Six Damn Fine Degrees #101: Dave Grohl, The Storyteller

I didn’t make the connection until after reading the book: of course the director of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box video is none other than photographer Anton Corbijn, who also made his name with movies such as Control or The American.

There is, of course, Nirvana first and foremost, with their loud guitar-driven, plaintive, unruly rock. You can see in the video that they still don’t take themselves too seriously, and they still don’t have a grip on their fame. Dave Grohl, in his quasi-autobiography The Storyteller, tells about how Kurt Cobain was not well during the shooting of the video, and if you look close enough, you can see that it might be true behind his court jester behaviour. It is Corbijn’s only work for the band (he did more than a dozen videos for Depeche Mode, for instance), but he nailed the band’s style and comes close to what Tarsem Singh did for R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion.

And Grohl is still puzzled about his own success – he sees himself as a hard-wired musician, not as any kind of celebrity. He is star-struck about Iggy Pop, Joan Jett and Paul McCartney, and does not suffer fools gladly. His book is filled with anecdotes about the music business, about his upbringing, about life on tour, about him having to play at the White House or at the Oscars. There is a straightforward, almost naïve honesty about him, and it’s a refreshing read, something that cannot be said for other musicians’ autobiographies. He was horrified to discover that Corona left him with nothing to do, and so, workaholic that he is, he got to writing.

His book is full of anecdotes: Joan Jett, in her PJs, reading Grohl’s two daughters a bedtime story. Dave Grohl having immense stage fright while playing live at the White House with Barack Obama and Paul McCartney sitting in the front row. Gulp. But there are also moments that are utterly devoid of any name-dropping: Grohl has to sleep on the floor in the untidy living-room of someone else’s apartment in the early Nirvana days, utterly broke and living off cheap corn dogs. That is nothing new – once you tug at the glamorous surface, the bare bones of a life in the punk rock scene come ambling out of the closet, jazz hands and everything. With Grohl, I had the impression that he doesn’t have to hide the smut nor the weirder side of stardom.

There is that excellent moment in the book where he invites AC/DC to a restaurant in New Orleans – only to surprise them with a local brass band. Weird? An awkward moment? Nope, the Aussie rockers are actually over the moon to jam with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Dave Grohl seems to have an instinctive affinity for music. No wonder he found a second, much longer career as the Foo Fighters’ frontman.

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