As Mick Jagger sings, “It’s only rock ’n’ roll but I like it”. For the performers and fans, that’s a given. But how do parents of rock stars feel about the career choice and lifestyle of their offspring? And were there aspects of upbringing which inspired their musical ambition?
As one with considerable experience in this area, Virginia Hanlon Grohl — the mother of Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters front man and ex-Nirvana drummer — decided to find out.
The result is a new book, From Cradle to Stage, in which Grohl relates her own story and those of other mums of music industry titans, running the gamut from Josh Groban to Dr Dre. And Jewish mothers provide some of the more compelling reminiscences.
Take Hester Diamond, whose son Mike D propelled hip-hop into the mainstream — and the tabloids — as one of the hard partying Beastie Boys.
Married at 22 (she became a social worker; husband Harold was a teacher), the Diamonds funded an art collection by negotiating payment plans with artists. Harold went on to become of one of New York’s foremost art dealers and the Diamonds and their three sons lived in an affluent Upper West Side property.
She recalls the young Mike as “a real control freak,” but attributed his frustration to wanting to be as good at things as his brothers, who were four and seven years older. She found him “super bright” with many gifts, but his musical interest came as something of a surprise. Diamond now reflects that her boys’ gravitation towards things she knew nothing about mirrored her own fascination with art, a subject alien to her parents.
Mike was 10 when he asked for drum lessons and an agreement was brokered with neighbours precluding dinner-time practising.
When he said he wanted a career in music, she responded: “That’s just an excuse for not working.” But she went on to become a fan, focusing on the band’s energy and connection with the audience.
In the early days of the Beastie Boys, when gigs were downtown in less salubrious areas, Diamond pleaded with her son to take taxis rather than use the subway. “Ma, you don’t understand,” he told her reassuringly. “The Hells Angels are scared of us!”
Mary Weinrib — mother of Geddy Lee of veteran Canadian rock outfit Rush — exhibits the grounded perspective of an Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen survivor. Born Manya Rubenstein in Poland, she witnessed her father being shot and killed by the SS. In Auschwitz, she began a secret relationship with a young truck driver, Morris Weinrib.
Manya, her mother and sister were among the few survivors of Bergen-Belsen. Morris Weinrib had been transferred to Dachau but returned to search for the love of his life and they married in 1946.
Emigrating to Canada, they found jobs in a sewing workshop, Morris going on to run a profitable discount store in a Toronto suburb. Gary (Geddy) was the middle of their three children. Their house had a kosher kitchen in the basement for Geddy’s grandmother.
The Weinribs’ cosy existence was shattered by Morris’s sudden death in 1965. Mary recalls Geddy comforting her one night after hearing her crying.
“Daddy would want you to go and open the store,” he told her. “Because he made it.”
She learnt the business from scratch and her children, and later grandchildren, often helped out. When she asked the young Geddy how she could repay him for his efforts, he requested a guitar. At 14, he determined that his future lay in music and Rush was formed in the basement of the family home.
Weinrib had wanted her children to become doctors or scientists. It was an emotional day when Geddy’s high-school counsellor told her that, given her son’s commitment to the band, he could not excel in both music and academia. She did not speak to Geddy for weeks.
She only truly appreciated his talent — and appearance — when she began attending Rush gigs. “He and his long hair belonged on that stage.”
In 2014, Geddy accepted an honorary PhD from Nipissing University in Ontario. “Finally, my mother’s dream comes true,” he said in his acceptance speech. “She has a doctor for a son. Oi vey!”
Grohl also interviews Donna Haim, mother of Este, Danielle and Alana, better known as LA popsters, Haim. Unlike the other mums, Donna Haim has a genuine musical background. She loved playing guitar and writing songs in her native Philadelphia. The support her parents gave her was replicated with her own brood.
The girls also have a musical father, Moti, whose IDF service was spent in the army band, and the couple lived for a time in Israel. So music of all descriptions was a feature of the Haim girls’ upbringing and parents and daughters even performed together as Rockinhaim.
Donna and Moti still travel with Haim as much as their real-estate business commitments allow.
“It’s hard to have all your kids out on the road, but at least they’re together,” she reasons. “They’re like a wolf pack, watching out for each other. That’s how they were raised.”
Although the interview subjects are predominantly North American, the book includes Janis Winehouse, mother of Amy. She tells the story of Amy’s tragic final years. On the night before she died, Amy told her mother that she loved her.
‘From Cradle to Stage’ is published by Hodder & Stoughton