The Meaning Behind Foo Fighters’ “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” and How It Was Inspired by an Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Just from the title alone, we can envision Dave Grohl looking up at the constellations in Foo Fighters’ 2017 hit “The Sky Is a Neighborhood.” The song, however, is not just about stargazing. In fact, the title is even a little misleading.

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The inspiration for “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” came from a Q&A piece run by Time magazine featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson. Grohl came across one of the famous astrophysicist’s responses from the article in an online video. He then had an epiphany that had as much to do with the state of humans on earth as with looking out on distant galaxies in wonder. While Grohl sings of a celestial neighborhood, he is also singing about the residents of our own planet.

Grohl’s Cosmic Epiphany

Foo Fighters recorded their ninth studio album Concrete and Gold in Los Angeles in late 2016 and in the first half of 2017. Just before the band was set to wrap up their sessions for the album, they took a two-week break, during which Grohl went to Hawaii. Grohl told Rolling Stone he was reminded of the Tyson video one night in Hawaii when he was looking up at the stars.

The video made an impression on Grohl long before that night in Hawaii. In his Rolling Stone interview, he said Tyson’s answer to a question about “the most astounding fact” he could share about the universe was deeply moving to him. Tyson’s response to the question was that our ability to trace the atoms that make up human bodies to exploding stars was the most astounding fact he could share. This gave Grohl the realization that, not only is the sky a “neighborhood” of different bodies sharing the same “ingredients of life,” but we share those ingredients, too. The sky is a neighborhood, and we are also residents of that neighborhood.

Being a Good Galactic Neighbor

This realization led to another epiphany for Grohl. If the universe is one big neighborhood, then we have to learn to be responsible neighbors. That’s why he begins the first verse of the song with The sky is a neighborhood, so keep it down. The following line, Heart is a storybook, a star burned out, underscores our connection to the cosmos—that our hearts are made of molecules from exploded stars. In the chorus, Grohl returns to his exhortations for us to tread lightly as good “neighbors.”

Oh, my dear, heaven is a big bang now
Gotta get to sleep somehow
Bangin’ on the ceiling, bangin’ on the ceiling
Keep it down

Grohl continues the theme into the second and final verse, and he gets more specific about why he is concerned about our corner of the “neighborhood.” He appears to be concerned about people’s growing sense of isolation and frustration during the Donald Trump presidency, as evidenced by the line Trouble to the right and left, whose side you’re on? Grohl underscores the urgency of his concern, finishing the verse by singing Thoughts like a minefield, I’m a tickin’ bomb / Maybe you should watch your step, don’t get lost.

Stars in the Studio

Part of the power of “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” comes from the string section and chorus of voices that join Grohl during the song’s loud refrain. If you listen closely, you’ll hear Alison Mosshart of The Kills as one of those voices telling us to “keep it down.” The remainder of Concrete and Gold has plenty of star power as well. Justin Timberlake and Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman provide backing vocals on “Make It Right” and the title track, respectively. Paul McCartney shows up, too, though not where you would likely expect him. He gets behind the drum kit, so that the late Taylor Hawkins can take on the lead vocal duties on the Beatlesque “Sunday Rain.”

The Impact of “The Sky Is a Neighborhood”

“The Sky Is a Neighborhood” missed the Billboard Hot 100, just like every Foo Fighters single since “Walk” went to No. 83 in 2011, but it received ample airplay on rock stations. It spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, and it topped out at No. 7 on their Alternative Airplay chart. “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” has received more than 154 million streams on Spotify.

The popularity of “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” and the leadoff single “Run” (another Mainstream Rock chart-topper) helped to make Concrete and Gold Foo Fighters’ second No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. Along with Wasting Light (2011), it was also the second Foo Fighters album to debut in the top spot.

It’s hard not to picture a starlit sky when listening to “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” but it may be a little raucous as a soundtrack for taking in the majesty of the universe. If you want to calmly revel in our connection to all things in the universe, Moby’s “We Are All Made of Stars” might be a better choice. If you’re looking for a wake-up call so you can be a better neighbor in the cosmic neighborhood, then Foo Fighters has just the song for you.

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Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

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