BOOK REVIEW: Singers’ mothers spill the beans
From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars by Virginia Hanlon Grohl
When rock stars are revealed as normal — mundane, even — we know the earth has turned.
The seminal band Nirvana inspired the grunge groundswell that punctured 1990s culture. After band leader Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Dave Grohl reinvented himself: from drummer in the background to the force of the Foo Fighters. Grohl has had a wild journey in the wildest industry.
Regrettably, a handful of anecdotes apart, From Cradle to Stage isn’t about him, Nirvana or the Foo Fighters. Instead, it features his mother’s interviews with the moms of 18 other performers. They sip copious amounts of tea while reminiscing about raising their children, proudly recapping their offsprings’ résumés.
Some are indeed stars; others aren’t even rockers but obscure country singers included to widen the book’s appeal to America’s heartland. And the operatic pop crooner Josh Groban just doesn’t fit.
Early musical prowess is the obvious thread in all their stories. Virginia Hanlon Grohl rails against the education establishment that suppresses the talents of creatively gifted children. She advises parents to "buy that different drum your rebel has been marching to. None of this guarantees you’ll raise a rock star. Just a more fulfilled human being".
This wholesomeness bores
Sadly, this isn’t necessarily true. Janis Winehouse’s stories of her daughter, Amy, convey a troubled young mind. Like Cobain, her stardom — and life — seemed destined to burn briefly; stellar artists are often fragile.
SA features in the chapter with the mother of Dave Matthews, of the eponymous folk-jazz group. Predictably, Hanlon Grohl incorporates lyrics from the band’s song "Cry Freedom". Like the music, the chapter is dull.
The book becomes a repetitive, genteel anthem of sanitised mothers’ perspectives on the apples of their eyes. The few powerful words come from the author’s son, recalling how music seized him: "Your entire world catches fire. The earth-rattling epiphany that music is no longer just a sound, it’s every breath you’ll ever take again." Inevitably — a letdown — he’s describing his mother coaching sing-alongs in the family car. This wholesomeness bores.
Grohl deserves his 2014 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His music stirs and rages, and he must be the only vocalist who can scream in key. Unfortunately, his mother’s book will make most rock fans scream for different reasons.
• From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars by Virginia Hanlon Grohl. Hodder & Stoughton (Coronet)