Taylor Hawkins: The Story Behind “Middle Child”

Just before Halloween, Classic Rock magazine sent me up to Los Angeles to meet with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins to discuss his new solo album, Get The Money. We spent nearly two hours in his guest house, the locale of Hawkins’ thoroughly badass home studio, where he’s recorded demos for both solo and Foo Fighters. It also boasts two bedrooms, four Grammys and a photo of Don Henley above the toilet. In a wild, freewheeling conversation where even the tangents had tangents, he regaled me with jaw-dropping stories about the history of his home (which was previously owned by country legend Kenny Rogers, comedian Howie Mandel and actress Cindy Williams, of Laverne and Shirley fame), the innate weirdness of sharing a gated community with Drake and the Kardashians and the stories behind the songs on his album.

This past week he released the video for Middle Child and I was reminded of a story that he told about that song, which I wasn’t able to fit into my original feature for Classic Rock. Rather than consign this story to eternal damnation inside of my hard drive, never to see the light of day, I thought I’d share it here.

In the video, you can see that the song’s about his daughter, although that wasn’t the initial plan. “I had this song for my son,” he told me. “It’s a sweet song. I’ve had the music for that for five or six years but I had a shit lyric and I didn’t have a bridge and it didn’t end up on KOTA. I think I had it as far back as the Birds of Satan record, which was 2013 or something.” He grabbed a Martin guitar and started lightly strumming while singing, “Son of mine/you ready for the great big world…” He hummed and strummed another verse before continuing, “It got all the way to possibly being on the record, so I played it for my son and he goes, ‘If you put that on your record, I’m gonna punch you in the face!’  Ha ha He was like, ‘If you’re gonna write a song about me, it’s gotta sound like Metallica! I don’t want some wimpy ass, pussy song about me, dad!’ Ha ha

Undaunted by his son’s chilly assessment, he reached out to a friend. “Then I sent it to Josh Homme,” he continued, “I tend to send things to him because I seek his approval — and asked, ‘What do you think of this?’ He was like, ‘Are you recording a song for the Shrek soundtrack?’ I was like Harsh! So that’s two thumbs down.” All, however, was not lost.

“At that time,” he said, “my daughter was like, ‘You have to have a song for me!’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. You’re the middle child and you’re acting like a middle child right now, seeking attention and approval. Which I understand because Shane’s always in trouble and the baby’s (daughter Everleigh) cute as fuck, so you’re in the middle. But you’re like my twin, too.’ She really is. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just call the song Middle Child?’”

Guitar on his lap, he then started singing, “You clean your mess up almost every night/You’re always there you never make me wait/Another perfect Daddy/Daughter date/You looked lost when you got home yesterday/You came to me, I knew just what to say/My little twin I’m here with you/Stay close and we will see it through/How I love you middle child/I see angels when you smile/when I look into your eyes/I could stay forever with you It’s a beautiful song.”

He wasn’t the only one who thought so, explaining, “In the UK, they’re like, ‘That’s the single.’ [In the US] they wanted Crossed The Line because it’s a little more Foo Fightery, I think. It’s a little more of a rock song, but Middle Child is more of an English dandy song (hums and slaps the verse and claps), almost like a T. Rex. Thin Lizzy, glam, early-Seventies glam thing. So they loved it in the UK and I told my daughter the other day, ‘England wants that to be the single!’” Which, he advised, sent her over the moon with joy.

Like the rest of the album, Middle Child blends a frenetic splattering of Seventies hard rock styles into a punchy pop rock throwdown, bursting with sugary hooks and and a suitably-massive, singalong chorus. In his review of the album, my colleague Mark Beaumont – tongue squarely in-cheek – described the track as boasting “the sort of whiskied harmonies and angle-grinder guitars you’re surprised to find in a loving ode to one’s daughter.”

It was one of the weirder interviews I’ve done in awhile, due in no small part to the time and place. Days from Halloween, his street and home were festooned with pumpkins, oversized spiders and other ghoulish decor. When you do this for awhile, you develop an innate sense for when somebody is bullshitting you. But as I left Hawkins’ house that day, with him waving from the doorstep, I knew that I had just met one of the better dudes in the business. Heart-on-sleeve, passionate as hell and wholly dedicated to making the kind of music that he himself would want to hear.