The Bookworm: Notes from musical star moms; s’more summer camp adventures

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“From Cradle to Stage”

By Virginia Hanlon Grohl, foreword by Dave Grohl

c. 2017, Seal Press

$27, $35 Canada; 224 pages

“From Cradle to Stage” by Virginia Hanlon Grohl, foreword by Dave Grohl.

“Turn that music down!” Yep, you heard that a time or two during your teen years; it usually meant that one or both of your parents had enough of your tunes, played at high volume. Sometimes it was dad, but mom yelled those words up the stairs just as often. Don’t you wish, as in “From Cradle to Stage” by Virginia Hanlon Grohl, she once said to turn it up?

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When Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters, was a kid, he and his family spent hours together, making memories. Many of those good times included music: listening, harmonizing and going to jazz workshops.

His mother, Virginia Hanlon Grohl, fondly remembers those days and she “often wondered about the mystical force that urges some of us to listen, to play, to sing, to surround ourselves with music.” She wondered about other musical moms, too, so she decided to seek them out.

“From Cradle to Stage” author Virginia Hanlon Grohl.

Michael Stipe from R.E.M. grew up in many places: his dad was in the Army, and Stipe’s mother “learned to live with uncertainty … and anxiety” during his deployments. That included the Cuban Missile Crisis, which she recounts here.

When Dr. Dre was still an infant, Compton burned in the Watts Riots of 1965. It was a frightening sight for his then-teenage mother, who is proud that he “avoided street life, the thug society,” but “was taken aback” by his four-letter-word-loaded songs.

Miranda Lambert grew up helping her parents in their private investigation company. After the business fell on hard times, Lambert’s parents, Bev and Rick, repaid her work by doggedly helping her become a star performer.

The mother of Rush’s lead vocalist, Geddy Lee, is a Holocaust survivor who hoped her son would become a doctor. Kelly Clarkson so loved to write lyrics that she got her mother into legal trouble. Pharrell Williams’ mom has four college degrees. And after a childhood spent with a “selfish, difficult woman,” Amy Winehouse’s mom “vowed … to be everything her mother had not been.”

Nice. That’s about how one could describe “From Cradle to Stage.” It’s just got that nice vibe, like cordially genteel ladies who have afternoon tea, or who make cookies for guests and belong to a coffee klatch.

In many cases, in fact, that’s exactly what it is. Author Virginia Hanlon Grohl says she literally sat down over tea and cookies with many of these women, to discuss their lives and memories of their famous children. The interviews, set between Grohl’s own diary-like “vignettes,” are clean, pleasant, warm and polite, as if they were conducted for a glossy older-women’s magazine. Readers may catch brief insights into the childhood of a favorite star, but nothing untoward.

And that’s nice -- but will it keep readers’ attention?

That will depend on the reader, of course. If you’re looking for something wild, raucous, funny, lively, or scandalous, you’ll be really very disappointed here. But if you’re looking for something that’s pleasantly nice for yourself or for mom, “From Cradle to Stage” is a book you can’t turn down.

“You’re Sending Me Where? Dispatches from Summer Camp”

By Eric Dregni

c. 2017, University of Minnesota Press

$16.95, higher in Canada; 170 pages

“You’re Sending Me Where? Dispatches from Summer Camp” by Eric Dregni

The fork you brought is plenty long. It doesn’t need to reach far. You don’t want to burn the marshmallow; you just want it toasty enough to melt the chocolate between the graham crackers before you wolf down your s’more. It’s a little trick you learned long ago, and in “You’re Sending Me Where? Dispatches from Summer Camp” by Eric Dregni, there are others.

Who would choose summer school over going to camp?

That’s a very good question, and 6-year-old Eric Dregni knew the answer. His mother was surely abandoning him by leaving him at a “comfy” Minnesota day camp, and he made quite the fuss about it.

At the end of the first day, of course, she was there to pick him up and all was well. Actually, it was better than well: he was “transformed … the worst day of my life had become the best one.”

“You’re Sending Me Where? Dispatches from Summer Camp” author Eric Dregni.

“Ever since that first painful day,” he says, “I knew that camp was for me.”

At nine, he learned that hatchets don’t do diddly on rocks, that dishes probably shouldn’t be dropped into the lake for washing, that snipes are harder to catch than people say they are, and that aerosol bug spray can start a dandy (and explosive) fire.

Dregni’s camp counselors learned that nine-year-old boys should never be left alone.

At 13, Dregni became a “pioneer” on a canoe trip without any water. A year after that, he was part of a group in the Boundary Waters, where motor vehicles are forbidden; before the invention of cell phones, he saw by example there that people get hurt camping and that getting lost was a very, very bad idea.

You’d be forgiven if you thought that, after all this adventure, Dregni might be done with camping forever. He wondered, too, until he was asked to be Dean of an Italian summer camp, one of many foreign-language camps in Northern Minnesota .

It was the perfect opportunity: Dregni was much older then, more mature, and he didn’t have a job at the time. Excellent. He’d be in charge of everything. He had to be ready for anything – and “at camp, anything goes.”

I have to admit that the first few chapters of “You’re Sending Me Where?” had me smiling. What you’ll read there is pure nostalgia, meant for a Boomer kid who might remember coming home from a week at camp, covered in skeeter bites, scratches and sunburn.

That stops at the point where author Eric Dregni begins his chapters on the immersion camp. Those memories didn’t resonate quite as well, perhaps because they didn’t seem nearly as universal as the earlier pages. The humor is there, but it feels different and it’s harder to remember who’s who in the narrative because kids had to pick an “Italian name” for their stay. That was cute – but by then, the flavor was lost.

Former Happy Campers may still enjoy this book; just know what you’re getting here. “You’re Sending Me Where?” is fun, but you might not ask for s’more.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.