Grohl's mother details life as rock mum in book

David Grohl of US rock band Foo Fighters. According to his mother in a new book, he was not interested in going to school.
David Grohl of US rock band Foo Fighters. According to his mother in a new book, he was not interested in going to school.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • What is it like to be the mum of a rock star? Does renown and money in the end salve the disappointment of having a teenager drop out of school to mistreat a guitar or drum kit in a seedy club?

Virginia Grohl, whose son is Dave Grohl of the hugely successful Foo Fighters and, before that, Nirvana, decided to find out how her experience compared with other women in her situation. So she met the mothers of Pharrell Williams, Amy Winehouse, Dr Dre, Mike D of the Beastie Boys and a dozen or so more to talk about life as a "rock mum".

In the book that has emerged from those conversations, From Cradle To Stage, Dave Grohl - or David, as his mum steadfastly calls him - recalls a moment when music took over his life.

He was in the back of his mother's Ford Maverick on a hot summer day in 1975 when Carly Simon's You're So Vain came on the radio.

Dave, then aged six, his sister Lisa and Virginia would always sing in the car; his mum was belting it out "above the booming roar of the open windows". Then "as Mick Jagger's unmistakable voice joined the chorus", Dave writes in the book, "our voices split into harmony for the first time. My mother started singing Mick's lower line as I sang Carly's high lead vocal. Without realising it... I was harmonising. My heart lit up... Hell, this was the chicken AND the egg".

In an interview at her home in Los Angeles, Virginia remembers her son as an outgoing and talkative boy.

She divorced Dave's father in the mid-1970s and was a happy single parent. Less happy was Dave's experience of school, which hit her especially hard, as she was a teacher.

In his early teens, she says, Dave's life was "all failure, and doom and gloom". By this time, he was learning to play drums in his bedroom. The high-school band he was playing in had the awful name of Dain Bramage. He was also smoking weed.

Then Dave was asked by the punk band Scream to join them on a tour of Europe. This triggered what his mother calls "the Conversation", the rite-of-passage when education is abandoned. It did not help that she had no idea what 17-year-old Dave's new band was singing about.

But she was not an ordinary mum. She had helped out with his previous bands and taken him to jazz clubs. "I could have said, 'Go to school, get your education, have something to fall back on. Not many people make it in the music business.' But I didn't."

And Dave went to Europe with Scream.

Only a few years later, he was one of three members of Nirvana who, in Virginia's words, "changed the course of popular music... my son had become a rock star". She embraced it - it is perhaps telling that she was a former singer born late enough to know rock 'n' roll in her youth - and went to many of the band's shows.

Her curiosity as to why she rarely met other rock mums at such shows and festivals led to From Cradle To Stage. But having founded an unofficial "special sorority of mothers of musicians", she has discovered she is not alone.

Marianne Stipe, mother of REM's Michael Stipe, went on the band's last European tour, travelling on the tour bus and joining the crowd before finding a "safe, comfortable backstage spot".

On the other hand, Val Matthews, whose son formed the Dave Matthews Band, gets "awfully irritable" when, having been given a good seat, the audience stands up and ruins her view. And sings.

Asked about Dave's new-found celebrity back in the early 1990s, Virginia says: "I did worry about women." Then she says with a laugh: "My biggest fear was that Madonna would snatch him up."

As for drugs, Dave gave them up at age 20. "I honestly didn't lose a lot of sleep about it," his mother says. Any concern she did have was sharpened by the well-publicised heroin addiction of Nirvana's singer, Kurt Cobain. When Virginia decided to meet the rock mothers, it was Wendy, Kurt's mother, who was "uppermost in my mind. She was the first 'rock mum' I met".

The two women made friends in New York City in 1992, a time when the "wave of Nirvana's fame was cresting". After Cobain committed suicide in 1994, Virginia and Wendy stayed in touch over the years.

Virginia enjoys the success and the glitz - the Grammy nights and the trips to the White House with her son to meet former United States President Barack Obama and former Beatle Paul McCartney.

Above all, she likes to go on tour with the Foo Fighters and take her place in a folding chair at the side of the stage: "The best seat in the house. I love to watch the audience; I don't want them to see me, so I stay back. But I love the response."

GUARDIAN

•From Cradle To Stage (US$18.36 or S$25.64) is available at Amazon.com.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Grohl's mother details life as rock mum in book'. Print Edition | Subscribe