Pale arms outstretched, offering herself up for crucifixion, or a pie in the face, or a big hug, Courtney Love exclaimed, “Fuck with me, fuck with me. It’s the only thing I like!” The audience members, who had been standing in a snaking, endless line with visions of Trent moshing in their dyed-black dread heads, murmured. A few hoots. A desultory heckle. We were only three songs into Hole’s fist American show since the suicide of Love’s husband, Kurt Cobain, and since the heroin overdose of bassist Kristen Pfaff; the band’s first gig as opening act for Nine Inch Nails’ sold-out, post-Woodstock tour, and already the ride was getting bumpy.
Nobody wanted to play Love’s co-dependent game of “I’m rubber, you’re glue, fuck you.” The few Hole fans — high-school girls huddled together to the right of the mosh pit—were simply awestruck. Everybody else acted like the band’s appearance must be a gesture of mercy. Few seemed familiar with the album Live Through This. And the setting, a concrete outdoor amphitheater in a riverfront development mallplex, only further deadened the atmosphere. There was no moment of silence for Kurt, as there had been at Lollapalooza in Philadelphia. Just silent curiosity as Love sauntered onstage, wearing a black car-coat and carrying a small black handbag. Hole immediately roared into “Beautiful Son,” a punk rant about how Cobain looked great in a dress, and how moms are the biggest starfuckers. Mid-song, Love quit playing guitar and took off her coat with a flourish, revealing a gray, clingy top, gray minidress, and gray stockings that stopped mid-thigh. The band lurched a bit, but her voice quickly regained its raging wail and the high-school girls pogoed madly.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a promising opening to a sordidly sad B-movie. After the feedback subsided, Love nervously blurted out, “You know, I punched a guy on the plane.” The crowd tittered, confused. Love wandered away from the mike. “Miss World” was a tentative, raggedy mess, and when she changed the coda from, “I am the girl you know / Can’t look you in the eye” to “I am the girl you want / So sick that I’ll just die,” it was obvious that she was not just nerve-wracked, but wracked in general. Playing so little that the soundman eventually turned her down and cranked up impassive guitarist Eric Erlandson, Love looked totally lost. She frantically took off her stockings during “Jennifer’s Body,” and after “Asking for It,” cried out pitifully, “Where are my boots?” With neither Erlandson nor new bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, a timid 22-year-old from Montreal, able to take up the slack, Hole came off like a skinny-tie bar band fronted by Nancy Spungen.
The crowd got increasingly impatient, but Love staggered on. “So, you guys wanna talk to me for awhile? Trent’ll be out here in a minute with his black rubber, so why don’t you guys just talk to me, go ahead.” Waiting for a tragicomic rimshot, she added, “How many of you have read Valley of the Dolls?” A guy yelled, “I wanna fuck you, Courtney!” She shot back, “I wanna fuck you, too, but only if you’re a water sign.” The band jerked into “Gutless,” with Love barely struggling through the first verse before the chorus overran her. Then, without a word, she put down her guitar, yanked up her top, and began to pose in her black bra. As the crowd looked on, stunned, she tore off the bra, thrust out her chest, and slurred, “Now you know why I get all the guys, you fucking shitbags.” The Trent teens were too flabbergasted to catcall. And there she stood, for what seemed like an eternity—a voluptuous car wreck, a pathetic fuck-doll, a body to die for. It was like watching your sister strip for a stag party. From then on, the show was a long, painful non sequitur. “I just got offered the Guess? jeans campaign…That’s so retarded, those stupid pants.” Later, as if gazing at the ghost of Kurt hovering above the audience, she said: “I give you a morning blow job, I make your fucking breakfast, so leave me alone.”
As “Softer, Softest” fell apart, she reverted almost completely to her stripper days, sticking out her belly and writhing in spazzy circles. Threatening to play Echo & the Bunnymen covers, she cracked, “So, do you guys think Trent is a top or a bottom?” During “Doll Parts,” after moaning, “He only loves those things because he loves to see me break” (instead of “them”), she wobbled back from the mike almost punch-drunk. It was horrific and mesmerizing. By this time, the band had bailed, and Love was alone, strumming slower and slower, singing “Someday you will ache like I ache,” again and again, her voice a faint sob. Roadies milled around. She finally took off the guitar, stumbled over to a huge speaker, and leaned into it like she was about to pass out. Then, while being led off by an assistant, she stepped back, pulled up her top one last time, and flipped us off with both hands. A guy with a video camera zoomed in. A kid near me yelled, “That’s why they call you a whore!” His friends, girls and guys, giggled sheepishly.
If you cared at all, it was devastating. And there was nobody with whom to share your dismay, just a lot of oblivious zitfaces waiting around for Nine Inch Nails to erase Love’s tits and pathos with their precisely packaged anguish. I thought about what I’d say to her if I had the gall to get angry. Melodramatic junk like: Jesus, Courtney! What? What?! Do you want us to feel every single fucking wince of your pain on every single fucking song to the point where we don’t even remember which song is which anymore? Do you want us to have nightmares about pulling you off ledges weeping and naked, and staring into your eyes and seeing our own? Do you want all your reviews to read like half-assed scripts for a punk-rock A Star Is Born? Is too much sadness never enough?
But melodrama is a luxury most of us don’t have. And besides, maybe we do want Love to stick her ring finger in our mouths so we can suck her dry. I hope there’s more to it than that. But right now I’m not so sure.