Dave Grohl revisits the band’s music and memories in ‘The Storyteller’ book
Halfway through “The Storyteller,” Dave Grohl’s new 384-page book in which he shares memories of his decades as a musician, we come to the part where Kurt Cobain dies. Grohl does not go into details; almost everything has already been said in other Nirvana books. But he captures the emotional impact of that moment in a uniquely personal way, contrasting it with the loss of his childhood friend Jimmy Swanson in 2008.
“It was the last story I wrote, because it was the hardest,” Grohl told me in a Zoom interview last month. “I was afraid to open up and write about this experience.
“I also knew what people wanted me to write, and I avoided that. Instead of writing a detailed description or account of those few days, this whole article was about what determines the depth of your sadness. when you lose someone Is that how close the connection was, or how deep have you brought them into your lives?
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“With my friend Jimmy, I had known him since I was 6 years old. We lived two blocks from each other in Virginia. All of our lives, we’ve shared everything. With Kurt, I was in a band with him for three and a half years. Their emotional relevance to my life is different, but just as strong. So it had more to do with what it is to lose someone and how you deal with it. “
Less a formal memoir than a collection of stories that intertwine like a patchwork quilt, “The Storyteller” is Grohl’s first book. “I knew what I didn’t want to do: I didn’t want to write a stereotypical, chronological, logistical and informative account of the last 52 years of my life,” he says. “Plus, like everything I do, I had no idea how to do it. I don’t know how to write an (expletive) book!
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But now that it’s done, “The Storyteller” ($ 29.99, Dey Street) might just be the first of many volumes. “It was so much fun, and I can’t wait to do more,” he said. “When I hit send on that last story in the book, I was sad. I thought, oh no, it’s over? Guess that’s the tip of the iceberg. I want to continue.
We spoke with Grohl for an hour about the book, his debut in DC punk band Scream and Seattle legends Nirvana, the rise of the Foo Fighters in the mid-90s, his visits to Austin over the years, and more. Again. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
American-Statesman: In the introduction you explained that this book was born out of the pandemic and suddenly you find yourself not playing shows. Have you ever thought about writing a book before?
Dave Grohl: You know, I always thought I would someday, but for a very long time I thought it was too soon. I was offered one 10 years ago. I was at a barbecue and this guy introduced himself and said he was a books agent. He said, “Did you write a book? I said, “No, I didn’t.” He said, ‘Do you want?’ And I said, “Well, yeah, someday I think that would be pretty fun.” Both of my parents were brilliant writers. And then on Monday morning I got a call from this guy’s office, and he said, “Look, it’s easy, all you have to do is four or five hours. interviews, and then we’ll get someone else to write it down. and we’ll give you a check, and you’ve got a book yourself. “
And I cringed because I thought, oh my god, both of my parents would deny me if I ever got someone else to write my book for me. And I have always liked to write. I’ve never done it professionally, but I’ve been asked here and there for magazines and introductions to other people’s books.
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I realized that I finally had the time, and a lot of fuss. And I don’t do well with free time: I’m bad on vacation. I’m not good at sitting and watching TV all day. I can not do that. I always need something to do. Last year when it all stopped, I launched this Instagram page called Dave’s True Stories. … I made a list of 30 or 40 of these stories that I could write just to give myself something to do. I looked at the list and thought, it could be a book, you know. And that’s how it all started.
There is a chapter that I really enjoyed about how you played on “Saturday Night Live” with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers right after Nirvana ended, and you almost ended up being a part of the band. Do you sometimes wonder about an alternate universe where you took this job, and how your life would have been differently?
Absoutely. It’s a big “what if”, but it was a tricky time. I wasn’t really ready to move on yet. I was taking those small steps to get back to music, but it still hurt a bit. Just to be invited to play two songs with them on “Saturday Night Live”, and walk into a room and there he was, with Mike (Campbell) and Ben (Benmont Tench) and the Heartbreakers… but at the time I think that I was maybe 25 and I wasn’t ready to sit on the drum stool.
I had recorded this tape of the Foo Fighters – it wasn’t a band, it was just me playing all that (stuff) in a studio down the street from my house. And I decided to do the Foo Fighters thing because I wasn’t sure I could do it. I could sit with Tom Petty and play songs on the drums, but this Foo Fighters idea was like, “I don’t know if I can do that. And that’s why I did it. At that point in my life it was like, “OK, I have to change it. I need to do something that I don’t know how to do. ” And it worked.
There is quite a bit about your family life, and your parents’ influences on your own life, in the book. You talk a lot more about your mother than your father in the book. Did they separate when you were young?
They did it. They divorced when I was about 6 years old. My father was very conservative – a Republican journalist then a speechwriter. He became a public relations manager and worked on Capitol Hill as a campaign manager for Senator (Robert) Taft of Ohio. My mom was a liberal public school teacher who loved Manhattan Transfer. He is one of the sweetest, most open-minded, generous, loving, and selfless people. She’s what a teacher should be, I think.
So you’ve got this guy in a really conservative suit and tie, and then I’m his (expletive) son – how far does an apple have to fall from the tree? I always joke that mine rolled all the way up the hill. I was a very bad student, failing high school where my mother was a teacher.
So my dad and I had a very difficult relationship until I was about 22 years old. We have relieved ourselves of the obligations that accompany a father-son relationship; he basically said, “You’re alone” and I basically said, “Finally. And then we became friends, and I got to love him and get to know him better.
He passed away about seven years ago, but around that time when we got to know each other, he was the one who inspired me to write. He was such a brilliant writer. When email became a thing, we had this correspondence when I was on the road. He would write me stories about DC in the 70s and his involvement in reporting on Watergate and stuff like that.
And since we go back and forth, like any son, you just want to impress your dad. He sets the bar higher for each of these emails, and I have to answer him and give him something he could actually chew on. After about a month, he answers me and says, “You know what, David? You become a very good writer. He said, “Your writing packs a punch, and punch is power.”
I swear to God, it was like validating my life. I jam with McCartney, I jam with the Zeppelin guys, I jam with Prince – but my dad sent me this letter, I hung my badge on it for the rest of my life. And it really inspired me to write.
The Foo Fighters gave a concert in August in Los Angeles and brought in this amazing 11-year-old drummer, Nandi Bushell, to do a song with the band on stage. We have seen this kind of thing several times over the years, like a few years ago in Austin …
Oh I know what you’re gonna say – you’re gonna say Kiss Guy! He was sort of forward, and he had that Kiss makeup on, and he has an inscription (that says), “Can I play ‘Monkey Wrench’?” And “Monkey Wrench” is like the penultimate song in a two hour and 45 minute set, so I’m sitting there watching it all night long, holding this sign, and I’m like, damn his arms must be tired.
I had to give it to him. I was just like, he worked hard for it. He’s been holding this sign for two and a half hours. I had never met him before; no idea he could even play. I just thought, “OK, this could either be the biggest thing that ever happened or a total train wreck, but I don’t care (expletive).” And he took my guitar and he ran away.
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When we play live, it has always been important to me that there is a connection with the audience. … When I was young I always had this twisted fantasy that I would go to my favorite band’s show and someone would come out and say, “Sorry. we can’t play tonight, something has happened to our drummer, unless there is someone who knows each of our records cover to cover. And then I would raise my hand and jump on stage and save the day (expletive).
Every time I bring up one of these people on stage, I have to think that they had the same fantasy, being able to go on stage with the band and perform in front of thousands of people. It not only brings them joy, but it brings joy to the audience, and to me too.