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Dave Grohl THE STORYTELLER. Simon & Schuster (UK) Ltd

OK, I admit it. I love David Grohl and although much of his Foo Fighters work has a very clear purpose to sell big numbers and keep millions reassured that “real” music can still be popular - I love pretty much everything else he has ever done. His TV work is binge-worthy, particularly Sonic Highways, which to this day still spawned the best Foo Fighters album in my opinion, the Sound City documentary, and most recently What Drives Us, which coincidentally previews some of the best parts of The Storyteller as he pays tribute to the old Dodge van which carried him on his earliest touring adventures. The albums with Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures and Tenacious D are all great fun and exhilarating in their own very special ways. But probably the most interesting thing he has ever done musically (other than change the world with Nirvana!) is Probot, a supernatural death metal feast featuring many of his idols he so affectionately includes in the book, but this masterpiece doesn’t make the cut and is, surprisingly, not featured here. So disclaimer out of the way…


We start with the usual sentimental recollections to wade through and some jumping around the timeline to perhaps make you realise just how famous David Grohl is going to become. But actually it feels like this is just a bit of filler to get us to the really interesting stuff. By the time he has somehow found himself drumming with the Washington punk scene stalwarts Scream, things get interesting. It is these years which are without doubt the most engaging part of the story and weirdly is also the point when the writing stops sounding like a teenager trying to sound romantic with far too many thesaurus inspired analogies! Strange that sometimes even in a book, which will have been edited over and over again, that the author sometimes takes a few chapters to become comfortable in their own voice and begin to just be themselves.

As we move long he inevitably mentions using drugs as an example that it is the people who want to push the boundaries over the edge who end up as addicts of certain drugs, while others use them without ever falling off the cliff - that ability to know when to stop the ride may well be what has kept him going. I don’t think it is unfair to say that since David Grohl reached the summit of the music world with Nirvana, he has taken the safer road to stay on the mountain. Of course he had to work damn hard to get Foo Fighters up and running, but was it really in any doubt that it wasn’t going to work, particularly when you have the luxury of chopping and changing personnel to get the very best team together to deliver? When you also uncover that he pretty much had his pick of established music legends to become the permanent drummer for, you realise that there was never any real risk to him living a very healthy and prosperous life as a musician. It does make the post Nirvana story feel a little safe and less gripping than the early days when even a flat tyre would have been catastrophic. It is so often the case that when people reach the pinnacle as he has that they search for a more impactful and human reason to their lives, often dipping in to activism, politics or letting their artistry go wild. Grohl has never really done this to any great extent other than the odd protest concert or meeting President Obama, and it is probably one of the reasons The Storyteller becomes a little predictable after he has already conquered the world.


On a couple of occasions it does risk becoming simply a series of celebrity laced anecdotes rather than fully formed stories with life lessons and insights the reader would not have already have expected from the world’s biggest rock star for over a decade. The best example being that as a kid he found himself playing with Iggy Pop, fascinating evidence that Grohl’s hard work did in fact make him very lucky indeed! Less fascinating is that Tom Petty asked the drummer from Nirvana to be in his band or that he once had dinner with Paul McCartney and AC/DC. It is fair to say that Grohl still considers himself a snot nosed punk kid from Virginia and in that respect these things are mind blowing - but he is not and what he seems to not really even understand is that to many of us, to millions of people around the world, David Grohl is our Tom Petty, our Iggy Pop, our Paul McCartney and even our Joan Jett! In twenty years time we will be reading the autobiography of a huge rock star who as a kid was once was invited on stage to play the guitar on Monkey Wrench with the Foo Fighters and we truly will have come full circle. I am not convinced even David Grohl realises just how important he is to so many people and the seeds for the future of music he has planted over the last thirty years, but that in itself is one of the things that has always made him one of the most loved rock stars in the world - work hard, stay humble, take nothing for granted, be kind, be grateful and be lucky! Oh, and have a shit load of fun on the journey!

It does still feel that we are a little robbed of the depth of impact that Nirvana had on him. He does express fairly simplistically that it was beyond troubling and inexplicably difficulty times, and you do wonder if that is a time he just does not want to relive to the required depth, or emotionally he just can’t. As a teenage kid whose life was shaped, driven and electrified by Nirvana, I selfishly wanted to know how it felt when Kurt Cobain showed up in those 12 days of recording NEVERMIND to hear those songs for the first time and what was Grohl’s instinct as a muted songwriter at the time to try and shape them? And how do you get presented with Smells Like Teen Spirit and even begin to work out how to make your instrument sing in the same tune? What about In Utero? To this day one of the most inaccessibly accessible mainstream albums ever made? What about MTV UNPLUGGED? What conversations took place to pick out that most absurd but profoundly perfect setlist? But then again, this is the story of David Grohl by David Grohl, and in that respect you can’t argue that this reader’s selfish need to know about four years in his life is probably superseded by the other 48 years he wants to talk about! There is a moment where he describes the concern from a rep from the company who had supplied the drums for a show in Japan - and carefully explained that he had not destroyed the kit in anger but more in celebration of such a beautifully made thing - this feels like much of the sentiment Grohl has lived by, and particularly how Nirvana was and always had to be - beautiful things sometimes just have to be destroyed in celebration.


The insights in to his relationships with his kids and how being a father has changed him are not particularly enlightening. Heart warming of course, but as a father to a daughter myself, it isn’t something I found particularly rewarding to be able to say, “yeah I know”! Granted, my daughter’s first piano lesson was not from Paul McCartney and she has never had a bed time story from Joan Jett - but other than that, peas-in-a-pod me and and Dave - dads united!

Ultimately it is of course an interesting read, with more than enough new information and insights in to the life of a 21st century rock star to keep the pages turning. However…and I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a prat, but it is missing the depths of despair that make all great autobiographies the most fascinating. The most real trouble he ever found himself in seems to be being caught drink driving a moped in Australia after a performance at The Big Day Out. His most unhealthy addiction is caffeine. It is the Nirvana years where you feel many of his deepest soul defining experiences would have been formed - and he doesn’t dig deep enough. Often when I read a great musicians autobiography it inspires me to revisit their work. Whether to go and watch or listen to things in the new light shone on them now I know the stories, or just to appreciate the great art that I have just been reading about. But this time, although I have been entertained, I am not totally inspired. Ultimately I think you can conclude one thing from The Storyteller…the harder you work the luckier you get, and David Grohl has spent his life working very hard.


Daniel Porter


Dave Grohl Biography:

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