You don’t have to be a Foo Fighters fan to appreciate the power of the Nirvana drummer’s bestselling memoir
I’ve been successfully ignoring the Foo Fighters for about 26 years now.
Not because they’re a bad band, or make bad music. On the contrary, they consistently churn out some good rock n’ roll. But after Nirvana helped flip the 90’s music scene on its head and then Kurt Cobain died in that horribly tragic way that broke so many hearts, it felt like something of a betrayal for Dave Grohl to go and do something that was so….popular? Good? Not-Nirvana? How could he possibly think musical lightening would strike twice? He should have just puttered off into the mists of the Northwest like Krist Novoselic. Taken up teaching, or meditation, or something. But make more music? How could he? HOW COULD HE?
When you read Grohl’s memoir The Storyteller it is immediately evident that a life without music was never in the cards for this manic pixie drummer dude. The book careens through various scenes in Grohl’s life at the same breakneck speed he roams the stage at Foo Fighters shows. Divided into five, loosely organized sections, stories about Adult Dave are intertwined with formative episodes from his youth. He was greatly influenced by heavy metal and the DIY Punk scene coming out of DC in the early 80s, and taught himself to drum by playing his bed pillows. Honestly this is something I wish had occurred to me before we bought my kid this drum set that takes up half of his bedroom.
The start of Dave’s journey into the stratosphere of rock stardom began at the age of seventeen. When, without any formal training or even owning his own kit, Grohl took his shot and successfully auditioned for his hometown idols, Scream. With his mother’s blessing, he dropped out of high school and hit the road on tour with the band. This first rough and tumble ride opened the doors, literally and metaphysically, for all of Grohl’s future endeavors.
Dave Grohl is a relentless optimist and every story in the book oozes with that energy. Every interaction he had with musicians he is a fan of and those who are fans of his are presented with the unrestrained, starry-eyed, joy of a five year old meeting Santa for the first time. It’s a little bit contagious. I found myself liking Grohl more and more the further I got into the book. In this age of our heroes so often outing themselves as assholes or idiots, it’s refreshing to know that at least this one white guy really is one of the good ones. He seems worthy of the worship that Foo Fighters’ fans heap upon him. He’s also a Grade-A music nerd who collects collaborators with the same ease as getting a pick-up game together at the Y.
One of my favorite anecdotes is how Pat Smear supes cas got Joan Jett to join The Foo Fighters on stage at a show in Madison Square Garden. Which, naturally, lead to her and Dave collaborating on a project. Which then somehow lead to her reading one of his daughters a bedtime story while she was an overnight guest at his house. You can easily see the pieces coming together there for Joan standing in as the front-woman for Nirvana when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
And of course Grohl talks about his time with Nirvana in this book. But he doesn’t dwell on it. If you’re looking for a heavy handed expose or a woeful retrospective on The Best Time Of His Life, this is not that. If you think about it, Dave was only in Nirvana for three or four years. That’s really just a blip in his career now. A hugely successful, influential, blip. But a blip nonetheless. While he and Kurt were housemates for a time, they didn’t really know each other well before Kurt took his own life. Dave counts the loss of Kurt among those that will always stay with him though, like his father and his childhood best friend, Jimmy Swanson.
This is a book full of real rock n’ roll shit – adventures, excitement, drugs, alcohol, world travel and hanging out with Pantera in a strip club, all told in Dave’s authentic voice. It was a fairly quick read and I’m grateful that my friend sent me a copy, even though I’ve never once in my life expressed any interest in Dave Grohl.
My only real criticism is one of style. Every chapter is punctuated with a phrase or two presented in a bold, italicized font where Dave tells us exactly what lesson we should be taking from what he has written. As a reader, I don’t really need that. I like to draw my own conclusions.
But these are also not difficult lessons to ferret out. He’s not David Foster Wallace by any means. It’s an easy, breezy book written by a guy who recognizes he lives a blessed life.
He’s living the life he set his intentions for when he was just a kid. And that takes a hell of a lot of hard work and dedication, which shines through in The Storyteller.
AUDIO: Excerpt from The Storyteller