In her new book From Cradle to Stage, Virginia Hanlon Grohl chronicles the upbringings of 18 accomplished musicians from a variety of musical genres through interviews with the mothers who raised them. Grohl herself is, of course, a rock mom to Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, so she has plenty of firsthand experience of her book's subject.
“I used to think I should hang back at the airports or something because I didn't want people to think that he traveled with his mother, that he was a mama's boy,” she says. “That might be a demeaning factor to a rock & roll reputation. But then I realized nobody cares.” It's easy to go unnoticed, she explains, when traveling with a world-famous rock star and his gorgeous wife, Jordyn.
In From Cradle to Stage, Grohl proves that the most interesting thing about rock moms is not their children — it's a culmination of the decisions they’ve made as mothers: the sacrifices, boundless support and trust that granted their children the freedom to pursue their dreams. As Dave Grohl states in the book's foreword, “We are all indebted to the women who have given us life. For without them, there would be no music.”
Grohl spoke with the mothers of, among others, Michael Stipe, Dr. Dre, Tom Morello, Haim, Miranda Lambert, Gary Clark Jr., Adam Levine, Pharrell, Dave Matthews, Amy Winehouse and Zac Brown. She began each interview as an in-person conversation, a project that required traveling to different cities in multiple states over the course of three years.
“We were like a really strong sorority. The mothers turned out to be as fabulous as their children.” -Virginia Grohl
“We have so much in common, and what we have in common is so unique,” Grohl says about the mothers she interviewed. “We were like a really strong sorority. The mothers turned out to be as fabulous as their children.”
Grohl, a former high school English and public speaking teacher, witnessed many intelligent, high-energy children, like her son, struggle through schooling due to a lack of proper engagement in the classroom. Disinterest in school was a recurring theme that preceded “that talk” many rock moms had with their now-famous offspring to discuss dropping out of high school or college to pursue a career in music.
“It takes a creative teacher to deal with creative students,” Grohl explains. “I think a teacher has to treat every class like a performance: You have to stand on your feet — not sit at your desk — and walk around and keep things moving. There are a lot of ways to keep the class engaged, but they're not easy. Teachers get worn out from all the bureaucratic demands and discipline problems and all of that. It's not easy and they're not paid enough.”
Allowing creative freedom in the classroom is something Grohl prided herself on as a teacher. She would allow students to interpret an assignment in different ways as long as the lesson's goal was achieved. But creative lesson planning isn't always enough for all students. When her son wanted to drop out of high school during his junior year to join Scream, a successful Washington, D.C., punk band, Grohl supported his decision and recognized it as a great opportunity.
“I could see some kids falling through the cracks and just not wanting to be [in school], and it was because there weren't many places where they could thrive. So when David had a chance to find a place and be with [Scream] and go to Europe and see the world and make money while he was doing it — even though it wasn't very much — I thought he was ahead of the game instead of behind. I thought it was great.
“I knew how smart he was,” she adds. “I knew he could get his diploma in two seconds. I always knew he was really smart, so it didn't bother me.”
Dave recorded two albums with Scream before becoming Nirvana's fifth and final drummer. After Kurt Cobain's death, he formed Foo Fighters. Whenever he felt as if he was getting lost in the drama of band dynamics or the whirlwind of fame, he sought refuge in his childhood home, a modest house in Springfield, Virginia, that his mother still owns.
“Musicians are all over the place. They’re on tour so much or they're in studios or their bandmates are from other parts of the country and so 'home' becomes more important when you're on the move all the time,” his mother says. “It's nice to have a place to feel safe and you know that's familiar.”
Grohl's voice sparkles when she speaks about her son's current home life and his dedication to his three daughters, Violet, Harper and Ophelia. In her book, she describes a time when Dave performed with the Foo Fighters in Australia, then immediately boarded a 15-hour flight back to L.A. to attend a daddy-daughter dance with his two eldest daughters. After “dancing the night away” at the gala, he drove them back home, kissed them goodnight and then boarded another flight back to Australia to finish the tour. (Now that's rock & roll.)
But one recent proud-mom moment stands out for Grohl even more: when her son spent months working with teens at the Los Angeles Child and Family Guidance Center. “These were kids who had really troubled backgrounds and had been going through this kind of therapy,” she explains. “And David came in and introduced them to writing lyrics and putting their ideas and thoughts into a musical form, and [the children] just transformed.”
Dave accompanied the teens onstage during the Champions for Children benefit at the Skirball Center, where they performed their own music in front of a live audience.
“Watching them perform was just chilling,” Grohl says. “I just cried and cried — [which is] what usually happens.”
In addition to exclusive interviews and never-before-seen family photos, From Cradle to Stage is sprinkled with some of Virginia Grohl's own most cherished memories, such as a birthday surprise from her son while she was on tour with Foo Fighters in the United Kingdom. Dave had rented a double-decker bus, aboard which Virginia, the Foos, their wives and the crew drank Champagne and sang Beatles songs during a personal tour of London.
“I don't remember the year, the age I was marking or the menu of the birthday dinner that followed,” Grohl writes in her book. “But I vividly remember the absolute joy of seeing my favorite city unfold as my band family sang 'Hey Jude' and celebrated my day. My fun-loving, thoughtful son knew that nothing could have made me happier. It was the best party of all.”
Grohl, now nearly 80, still enjoys attending awards ceremonies with her son (especially any involving Paul McCartney) and being close to the action. Her favorite Foo Fighters songs are “Everlong” and “For All the Cows.”
“Marianne Stipe went to lots of [her son] Michael's shows and really just loved being backstage,” Grohl says. “And Gary Clark Jr.'s parents are still going to shows. A lot of us [parents] still go as much as we can because it's fun. It's still just one surprise after another.”
Virginia and Dave Grohl will be in conversation at Barnes & Noble at the Grove on Thursday, May 4. From Cradle to Stage: Stories From the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars is available now via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other digital and physical booksellers. More info at fromcradletostage.com.