Dave Grohl writes a memoir, ‘The Storyteller’
There’s a moment early in “The Storyteller,” Dave Grohl’s new memoir of a life in music, when a very young-looking teenage Grohl — mullet, overbite, punch-me smile, obvious suburban pedigree — decides to sell his soul to the devil or overlords of rock n’ roll or someone. Basically, anyone who would get him out of Virginia and behind drums for the rest of his life. He stages, in his family’s garage, a seance. With an altar, candles and everything. The root of his convictions: Many summers in Chicago, where he would vacation with his mother and her best friend. One night, that friend’s daughter took him to the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville to see Naked Raygun. Suddenly, his future was clear.
“The first day of the rest of my life,” he writes.
His first concert, his introduction to punk rock. “The long drive back to Virginia,” he continues with awe, “was like a metaphorical journey from my past to my future.”
Dave Grohl, funny guy, leader of the Foo Fighters, drummer for Nirvana, rock’s Tom Hanks — he seems decent — has written a new kind of rock n’ roll memoir. The believably sincere kind. It means a line like “I never fully embraced stadium rock until I experienced it from the lip of the stage” sounds complicated, an acknowledgment of entitlement and a nod to having perspective. Even after Nirvana dissolves with the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, he’s alarmed Tom Petty is calling. At the airport in Austin, Texas, he “tackled a terrified Christopher Cross” to meet him. Grohl paints always of himself as a fan, surprised to be in the room.
Q: Did you start (on the memoir) at all reading books from rock stars, getting the basics?
A: No. I still don’t read books about rock stars. I don’t read rock biographies. Therefore I don’t know how to write one! I just knew I didn’t want to write a formulaic, chronological, informational rock biography. I have read a few of those. Yes, I want to know what studio (they worked in), what microphone they use, how they wrote this song. But I didn’t want to do that. I thought, let’s inject a bit of emotion and humor and humility. The whole book is meant to read as if I am having an out-of-body experience, watching this happen to someone else. And I do feel that way. When I look at my phone and see I have a text from Q-Tip, I’m (expletive), this is happening! That (feeling) still happens.
Q: You write early in the book about being backstage at a benefit and seeing older, famous stars and noticing they have had a lot of cosmetic surgery, and it’s like a preview to rest of your life, your career, how you will look. Was that a wake up?
A: Before I even started the book I knew the first line — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged.” Because it’s easy to forget in a world and job like mine. You forget you are 52 years old and absolutely fragile, vulnerable. When I broke my leg (falling off a concert stage in 2015), I was like, wait, these things break? That instance backstage, that was a wake-up call. I knew I would have to embrace age. Aging gracefully or not, it’s inevitable, and if I wanted to keep doing this thing I do, I better get used to the chips in my teeth. I don’t want to hide them. I have more than few pieces of metal in my body from falling off stages. My teeth are worn away by (hitting) microphones. I am proud of that. One of my heroes has always been Neil Young, and not to put him in the category of someone who has given up trying to age gracefully, I think he has (aged gracefully). That’s what I aspire to. When you’re in a room of rock stars trying to look (expletive) 22, it’s easy to notice the beauty of the imperfections on stars who don’t try to still look 22 years old.
Q: About the seance.
Q: When I read that I thought, “Is this real? It has to be some kind of metaphor.”
A: It’s literally true. I was 17 years old. By that point, I was listening to hardcore punk and underground rock and moved into more challenging territory like industrial music, like Psychic TV, Current 93. I had a good friend with albums that were really (expletive) — like one channel would be Charles Manson singing songs from his prison cell and the other channel would be Jim Jones giving a sermon. We would sit around and smoke pot and listen to this stuff. At the same time, I was listening a lot to Led Zeppelin and getting the concept of feel. Which is not something I had considered before. It’s hard to define and useless to intellectualize over the concept of feel. But something was happening and I was connecting with music and I thought this is what I need, I need this, I need to somehow pull this out of the (expletive) universe and become the musician I want to become. So I literally took a piece of wood from the laundry room and put candles all over and wrote these symbols and insignia across it and sat down and meditated and asked for this from the universe. I really did. I don’t know anything about witchcraft and manifestations. I just knew that if I hoped to somehow, someday achieve this, I would have to ask someone or something for it. So I (expletive) did it and it (expletive) worked.
Q: Did Satan say how long this will last?
A: I’m waiting on that call.
Q: Seriously, do you have a sense of how long this can last?
A: I mean, you have to define the concept of finished. I don’t know. Like I said, I have always waited for a flag to plant, then move to the next phase, but I don’t know too many musicians who stop playing music. They might stop in a certain capacity. They might stop touring or making records. But there is no way they just put the instrument in a closet. There are so many things I look forward still to doing. Writing a book was one. I never (expletive) had the time. Last March (when the pandemic hit), I thought maybe I have time now. You know, I’ve got a lot to do today. So once I get through today, I’ll figure out tomorrow. I used to say there is no way I will run around the stage as a 60-year-old man screaming “Best of You” every night in everyone’s faces. And it’s kind of getting close to that happening! That’s how this was going to play out? Well, (expletive).