Virginia Grohl, author, From Cradle to the Stage
I would suggest a lot of listening and patience, and being able to ignore the naysayers who see music as a foolish endeavour ...
When watching old clips of Nirvana – or even any Hall of Fame-worthy rock group – it’s hard to picture the musicians being driven to the gig by their mums. Sure, once a band earns a certain level of fame it’s all roadies and tour buses, but before that point? Yep, it falls upon mothers to chaperone. Virginia Grohl is a rock-and-roll mother whose son is a bloke you might have heard of. Dave Grohl has been burning up stages for decades as a member of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, but behind his musical mastery is a mother who nurtured and supported his talent throughout his adolescence and early adulthood. With a unique perspective on the music scene, Virginia Grohl decided to pen a book of her experiences and interviews with other music mums. From Cradle to the Stage was a big success, giving readers an insight into the minds of mothers across a range of musical genres. Virginia Grohl is a keynote speaker at this year’s BIGSOUND. Before she takes the stage, we decided to get in touch and find out what it takes to raise a globetrotting rockstar.
To start, we’d love to know what the Grohl household was like before the rock and roll dream was realised. How present was music in the house when Dave was growing up?
There was always music. From Mozart to Motown, Neil Young, David Bowie, jazz, rock and, of course, The Beatles. We all loved The Beatles. And it was a small house, so we listened together.
When did you first notice that your son had not only an interest in music but also considerable talent as a musician?
I always knew he was an entertainer starting from his hilarious Muppet imitation of the Swedish Chef when he was a toddler. But when the music started, I sort of took it for granted. For example, I didn’t know it was so remarkable that he could harmonise when he was really young (I thought everyone could harmonise). When he was 11, 12, 13 and in bands, I knew from the audiences those groups attracted that he was probably destined. But it was years later when a fellow who was a band mate told me that people were coming to those shows just to see David play drums. He blossomed early.
Parents of budding athletes usually have to take their kids to practices and games, while theatre parents are always present at performances and recitals. What commitments does a parent of a rock-obsessed teenager undertake when supporting their child’s passion?
Being a band mom is a lot like being a soccer mom. Since David was performing long before he had a driver’s license, my Ford Fiesta was his limo and I was the driver. And the recreation halls his bands booked required adults (always the moms) to sign contracts, chaperone and keep order. Those were exciting, exhilarating times. And I always knew where he was!
When Dave’s music career went from serious hobby to global superstardom, how did your role as a mother change to reflect the increased pressure and notoriety that comes with fame?
My role changed, but I didn’t notice pressure. I was a teacher, so I’m sure more than a few kids tried to get into my classes. There were perks. When I had to take a day off to go to an SNL performance, I bribed my students into good behaviour with the substitute, promising autographs from a basketball superstar who was hosting. And when David was home, I arranged after-school signing events in my classroom and kids brought in their albums and posters.
What is one aspect of the music business that you only discovered when you ventured out on the road with Dave and the Foo Fighters?
What still amazes me is how many people are involved in the production of a show – and how hard they work! It’s like an enormous family. Most of them have been with David since Nirvana – I love that.
We love the concept behind From Cradle to Stage! What first inspired you to not only pen your experiences raising a rock star, but also to reach out to other mothers for their input?
I went to hundreds of shows and met only two or three mothers. I always wondered where they were, what they were like and decided to find them and find out.
You interview the mothers of some notable musical figures throughout the book. Aside from having talented progeny, what was something that you found you had in common with these women?
We had so much in common – the struggles with school and the worries about drugs. We all gave our kids support at different times and in different ways, and were all exceedingly proud. We’re like a special sorority.
Based on your own experiences and what you gleaned from your interactions with other rock-and-roll mothers, what advice would you give to parents of budding musicians?
Advice? I‘m not really qualified because so many situations are different. But I would suggest a lot of listening and patience, and being able to ignore the naysayers who see music as a foolish endeavour. I would recommend that you support in any way possible the dreams of your child. Who knows? Maybe some day you’ll get to meet Barack Obama, Prince Harry and Paul McCartney as I did!
We’re excited to see your keynote talk at BIGSOUND in September. What sort of stories can we expect to hear during your talk?
In my speech I’ll tell you what I learned while meeting the mothers and many of the sons and daughters I wrote about. There were many commonalities, which once I took a long view, seemed significant.
We hear that you’ll be putting together a documentary series based on From Cradle to the Stage. How do you envision the show building upon the foundations laid by the book?
The documentary will feature themes and people from the book. We plan to include even more artists and hope to continue to include many genres of music. It’s very exciting!
You can see Virginia Grohl speak when she attends BIGSOUND, which runs in Fortitude Valley from September 4–7.