Having been mildly infatuated (okay, extremely infatuated) with Dave Grohl since I was about 12 years old and having seen Foo Fighters a total of eight times live, I made sure I pre-ordered his memoir The Storyteller so I could begin to devour it as soon as it was released.
Over the past 25 years or so, Grohl has earned himself the reputation for being the nicest guy in rock n roll. Having had the extreme good fortune of interviewing him myself (on my birthday, no less — an occasion he insisted on commemorating by sharing a couple of beers) I can say I wholeheartedly sign off on the hype.
We all know that this scrawny kid from Virginia came to international prominence as the drummer in Nirvana and now fronts Foo Fighters — arguably one of the biggest rock groups on the planet — but I was keen to know more about his formative years and, being a big fan of the hedonism and debauchery of most musician’s biographies, read some crazy, excessive stories.
While The Storyteller is somewhat light on the latter, Grohl being more of a drinker and not terribly into drugs, the memoir definitely delivers on the former as the drummer recounts growing up in a small town not far from DC, being a decidedly average student and just generally feeling like he didn’t quite belong.
He also recalls his beautiful relationship with his mother, Virginia Grohl (as an expectant mother myself, she is the exact type of parent I aspire to be) who, when told by her young son that he wanted to drop out of high school to tour the world with a punk band, simply said: “You’d better be good.”
I’ll let you read the book for yourself (and I highly recommend you do) but here are the five best or biggest revelations from The Storyteller that took even this die-hard Grohl tragic by surprise.
He Only Ever Had One Drum Lesson – and It Did Not Go Well
Grohl recalls the elation he felt when his middle daughter, Harper, told him that she wanted to learn the drums. Excitedly, he ushered her to his kit… only to remember that he had never had lessons himself so wasn’t quite sure how to teach someone else.
As he explains, his only lesson had come from a local jazz legend named Lenny Robinson, with Grohl, who until that point had used his pillows to practice on, being mortified to discover he was holding the drumsticks backwards.
“Before I knew it, the lesson was over, and it was then I realised at thirty dollars an hour it was probably cheaper for me to go to John Hopkins and become a fucking brain surgeon than to learn how to play drums like Lenny Robinson”, he writes.
“I handed him the money, thanked him for his time, and that was that. My only drum lesson.”
He Turned Down the Chance to Join His Favourite Band, Scream
After being introduced to punk music by his cousin, Tracey, Grohl became a disciple of the genre.
A huge fan of bands such as Naked Raygun, Germs and Killing Joke, Grohl was particularly enamoured with a band called Scream who had formed in Northern Virginia in 1979 and had quickly become one of the most influential punk acts on the scene.
So, when a 17-year-old Grohl saw an ad claiming that the band were in search of a new drummer, he couldn’t believe it was true.
After a few rounds of auditions, Scream, who were about ten years older than Grohl, offered him the gig… which he turned down.
“It was a gigantic leap of faith, to say the least, with no guarantee of any kind of safety net,” he writes. “It was some scorched-earth shit. After much consideration and soul searching, I just didn’t have the courage. Perhaps because I had no faith in myself. So I politely declined, thanking them, and my life went on as I barreled ever faster down my dead-end road.”
Thankfully, Grohl realised the error of his ways a few months later and begged the band to let him back in. They (eventually) agreed and Grohl dropped out of high school to tour with them.
He Got to Play Drums With Iggy Pop
One of the coolest memories Grohl shares in his memoir was the time he and Scream were touring around Canada and had a show at the Rivoli in Toronto.
Having been asked to come in for a soundcheck at noon for their 9pm show, Grohl noticed the bar staff putting up a bunch of Iggy Pop posters, only to discover the rocker would be playing there that same night for a bunch of record execs.
Later, as Grohl chilled out in the band’s crappy, yet beloved, touring van, one of Iggy’s people came out and asked if he would like to play drums with the musical legend. After a jam session during which Grohl couldn’t believe his fate, Iggy Pop asked him to play the show for the record execs, which of course he agreed to do.
“I had finally “made it”, even if only for one night, and it was just like I’d always dreamed it would be. Too good to be true,” Grohl writes.
“So, without the least bit of disappointment, I appreciated it for the beautiful experience that it was. It was practically delusional to expect I would ever be in the right place at the right time again. What were the odds?”
The Members of Nirvana Were Torn About Their Newfound Fame
Grohl explains that shortly after the release of Nevermind on September 24, 1991, he noticed a distinct change in both the size and type of crowd that was coming to their shows.
This posed something of a catch-22 for the band who felt torn between the desire to be successful, and the reluctance to become hugely successful to mainstream audiences — especially as they stood against everything that type of audience represented.
As Grohl puts it, “one problem was that we were now attracting the same people who used to kick our asses in high school for being different… we had always been the outcasts. We had always been the weirdos. We were not one of them. So, how could they become one of us?”.
Grohl reveals that, of the three of them, Kurt Cobain found these crossroads to be the most troubling and that the massive and rapid success of Nirvana quickly saw the foundations of the band become shaky and lead very individual lives when not touring or recording.
“I eventually felt the separation,” says Grohl. “There were those who did and those who didn’t. And as our world expanded, that divide grew wider.
“Nirvana were three distinct individuals, each with his own idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that were responsible for the specific sound we made when we strapped on our instruments, but outside of the music, we lived our own lives, each very different from each other.”
He Was Told Kurt Had Died Six Weeks Before He Actually Did
On March 3, 1994, Grohl awoke to the media reporting that Cobain had overdosed in a hotel in Rome.
“I was overcome with a more profound sadness than I had ever imagined,” Grohl writes. “I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t breathe.”
He then received a phone call telling him that the Nirvana frontman had passed away, only for the same person to call back moments later and say they had been mistaken.
36 days later, on April 5, 1994, Cobain died by suicide at the age of 27, leaving the music world, his legions of fans and his friends, including Grohl, devastated.
Muses Grohl: “You cannot predict a person’s sudden passing, but there are certain people in your life you prepare yourself to lose, for whatever reason.
“You foolishly try to protect yourself by building a wall around your heart as a sort of preemptive defence mechanism so that when you get that call, you are prepared somehow. Like being emotionally vaccinated, you have already built up an immunity to their inevitable passing.
“But this never works.”
The Storyteller is available now from wherever you buy books.