Mother shares rocker’s North­ern Va. child­hood, jour­ney to fame in book Fair­fax to Foo Fight­ers, Mama Grohl has backed her dream­ing, drum­ming son

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY T. REES SHAPIRO

Vir­ginia Han­lon Grohl spent more than 30 years in the class­room as a Fair­fax County pub­lic school teacher, and she re­mains pas­sion­ate about the value of an ed­u­ca­tion. So then why did she al­low her 17-year-old to drop out of high school and leave their Spring­field home to tour the coun­try with a rock band?

Be­cause moth­ers know best.

“Ev­ery­one thought I was out of my mind,” said Grohl, 79. “I knew it was risky, yeah, but it seemed to me a way that he would learn about the world, and that’s what ed­u­ca­tion is sup­posed to be. It’s not about get­ting all the an­swers, but show­ing you how to learn.”

She was right, and her son, Dave Grohl, found quick suc­cess as the drum­mer for Nir­vana and later, af­ter fate and tragedy in­ter­vened, as the front­man for his band the Foo Fight­ers.

In her new book, “From Cra­dle to Stage: Sto­ries From the Moth­ers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars,” Vir­ginia Grohl doc­u­ments her son’s whirl­wind rise from liv­ing in the sub­urbs to per­form­ing for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and head­lin­ing sta­dium con­certs world­wide.

She also shares sto­ries from moth­ers of other star artists, and the re­sult is a con­ver­sa­tional book filled with anec­dotes about some of to­day’s most fa­mous mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing from Verna Griffin, mother of Andre Romelle Young, bet­ter known as Dr. Dre.

In an in­ter­view, Grohl told of

her son’s amaze­ment that she spent time chat­ting with the su­per­star rap­per.

“It’s just sort of dif­fi­cult get­ting used to talk­ing to your mom on the phone and she says, ‘I’ve got to go. I’ve got to call Dr. Dre,’ ” she said her son re­cently told an au­di­ence.

Be­fore re­tir­ing in 1995, Grohl taught at Poe In­ter­me­di­ate, Thomas Jef­fer­son High, Fair­fax High and An­nan­dale High. She spe­cial­ized in pub­lic speak­ing and English, teach­ing stu­dents to parse the nar­ra­tive in James Joyce’s “A Por­trait of the Artist as a Young Man,” and her all-time fa­vorite, John Stein­beck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

Her own book, re­leased in April, is a paean to moms ev­ery­where and their her­culean be­hind-the-scenes ef­forts to bring their chil­dren’s dreams to fruition. As a sin­gle mother, Grohl wrote, she knew that no one else was go­ing to drive young Dave to his con­certs at the lo­cal com­mu­nity cen­ter near Lake Brad­dock Sec­ondary School.

To rock fans, Dave Grohl’s story is fa­mil­iar. He grew up in Fair­fax County, played in lo­cal punk bands and af­ter drop­ping out of his third high school, par­layed his prodi­gious tal­ents on the drums to a try­out with an Aberdeen, Wash., band that soon af­ter he joined be­came an in­ter­na­tional sen­sa­tion. But it all dis­solved when lead gui­tarist and singer Kurt Cobain, ad­dicted to drugs, ended his life with a shot­gun blast.

In her book, Vir­ginia Grohl re­lated the tu­mult of con­flict­ing emo­tions she faced as a mother af­ter Nir­vana as­cended to fame overnight.

“The bleak days when the kids go from city to city with just enough money for hot dogs and Slurpees aren’t what moth­ers of the mu­si­cian-ad­ven­tur­ers fear. It’s that next step, the one where money and fame re­place im­pov­er­ished ob­scu­rity. What will all that money be used for?” Grohl wrote. “We had all heard about ‘sex and drugs and rock and roll.’ Was it true? I knew about all the pot smok­ing. That wasn’t alarm­ing. Most of my high school stu­dents (and, if truth be told, quite a few of their teach­ers) were do­ing that. But David had vowed he would never use co­caine or heroin. I be­lieved him.”

But then Cobain suc­cumbed to his tor­ment­ing demons, Vir­ginia Grohl wrote, and Nir­vana dis­in­te­grated.

“As the gold and plat­inum records piled up, his will de­te­ri­o­rated. Over­doses and can­celled and tours re­placed the thrilling firsts of big fes­ti­vals that drew thou­sands of fans,” Grohl wrote. “Three short, dra­matic years — that was all. In the end, one gun­shot. Sear­ing pain. Ir­re­versible loss. The mu­sic stopped.”

Although de­spon­dent in the af­ter­math, Dave Grohl turned back to mu­sic. What started as a one­man band trans­formed into the Foo Fight­ers.

“He had a very quick and un­pre­dicted pe­riod of be­ing a rock star, and yet that wasn’t ever the goal, and it wasn’t the endgame ei­ther,” Vir­ginia Grohl said. “So he went back to play­ing mu­sic, and you never know where that’s go­ing to take you.”

By Dave’s side the en­tire time was his mother, whom he hon­ored in the Foo Fight­ers song “Ar­lan­dria,” a nod to the North­ern Vir­ginia sub­urb where he grew up and where he re­turned to rake leaves and mow the lawn when­ever tur­bu­lence in­ter­rupted Nir­vashows na’s mo­men­tum.

“My sweet Vir­ginia, I’m the same as I was in your arms,” Dave Grohl sings. “My sweet Vir­ginia, I’m the same as I was in your heart.”

Dave Grohl, now 48, de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest to dis­cuss his mother’s book through his pub­li­cist, Steve Martin.

Vir­ginia Grohl, who now splits her time be­tween Fair­fax and Cal­i­for­nia, likes to re­veal hid­den de­tails for her son’s fans. His first ex­po­sure to mu­sic came from lis­ten­ing to Bea­tles clas­sics on AM ra­dio dur­ing long car rides. He played the guitar at home when he was very young, not the drums. Their Fair­fax home was so small he did not own a drum set; he learned to play drums in a neigh­bor’s house.

“I’m al­most ashamed to say,” she told The Post. “We just didn’t have room for it.”

Af­ter all these years, Vir­ginia Grohl said, she’s still a proud mother. At a gro­cery store one day, she was put­ter­ing by the pro­duce when she spied a women wear­ing a Foo Fight­ers shirt.

“She was tak­ing her cab­bage from the bin,” she said, “and I said, ‘Oh, you’re a Foo fan?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s my son’s band.’ I couldn’t help my­self.”


Vir­ginia Han­lon Grohl of Fair­fax County with her son, Foo Fight­ers front­man Dave Grohl, when he was about 12 years old.

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