Virginia Hanlon Grohl was a high school English teacher from 1959 to 1995. But the first time she needed a substitute was in 1992, when her son, Dave, was making an appearance on national TV. “Nirvana was playing Saturday Night Live, and I went to New York to see them,” she says. “Charles Barkley was the host, and I told my class I’d get him to sign some autographs. But if there were any [bad] reports from the substitute, then they would be null and void.”
Virginia, in her late seventies, has attended dozens of her son’s shows with Nirvana and Foo Fighters over the years, and was always surprised how rarely she ran into other moms out on the road. So she decided to track some down, and ended up interviewing 18 mothers of famous musicians for her book, From Cradle to Stage.
“They all said, ‘Oh, there’s nothing interesting about me except for my son or daughter.’ And then it turned out that wasn’t true at all.”
In Texas, Virginia met Miranda Lambert’s mom, Bev, who used to be a private investigator (including on the Paula Jones case against Bill Clinton). In Toronto, she talked to Geddy Lee’s mom, Mary Weinrib, a Holocaust survivor who raised a family alone after her husband died. “Mike D’s mom, Hester Diamond, is a very high-powered woman in the art world,” Virginia says. “When Mike wanted to be a Beastie kind of boy, she was totally accepting.”
Most of the women who appear are parents of especially well-adjusted artists (Josh Groban, Adam Levine, Tom Morello). One striking exception is Janis Winehouse, whose attempts to save her daughter, Amy, from addiction inspired the singer’s 2006 hit “Rehab.” “The Amy Winehouse story hits close to home because there are some parallels between Amy and Kurt [Cobain],” says Dave Grohl, who wrote the book’s foreword.
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Like Kurt’s mom, Wendy Cobain, Virginia was a single mother. She writes movingly about her relationship with Wendy, and argues that educators can create arts programs that meet the needs of bright kids who don’t quite fit in. “She understands there are some kids who work outside of conventional systems,” Dave says. As for her own son’s legendary good nature, Virginia remains amazed. “I didn’t need to tell him that even when we just had peanut butter and jelly for dinner he should still say thank you,” she recalls. “He thanked me every time.”