him feel connected, which is what we all want in our lives in the first place.

For Grohl, that astounding fact connects him to that largest purpose of music to connect us to something and/or someone beyond ourselves. The new song is about that connection between the realms of the stars, other galaxies, and our daily grind of frustrations and triumphs that make up our lives on the particular rock we call earth. In the Rolling Stone article, he said that he’s been a skywatcher since he was kid: “I’ve always just stared at the sky and waited for a sign.”

So the song talks about the sky as a whole neighborhood of energy and life and motion that is full of signs and connections that we all look for and long for. Sometimes life gets the better of us and we lose perspective. Our minds become mind fields of conflicts where it’s easy to get lost, being pretty sure that we will explode at any moment. We lose our ability to know ourselves as part of something bigger. Some other times we just want to go to sleep, but then we look up at the sky and messages from the universe overwhelm us. 

The chorus to the song is almost hilarious to anybody who regularly looks for signs from life. There are times when wisdom only comes in small doses while other times it floods us. The central metaphor is that where we regularly beg the universe to give us a song, it is often quiet. But then when we are ready for bed, it’s like a big band playing so loudly in the apartment above us that we couldn’t possibly go to sleep: “Oh my dear Heaven is a big band now / Gotta get to sleep somehow / Bangin’ on the ceiling / Bangin’ on the ceiling / Keep it down.”

We push our way through life striving for something beyond ourselves, a longing to be connected to the universe. Some don’t know that’s what they’re looking for, but I’m convinced it’s universal. Some try to hide it within religious doctrines, while others chase the “meaning of life” in philosophies, in a cold realism, or in embracing the meaninglessness they perceive. Connection is hard to grasp, especially when so much of religious doctrine is designed to exclude or when so much of our culture tries to make us feel isolated unless we buy stuff or produce according to some other abstract standard. 

I wonder if Grohl’s bold embracing the big idea of the universe being in us, even as we are in the universe might not make us understand ourselves differently. We are more than commodities. Our best faith is more than a reward for believing the right stuff. What if it’s realizing that our spiritual desires might just originate in the very atoms that we’re made of? Dave Grohl is neither a scientist or a pastor. Just who does he think he is by raising such questions?

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