From Cradle to Stage

Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars


By Virginia Hanlon Grohl

Formats and Prices




$38.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 18, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Written by Virginia Grohl, the mother of Dave Grohl—former Nirvana drummer and current frontman for the Foo Fighters—From Cradle to Stage shares stories and exclusive photos featuring mothers of rock icons, the icons themselves, and their Behind the Music-style relationships

While the Grohl family had always been musical-the family sang together on long car trips, harmonizing to Motown and David Bowie-Virginia never expected her son to become a musician, let alone a rock star. But when she saw him perform in front of thousands of screaming fans for the first time, she knew that rock stardom was meant to be for her son. And as Virginia watched her son's star rise, she often wondered about the other mothers who raised sons and daughters who became rock stars. Were they as surprised as she was about their children's fame? Did they worry about their children's livelihood and wellbeing in an industry fraught with drugs and other dangers? Did they encourage their children's passions despite the odds against success, or attempt to dissuade them from their grandiose dreams? Do they remind their kids to pack a warm coat when they go on tour?

Virginia decided to seek out other rock star mothers to ask these questions, and so began a two-year odyssey in which she interviewed such women as Verna Griffin, Dr. Dre's mother; Marianne Stipe, Michael Stipe of REM's mother; Janis Winehouse, Amy Winehouse's mother; Patsy Noah, Adam Levine's mother; Donna Haim, mother of the Haim sisters; Hester Diamond, Mike D of The Beastie Boys' mother.

With exclusive family photographs and a foreword by Dave Grohl, From Cradle to Stage will appeal to mothers and rock fans everywhere.



THE LIGHTS IN THE ENORMOUS ARENA DIMMED. A thunderclap of one drum stroke. And then—the ROAR! The overwhelming surge of young voices screaming their acclamation for this exciting new band with the high-energy drummer. It was Nirvana, and the power hitter behind the drum kit was my son, Dave Grohl.

I held my breath. I knew nothing would ever be the same. That roar and that moment signaled the life change that propelled David Grohl from a musician in a van to the cover of Rolling Stone. The little boy who had pounded on homemade drum kits on his unmade bed and played his guitar to the records of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles was now on a big stage, masking his fright by frenetically pounding away. The music that had begun years before in a little suburban house in Virginia was now being heard throughout the world.

And I was the mother of a Rock Star.

Had I seen it coming? Of course not. But ours had always been a life full of music. I loved Motown and Mozart. My daughter, Lisa, collected a wide array of albums by Hüsker Dü, David Bowie, and Neil Young, to name a few, and shared them with us. And David's friends brought records from Metallica and Black Flag and other dangerous-sounding groups to our house. There was always music.

We sang together, most often in the car on long trips to visit grandmothers or out-of-state friends, those trips substituting for the vacations and airfares we couldn't afford. Today I would gladly trade a first-class flight to London for one of those happy, just-the-three-of-us car trips. We made up songs, we harmonized, we sang to the radio. And we played games, clapping the rhythm of a song for the other two to identify. Always music.

Sunday afternoons often found us at the jazz workshops at One Step Down in Washington, DC, a dark, smoky room where musicians in town for a Saturday gig would stop by and join the house trio. Everyone really listened there. No talking allowed. It was a gem of a place, now long gone but sorely missed.

I've often wondered about the mystical force that urges some of us to listen, to play, to sing, to surround ourselves with music. As time went on and I sat at the sides of larger and larger stages, I became more intrigued. I wanted to talk about it with some of the other mothers whose sons and daughters were sharing those stages. But they weren't to be found at the shows and festivals I attended.

Several years ago, at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, as I wondered aloud, "Where are they?" a friend said, "Go find them. You should write a book!"

So thanks to Jill Berliner, my "stop complaining and do something" friend, my journey began. Since then I've met remarkable women, all members of this special sorority of mothers of musicians. They have welcomed me into their homes, poured me cups of tea, and told me their stories. We have talked about the challenging energy levels of our supercharged progeny, the music lessons most of them rejected, the schools they endured, the paths they took. We've recalled the times and places that came before the fame, and the family histories that shaped the backgrounds of our beloved superstars. I have loved every minute of it.

I hope to share this collection of vastly different life stories with readers who are interested in the trials and joys of raising creative children and with those who are curious about how one generation's story forms the basis for the creators of the next.


Mrs. O'Donoghue's B&B

Assisting at The Flying Saucer, Lisa's coffee shop


by Dave Grohl


That moment when you feel the spark of inspiration ignite, and your entire world catches fire. The rush of revelation. The earth-rattling epiphany that music is no longer just a sound, it's every breath you'll ever take again. A puzzle that you'll never solve, though you hold all the pieces. An addiction that you'll never kick, though you've been given the antidote. A religion that won't forgive, though it feels like heaven. That moment when you're handed the key to an alternative universe where everything is beautiful, everything is free, and nothing will ever be quite the same again. For some, the first day of the rest of their lives.

Mine? Well… there was no classroom, no conservatory. No sheet music or baton. No… It was in the front seat of a beige Ford Maverick, rolling through Springfield, Virginia, on a sweltering hot summer day in 1975.

My teacher? My mother. Ms. Virginia Hanlon Grohl.

I remember that drive to Pohick Bay, sun on my freckled six-year-old face, wind blowing through my shaggy hair as the legendary Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" played over the crackly old AM radio. My mother and I were smiling and singing along (as we always did) above the booming roar of the open windows, and as Mick Jagger's unmistakable voice joined the chorus… our voices split into harmony for the first time. My mother started singing Mick's lower line as I sang Carly's high lead vocal. Without realizing it… I was harmonizing! Just as they do in the song! My heart lit up! My eyes widened! And then something clicked… the sound of our two voices, singing two different melody lines, made me realize one of music's most basic principles: different notes, when sung together in harmony, create a chord.

This moment is burned in my heart and mind as my first love. It is the Michelangelo in my Sistine Chapel. My baptism. My musical "Big Bang," if you will. Hell, this was the chicken AND the egg! From that moment on, I heard life with an entirely new set of ears. I scoured the radio for harmony. I searched every record in the house to find more. Did every song have this amazing new trick I had just learned? Did everyone know about this? Had this been going on forever? Why hadn't anyone bothered to tell me?! Songs became more than songs; they became my toys. They became my puzzles. They became challenges and mysteries. Some became my best friends. Some became my worst enemies. I was fascinated, enraptured, obsessed! I was hooked!

That summer drive to the bay in our Ford Maverick took place over forty years ago, but that same feeling has never gone away. To this day, when the radio turns on… so do I. Music becomes my everything. I hear structure and composition. Arrangement and shape. Layers of rhythm. I hear the voice of an artist through his instrument. Stories without words. I can carry on a conversation with someone as I drive down the highway, but if there's a song on the radio, I'm probably more focused on the kick-drum pattern of the music than on what they're saying to me. Yes, it's that bad.

Perfect harmony then…

and now

DNA is a miraculous thing. We all carry traits of people we have never met somewhere deep within our chemistry. I'm no scientist, but I believe that my musical abilities are proof of this. There is no divine intervention here. This is flesh and blood. This is something that comes from the inside out. The day I picked up a guitar and played Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" by ear, I knew that all I needed was that DNA and a whole lot of patience (something my mother clearly had an abundance of). These ears and this heart and mind were born of someone. Someone who shared that same love of music and song. I was blessed with a genetic symphony, waiting to perform. All it took was that spark.…

But beyond any biological information, there is love, something that defies all science and reason. And that, I am most fortunate to have been given. It's maybe the most defining factor in anyone's life. Surely an artist's greatest muse. And there is no love like a mother's love. It is life's greatest song. We are all indebted to the women who have given us life. For without them, there would be no music.



Born: January 4, 1960, in Fort McPherson, Georgia

R.E.M. (1980–2011): Lead vocals

Genre: Rock

First Single: "Radio Free Europe" (1981)

First Album: Chronic Town (1982)


Mother of Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)

SEVERAL MILES OUTSIDE ATHENS, GEORGIA, in a rural area where houses sit far back from the road, I drove through the blazing autumnal canopy that surrounded the home of Marianne and John Stipe. There I was greeted by a woman with a slightly familiar face framed by curly gray hair. The resemblance to her son, Michael, was instantly apparent.

The house is small and cozy with an inviting screened-in back porch, a place to cool off on a hot Georgia day and look at the pond below. Antique church pews and an old merchant's table line the wall. It's a charming, relaxing spot, the one Marianne and John chose after years of moving from one Army base to the next.

Marianne and I headed for the kitchen table, where she poured mugs of hot coffee and served her delicious homemade coffee cake with Georgia pecans and crème fraiche. You just can't beat Southern hospitality. I had brought a copy of a 1992 Rolling Stone magazine with R.E.M. on the cover and placed it on the table.

"Oh my gosh," Marianne gasped as she saw the young faces of her son, Bill Berry, Mike Mills, and Peter Buck. "Look at them! They were like brothers."

She smiled affectionately at the memories that surfaced as I read aloud the Rolling Stone Music Awards Critics' Picks featured in that issue. "Best Album, R.E.M.; Best Single, R.E.M.; Best Band, R.E.M.; Best Singer—oh, he didn't get that."

"Van Morrison got it," she recalled instantly.

Michael & his sisters

(And then, an interesting addition: the Best New Band award that year went to Nirvana, the band my son played drums for.)

Marianne told me the story of her family, from her childhood days in Washington, DC, to her teenage years in Georgia, when her father's job as an auditor took the family to Atlanta. She recalled her college days at the University of North Georgia, where she met her husband, John Stipe, who was one of the six hundred ROTC cadets enrolled there. She laughs when she confesses her good luck at being one of the ninety-seven coeds in their midst. "I got a good one," she brags. "Fifty-eight years later, and here we are!"

From that point on the Army determined their destinations: Virginia, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas, Germany. The three Stipe children, Cyndy, Michael, and Lynda, were "Army brats" (though none lived up to the pejorative term) and spent their childhoods moving from base to base. "That's just the way life was," Marianne stated matter-of-factly. "They were normal kids who moved around a lot."

Sometimes Army life was challenging, especially during times of crisis, when world events created disruptions that Army wives had to deal with. Marianne learned to live with uncertainty, with fear, worry, and anxiety. But she accepted those aspects of the life she and John had chosen. There was no time to complain. She had children to look after. When Michael was three weeks old, John was sent to Korea for sixteen months. The man who returned was a stranger to his son, and there was a period of adjustment, of father and son getting to know each other. No long-term effects resulted, though. Michael and his father had a close relationship throughout the years that followed. When I met Marianne, Michael was fifty-five and spending most of his time in New York. She said he still spoke with his father on the phone almost every day.

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 affected all the families stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where John was posted. For thirteen days the tension between the United States and Russia was heightened as the two countries came closer to nuclear war than at any other time in history. As it happened, I was also in Georgia then, living just off the Fort Benning post where PFC James Grohl was assigned to the Army newspaper. I taught English in a high school that had a mix of military and civilian students and teachers. Before news of the crisis broke, we had all witnessed trucks, tanks, jeeps, and railcars moving out of town. It was obvious that something was afoot, yet we weren't being told anything. When Marianne asked John if he would be leaving, he said, "If my toothbrush is gone, you'll know I've gone."

The confrontation between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev stemmed from the Russians' placement of missile facilities in Cuba, confirmed by an American U-2 spy plane. Khrushchev refused to remove them unless the United States agreed to take similar missiles out of Turkey, and the head-butting by two stubborn sovereigns began. It culminated in a tense naval blockade deployed to deter Russia from sending additional missiles to Cuba. As the enemy ships moved closer together, the Columbus High School students in my charge headed to our assigned bunker area, a janitor's room, to await the "all clear" on the intercom. Meanwhile, Marianne, at home a few miles away with young Michael and the girls, had to face the reality of an official "full alert." There were moments of panic when the question "What will we do?" had no answer. She was a military wife, learning how suddenly, how completely her life could be affected by world events.

The most difficult tests would come when John was sent to Vietnam—twice. Marianne was in Texas then, far from family, and she often felt alone. The children were in school, so they had busy, active days that weren't ruled by the constant television coverage the Army wives were drawn to. Military protocol required that Marianne serve as leader of the women in John's group, so she had to be there for them, offering support while meeting her own family's needs. It was a weighty burden. The worst days followed news of casualties, deaths, or the conferring of MIA statuses. Every day was a challenge.

In a recent conversation with Michael, I asked if he recalled that time. He was just a little boy then. Did he know how difficult the deployments were for his mother? He described himself as a very sensitive kid with "an antenna" that could read emotion. Not only did he understand his mother's fears, but he learned to respect the difficulty his father lived with as he went from war zone to family life and back to combat again. He guessed that the horrors his father witnessed would never be spoken about. And in a family that prided itself on open communication, they never were.

John's second "hardship tour" (a deployment that required the family to stay behind) to Vietnam was the most difficult. He was in hard combat every day, flying a helicopter that Marianne could identify by its insignia as she watched the interminable news tapes on television. The children were also aware and informed, although they didn't know at the time that John doubted he would make it out alive.

They watched growing demonstrations as the mood of the country became fractured and dissension replaced patriotism as a subject for reportage. Marianne is sure Michael was hurt to see the anti-Vietnam marchers' disdain for those serving in the war. "The children knew Daddy's boss ordered him to go because he was a serviceman doing service," she said. There were no major debates or discussions in the family then, just unease and the disquieting fears they had about whether and when they would see their father again.

Michael could sense the anxiety that silently blanketed them. Hoping to spare his mother, he recalls asking other adults around him to explain what was happening. His youthful empathy seems remarkable. He worried about both parents.

As it turned out, John defied all the odds. Despite flying into and out of hot zones every day, he was not injured. He came home with a knee injury from a volleyball game, his only painful physical reminder of that time.

Could the nomadic life of a military family have been significant to Michael's choice to become a touring musician? The life of a military "brat" meant constant challenges in the form of new cities. New countries became the next stopping place, the next home. Marianne says that as time went by they all got used to it, even enjoyed it. She got better at it. At first she found the task of packing and unpacking for a family of five a daunting exercise. "And then I got to the point where I just let the Army come in and do it for me." As a result, she recalls her surprise at unpacking a kitchen box that revealed a half-eaten, month-old birthday cake that had been left on the counter. The movers, instructed to pack everything, had not forgotten a crumb.

In the mid-1960s the Stipe family moved to Germany, where they were posted in Hanau, outside Frankfurt. Visiting the Saturday markets, eating and learning to cook German specialties, and exploring their environs in a vintage VW fostered many family memories. On day trips the kids clamored to play their favorite game. "Mama, let's get lost! Let's get lost!" Ah, those nostalgic pre-GPS days when one could set out to bravely conquer untrodden roads. The kids were at just the right ages to appreciate all they saw, and the German people were welcoming. Marianne loved shopping there. Her husband teased her that "Wie viel kostet das?" ("What does that cost?") was the only German she mastered.

It was in Germany, at the home of a babysitter, that Michael recalls his first musical memory. It was the Beatles song "Michelle" playing on an old radio on a tall shelf. His memory is visual; he watched the radio dial as the song played. It didn't change his life.

Michael hadn't seemed destined to become the unique, charismatic rock star that we know. His mother says he was "high activity, maybe what is labeled hyperactive now." He was curious about things and channeled his energy by applying himself to tasks creatively and with determination. He wouldn't stop until he had finished something. He and his sisters liked to sing together, but their songs were from musicals or children's shows, not rock anthems. Michael took piano lessons and when he was in third grade learned to play the accordion as well.

When Michael was in high school, though, he began to listen to and read about the new sounds emanating from the New York music scene. At the age of fifteen he bought Patti Smith's first album, Horses, on the day it came out and stayed up all night listening to it. He "decided then and there that that was what I was going to do," he said.

That was life changing.

A life change was also in store for John and Marianne. After twenty-six years of Army life, John retired, and they were finally able to choose where to live. They chose Athens, home of the University of Georgia, and Michael joined them there when he decided to transfer from his Illinois college. That decision became the preface for this entire story. On that Georgia campus, where hundreds of bands formed and disbanded at an astonishing rate, R.E.M. was born.

In the 1970s the University of Georgia in Athens was emerging as the home to a unique music scene. Students were thirsty for beer and hungry for music, and nobody was stopping them from sating those appetites. The warm Georgia nights drew kids to outside shows, where hundreds gathered around kegs and listened to groups that may have formed that same week. It was open season all year round.

The B-52s were the first notable group to come out of the scene. Their fresh take on song styling was just what their young audiences wanted: catchy tunes that invited wild, energetic dancing.

It was during this time, between 1978 and 1980, that R.E.M. "happened." First Michael Stipe met Peter Buck, who was the manager of the record shop Wuxtry Records, a popular Athens gathering place for lovers of all kinds of music old and new, even some not yet getting radio play. It was the old-fashioned kind of record store where collectors and fans congregated to listen to albums they dug out of racks. Michael and Peter became friends and decided to start their own band. When a friend introduced them to Bill Berry and Mike Mills, the rhythm section completed the group—as yet unnamed. Michael was the singer, Peter Buck the guitar player, with Mike Mills on bass and Bill Berry on drums.

They lived in a musty old church—drafty and rat infested, according to Marianne. It's been torn down, but the steeple remains an Athens tourist attraction. It was there on April 5, 1980, that the newly named R.E.M. played their first show to an enthusiastic audience of five hundred. Michael, microphone in hand, seemed to come alive, feeding on the energy in the room, whirling, moving eccentrically in bursts of frenetic motion. Suddenly the band was talked about, written about, and asked to play bigger shows—for money!

The rapid success of the band led Michael to invite his parents for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where "the conversation" took place.

"I want to drop out of school for six months," he said, "to see what this band will do. If nothing happens, I'll go back to school."

Michael remembers how frightened he was to present this scenario to his parents. He knew how hard they had worked and how much they had sacrificed to raise the money to put their three children through college, and he feared that his decision to go out on the road with a new band seemed like a pipe dream. He also remembers that their response was "instantly, incredibly supportive."

"They were almost Buddhist in their reaction, so in the moment," he recalls. "They said, 'Pursue your dream; see where this goes. If you have to go back to school, you can go back to school.'"

So it began. From 1981, when they released their first single, to 2011, when they disbanded, R.E.M. was one of the biggest bands in the world. They sold tens of millions of records and won many awards: two Billboard Music Awards, two Brit Awards, numerous MTV awards, and three Grammys (out of fourteen nominations). In 2007 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Marianne and John loved going to R.E.M. shows and joined them on their last European tour, traveling to festivals and arenas on tour buses with the band. This rock mom loved everything about it. She walked from tent to tent at the festivals to hear new bands as well as headliners. She fearlessly went out front when R.E.M. took the stage so she could absorb the full experience, feel the crowd's excitement. Later she would find her safe, comfortable backstage spot.

The Athens Steeple

Virginia & Marianne

From these vantage points she gained a true appreciation for her son's gift as a front man. "He's a Southern gentleman," she says. He is genuine in acknowledging that if it weren't for those audiences, he wouldn't have the benefits his amazing success has brought him. She also realized how hard everyone worked onstage and off. To a casual fan it might appear as though a few hours onstage is an easy day's work. To those who understand the stresses of travel, the long periods of preparation, the grueling schedules, and the unending demands of the press and the public, it is clearly exhausting.

Michael was not surprised by the joy his mother experienced on their European bus tour. He describes her as "vivacious, very alive—a thrilling person to listen to, talk to, bounce ideas off." And he loves that she has always been curious and incredibly interested in the world around her, always learning and growing beyond the ideas of the generation she inhabits.

He always felt supported, understood, deeply loved. He wrote an untitled song for his parents that's about their staying up late to watch him on TV performing somewhere halfway around the world. He described it as being "like a beautiful little prayer":

I've seen the world and so awake

(Keep him strong)

And stay up late to hear me sing

Just hold her

I've seen the world and so awake

(Keep him strong)

And stay up late to hear me sing

Just hold him

Marianne is touched by other R.E.M. songs, too, including "Leaving New York," "Find the River," and "Everybody Hurts."

John Stipe passed away in 2015, about eight months after I visited Athens. Before he became ill he had finished a series of horticulture classes and encouraged his wife to go through the Master Gardener program, an intensive four-month course. They became committed organic gardeners and spent many hours together defying the stubborn red Georgia clay and producing great harvests of vegetables and flowers.

When I visited them, a Southern-style Thanksgiving feast for twenty-five was being planned. Black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, greens, and corn pudding would accompany the turkey. "Michael always brings kale and chooses the best cheeses," Marianne said. Perhaps they would recall their greatest food memories, like cooking with Mario Batali on a trip to Venice. Michael's friendship with the famous chef resulted in a Mario-Marianne bond when she helped him prepare tortellini. Now she regularly sends Batali jars of her homemade pear relish, made from a recipe that's been passed down in her family for a hundred years, and she sees him on her trips to New York.

When R.E.M. disbanded Michael began to explore other aspects of his creativity. He made large bronze animal sculptures and revived his long-held interest in photography, a passion he shared with his father. He is currently working on a video installation for an exhibition planned for 2017 as well as on a book of photographs that he says is somewhat autobiographical. He feels "a compulsion, a need" to create; he believes that is the way of the artist. The woman who many years ago inspired him to take this path, Patti Smith, is now a close friend, one whom he still finds "astonishing."

Before I left Marianne and their warm, comfortable home, she and I talked about an event that brought both our sons together, the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. She had been proud and I had been moved by Michael's quiet eloquence in the induction speech he gave for Nirvana. He spoke of the band's "indelible legacy," describing it as "capturing lightning in a bottle." He elaborated on Nirvana's importance to their particular time in history "by acknowledging the political machinations of petty, but broad-reaching political arguments, movements, and positions that held us culturally back. Nirvana blasted through all that with crystalline rage and fury." In a somber aside, he made special note of "that voice, that voice. Kurt, we miss you."

It was honest, poetic, moving, philosophical, beautifully true.



  • "In From Cradle to Stage, Grohl proves that the most interesting thing about rock moms is not their children - it's a culmination of the decisions they've made as mothers: the sacrifices, boundless support and trust that granted their children the freedom to pursue their dreams."—LA Weekly
  • "From Cradle to Stage finds Grohl interviewing the mothers of 18 music stars, shedding light on what it's like to raise a creative child who becomes a star, as well as sharing elements of their own stories."—New York Post

On Sale
Apr 18, 2017
Page Count
240 pages
Seal Press

Virginia Hanlon Grohl

About the Author

Virginia Grohl is a longtime educator and writer. She is also the mother of Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana.

Learn more about this author