I am ashamed to admit it, but I have yet to fully read one of Anne-Marie Oomen’s memoirs or books of poetry, even though I own two of her books (signed) and have attended a couple of her writing sessions (one for teachers and other, this past spring, open to the general public), as well as a reading from her latest book, As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’ve only read and heard snippets of her work … so far.
What I’ve read and heard thus far is wonderful, and knowing the topics/subjects/genre included in many of her books, I know that I will love them. How could I not purchase a book titled Love, Sex, and 4-H? Then there is As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I can’t wait to read it. The passages that she read during her author event, along with the anecdotes she shared about herself, her mom, and writing the book, definitely left me hooked.
What I really want to discuss today is her capacity as a teacher. Just over a month prior to the shutdown orders signaling the official start of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long writing program aimed at teachers. Titled “Homecoming: Coming Home,” it was sponsored by the Saginaw Bay Writing Project. Anne-Marie Oomen happened to be one of the presenters that morning.
During her allotted time, she taught us the term ekphrasis – a method of using different works of art to create various forms of writing, whether poetry, personal essay, or short story. Imagine studying a painting and then creating a poem from your experience. That is ekphrasis.
After explaining the process and providing us with examples of her own work, Anne-Marie Oomen had us create our own art inspired piece. She brought with her a large collection of postcards. I chose one with a portrait of Annie Oakley on the front, “little sure-shot.” I enjoyed the experience and still have a digital copy of her presentation from that day. I left realizing that I could easily create vision boards on Pinterest to gather my thoughts and ideas for various writing projects.
As wonderful as that experience was, a few months ago I learned that Anne-Marie Oomen was to be a guest scholar at Saginaw Valley State University. During that time, she conducted a similar writing session open to the general public at the Marshall Fredericks Museum on SVSU’s campus. I am so glad that I attended. It made me look at one of my favorite museums in an entirely different light. I left with a notebook full of ideas and even a rough draft. The following evening, Anne-Marie Oomen held a reading at the Wirt Public Library in Bay City, sharing snippets from As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’m so glad that I attended as I brought back so many memories of the short few months I had living with Grandma Reid before she needed more care than I could provide. It is never easy watching someone you love age and decline.
I took something away from each of Anne-Marie Oomen’s events. On top of sharing her love and knowledge of writing, she is a wonderful teacher. Better yet … she is a Michigan author willing to help aspiring writers and teachers.
Growing up, I always wanted to live through a historic event. Unfortunately, little did I know what life had in store for me. Now in my early 40s, I am amazed when I stop to think about what historic events I have lived through already – and how different the world is from when I grew up. I vividly remember the Cold War; the fall of the Berlin Wall; both the first and second Gulf Wars; September 11th, 2001; the War in Afghanistan; and of course, the COVID 19 pandemic.
A year after September 11th, 2001, that somber anniversary inspired me to write about my experiences on that fateful day. That entire morning is etched in my memory. At the time, I had just started my semester studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador a couple of weeks before. I was still learning my routine and adjusting to my new host family. September 11th colored that entire experience as there was no way it could not. While I didn’t write much for the 9/11 digital archive, what I did write sets the scene and provides a glimpse into what US exchange students were dealing with all over the world. My full story can be found at The September 11 Digital Archive, story6757.xml.
This past spring, a conversation with a fellow writer made me realize that I could do the same with my experiences throughout the pandemic. I found a place to archive all of my writing relating to the pandemic, past and future – A Journal of a Plague Year. I may include some videos I have from that time frame as well. It may become a cool little side project. I’m definitely looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll be able to finally put all that the pandemic disturbed and disrupted behind me.
There are SO many things that stand out. That first awful week of the shutdown during which I had to go to school, alone, and pack up all of my 6th graders belongings (pictured below). The conversation that I had with Norma and Ashley as school dismissed that awful Friday, March 13th of Lent, not realizing that we would not see each other in person for months, will always be remembered.
That weekend, my mom had had several old high school friends over for a get-together. The venue changed from a friend’s house to my mom’s in order to limit contact with her friend’s disabled and susceptible son. All so very strange and new. Keep in mind that this is just before the stay at home order was issued for Michigan.
After I learned that we would not be going back to school the following Monday, I just packed clothes and headed to my parents’ house. I didn’t know what else to do. I would stay there with them well into May/June. What I remember most is that I happened to catch some of my mom’s friends, some of my favorite people, before they left. It would be the last time I would see them for several months.
I could easily keep going. The spring of 2020 also represented the end of my first full year of teaching, my first 6th grade class. Definitely not the way I wanted to start off my teaching career. Personally, I believe the education system is still reeling from the shutdown. Students and teachers are still trying to pick up the pieces.
This is just a glimpse of what I plan to share and document. I hope that I inspire others to do the same.
“All Things Must Pass” is a documentary that covers the rise and fall of Tower Records during the second half of the 20th century and the first few years of the 21st. What I love about the documentary is the fact that I experienced a lot of changes that took place in the record industry, particularly in the record stores, during those years. As a businesswoman, I loved the discussion surrounding the birth and death of Tower Records’ business model. At the end of the documentary, I left thinking what a great case study it would make.
I can just imagine the beginnings. Supposedly Tower Records started as Tower Drugs. After World War II, leading into the 1950s, Tower Drugs began carrying 45s in an effort to tempt their teenage customers hanging out at the soda fountain. As the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of entrepreneurs who owned a pharmacy in Marshall, Michigan during this same time period, I can picture it.
In fact, my maternal grandparents met at Peck’s Drugstore in Marshall. My grandfather’s parents were partners in the business, and at the time, before graduating from high school and enlisting in the US Navy during World War II, Grandpa worked there as a soda jerk. Grandma, who attended then nearby Marshall High School, loved their lemon Cokes. I’ve visited Marshall and located the corner where Peck Drugs once stood. Marshall Junior High School, once Marshall High School, is located right across the street. Even though my grandparents were gone by that time, I could easily envision the circumstances under which they met.
This burgeoning teenage culture in the 40s and 50s led to rock and roll and the astronomical growth of the record industry from the 40s through the end of the century. I happen to be just old enough to have witnessed the heights of the 1980s, the changes experienced all throughout the 1990s, and the chaos that followed in the first decade of the 21st century.
I lived it. Madonna and Michael Jackson’s reign as Queen and King of pop were a huge part of my childhood, as were Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Wilson Phillips, Paula Abdoul, and so many others. As grunge exploded in the 1990s, the music industry fractured in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and the advent of the internet. The music industry wasn’t nearly as tightly controlled as it once was and formats were changing yet again.
As a teenager, I understood the frustration. During the early part of my childhood, vinyl and cassette tapes dominated. Before long, CDs took over. WIth each new format, some felt the need to repurchase their music collection yet again. However, by the late 90s, people had had enough. During that time, I remember the anger that the equivalent of the 45 didn’t really exist in the CD format. You might be able to purchase singles, but they were never the hit songs. In essence, the record industry reached a point where they were pricing teenagers out of the market. Full CD albums during that time period usually ranged from $15-$20, depending on the artist and popularity. Today, I spend $8.99 a month for Amazon Music, which includes electronic access to whatever is available via Amazon Music – i.e. pretty much anything and everything.
The sad thing is that rural teenagers in the 90s, like me, mostly had access to the big box music retailers of the time, such as the behemoth Tower Records – or the CD clubs of the era, Columbia House and BMG Music. Oh, how I wished there were used record stores near me! When I arrived on campus at Michigan State in 1999, my friends and I made regular visits to The Wazoo, a mom and pop used record/CD store run by an old hippie who truly loved music, or WhereHouse Records, another great used music store. We could get an entire pile of albums for the price of one new release.
This atmosphere and the business model became a recipe for disaster. Enter the file sharing frenzy that took place in the early aughts. Napster and Limewire were king at this time. Why purchase music at all when you could download your favorite songs for free from a friend of a friend of a friend? While it wasn’t that simple – mislabeling ran rampant and download times could be excessive – it worked well enough. If anyone had actually been prosecuted for downloading music illegally, our judicial justice system would have quickly collapsed. Colleges, universities, and even many high schools would have been empty with students rotting in jail instead of receiving an education. That may be hyperbole, but not by much.
In the end, it could not last. Businesses such as Tower Records, so heavily dependent upon real estate and inventory, could not survive once people refused to repurchase their music collection yet again, pay full price for CD albums with only a handful of well-known songs (if lucky), downloaded whatever pirated music they wished via Napster and LimeWire. The electronic music market, now dominated by Amazon and Spotify, had not yet come into its own. Today, Tower Records lives on in Japan, a testament to its homegrown slogan – “No Music. No Life.”
“All Things Must Pass” is entertaining if you are interested in music and the history of the music business at all. It brought back a lot of memories for me, and frankly, I feel for teens today who do not have the experience of spending time in stores dedicated solely to music. Creating a Spotify or Amazon Music playlist just isn’t the same. The title “All Things Must Pass” comes from the sign a former Tower Records employee put on their sign as their original store was closing. “All Things Must Pass … Thanks Sacramento.” It is, of course, also the name of George Harrison’s triple solo album and hit, “All Things Must Pass.”
Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976) (Video)(Lyrics)
(Written May 7, 2023)
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’ …” (Gordon Lightfoot 1976)
There is probably no more iconic opening lyric in modern music history. Sadly, Gordon Lightfoot died on May 1st, 2023 at age 84. In capturing the story of the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald in song, he immortalized the iron ore carrier, its crew, and its disputed demise for generations to come. In a sense, it has become an elegy for all those lost on the Great Lakes over the centuries.
Growing up in Michigan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, we learned about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald through Lightfoot’s lyrics. Personally, I’ve been fascinated ever since. It is easy to see why so many are still drawn to the story. First, it is a fairly “modern” shipwreck. The Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. They had enough lifeboats, modern radar, and radio communication. In fact, Captain McSorley’s last radio communication with a nearby ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, was “we are holding our own.” That chilling fact alone sends my imagination reeling.
Next, there are lingering questions as to exactly how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. Some say that she ran aground on SIx Fathoms Shoal, while others believe that the hatchways were not properly secured. Then, there are those who believe one of the Three SIsters – a reference to gigantic waves developing on Lake Superior in the wake of incredible fall storms – doomed the ship.
In fact, the subject of the Edmund Fitzgerald still garners a lot of local interest in Michigan. In September 2022, former reporter and Edmund Fitzgerald researcher Ric Mixter presented information on the wreck at the old court house in Omer. I happened to attend his presentation, and for such a small community, there was standing room only. Ric Mixter, a former reporter for local WNEM TV5, went on to present in Bay City and other nearby communities as well. What’s great about his presentation is the depth of his research, his respect for those who died in the tragedy, and his obvious love for the subject matter. He lets his audience decide for themselves the ultimate cause of the wreck. After I attended Ric Mixter’s presentation, I compiled some of his resources in the post All Things Michigan.
Finally, Gordon Lightfoot’s master songwriting draws one into the tragedy. WIth lyrics like “ice water mansion” and “Does anyone know where the love of God goes,When the waves turn the minutes to hours?,” it becomes a timeless folk song dedicated to the power of the Great Lakes. By telling the story in a basic timeline format, he immortalizes the old cook and Captain McSorley, along with the rest of the crew, for all time. I can’t think of a better tribute to the 29 men that lost their lives that fateful November day. It is one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard and fully deserves its rightful place in the history of timeless American folk songs.
Well, how can I fully explain last week? Last Thursday, I took my last final exam ever – unless, of course, someone wants to pay for a graduate degree program or PhD. Frankly, it is amazing. I attended Michigan State from 1999-2004 – and then Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University to obtain my teaching certificate (2014-2016). When I started my teaching career, I almost immediately decided that I wanted to add an English endorsement to my social studies and Spanish secondary endorsements. Back to school I went from 2019, class by class and in the middle of a pandemic, until last week. I am done. Now that my grade is finalized, I will finally be able to add the English endorsement (secondary) to my teaching certificate. In fact, I already applied to have it added.
So, what’s next? Well, after this summer, I am not entirely sure. We will see where things take me come fall. I have several ideas. For now, I am in the midst of getting the canoe livery ready for the summer. Starting May 15th, I will be working there full-time once again. I’ve actually been taking reservations at home all winter. People are eager to get out on the river! As I say so many times, we have the best customers. I love thinking about how many memories have been made at our campgrounds and on the RIfle River over the decades.
RIght now, I couldn’t be in a better place. I wrapped up so many loose ends over the last academic year and did exactly what I set out to do. I have so many great options in front of me. I finally feel ready to move on. Stay tuned!
WordPress, which I love, has a new feature that provides a writing prompt each day. One that caught my attention was “what makes someone unique?” The idea of individuality – ie uniqueness – gets right at the heart of what it means to be human. Sadly, there are times when our individuality sets us apart from the rest of society due to no fault of our own.
When do we learn in elementary school that the “other” is not OK? I’d love to think that things have changed since I was bullied in early elementary school due to my appearance, mostly height and weight, but I’m not that naive. I’ve watched in recent years as various school districts have tried to address the root of bullying with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, it all starts at home. Children need to learn from a young age that we are all different. We all have different talents and ambitions, as well as strengths and weaknesses. All of us – all eight billion people on Earth – face challenges at different stages in life.
There are certain things that a person may experience in life that no one will fully understand unless they have been through it – or something similar. For example, unless you have lost a parent or a child, it is impossible to truly understand that level of grief. It is similar when dealing with infertility. Unless you are affected, it is impossible to imagine the depth to which it alters one’s life.
Aside from all that sets us apart from one another, including our challenges, there are interests. My interests are vastly different from that of my siblings or parents. I’m used to it, and over the years, I’ve developed those interests through various opportunities and friendships, both in real life and online.
If I had one wish for students today, it would be for them to have all the resources necessary to first find their interests and then have the ability and support to pursue them further. How many people have stopped doing something they enjoy simply because someone discouraged them, saying they had no talent? I see and hear about it all of the time. It saddens and sickens me. We should be encouraging healthy interests, as well as providing students outlets to develop them. For example, a student who enjoys art should be encouraged to pursue that interest as much as possible, even if there is no interest in making art a career.It comes down to expectations. At times, we focus so much on making ends meet that we need to make a life. We need to teach students that there is so much more to life than material things. It is more than OK to be yourself. You need to be your authentic self.
Below are my thoughts after one year teaching through the pandemic. As a writing exercise, we were asked as teachers what we had learned through the experience. In my opinion, two years later, it sill holds up and summarizes nicely how I felt and continue to feel. Originally published on the Saginaw Bay Writing Project (SBWP) website, you can find a link to the original piece below. I’ve only corrected minor errors here.
What did I learn about myself as a teacher over the past year? First, I clearly understood just how fragile our everyday lives are – students, teachers, and administrators alike. Most people seem to have underestimated the power of their daily routine, their “normal.” I certainly did. Second, I learned just how much I continue to not know. I am still learning how to teach effectively online. Finally, I learned how to focus on what truly matters.
As 2019-2020 was my first full-year teaching, I continue to feel robbed. Plans for March is Reading Month, field trips, and so much more – all gone. Memories with my first 6th grade class never made. The little things still haunt me. I am a big believer in class read-alouds, and when we shut down for the school year in March 2020, I was in the middle of the first Percy Jackson book: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My 6th graders adored the book, and I still regret the fact that I was unable to finish the book with them in-person – or continue the series.
If I still feel this way a year later, I can only imagine how my middle school students felt and continue to feel. There appears to be little to no concern regarding the impact prolonged shutdowns can have on emotional, social, and academic well-being. It just doesn’t seem to matter to anyone. Somewhere along the way, we lost our humanity. We, educators and students alike, are not alright.
As we entered the Lenten season this year, memories of last year came flooding back. On Friday, March 13th, 2020, as I participated in the Stations of the Cross with my students, we learned that we would not be coming back to school. Little did we know that we would not finish the year. The uncertainty, the miscommunication, and the worry will always stay with me. At the time, no one had any answers, only an endless list of questions.
During the lockdown, I worried about every single one of my students. Would they fall behind? How would they survive without seeing friends on a daily basis – or ever? I also learned what I didn’t know. No one taught me how to teach online. Yet, that is exactly what I did. I was not prepared last spring. When my class was quarantined this fall, I was still not fully prepared. Only now, in a virtual week built in after spring break, am I now beginning to feel as though I can somehow teach online. It took over a year.
I can’t imagine trying to navigate it all without faith. When I talk about faith, yes, I am referencing a higher power, but I am also referring to a general faith that everything will work out in the end. No matter where we are today as educators and students, there is hope for tomorrow. All hope is not lost. We can and should do better. We will. If given the choice between faith and fear, I choose faith.
Sometimes I question whether or not Dad realizes what an example he set for his children – or at least me, as I can’t speak for my brother or sister. He, along with my mom, spent the last nearly 46 years owning and operating Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds, Inc. and are still actively involved in the business. They purchased the canoe livery from my paternal grandmother, Judy Reid, in June 1977, a few months prior to their wedding. Growing up in and with the business, I saw firsthand what my parents and grandparents did to grow the business, including the sacrifices they made.
As a child, whenever anyone asked what my dad did for a living, my response of “he owns a campground and canoe livery” fascinated many. As the canoe livery developed, Dad focused on creating a business that not only worked around our family life – it complimented my mom’s teaching career and our school schedules well. It also allowed him to pursue his hobbies of hunting and fishing in a way impossible for most people.
I admit it: I know more about hunting and fishing than any non-hunter, non-fisherwoman I know. All thanks to Dad. I grew up feeding Beagle hunting dogs used for rabbit hunting; with various mounts in our basement; and learning what a Pope and Young record meant, once my dad killed a Canadian black bear with a bow and arrow. That bear now infamously resides in our main office/store in Omer, a legend in his own right.
As a young child, when I asked Dad why he hunted deer, he took the time to give me the full, true explanation. At six years old, he explained how deer hunting helps control the deer population in Michigan. If they weren’t hunted, there would be many more car/deer accidents, and they could become over-populated, causing starvation and disease. I have never forgotten that lesson. Even though I am no hunter myself, I have no issue with it – as long as rules are followed and as much of the animal is used as possible.
What I admire most about my dad is how he was able to create a life for himself in which he prioritized what he wanted out of life – and it wasn’t money – it was about lifestyle. Even though he didn’t directly use his degree in wildlife biology in his career – he didn’t become a conservation officer – that knowledge allowed him to more fully understand what was needed to become a better hunter and fisherman. Dad’s passion for his hobbies, even today in his 70s, still inspires me.
What I’ve long realized is that I am just as passionate about reading and writing. He may not see it or recognize the correlation, but I do. It is the reason why I earned my writing certificate from Delta College, took additional humanities courses when possible, joined Mid Michigan Writers, attended several writing workshops, and so much more. Everyone should be so lucky. I am never bored. I am eternally grateful that my dad was able to find a way to make it all work and set an example for me to follow. Per usual, I’m just doing things the “hard” way. I will get there … eventually.
On Friday evening March 31st, 2023, I joined scores of others to attend “Madonna 40” at the Delta College Planetarium. A sold out show, it was incredible – and a lot of fun! Designed to honor Madonna’s 40th anniversary of her first hit single “Holiday” and her always controversial place in Bay City history, it did not disappoint. My only wish: I would have thoroughly enjoyed another hour of her classic music videos and would have gladly paid accordingly. There is nothing quite like watching the music videos that made Madonna a superstar and an inspiration to a generation of girls and women, for better or worse, on the big screen. It is an experience I will never forget. Her early music will always be a part of the soundtrack to my early childhood memories. In designing the program, the following original, unedited music videos were shown in all of their ‘80s and early ‘90s glory:
Frankly, the music video portion of the program outshone everything else. The videos have held up over nearly four decades. What struck me most in the vintage videos was Madonna herself. Definitely not model thin or “fat,” she exuded old-school glamor in “Material Girl,” “Vogue,” and “Like A Prayer” with the dance moves that made her famous. As for “Papa Don’t Preach,” she looks like any fresh-faced midwestern high school or college girl.
Personally, I felt that the organizers/designers missed a huge opportunity by not including at least the videos for both “Promise to Try” (1989), which was largely filmed at her mother’s gravesite in Kawkawlin, Michigan (just north of Bay City), and “This Used to Be My Playground” (1992), which was included on the A League of Their Own soundtrack and supposedly written about Bay City becoming her refuge after her mother’s untimely death. The only actual footage of Madonna in or near Bay City was not included in the program. How?
The next segment of the program, “Smelly Little Town,” is originally why I wanted to attend the event and even moved around my schedule to do so. Debuting as part of the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Bay City in 2021, I doubted I would ever have another opportunity to see it. Growing up with the controversy, knowing Bay City a little too well, and having been born in Bay City myself, I had to check it out.
First and foremost, it is quite possibly the most Bay City thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Let me just say this: It began and ended with scenes of people polka dancing at the St. Stan’s Polish festival to the Steve Drzewicki Band, both Bay City institutions. I half expected to see my ex’s parents go dancing on by. In general, the film did a decent job describing Bay City, covering all aspects of the “smelly little town” controversy with Madonna, and explaining how ever-corrupt Bay City small town politics is the answer as to why Bay City has never really been able to capitalize on the fact that it is the birthplace of Madonna.
For those who don’t know, Madonna Louise Ciccone was born at the former Mercy Hospital in Bay City, Michigan on August 16th, 1958. Madonna is her actual given name as she was named after her mother. Upon her mother’s tragic death in 1963, Madonna spent time in Bay City with her grandmother, who lived in the Banks area, then home to a nearby oil refinery (hence the “smelly little town” comment that caused such an uproar). To this day, there is very little commemorating Madonna in Bay City. Then again, this is the same city that passed on becoming home to a casino and a minor league ballpark, both of which went to nearby communities.
If something wonderful is planning on coming to Bay City, one can be sure that public outrage will ensue in some way, shape, or form. I am speaking from experience. When I moved back to Michigan with my ex, a Bay City native, in 2005, the controversy over the then new Wirt Public Library – a gorgeous new anchor for downtown Bay City – had yet to wane. While I agree it doesn’t have the history of the historic Sage Library in Bay City, people were genuinely upset over a beautiful new library downtown. I will never understand the mentality.
Then again, back in 2005, Michigan experienced a one-state recession which was about to turn into the Great Recession. 2008 is covered well in the documentary. It is rightfully called one of the darkest times in Bay City history, and frankly, I consider my life in Bay City (2005-2012) one of the darkest periods in my life as well. Yet, while Bay City is almost unrecognizable from that dark hour, there is still nothing formal honoring Madonna in the city.
As much as I wanted to see “Smelly Little Town,” I doubt it would have been half as entertaining if not for my own experiences with Bay City and my early love of Madonna’s music. In fact, much of it is forgettable. However, it did a good job highlighting the ridiculousness of the entire situation and Bay City politics. I actually understand the controversy now. A little explanation and context behind Madonna’s comments would have changed everything. In the same infamous 1985 interview with Jane Pauly, Madonna goes on to say that she has “great affection” for Bay City.
By the way, Bay City still is a “smelly little town.” In a hilarious coincidence, I happened to drive by the Michigan Sugar plant on Friday on my way to see “Madonna 40.” For those who don’t know, processing sugar beets can smell like hot garbage on a good day. Friday, as I drove by, it never smelled worse.
Clearly, Madonna’s relationship with Bay City remains complicated. I fully understand why. My love/hate relationship with Madonna – I will always love Madonna’s music, but question her methods of self-promotion – mirrors my love/hate relationship with Bay City itself. I do hope that she is commemorated in Bay City at some point. Not every small town can claim to be the birthplace of the best-selling female musical artist of all time.
By the way, if you want a quick, accurate outline of Madonna’s complex history with Bay City, the article below does a wonderful job of doing just that.
I admit, it took me a little longer than usual to get throughStoryteller: Stories of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Considering his current stature in the world of pop rock/alternative, whatever you want to call it, as a drummer, his humble nature shines through. It all started with his pure love of pop rock, namely the Beatles, moving on to the punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s, and making it big with Nirvana and grunge. Today, it seems as though Dave Grohl has settled in as drummer and girl dad extraordinaire. If planning on reading the book, I highly recommend the audiobook version as he reads his own memoir. There is nothing quite like hearing about Nirvana’s early days and the danger of their exploding fan base from the drummer himself. Then there are the well-placed expletives in his internal monologue as he meets his musical heroes and juggles world tours with daddy-daughter dances and musical projects with Joan Jett.
There is so much that stands out that it is hard to know where to even begin. First, the unwavering support of his teacher mother is undoubtedly one of several keys to his success. She supported – or put with – his love of music and his decision to drop out of high school in order to tour the United States with a band. Dave’s description of his discovery of punk rock at the hands of a formerly “preppy” family friend is memorable, as is his realization that she was in a punk band herself. It sets the stage for what is to come.
His description of his life between dropping out of high school and eventually joining Nirvana is as hazy and transient as his life at that time. It’s great and easy to imagine. Opportunities to fill in and drum with his idols Iggy Pop and Tom Petty standout as it is clear that Dave was as star-struck as can be at the time.
Frankly, the section in Seattle with Nirvana is just sad as we all know how it ended. Dave’s descriptions of Nirvana’s meteoric rise to infamy is gut-wrenching to read and full of danger. He describes in spectacular detail playing venues far too small for how big Nirvana had grown in such a short amount of time thanks to MTV and “Smells like Teen Spirit.” After Kurt Cobain’s death, Dave understandably took some time to process everything and ground himself once again.
Given the timeline, it appears that Dave developed Foo Fighters and started his family at roughly the same time, both growing together. For me, the best part of the book involves Dave’s descriptions of juggling life with his three daughters and superstardom. Stories involve things such as Paul McCartney giving his eldest daughter her first piano lesson and Joan Jett reading his daughters bedtime stories.
The Joan Jett story is one of my favorites. It starts with Dave in the Barbie aisle helping his daughters pick out a doll and coming across a Joan Jett doll. His girls didn’t realize that Joan Jett was a real person. Soon, Joan herself was over to their house working on some musical project with Dave, when his oldest daughter asked her if she would read them a bedtime story. She did .. in her pjs.
Then there is the story of the daddy-daughter dance. It involves a whirlwind trip to Australia and back to make the dance, the Australian tour itself, and a horrific bout of food poisoning. Yet, he made it and didn’t break his little girls’ hearts.
Above all, it is a series of stories about following your dreams, hard work, fame (or infamy), family, and music. Dave’s descriptions of conversations with his dad are touching in the end. In the beginning, it seemed as though Dave hated his dad due to his conservative politics and his parents’ divorce. While much of Dave’s relationship with his dad remained complicated prior to his fame, it does seem as though they made up in the years before his father passed away. It also appears that Dave took his dad’s financial and career advice.
While I didn’t outline it here, there are plenty of rock star stories from the road in the book as well. They are just as good. Dave appears to have found a balance between his career and family both in the memoir and in real life. If you love music at all or just enjoy memoir, check it out.