The new pseudo-autobiography, The Storyteller, from Foo Fighters frontman/Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl is not conventional. This makes sense since neither is its author. Rather than telling his life story in chronological order, the book is structured as a series of anecdotes that hit significant events mostly in the order they occurred. Whenever I am reading a biography I always dread the beginning chapters as the author goes into detail about their parents, family, and childhood. I tend to skim these parts because, for the most part, I just don’t care. Grohl avoids that pitfall by touching on this home life with his very supportive mother but then leaps quickly into finding his lifelong passion for music.
Grohl recounts growing up in Virginia (just outside Washington DC) and discovering underground punk rock. He writes about learning how to drum (he’s self-taught) by playing along to his punk records. His stint in the DC punk band Scream at the age of 17 eventually lead to Nirvana and everything that followed. Despite there being plenty of controversies around Nirvana and the people involved in it, The Storyteller is not a tell-all or gossip-filled book. There is no mention of the lawsuit with Courtney Love or any of the conspiracy theories around the suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994. He writes about living with Kurt in a squalid apartment in Olympia as they were playing local shows, securing the record deal, and finally recording Nevermind over a tight 12 days. He recounts the first time the band played “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, prior to it being recorded, and how the audience erupted with an energy, unlike anything he had seen before. In the whirlwind of becoming the biggest band on the planet, while still being so broke, Grohl lived on the $15 a day of his tour per diem.
The book is filled with amusing and inspiring stories of meeting various musicians, playing with them, and repeatedly having to pinch himself for the opportunities. Anecdotes about Iggy Pop, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Joan Jett, Lemmy, and several others will delight music fans. He also writes with glowing love for his wife and three daughters. It’s not all sunshine though, as you can guess. Grohl writes how after Kurt’s death he didn’t touch a drum kit for a year. He writes about the death of his childhood best friend, and other musician friends that have been lost over the years. These passages are inciteful and heartfelt and unfortunately carry even greater weight after the recent death (post-publication) of Grohl’s best friend and co-founding Foo Fighter drummer, Taylor Hawkins. It shines a harsh light on social media posts I read lamenting the canceling of Foo Fighters shows and how they can just “get a replacement drummer”. Not only are these comments enormously crass, they fail to acknowledge how important Hawkins was to not only Foo Fighters, but to Dave Grohl himself. Personally, I don’t think the Foo Fighters will continue now after reading The Storyteller. One thing that is obvious while reading is how important the creating and sharing of art is to the world for Grohl. He isn’t one to care too much about the money.
If you are a fan of any Dave Grohl projects then The Storyteller is worth reading. I have always liked the Foo Fighters (I saw them at a club in 1998 and it was a great show) but would never call them my favorite band. So when I started the book I was more interested in the Nirvana stories than anything else, but that changed the more I read. Grohl is only a few years older than me, I was in college when Nirvana exploded onto the scene and the grunge wave that followed. If you were there too you remember what an amazing time for music that was. Reading his account of what it was like to be in the middle of that tornado was fascinating. The Storyteller gave me a new appreciation for Grohl as a musician and as a person beyond his relatively brief time in Nirvana.
One last thing, this sentence in particular about Kurt Cobain brought tears to my eyes. “If only he could have seen the joy his music brought to the world, maybe he could have found his own.”
So say we all. Thanks, Dave.