Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Country singer Miranda Lambert. Mike D of Beastie Boys. Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Pharelle Williams, Amy Winehouse, Dr. Dre.
What do these popular musicians have in common? They all were raised by dynamic (if often unheralded) mothers. In From Cradle to Stage – Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars, these moms – along with almost a dozen more – get their own recognition, not just in regards to the children they raised, but in the people they are.
Author Virginia Hanlon Grohl certainly knows what she’s writing about. The mother of the drummer of the iconic 90s grunge band Nirvana and leader of Foo Fighters (as well as member of the rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures), she is uniquely aware of the special needs of a budding musician. (Although she doesn’t dwell on it in the book, she and her husband divorced when Dave was seven, leaving her to raise the boy on her own.)
But while significant passages of each chapter relate what it is like raising a gifted child, and speak to the influences on these driven children, just as much time is spent telling the stories of the mothers themselves: their backgrounds, their own musical upbringings, the events that impacted them far before they wore the moniker of “mother of….”. From political activist Mary Morello (mother of Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine) to scrappy Jeannie Taylor (mother of Kelly Clarkson) to Holocaust survivor Mary Weinrib, whose son Geddy Lee, became the voice of the seminal prog rock group Rush, each story is engaging, entertaining and yet familiar to those of us who have raised children, artistically gifted or not.
There is no hard-hitting journalism here, nor is there any juicy gossip; that’s not what this book is about. Instead, it feels like a chat between friends over tea. Reminiscences. Stories told with laughter, and occasionally tears. Yes, sometimes the book gets a bit perfunctory, with the sense that we are only getting the top layer of a far grittier story, but there is plenty of engagement without needing to render judgment or scrutinize motivations. That just wouldn’t be nice, don’tcha know.
One of my favorite stories came from when Virginia (I think she’d be okay with me calling her Virginia) found herself on a virtually empty tour bus in the wake of 9/11. Dave, who with his young family was living in California, was adamant that his mother leave her house, situated only a few miles from the Pentagon. With no planes flying, he arranged last minute for her to catch a ride with the manager and lead singer of the band Government Mule, who were making a mad dash cross country in order to make a scheduled gig in Denver (“Mom, can you be ready in two hours?”). On the cavernous bus, chaos and uncertainty unexpectedly gave way to camaraderie:
We told stories to pass the time – of the places we’d been, our childhoods, the music in our lives. We confessed our fear and confusion. We became very good friends in a very short time. People at truck stops stared a bit at our unlikely quartet: the dapper [bus driver] Barney, the long haired, slightly disheveled rocker, the young manager – and the old lady. We were a motley crew.
And that’s what’s so compelling about From Cradle to Stage – the constant reminder that beyond the fame and fortune are folks whose deepest connections still remain family, friends and always, always, music, nurtured from an early age with mothers who love them. Indeed, From Cradle to Stage may not be the hardest hitting book out there, but it’s still very powerful, not from what it carves out, but from what it gathers in.