Dave Grohl Honors Late Dad, ‘True Renaissance Man,’ in Father’s Day Tale
"I was the garage band to his conservatory...the Dead Kennedys to his Leonard Bernstein"
Dave Grohl salutes his late dad, James Harper Grohl, in a Father’s Day installment of his ongoing Instagram essay series “Dave’s True Stories.” Throughout the lengthy piece, framed around a moving memory from 1985, the Foo Fighters frontman contrasts his own rebellious teenage persona with his father’s distinguished, conservative qualities.
“Born to a blue-collar, Ohioan steelworking family in 1938, my father was a complicated man of many, sometimes-conflicting layers,” Grohl writes early in the story, which was also published at The Atlantic. “Actor, writer, award-winning journalist, lover of art and food, and a ferocious, classically trained musician. A true Renaissance man, yet so conservative that he would sometimes be mistaken in public for the legendary political commentary George Will. All this and more, poured into a crisp, clean seersucker suit.”
Grohl describes his father’s “paradoxical qualities”: “At night, you could find him reclined in his Eames chair with a glass of Johnnie Walker Red, baton in hand, listening to jazz records as the smoke of his sweet pipe wafted through his Alexandria, Virginia apartment,” he writes. “But from 9 to 5, the dude made Ronald Raegan look like Abbie Hoffman. Cool as a cucumber, he could turn on the charm and work any Republican Capitol Hill shindig like he was to the manor born. Still, for all his starched shirts and Brooks Brothers socks, a beatnik was trapped somewhere deep within that perfectly tailored tuxedo, just screaming to come out. (He once very proudly bragged to me that the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg had hit on him at a party. Cutest-couple alert!)”
“I was the garage band to his conservatory,” Grohl writes, “the screeching feedback to his perfect pitch, the Dead Kennedys to his Leonard Bernstein.”
The former Nirvana drummer looks back to the aftermath of a concert his early Washington D.C. punk band Mission Impossible staged in 1985, along with the lecture his father delivered after learning of the gig.
“I wasn’t on the fast track to becoming a professional musician by any means, and having actually tried his hand at a career in music, my dad knew that the odds of success were minuscule,” he writes. “Especially considering the type of music my heart had chosen to play.”
“That night, I waited for him to go to sleep, and I grabbed a (red) pen and a pad of paper,” he continues. “My hand pressed hard as I delivered the searing rebuttal, unleashing 16 years of fury as my fears hit the page in blurred stains. I rejected his narrow-minded life coaching and chastised him for his lack of faith in me, proudly confessing to my whereabouts the night before as an example of my capabilities. The line was now drawn. Don’t fuck with me.”
Grohl says his father read the letter and told him, “Don’t ever do that again, David.” He continues, “Fortunately, I never had to, because from that moment on he recognized that I knew in my heart who I was and who I wanted to be, and that nothing could stop me from becoming that person no matter what.”
The rocker ends his note in the present day, noting how he’s enjoyed focusing on a “newfound pleasure in writing” during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
“As I go over [my stories] from my own dreaded Eames chair with the proverbial red pen I inherited, I can’t help but think of my father, the journalist and master wordsmith,” he writes. “My father was my first, and best, reader. It was through him that I found my love of writing, filling me with the same sense of purpose and accomplishment that I felt that night at the Bethesda Community Center as a rebellious teen. So much that I’ve even contemplated trying my hand at writing a book someday. Imagine that. Just call it ‘kicking the apple back up the hill a bit.’ If only he were still around to read it.”