Storyteller: A Review by T.S. McNeil

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The first stories, at least in the Western tradition, were sung. Going back to ancient Greece, long before the written tradition, foundational narrative works such as The Iliad and The Odyssey recited in poem form, often with the accompaniment of a lyre. A bardic tradition carried on well into the 14th century by the troubadour style of minstrel. The term ‘minstrel’ – aside from its unfortunate association with turn-of-the-century entertainment involving blackface – is sometimes still used to refer to a particular sort of singer-songwriter, particularly in the folk genre. One musician, Dave Grohl’s, has captured this tradition in his memoir, Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music.

Mercifully short of the usual cradle-to-grave tropes and trappings so common to the memoir form, the book takes the form of anecdotes from Grohl’s comparatively long and eventful life, the author having the good sense to wait until he was in his 50s before attempting to write a memoir. Some of the stories, presented as snap-shots from instances in his life, are predictable, at least in subject if not content. The tale of his first drum-lesson, after trying to teach himself from what he’d heard on his favorite Punk records, is framed by his daughter asking him to teach her to play the drums and has an ending that is as surprising as it is funny. 

As might be expected, his years in Nirvana are covered, but do not take up the bulk of the book, as much space is dedicated to his early early life, including his first bands including quitting school to join hometown heroes Scream, as well as the many, many years he spent with the Foo Fighters. The latter also features stories from his domestic life, including the time he rushed home to Virginia from a show in Australia, to take one of his three daughters to the annual daddy daughter dance. A red-letter date in the Grohl household, Dave stating his intention to be as equal a parent as possible. 

Some darkness also seeps through, of both the mortal and metaphysical sort. By far the most disturbing story in the book recounts the time, when as a small lad, Grohl accidentally took a golf club to the back of his skull in a mishap at a friend’s house. Scary in a different way, is the story of the first house Grohl ever bought which, have every indication of having been haunted. 

Other celebrities also make an appearance, but not in such a way as to come off as a name-dropper. In addition to the usual suspects in Nirvana and related bands, there is an account of a sleep-over with Joan Jett. The main espouse the Grohl children had to the Punk pioneer prior to her sleeping in the guest house, the purchase of a Jett themed Barbie doll at Harrods of London. For all the weird and wonderful moments in the book, from playing at the White House during the Bush administration to almost visiting Pantera’s notorious Texas strip club, a lost wallet getting in the way – the vivid description of Jett in her jammies reading a bed-time story to the Grohl daughters stands out near the top. 

Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.

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