photo & text by nacrowe
i thought the premise was INTERESTING: a book that recounted the life narratives of several women who raised sons and daughters that went on to become NOTABLE and INFLUENTIAL musicians. in practice unfortunately it came out a bit INCOHERENT and TEDIOUS, almost like reading a book report.
that is not to say that i have anything against the late VIRGINIA HANLON GROHL, mother of DAVE GROHL of FOO FIGHTERS / NIRVANA fame. like her, i was an high school ENGLISH teacher so inherently i feel a sense of obligation in and of that connection to support my fellow brethren. teaching is an identity and is something i have not been able to shake in the intervening years (this blog included), so i understand intimately that deep need to NURTURE, EDUCATE and ELEVATE others. as such, you can palpably feel the LOVE and EMPATHY that went into creating FROM CRADLE TO STAGE: STORIES FROM THE MOTHERS WHO ROCKED AND RAISED ROCK STARS (SEAL PRESS, 2017) and the intensive process of intelligently relaying the disparate paths of women in raising and unconditionally supporting musicians like MICHAEL STIPE (R.E.M.), MIKE D (BEASTIE BOYS), AMY WINEHOUSE, WARREN HAYES (GOV'T MULE), DR. DRE (N.W.A.), TOM MORELLO (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, AUDIOSLAVE), PHARRELL WILLIAMS (N.E.R.D., THE NEPTUNES), HAIM, ADAM LEVINE (MAROON 5), DAVE MATHEWS, MIRANDA LAMBERT, ZAC BROWN, JOSH GROBAN and KELLY CLARKSON among others.
one issue is that the narratives tend to bleed into each other and taken together become a bit PREDICTABLE (i.e. tales of ENERGETIC, RAMBUNCTIOUS kids that discover music or an instrument as a preteen and then become uninterested with formal their studies, yet maintain a near compulsory self-ingrained drive to create and explore music well into high school and beyond). there are variations to this script but those pre-teen years seem to be the through line in the lives of most of these musicians which makes EMOTIONAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL developmental sense. i appreciate how GROHL utilizes her own narrative with her son to anchor down a base narrative to compare all others to. that was a smart organizational device.
another issue is that the premise of this book very much downplays the role of fathers and men in the lives of their children. unquestionably women play a gargantuan part in the EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL and INTELLECTUAL development of their children, but men play some role as well. even in ABSENTIA as with the handful of musicians from divorced, single-parent households. i thought it was an COMPELLING choice to at least not pay lip service to the contributions of the fathers that were an ACTIVE part of their child's lives, but then that is outside of the conceit of the book. which is silly in retrospect. i suppose that was beyond GROHL's capacity as a mother to intuitively speak AUTHENTICALLY about being a mother and not a father. i am just point out the UNFORTUNATE omission.
far and away my favorite running feature of this book were the TOUCHING vignettes that GROHL wrote about her son that touch on his early years, musical development and later career highlights. these vignettes very much take you behind the scenes on his INCREDIBLE career trajectory from the perspective of his mother and how the choices she made regarding his upbringing and education impacted such, pre and post-fame, during high and low points therein. through such you get the sense that UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, SUPPORT and SECURITY is what she provided to a son that participated in an industry that is notoriously SAVAGE and CUTTHROAT. if anything, this sense of being a one-person support network is a common dominator of all these mothers.
somewhere in this book GROHL makes mention of the fact that she has nothing but TRUST and FAITH that teachers will find ways of bridging the curriculum and lesson activities to the varied interests of their students. this was something she took great pride in as an educator. case in point she allowed her students to rap a scene from a SHAKESPEARE play rather than act out the actual lines of the play in class to great aplomb, so much so that decades later she was sent the original handwritten lines of the rap as a gift and token of appreciation. this is undoubtedly a prime example of the MAGIC of the classroom and the potential for TAILORED instruction by a CONFIDENT, ENGAGED educator. what GROHL makes explicit soon after is her lack of TRUST and FAITH in school administrators who are distanced from the classrooms and student populations they are set out to advocate on behalf of. amen sister. the later was my experience in no uncertain terms, which is SAD and UNFORTUNATE.
and this is the related bigger point, the fact that our schools are FAILING students whose TALENTS and INTERESTS lay just outside the purvey of the curriculum. many of these mothers had intensely CREATIVE sons and daughters who just got by in school and saw the whole experience as TEDIOUS and a DISTRACTION from their true calling in life. DAVE GROHL didnt fail in his attempt to pass high school. THE EDUCATION SYSTEM FAILED HIM in not being able to support his gifts much like his family did.
pointing that SYSTEMATIC FAILURE is such an ASTUTE observation. this was undoubtedly my biggest takeaway from this book, which hitherto such seemed to not have a larger agenda. i should have known and expected such from a seasoned educator and colleague. ye of no FAITH that i am. GROHL in essence managed to neatly sum up all my deep FRUSTRATIONS and HEARTBREAK over the education system in a TIDY little bow. book report, indeed.
RIP VIRGINIA HANLON GROHL