photo & text by nacrowe
at this point there is a whole cottage industry of DAVE GROHL-directed media products, from documentaries (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US) to tv shows (SONIC HIGHWAYS, FROM CRADLE TO STAGE) to his recent memoir THE STORYTELLER: TALES OF LIFE AND MUSIC (DEY STREET, 2021). oh yeah, and he makes music.
GROHL obviously has one of the most storied careers of any modern musician, having cut his teeth as a teen with the 1980s DC HARDCORE stalwarts SCREAM before serendipitously joining the legendary 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK group NIRVANA and then forming his own band, FOO FIGHTERS, after their demise. he's collaborated with everyone from LEMMY KILMISTER and TRENT REZNOR to CAT POWER and JOHN PAUL JONES. his side projects include PROBOT, THEM CROOKED VULTURES and a brief stint in QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. but most music fans are familiar with his biography.
and i believe he knows that, which is why his memoir is not a straight chronological telling of his personal narrative, but rather notable moments or vignettes told in sequential order. structurally it was very reminiscent of A HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. and i think such was a smart idea because it freed him to really dive into the meaning of certain rights of passage of his youth and that of his family without having to worry about how they fit into a broader context. again, most of these stories are familiar to anyone who has watched or read his interviews over the years or even read former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN's laboriously compiled biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (review linked HERE). what THE STORYTELLER provides is a perspective of a ROCK AND ROLL life rooted in family. GROHL goes to great lengths to show that his love of music was almost a manifestation of his unconditional love for his mother, who supported and sacrificed tirelessly on his behalf (a contrast to that of his father). but beyond his mother, his love of music connected him to an ever widening mandala of similarly minded friends that includes both the famous and the obscure; and they are both written about with equal wit and empathy. his childhood friend JIMMY SWANSON is as much a part of his personal narrative (perhaps more so) as that of KURT COBAIN, which is very endearing. given his public profile and immense cultural influence, it was likewise heartwarming to see GROHL give respect to his predecessors and influences: from NEIL PEART, PAUL MCCARTNEY and JOHN BONHAM, to LITTLE RICHARD, JOHN FOGERTY, AC/DC and JOAN JETT. even numerous obscure HARDCORE bands from his youth. THE STORYTELLER is in essence a vehicle for shining a light on the connective, reinvigorating force that is music, which is a common returning theme in all of his film and tv projects. by extension music makes everyone kin. everyone is connected on the same wavelength.
aside from its focus on musicians, the core of what i found engaging about THE STORYTELLER is how music connects him with his children. how he takes inspiration from their courage to perform publicly in front of their school peers during their elementary years or how they relate to it on the same emotional wavelength that he does. this made me think about how i have that same musical relationship with my dad and how for GROHL and his children THE BEATLES are that connection point, THE STRANGLERS and THE SMITHS are the same with my father. i havent read about that intergenerational connection in any previous rock memoir, maybe with the exception of KEITH RICHARDS and his mother in LIFE (review linked HERE). i should point out that i found it odd that GROHL mentions his wife in passing (unlike his mother and daughters). it was an interesting omission.
i thoroughly enjoyed this book and its focus on family and the nature of human connection through music or more elementally, love. i know most readers just want to hear COBAIN stories, but i thought he walked that line of audience expectation adroitly and with much care and empathy. THE STORYTELLER is well worth reading and i look forward to future non-musical efforts by GROHL and his ever expanding army of collaborators.
photo & text by nacrowe
given DAVE GROHL's reputation for being an affable, righteous dude i had some initial misgivings about reading the biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (DA CAPO, 2011) by former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN. i was worried it would veer towards hagiography, especially given author's decades-long relationship interviewing and covering the towering ALTERNATIVE ROCK musician. but i am glad to report that THIS IS A CALL is a pretty even-handed accounting of GROHL's sprawling career up to the point of the FOO FIGHTERS' WASTING LIGHT (ROSWELL RECORDS, 2011) record a decade ago. this book is unauthorized but includes interviews with past band members and the man himself, many culled from past publications and documentaries, but also from BRANNIGAN himself.
i should state that i have read numerous NIRVANA books at this point, but what makes this book interesting is obviously seeing it from GROHL's perspective. at this point in 2021 GROHL is effectively the flag-waving elder-statesman of ROCK AND ROLL writ large. this has only been further cemented given his actions over the past decade (since this book's publication) in connecting more and more musicians and their stories to a wider audience with his personal television (SONIC HIGHWAYS) and documentary projects (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US).
so it is interesting being taken along for the ride with GROHL, as his story in popular culture is so unavoidably intertwined with his time in NIRVANA and its doomed frontman KURT COBAIN. and that is unfortunate, because the sense you get from THIS IS A CALL is that for GROHL the defining relationship of his life is with music itself. time and time again you sense that for him music was a means of community, escape, passion and above all else, fun. like COBAIN, GROHL lived a childhood marked by divorce. unlike COBAIN, GROHL grew up in a nurturing, supportive environment. my sense is that PUNK ROCK to GROHL represented an extended family/community of like-minded individuals with a similar pragmatic DIY ethos towards life and art. i am not sure that was the case for COBAIN, who seemed to have boundless ambition maybe in hopes of proving his value. im playing armchair psychiatrist here, and i probably shouldnt, but it seems obvious from the get-go that GROHL never had the same hangups or guilt in following his musical ambitions, especially post-NIRVANA.
again, from the beginning GROHL's enthusiasm was all about chasing the fun of playing music. as a child he became aware of the neighboring DC HARDCORE scene and started teenage bands in his native VIRGINIA. from his first serious project in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to his stints in other outfits like DAIN BRAMAGE and local PUNK legends SCREAM, you get the sense these experiences provided him a vocabulary about how to interact with others. and obviously the musical shorthand faired him well in his later career with outside projects (THEM CROOKED VULTURES, PROBOT, LATE!, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE), session work (GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS, SLASH, DAVID BOWIE, KILLING JOKE and TENACIOUS D) and soundtrack work (TOUCH, RISING SUN: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI).
but a lot of this i already knew, what made this book interesting for me where the details about how if personal life affected his lyrical content in the first few records. there are several songs i didnt read as autobiographical that now i can plainly see were. i also appreciate the fact that BRANNIGAN didnt shy away from presenting GROHL at times as being highly opportunistic and unempathetic to the feelings of his "friends" like former FOO FIGHTERS WILLIAM GOLDSMITH and FRANZ STAHL, both unceremoniously booted with little patience or grace, just echos and silence.
if anything, this biography is a great primer for GROHL's upcoming memoir which will highlight stories from his career. make sense, the dude is about connecting people. it is what makes him, well, him.