What was it like raising Dave Grohl, the former drummer for Nirvana and now the frontman for the Foo Fighters? His mother, Virginia Grohl – along with 18 other rock moms – wrote From Cradle To Stage: Stories From The Mothers Who Rocked And Raised Rock Stars, a book about motherhood and raising their future rock star child.
Dave Grohl interviewed his mother about the book at the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books at USC.
There, he spoke very highly of his mother and how she is one of the coolest moms he’s ever met. Dave was very excited when he heard that his mother wanted to write a book about the relationship between mothers and artists and how their influences may have had an impact on their creative direction or output of an artist’s career.
As a child, Dave’s mother would sing to him a lot. It didn’t matter what kind of song it was. He recalled singing around the house using motions when he was very little, and because they didn’t have a television at the time they would spend a lot of time listening to the radio. But Virginia just didn’t expose Dave to one genre of music, she would have him listen to music from Frank Sinatra to Broadway.
Virginia, a public school teacher for 35 years, has taught many generations of children and has encouraged all of them to express themselves and be creative in what they do. Living in a small town in Ohio didn’t mean a lack of music exposure for her. She was part of a three-piece girl group called the Three Bells. They would sing Broadway music three to four times a year for performances at local schools. “We sounded really good and we were surprised,” said Virgina Grohl. “After that, we just kept going by playing around town at clubs.”
Dave recalled his earliest days of singing when he and his mother were in the car driving to the lake. The entire experience blew his mind and he knew that creating music was something he wanted to do. “You’re So Vain by Carly Simon came on and my mother and I sang together in the car and when it came to the chorus I was just singing the lead line and my mother broke off into harmony,” said Dave Grohl. “I don’t think I ever realized what harmony was before. I didn’t realize that two voices singing two different notes that created a cord were harmonies.”
At the heart of From Cradle To Stage: Stories From The Mothers Who Rocked And Raised Rock Stars is the relationship between a mother and her child. But not all mothers have the same parenting styles. Gary Clark Jr’s mom, Sandy Clark, came from a background with strong traditions and education. So she expected her son, Gary, to continue that tradition. However, when she discovered that he wasn’t focused in school and cared more about his musical aspirations, as a mother with her strong educational background, she wasn’t having it, going as far as to take his guitar away from him at the young age of 12. But when she saw how much of her parenting style was making him miserable, she decided to let him be the artist that he is. Flash forward to today and the two have a wonderful relationship.
It was pretty much the same for Virginia and Dave Grohl. Virginia would constantly be getting report cards saying her son wasn’t focused and not paying attention. Virginia explains, “Then he came home with his instruments and his group and they are completely focused and completely determined. It’s a different person. You notice that at some point.“
There’s a chance that as a teacher, Virginia was a bit more sympathetic to Dave’s educational struggles. “I understood a little more about music than some of the other mothers did,” said Virginia Grohl. “Not traditionally and classically but I just knew what it was like to play.”
She added, “Mothers are all strong women. All the musicians say, my mother, is the strongest woman I know. And they didn’t always come off exactly that way but they were really involved. They were there. And they still are.”
As a former teacher, Virginia encourages that current and future teachers be creative and ask their students to be creative. She sees the current model as boring because students are often times asked to read a text and then take a test. So when that applies to someone like Shakespeare, it takes away the artistry of the playwright. “It’s no fun,” said Virginia.
She does offer one solution, though- “What I really believe is that they really need to hire more creative people in teaching,” said Virginia Grohl. “You are taught senior English by the football coach and you’re not sure what you’re going to get. Nothing against football coaches.”
Dave Grohl then said his mother would never tell him not to listen to something. He even recalled how she would take him to a local jazz club, called One Step Down, every Sunday. There they would have a jazz workshop every Sunday and invite jazz musicians from the Washington DC area, as well as students from American universities would sign their name on a piece of paper, and be able to jam with the house band, who happened to be some heavy D.C. old school jazz cats. “I would love it and I would listen to experimental music so I could appreciate jazz,” said Grohl. “The improvisation and how loud it could be.”
So to celebrate mother’s birthday, Dave took his mother to that very same club. But it’s what he did that made the day very special to her. “My mom says to me, ‘You know what I want for my birthday? I want you to get up there and play.’ I had only been playing drums for a year. I didn’t even have a drum set up had it on my bed on my pillow,” said Grohl. “I said to my mom ‘This is jazz. There’s no way. It’s a whole other stratosphere.’ My mom then said ‘Please.'” He then reminisced about rushing up to sign his name to play the drums and how the band looked at him with that look of “Aww sh*t.”
So despite not having any knowledge with jazz drums, his mother could not have been more proud of him.
As for any advice for those who are trying to achieve their dreams, Virginia Grohl offered this sound advice- “Just keep on going, keep playing, love it, find people to have around you that are going to help you, who are going to be in groups with you and support you. Don’t let people say don’t do that. Don’t listen. Just keep on rockin’.”
Virginia never saw her son becoming very famous and emphasized that shouldn’t ever be the goal. “I never thought- ‘He’s destined to be famous.’ You know what never was part of the conversation for us or for any of the mother’s that I talked to, said Virginia Grohl. “It was about the music and doing that.”
Of course, there is a lot of trust on both sides of the relationship when your child pursues the musical life of touring. She added that there must be open communication between parents and their children and be able to talk about anything and everything. It’s worked for Dave and Virginia, who have been openly communicating with each for the past 48 years. And during all of that time, never has Dave ever heard her mother cuss. Not even say the GD word. Although, he did invite her to one of his potty mouth rock shows. But he’s afraid that he cannot be as eloquent as her when it comes to profanity.
But she’s also noticed how kind Dave is to his fans, and how he would treat them as he walked through the lines of people. “He’s a lot more patient than I could’ve been or could be,” said Virgina. “Watching him deal with the kind of notoriety that comes along with this. It’s one step forward, two steps back, selfie #1. He’s so gracious with that. I didn’t teach him that.”
From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars available now.