When the pandemic first hit in 2020, Dave Grohl found himself unable to perform in front of crowds. The musician had been playing live since he dropped out of high school to tour with a band called Scream, later joining Nirvana, and forming the Foo Fighters.
Stuck at home, Grohl took up writing, and the 384-page result, “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music,” is out Oct. 5 from Dey Street Books. It’s not a typical memoir, as Grohl is selective about telling stories from selected moments, linked by theme more than timeline.
Grohl is a skilled entertainer, and many of his tales — including him playing 65 shows with a broken leg — are winning. If you’re looking for “dish,” you won’t find much of that, except that Paul McCartney is a delightful dinner guest.
A lot of the book is about his love for his daughters, wife and mom. But some parts of the memoir are specifically about the Northwest and might surprise readers. Here are highlights (and a couple of lowlights, as well):
• Seattle plays a much smaller role in the book than some might suspect, as Grohl writes that he “always felt like a visitor, just another transplant in a city fiercely protective of its precious roots.” Virginia, he writes, is “my forever home.”
• Grohl was the first Nirvana member to live in Seattle, but even as the band became superstars, he was living in a tiny room in a friend’s home in West Seattle “with only a dresser, a night table, and a futon mattress on the floor.” He later bought a house in Shoreline he says was haunted.
• He wrote the first Foo Fighters album in that tiny West Seattle bedroom, and later took it to Robert Lang Studios in Richmond Beach (“a gigantic concrete bunker”) to record. When Grohl later moved to Shoreline, he lived close enough to the studio he could drive there in his go-cart.
• That Foo Fighters debut went on to sell millions, but Grohl had no idea that was ahead. He played all the instruments and had 100 cassette tapes duplicated at a downtown Seattle facility, thinking he’d give them away.
• He first moved to the Northwest to be in Nirvana, but that was complicated. Grohl says he was offered the job, then the gig was revoked and later offered again. It also wasn’t as much of a job offer as it was just a chance to audition (which he nailed).
• Grohl moved to Olympia for Nirvana, and for six months was Kurt Cobain’s roommate. Not only was the place tiny, but Grohl slept on a couch too short for him. Grohl observed Cobain’s opiate use, but Cobain promised he wasn’t addicted. Cobain’s drug use haunts this book, and haunts Grohl.
• Grohl writes that Seattle’s heroin problem was worse than where he was from: “Washington, D.C., was not necessarily a heroin town. Seattle on the other hand, was a heroin capital.” This isn’t supported by data, and a New York Times piece from that year listed both cities among 10 usage centers. D.C.’s issues were in the Black inner city, not the white suburbs where Grohl grew up.
• This memoir is haunted by the consequences of loss, which at times can be powerful, but some of that power was diminished for me by brief moments of band-van-type humor. Grohl is addicted to coffee, he says (and living in Seattle didn’t help), and in trying to comically write about this, in the same paragraph he says that he’s never done cocaine because if he did, paraphrasing, he’d be trading oral sex for drugs. Another quip describes Cobain’s apartment as “Whitney Houston’s bathroom turned upside down.” (Houston, who wrestled with drug addiction, died in a bathroom, as Cobain nearly did several times.) Paralleling coffee addiction with cocaine addiction even in an attempt at humor, making light of sex work, and LGBTQ disparagement, even in a joke, made me emotionally disconnect from parts of this book. Grohl’s social cause efforts, which are many, do not match with this kind of language or humor, even as an aside “joke,” for me at least.
• Grohl does accurately describe the debut of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at Seattle’s OK Hotel in April 1991. The crowd’s reaction to Cobain’s introduction, he writes, was “crickets.” Still, Grohl observes that “THIS WAS NO ORDINARY NEW SONG.” Yes!
• The loss of Cobain hangs over much of this story, and Grohl does beautifully describe the way loss doesn’t follow a timeline. His own grief is tempered by the fact that Nirvana ultimately gave him the opportunity of making music behind that singer. “That voice,” he writes. “No one had a voice like that.” Indeed.