15 April 2022In Interpreting7 Minutes

Medicine at 9pm (CET): the healing power of Dave Grohl

I usually use my blog to share case studies or discuss the technical side of my work. But this time I want to share something a bit more personal.

At the time of writing, it’s April 2022. The days are getting longer. Restrictions are loosening. The worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us (although now we have the war in Ukraine to contend with). As I write, I feel like I’m emerging from the crippling anxiety which has kept me prisoner for two years. I hope I’m not wrong.

Here in Milan, where I live, COVID-19 case numbers have always been dramatically high, even more so than the rest of Italy. When colour coded zones were introduced in November 2020, we were regularly within the “red zone”. Closures, travel restrictions and 10pm curfews intensified my feelings of despair. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. My life had been put on hold at the end of February 2020 and no one knew when it would return to normal.

At the beginning of February 2021, my region Lombardy was still “red”. What a surprise. Every day was the same. I hid away in my home office from dawn till dusk, only emerging to do the shopping. Work was my only pastime, my only distraction from thinking constantly about death. I was so demoralised and mentally exhausted that I could barely manage to watch a film or listen to a record. This set off a vicious circle: I no longer had a social life > I suffered because of my lack of social life > I turned inwards and had increasingly less desire to speak to people.

At least work forced me to listen to new music and talk about it with my kind (instead of making light conversation with my cat).

On Tuesday 9 February 2021, Dave Grohl met the Italian media on Zoom to present Medicine at Midnight, the Foo Fighters’ 10th studio album. And I had the honour of interpreting for him. Not without a large dose of anxiety, however. Just two days before the roundtable my internet connection cut out. Luckily, that evening it worked and at 9pm we found ourselves in front of the screen for an hour in the company of the legend.

To ensure the event ran smoothly, I moderated the discussion in addition to interpreting. I welcomed our eagerly awaited American guest, broke the ice by asking him something about his record, and then began asking him the questions that the journalists had sent me a couple of days earlier. I then translated his replies into Italian. It was a bit like a talk show. And a dream come true for me — at 17 I dreamed of becoming an MTV presenter.

I’ve translated various material for the Foo Fighters throughout the years. Mostly press kits, but also an animated video, The Making of Concrete and Gold, and of course, Play, Dave Grohl’s mini-documentary. And so I’d already formed an idea of what he was like. Combined with my extensive research as I prepared for the interpreting assignment, I knew that he was optimistic and helpful. But “meeting him” was an electrifying experience for every single one of the participants. Dave’s enormous enthusiasm and energy was exactly what I needed at a time which was so difficult and emotional for me. Hearing him speak, I realised that I wasn’t the only one whose plans (and existence) had been derailed by the pandemic. In 2020, 25 years after their debut album, Foo Fighters had intended to put out a record to celebrate their long and glorious career. Because of the global health crisis they decided to postpone the release to 2021, but they didn’t know whether they could go on tour immediately. The record was ready and they wanted to share it with the world. They couldn’t wait any longer.

But Dave has always been unstoppable. Kurt Cobain’s suicide and Nirvana’s demise in 1994 didn’t stop him — once he was over the initial shock, he started Foo Fighters within a year, releasing a record in which he played all the instruments. Breaking a leg on stage in Sweden in 2015 didn’t stop him either — they made him a lovely throne and he continued to perform seated for the rest of the tour. I’m convinced that not even the loss of Taylor Hawkins, the Foos’ drummer and his “best friend and partner in crime” who died earlier this year, stopped him. He’ll be back, we just need to wait patiently. At least that’s what I hope.

Dave spoke about a variety of topics during the roundtable including Nirvana, politics, and Scream, his hardcore band that played in Italian squats at the end of the eighties. Chatty and witty, he replied to my questions in great detail until our time was up. We listened rapt, impressed by his experiences and infectious kindness. And so, that February evening in the “red zone”, Dave Grohl’s curious and ironic way of looking at the world helped me rediscover a bit of joie de vivre and the hope I needed to keep going after a long, depressing period. This man, who always gives 100%, always finds new inspiration at his lowest points, and uses his great tenacity and wit to overcome the odds, has so much to teach us. And on 9 February 2021 I learned something that I still carry in my heart to this day.