This cover story originally appeared in the October 1998 issue of Spin. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Hole’s Celebrity Skin—originally released September 8, 1998—we are republishing it here.
Courtney Love was talking about the Vice President.
“He goes, ‘I’m a really big fan,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, right. Name a song, Al.’ ‘I can’t name a song, I’m just a really big fan.'”
“You said that?”
“Yeah. I went to this big fancy producer’s house. There were about 14 of us invited to dinner with Al Gore. I’m sitting next to this guy who’s like Gore’s Stephanopoulos, and I said, ‘Why am I here?’ Because the only other famous person there was Kevin Costner. He said, ‘We’ve done our research and we want your vote,’ and I was just so proud. There are pictures of it. Edward has them. For some reason I looked really wholesome that night, and when the pictures got developed, it’s like me and Al, and we’re dancing a little and we’re fighting. I was throwing my hands at him. And I brought them up to my mother-in-law at Christmas and framed one for her. I was really impressed, which happens very rarely.”
Love drew another French cigarette out of the pack on the kidney-shape table. Edward was Edward Norton, the actor with whom she’s been linked romantically.
“You’re jaded,” I said.
“No. Yeah. It’s because really early on, living in Los Angeles, when I first hung out with Eric”—Erlandson, Hole’s guitarist—”we’d see a famous person and he’d gawk and I’d say, ‘Eric, that person is no better than you, don’t gawk,’ so in order to catapult to where I wanted us to be we had to deal with people that we really were really impressed by, like Kim [Gordon] and Thurston [Moore, both of Sonic Youth] or Michael Stipe—you have to be able to shut down and afford that person the consideration that their fame and they are very, very separate. I just learned to do that from an early age.”
Love finished the cigarette and got up to go to an alcove, and I heard a blender going, growling through organic vegetables. This was late at night in the greenroom of a recording studio off Times Square in New York City, and she was working on Hole’s new record, Celebrity Skin. She came back out of the alcove wearing a mustache of green-purple juice. It set off the black, fashionable outfit she had put on to meet with movie people that day.
“Madonna was talking to me about responsibility,” she said. “Our responsibilities. And some of what she says I think is a load of hogwash, and some of what she says is true. It’s like a 17-year-old girl comes up to you and tells you that she does drugs because you did drugs. I mean that’s like a heavy negative social responsibility. How do you atone for that?”
“That girl is doing drugs because she wants to,” I said.
Love would have none of this. “I see pictures of how I looked,” she said. “It’s disgusting. I’m ashamed. There’s death and there’s disease and there’s misery and there’s giving up your soul, there’s this creaky old-man phenomenon that happens to you. The human spirit mixed with certain powders is not the person, it’s the demonic presence.
“If you want to go back to Madonna for a moment, a quote from Vanity Fair: ‘She doesn’t have a self-destructive bone in her body.’ Well, I have many”—Love gave a mature, wheezy laugh—”and I’ve broken a bunch. I think self-destructiveness is given a really bad rap. I think that self-destructiveness can also mean self-reflection, can mean poetic sensibility, it can mean an empathy, it can mean a hedonism and a libertarianism and lack of judgment. But when you’re living the fantasy of someone else’s shadow, you’re not light. Everyone’s scared of you, you can’t really make any friends, they want to have a big Hollywood meeting with you just so they can stare at you for ten minutes. You know what I mean?”
She slumped on the couch and lit a cigarette.
This spring and summer, as Hole prepared their third album, Courtney Love was under attack everywhere. The film Kurt and Courtney aired accusations that Love played a role in the 1994 death of her husband, Kurt Cobain, and while even filmmaker Nick Broomfield said he didn’t believe the claims, they were treated seriously in the press. (A book, published by a fringe press but picked up nationwide, actually suggested she was a prime suspect.) The movie tapped into what appeared to be a widespread hatred of Love. She was a Yoko figure, demonized for sucking the lifeblood from Kurt Cobain. Once an icon of uncompromising female rage, she now seemed grasping and shallow, hungering for fame and acceptance as a movie star, putting on designer gowns to attend the Academy Awards and posing for Richard Avedon ads for Versace. Was she anything more than just desperately ambitious? And as for her music, rumor had it that Hole’s long-delayed new record has abandoned the hard crunch of the classic Live Through This for a deracinated California sound.
Could she do anything right? I spent hours with the band and Love through the first half of the year as they finished Celebrity Skin. It was clear what so angered people about Love, but the hostility toward the “New Courtney” was at times smug and self-congratulatory. During the past year, Love has been largely silent (at least for her), and it only seemed fair that she be allowed a full defense.
On a rainy February afternoon, Love came into the Quad Recording Studios in Times Square wearing a Peruvian wool hat down to her eyebrows, beige corduroy jeans with a hole in them, and a chic green sweater. A guy with a video camera was taping her from a tripod set up next to the mixing board. “For posterity,” Love said a little self-consciously as she crashed down on the couch. “Don’t worry, we control the tapes.”
It came up that we’d both lived in Minneapolis, and Love said, “Did you see my picture at the post office?”
“Boyfriend-stealing and starting fires…. I used to move in with people and fuck them because I thought they’d give me their powers. And they did.”
“Weren’t you projecting on them?”
She gave me a funny look. “I was joking,” she said. “You’re so literal—that’s tragic.”
Her yoga teacher had arrived, and Love walked down the narrow hall to meet her. She was a clam smiling woman in a white leotard. Gurmukh. Love apologized for being late.
“What have you been doing?” Gurmukh asked.
“Kissing ass,” Love said.
Later that night, Love, Erlandson, and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur were in the greenroom talking about the record. The posterity guy was back with the video camera. A large man, Love’s voice coach, sat on the black leather couch next to her, hands draped around her head, massaging her sinuses. Drummer Patty Schemel was the only one who wasn’t there. The band argued over the name for the album.
“I love the name Holy War. It’s a mission statement. It’s a statement of such pretense and import. It’s incredibly ambitious, I like it for that,” Love said.
Erlandson held out for Sugar Coma.
“Do you want to live with that 20 years later?” Love asked. “Sugar Coma is so pedestrian—it denotes the end of a cycle. Something deadly. If executives like it, you know it’s bad.”
“What about Best Sunday Dress?” Auf der Maur asked.
“It sound like Kurt Weill,” Love said.
I sat there quietly, burning over the “kissing ass” comment from earlier. And Love had hurt my feelings a second time. Auf der Maur was leafing through a Harper’s Bazaar when I asked Love what it was like to run across people she knew in magazines. “You’re nervous. Don’t ask stupid questions,” she said, and she was right. I was nervous; it was a stupid question.
But the casual flip of her powerful hand across my face in front of everyone was humiliating. As she went on, talking about how she meant the record to be a “masterwork,” I began developing a critique of her in my mind. She was big and queenly. Like all ambitious control freaks, she bent others to her will.
Later, Love was gentler. “Darwinism got me through a hard time,” she said, lolling on the couch. Darwinism could explain drug addiction, Darwinism could explain the chemical of love, Darwinism made Freud look ridiculous.
“Aren’t you being reductive?” I said. “It’s just a lens for looking at stuff. What about astrology as a lens?” (The band enjoyed zodiacal talk.)
“There’s a truth in it, but I sort of stopped after I learned that Harrison Ford and I have the exact same chart,” she said. “We’re like the only two celebrities with double Cancer.”
“Maybe you share qualities.”
“Yeah,” Love said. “He’s a stoic.”
Celebrity Skin doesn’t have the unharnessed anger of Live Through This—nothing as awesome as the moment when Love sang of a betrayer, “Come on, take everything / Take everything, I want you to!” on “Asking For It”—but it has mature complexities, an atmosphere of regret and mistakes and disgust. The songs that stayed with you the longest were the deepest, the most felt, the haunting key and plainly mixed feelings of “Petals” or “Boys on the Radio.” In “Boys on the Radio,” there was undying anger and love and contempt, mythic/poetic images of vanity and self-loathing, all interwoven in a pop melody. “In your endless summer night / I’ll be on the other side / When you’re beautiful and dying / All the world that you’ve denied / When the water is too deep / … I will ease your suffering / …I know that you are rotten to the core / I know that you don’t love me anymore.”
A few nights later, Erlandson was eating take-out Chinese, his long body folded on the floor. Love was watching the Biography Channel and puttering away online. “I’m not pregnant,” she said to the screen, then asked Erlandson to disengage the computer for her. Love is flaky about those sorts of things—keys, money, and so forth.
I asked them why the album took four years.
She said, “Someone dies [Cobain]. Have a child. Someone dies [bassist Kristen Pfaff]. Do a major movie. Oh, by the way, stop putting things into your body that you’ve been putting in for, oh, a decade. Umm, gee, I don’t know, is that four years? I think that’s about four years of your life. I mean it’s pretty obvious. I don’t care about prolific, I want a body of work that is like, everything was good.”
Erlandson said, “That there is so much crap out there people are putting out—I say, write for yourself, record your music for yourself, but don’t put out crap to the public if you know it’s not…”
“Be trustworthy,” Love interrupted. “If my and Harrison Ford’s charts are exactly alike, the one thing about Harrison Ford I can seem to relate to, you put the product out, you kind of know it’s going to have some level of quality to it.”
“We had another record in this four years we could have put out, and it was shit,” Erlandson said.
“It was self-indulgent,”Love said. “It was Plath, it was Sexton, it was shit.”
“Thank God we didn’t. Why torture the world with another crappy record?”
A man came tot he door who was by all appearances Edward Norton and, seeing a reporter, disappeared. Love grabbed Erlandson’s acoustic guitar and went out to the hallway. As she did, the body of the guitar clapped hard against a metal chair.
“Aaah,” Erlandson said, with buffered pain.
When Love came back, the two of them spoke of how they had always wanted Hole to be a mainstream success. “That was our biggest worry back then,” Erlandson said of the band’s start, “that ‘Hole’ [the name] could not be a mainstream band, and we wanted to be popular enough and sell enough records.”
“But also, when we started out, all I really wanted to do is piss everybody off,” Love said.
“I think it’d be great if [Celebrity Skin] pissed a lot of people off,” Erlandson said.
“It won’t piss anybody off,” Love said. “It’s supposed to provoke thought. There’s a good quote. I can only paraphrase it. Ninety-five percent of all popular culture is pornography, 5 percent creates inspiration, new aesthetic, and grace in people. I’d like to be in that 5 percent, using pop.”
Erlandson went into the studio to work, and I brought up Kurt Cobain. My reading of Celebrity Skin is that Love has distanced herself from her marriage, that she associates Cobain with dysfunctional behavior, and both pitied him and was angry at him, and was angry at the world of celebrity for being a place he couldn’t survive.
The album’s bad/great drug song, “Use Once & Destroy,” was a dark spiral that came close to confessional. The voice was angry at first: “I went down to rescue you / I went all the way down / I went down for the remains / Sort through all your blurs and stains.” Then abruptly it turned pained, loving: “Ooh, I will follow you/ Anytime anywhere / Ooh, I will come for you / Just say you aren’t there.”
Love had said there was a personal subtext in some of the songs, but she was unwilling to decode the messages. “I won’t talk about it because it’s none of your business,” she said simply. “Because you will never know.”
“Right now we’re talking about the death of your husband?”
“Or whatever, specifically, all of that shit—you will never know what that was like. And you will never know what that person was really like. And you will never ever ever know the personal truth of that relationship. And I will never exploit it for you. So that’s all I have to say about it, you know, and in the beginning, somebody should have locked me in my fucking room for a year.”
“But was it helpful to you?” I asked.
She stopped short. “The truth is, it was.”
“So why are you lacerating yourself?”
“You’re right it was cathartic, but I think people really took advantage of it. Let me tell you, I have some of the most amazing performances that people have ever seen, they’ll never see stuff like that again. It was like opera. But all I’m saying is that I can’t and I won’t engage in this kind of deep discussion of that situation because it’s…you weren’t there. You don’t know! It’s mine, it’s mine, and it’s already been robbed from me.”
Angered, she was vital and present. I kept at it. “Isn’t there a way that certain aspects of it are not yours.”
“You know what: I’m concerned with my emotional life.”
“But you’re a performer, you like things epic.”
“That whole other part of it, the mythic element, the archetype element of it, that has nothing to do with my reality. What was mine has been…a lot of it has been stolen from me.”
The mistrust that had been underlying the conversation came to the surface. “I don’t know how bad your jones is for this shit,” she said, “and I hope it’s not huge…it’s a gender thing too. I fucking like lived in that shadow and I’m alive and I’m going to live and I’m going to have great romances that are more than that was. I’m not going to live and I’m going to have great romances that are more than that was. I’m not going to live in that fucking shadow, it’s not my fucking shadow. I refuse.”
At the end when I’d transcribed nearly 40,000 words of Courtney Love’s conversation in files, I did a search for “Kurt.” It came up twice, both times Kurt Weill.
In March, Love went to Los Angeles, and soon after, Celebrity Skin‘s release was put off from June to early September. The pressure on the record was enormous, some of it self-applied. Working with producer Michael Beinhorn, Hole were bent on putting out a masterwork, an album that was the equal to Live Through This, to Nevermind. Then there was outside pressure. It’s an unfriendly time for raw, guitar-based music, and yet Hole want this record on the radio. Geffen Records has not had a hit in some time; meanwhile, many of its talented staff have moved elsewhere. Lately the label’s parent company, Universal, bought PolyGram, fueling speculation that Geffen may be folded.
And, of course, there were all the lances aimed at Love. “There have been few people in the history of rock music who have more to prove than this person with this record,” said Mark Kates, an A&R executive who worked with Hole at Geffen and now is the president of Grand Royal Records. “A lot of people are against her for reasons I don’t want to go into and don’t need to go into and that make no sense to me at all.”
Others were happy to go into why they disliked her. Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times that it was “sad to see her swanning through Hollywood as if she couldn’t wait to become superficial.” He questioned whether a millionaire actress could have anything urgent to say to the mosh pit.
For serious music fans, Hole’s new sound on Celebrity Skin is bound to stir questions about their motivation and integrity. The band recently covered a Fleetwood Mac tune and visited a band rehearsal. Hole were impressed by the older band’s professionalism. “Whoa, now I see how it all works,” Erlandson said.
Then there was Billy Corgan, the Smashing Pumpkins’ leader, who is close to several members of Hole and who will inevitably get a fair amount of credit for the album if it turns out to be a success (much as Cobain was rumored to have been the creative genius behind Live Through This). “I hear it and it’s not there, and I can take you there,” Corgan had told Love after she sent him an early tape of the songs in 1997. Love overcame her irritation at his arrogance to work with him for a couple of weeks. Corgan is a master who knows his craft and knows music history, too, from ragas to Sinatra to Top 40. He urged Erlandson to bring his guitar sound up and worked with Love on phrasing and hooks. A song could be bloody and intense and meaningful, but without a hook it wouldn’t get on the radio. Corgan shares music credit on five songs, and his influence can be detected in such finely turned moments as the chorus on “Malibu,” in which Love’s voice displays a rich suppleness over the bleeding edge of Erlandson’s guitar.
But two weeks of Corgan was evidently enough. The apprenticeship was sometimes stressful, and Love didn’t haunt what Corgan likes to haunt, strip clubs and hip restaurants. “Billy is more of a boy boy,” Auf der Maur said with affectionate mockery.
Corgan discovered Auf der Maur. It was only her sixth live gig, in a small Montreal club. “Kid , you can play,” he said (and yes, she was cute, too) and it wasn’t long before the two musicians had determined that they were both Pisces (Kurt Cobain’s sign, as well).
When Kristen Pfaff died in June 1994, Corgan recommended Auf der Maur to Hole. Love liked that Auf der Maur didn’t want to leave Montreal for fame. The girl was grounded. Erlandson called with a list of serious questions.
Do you play with pick or fingers? (“Pick, of course”—fingertips are for funk or jazz.) Do you sing? (Yes; her biggest musical influence was the classical choirs she was in as a girl.) What about drugs? (“I don’t have any history with drugs whatsoever.”) And, what’s your sign?
“We’re all very astrologically aware,” Auf der Maur said over lunch in New York. Pisces is at the end of the zodiac cycle, and that made her a good match for Love, she said. The thought is that later signs have been through the newcomers’ experiences. Cancers [like Love] tend to be “immature,” Auf der Maur went on, “emotionally primitive, experimental. Whereas Pisces are more refined emotional users.”
Last spring, the hive of Courtney hatred was the Mission District of San Francisco, where, despite Love’s lawyers threat to sue, the Roxie Cinema was premiering the film Kurt and Courtney. The movie was entertaining but nauseating. The Roxie calendar of events accurately described it as exploring Love’s “possible involvement in Cobain’s death,” and that was the most appalling thing about it, the way it licensed people to believe the worst on the basis of no real evidence. “As if. As fucking if,” Love spluttered to me. The film was quite literally slander.
Outside, afterward, viewers said they felt the people in the film wouldn’t be saying such horrible things about Love if there wasn’t something to it.
“All the stories I heard prior to the movie and prior to Nirvana’s success as far as her being a violent person were sort of reaffirmed,” said a 29-year-old named Boz, who said he used to own a nightclub.
“I see her as a chameleon,” said a 37-year-old substance-abuse counselor named Michael Ryan. “And the Versace world probably looked liked like a better train ride than the one she was on. But who can blame her? She’s a great showperson and a great manipulator, and I admire the drive. Even if it’s like, I don’t know who the fuck you are, lady, that’s art. If it would get her out of Seattle—get me a gown and I’ll make millions. Who wouldn’t?” He made a face. “Well, Kurt wouldn’t.”
“Kurt, who I knew well, had many problems,” said Gary Gersh, the recently departed Capitol exec who signed Hole when he was at Geffen, offering something of a defense. “People have wanted to make her pay for Kurt’s death since the day he died, and it’s a complete and utter fucking waste of time. People who know her well have problems with Courtney for other reasons that have nothing to do with this.”
The widespread hatred toward Love draws mostly on the belief that there is nothing really genuine behind her ambition. One of the worst moments in Kurt and Courtney was something Love plainly did to herself, blowing up on the Today show, saying she didn’t want to talk about her drug use to Today‘s “demographic.” It was weirdly calculating.
The ways in which Love provokes us was captured well by an Italian magazine I saw on a California newsstand. It featured an Avedon shot of Love on the cover and the headline “Trasgressiva o Integrale?” Basically, “Iconoclast or Hack?” Broomfield’s answer was easy and deceptive. For his documentary, he adopted the role of outsider, a nobody who still has integrity, aligned with the lumpen fringe. In fact, Broomfield’s no yob. He’s a well-connected Brit, once an intimate of Princess Diana. And yes, Love used her Hollywood-enhanced power to shut down Broomfield’s funding and try to intimidate him. Still, his pose seemed disingenuous and typical of Brit journalists who come here to slum.
On a Saturday morning in March, the man at the front desk of Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles called across the lobby and said Love was on the phone, and I ducked in the wooden booth. She said she was lying in bed with her daughter, watching cartoons and ruing her fashion choice at the Grammys, which had taken place in late February.
“Me and Jewel were overdressed. We were wearing designer gowns. Fuck that. Oh God, I’m not doing it anymore I’d love to be brave enough to grow my hair brown and, like, have armpit hair.”
She was on a tear. She said that movies were a big part of why she had become a rock star. Ten years ago, when she was chubby and her nose was no good, she’d gotten turned down for a part in a David Rabe play in New York and had spied the casting director’s clipboard, with a lot of rock stars’ names, including Lydia Lunch.
“If I went away and became a rock star, could I get these parts?” Love asked. “She said, ‘The world would be your oyster.'”
But music was so demanding. Love wasn’t going to let happen to her what Bob Dylan said happened to Judy Garland, that she had died standing in front of a thousand clowns, still trying to give them what they wanted. That was the pathetic thing that happened to divas, Love said.
“They give up their essential femininity. It’s an onanistic thing.”
“Slow down, please, Courtney,” I said, scribbling away on a message pad.
“I’ll be over in about an hour.”
I sat in the courtyard and tried to unpack her rant. But it was like so many of Love’s riffs; it was performance, inspired, shimmering, and in the moment. You couldn’t take it apart. In one corner of the courtyard a hummingbird rose and fell.
Three hours later I was called again and Love was sitting alone where that hummingbird had been. She wore red stockings, clunky black shoes, a tweed skirt, and a pretty green shawl that made her eyes even more alive. She started riffing on gender. She had seen a show on the Discovery Channel about the differences between the males and females of animal species.
“Why do you get a mane?” she cried.
“But girls are so much pretttier than boys.”
“Yeah, but decoratively. Decoratively! Externally!”
“What about a peacock?”
“But that’s in nature. Look, I feel happier when I’m like protected by males, that’s the big dirty secret of it all. I love men. Love men!” Her voice went hushed. “Love them! I just sort of hate them, too. I just want to sit at the table with equal grace….”
A slim blond woman with a shopping bag walked under the colonnade on the other side, and Love broke off.
“Here comes Claire Danes back from Fred Segal [a fancy clothing store]. She’s growing up to be fine, isn’t she. She gave me a cross look.”
“She is truly growing up. It looks like she’s filling out. She was cast in The Rainmaker when she wasn’t event old enough to play a bride. She was 16. Maybe in Southern states you can marry at 16.”
She turned back to the subject of sex differences.
“Why don’t we get a quest? This friend of mine was trying to calm me down. She said, ‘Psyche enters the darkest part of the forest, too.’ But you know, getting to be Psyche and getting neurotic and lunar all the time, I’m like, yeah, it’s at the mercy of all these male figures.”
She went on, “I’m talking about valor and love and romance, and all these things seem not very Buddhistic. Is that a word, Buddhistic? It must be if ironical fucking is.” (We had been arguing over whether ironical is a word.) Then her voice went Borscht Belt. “They’ll let in anything these days.”
“That’s funny,” I said.
“Thank you. I’m so glad you said that.”
“Nobody will write about it. It doesn’t make good copy. Bob Dylan’s allowed to be smart and dark. I’m not because I wear lipstick or something. Dorothy Parker’s allowed to be smart because she doesn’t get fucked, right? Her liver’s pickled, so she can be smart. She paid her price up front. Dead women can be smart.”
A denim-clad man in the hotel’s sitting area draped himself frankly against a window.
“Is that person staring at you?”
“Yeah, he totally is. Knock it off! I don’t know him. It’s the Chateau. They should throw him right out. What were we saying?”
We were discussing how Love refused to be a gargoyle for a public that demanded realness. “I am not there to be their Patti Smith,” she continued. “That is Polly Harvey’s job. And if Polly Harvey isn’t doing her job, don’t blame me for it, it is not my fucking problem. I never said I was going to be their geek. My job is to go down into this world. I don’t have to go make like feminine Anne Sexton music, I’m going to make music for the people. My job is like, fuck all this gender difficulty, fuck all this female experience rage shit.”
“What about the fashion stuff?” I said. “You’ve hung out with superficial people.”
Now she began yelling. “Because rock is so pure? Because the people in rock don’t heartlessly and vilely, like, take advantage of young boys and girls and make them fucking sign their blood away on the dotted line for a 4 percent royalty rate. I mean, sit there and rip them off divinely.”
“The Versace pictures?”
“I fucking wanted to do them. They seduced me plain and simple. They sent me so many clothes, they took me places in limos. They took, like, great pictures with world-class photographers.” She laughed. “And I’m, like, yeah, fuck, who gives a shit? I don’t care. I feel a little funny about it, but I did it anyway. I just felt, like, this profound connection with [Versace’s sister Donatella] and I love their clothes, and I love the weirdness and coolness of their clothes. I’m sorry—I’m not really sorry.”
“Why should you be sorry?”
“Because it’s kind of lame, but it’s kind of not. I don’t know. I did the Versace campaign. I did it, I did it.”
Dusk set in, and Love suggested we cross the courtyard to a table with a lantern over it. This table was under a bushy palm tree and right next to an open window in the hotel. Love leaned into the room. “We’re going to be talking loudly,” she said. “I’m just going to close this.”
The woman inside got a funny look. Love sat down. I asked her about acting versus music. “There’s lots more bourgeois respectability” to acting, she said. “But Meryl Streep probably doesn’t know the sublime pleasure of standing in front of 10,000 people and, like, making them do whatever you want. That’s, like, the funnest thing in the world. And, like, diving into them and being torn limb from limb.” And barely taking a breath, she launched into the business of it all, the numbers. “The only difference is there’s no royalty system for the artist. In music there’s a much healthier participation. You buy a record, I participate in it. In Hollywood, you watch Mommie Dearest some time, just remember, she’s [presumably Faye Dunaway] is not getting a dime for that, and it fucked her up, okay? So her psychic energy is being suspended, she’s getting dime zero.”
“Wait a second…”
“Wait a second, yourself. Who’s getting that money? White males in fucking suits. Okay? That’s who’s getting that money.”
The woman came to the window.
“I like this window open,” she said.
Love shot her a look. I was afraid there was going to be a fight. (Love’s violent outbursts were legendary. She would later say her “rough streak” came from getting the crap beaten out of her in junior high school and juvenile hall.)
“Okay, you got it,” she said.
We went inside and sat on a couch in the corner. Love had more tea and the waiter gave her cigarettes and she unscrewed the little jar of honey, dripped it with a spoon into her cup.
“What is so wrong with the word manipulate?” she said. “Huh? I manipulate this spoon to do something. You have to manipulate things.”
I brought up the time I first met her and she told Gurmukh the yoga teacher that she’d just been kissing ass. As I started to walk about my feeling, Love rocked angrily on the couch. “Does that take away your authenticity?” she said. “Oh my God. Now you’re being mean. Now you’re being mean.”
“Well, I felt…”
“Used!? Exploited!? What! Oh my God! I’d rather be funny and, like, say ‘kissing ass’ in front of somebody. I was just poking fun at the whole idea. But, in the end, all this exchange is going to be, in the end, is product. Product.”
It was heartless, overly defended part of Love, the sense that everything is a means to an end. For a moment I identified with her former lover in the Kurt and Courtney movie, rocker Rozz Rezabek, who says bitterly there was little that was genuinely “felt” in Love’s dealing with him.
She seemed to sense that, and tried to explain herself. “It’s just drive,” she said. “It isn’t machinations and it isn’t shrewishness, although that’s what’s ascribed to it when it’s a quality in females traditionally. It’s just drive for your own vision to be part of the world order. And that’s Darwinism. I just want to signal that I’m a worthwhile mate, and my skill at this one thing.”
She got up to go and left her little black handbag on the couch.
Over the summer, Love got even more negative press. From being nowhere, the Broomfield movie was suddenly everywhere. So much for Love’s efforts to suppress it. In London it was pulling positive reviews. “Inspired stuff,” said The Independent on Sunday. Back at home, the press seized on the film as an occasion to do stories that tired to put Love in her place, In The New Yorker, the essayist Daphne Merkin focused on Love’s personal transformation, everything from plastic surgery to her contract with the PR firm PMK, and said that the change was unconvincing and made her infinitely less interesting. Love later told me that all the plastic surgery she’d had was before her transformation, before the early 1990’s (and, calling the issue “cheesy,” said that if she needed any further work done she would do it). The movie did set off a mild pro-Courtney backlash: Lots of moviegoers expressed sympathy over the footage in the film of her belligerent father, to which Love responded that she never knew him, saying she spent a total of only two weeks of her life with him. Yet she claimed an inheritance from him: “Nerve.”
Not all Hole’s problems came from outside. About the time the cover art for Celebrity Skin was going to press, it was decided Petty Schemel had to leave the band. I was told that Schemel was using drugs and had not heeded interventions. But Schemel said this was not the case. She said that producer Michael Beinhorn had never warmed to her style and ultimately brought in a replacement, a man, to play the parts Schemel had written. Feelings of artistic betrayal made it too painful for Schemel to imagine going on stage with Hole, and the band concurred. “This is not my masterpiece, and what the band has become I don’t want to be a part of any more,” she said by phone from Los Angeles, now and then weeping over the end of her six years in Hole and the loss of close friendships with Love and Auf der Maur.
In spite of these setbacks, Love was in the most relaxed mood I’d experienced with her when we spoke in July. She had just returned from days of meditation in New Mexico, where she said she’d had a vision. Her acting plans were set. She was going to begin filming Man on the Moon for director Milos Forman (Forman had worked with Love on The People v. Larry Flynt). The new film is about Andy Kaufman, the comic, who died in 1984, and Love will play the girlfriend. According to Love, the deal was celebrated at a June dinner with Forman at a Brentwood restaurant during which Love’s costar, Jim Carrey, rose from the table and smashed a wine bottle on the wall to herald Love’s birthday.
“I’m going to enter this psychic space where I will be the soul of empathy,” Love said of the role. “I’m going to play one of the softer, understanding, nonjudgmental, brown-haired, ’70’s dirndl-skirt, tights and Scholl sandals, no-makeup hippie chicks who were endlessly fascinated by weirdness but also completely 100 percent supportive.”
Love was no longer the avatar of the angry young woman. And she seemed to agree with some of her fans when she said her old anger was “something in myself that I seem to have betrayed.”
“How did you betray it?”
“By getting married. By being romantic. By falling in love. By wanting to have a baby. By not being hard. By being seduced by love. I walked off from my past.”
“Isn’t that growth you honor?”
“Sort of, but sometimes I hate myself for it. Sometimes I get really angry. I think about all the hard divas that I met that have hard hearts and didn’t fall for the boys. And I’m going to be a woman. When I’m done with this, no one’s going to stop me from being a woman. I’m not saying that in a Cosmo sense of the word: She Has It All. But you know what, you can have whatever you want. You know why? You know why? This is America! It’s not England. It’s fucking America! God bless it! I mean it!”
That was aimed at Tina Brown, the Englishwoman who was editor of the New Yorker when it printed Daphne Merkin’s article and had recently struck a deal with Miramax to produce movies, TV shows, and a magazine. The message of the New Yorker piece, Love said, was un-American: What she comes from she must return to. “Like, born a serf, die a serf,” Love said. “Born a coarse-featured peasant, die a fucking….. Kiss my ass! Someone told me [Brown’s] coming out here to head a studio. Not on my fucking time she’s not. She enters the 213 area code, I’m going to throw her right the fuck back out.”
Love clearly loves controversy, even after a week of meditation. “I think you’re still motivated by a need for attention,” I said.
“But so what? I feel like I have a duty. I as an architect have a need to impose my worldview on the culture. I was born with that need. But I’m not emotionally or spiritually bankrupt and I never have been. And even when I was as close to being spiritually bankrupt as you can get, I had a core in me that, still ragingly and with passion and with conviction, wanted to be the person who puts my vision out.”
“Was it necessary to use people here and there?” I said.
Love was put off at first, then said, “Using, yeah! Mentoring, yeah. Learning craft from some people, learning self-effacement from others, watching people do their art. Is it Athena who rises with the stallions and when they fucking get exhausted and they fall down, she just switches and gets another one? Yeah, to win the race, to get through the gates. What did they get out of me? A lot. The men run companies. The men are multimillionaires. The one man that I loved so much and didn’t feel that way about”—she was finally talking about Cobain—”he was crushed, and he was crushed for, and I believe this, he was crushed for his love for me. They killed him because he loved me. That’s no what the weak, enfeebled, emasculated Dionysian hero is supposed to do. He’s not supposed to love me. But he did. That is a tragedy.”
Her voice drained off. “But he was so sensitive…. I don’t want to get too into this.”
She was willing to talk about her current relationship.
“I have a boyfriend. He’s magnificent. I wrote some incredible songs about him. I don’t think I’ve ever had a boyfriend quite as great as this boyfriend, an incrdible noble brilliant human being who has inspired me to learn so much. But I’m not going to say who he is. Because you know why? I’m not going to serve him up for everyone to fucking slice up and emasculate. I will never ever let that happen to a man again. I’d cut my heart out before I’d let that happen.”
“That’s what happened before?”
“I didn’t serve anybody up on purpose, but I wasn’t hiding it, and I wasn’t doing that, like, WASP thing of not talking about it. I got married. There it was. Big, bold, punk-rock, black-and-white, crazy-ass, fucking ride into town, like gypsies. I didn’t know and I’m an idiot and I should have known.”
“You mean the ways you allowed yourself and others to be exposed?”
It was hard to imagine an equal relationship with Love. She was forceful, loud, controlling. “One of the things about you, Courtney, in a relationship is you have such energy and, you once said, testosterone.”
“Estrogen too,” she said. “I’m trying to balance them…. Okay. Let me tell you something about my personal history in terms of men. They have to be butch in the end…. They can walk around in fucking dresses for all I care, so long as I get thrown around the room. It’s a contest. I don’t care what you do for a living. If you can throw me around the room, then you’ve mastered me.”
Love’s vision had come to her while she was meditating with a group of Sikhs, but at night she had become impatient. She had to sit through lectures about the grace of the divine mother, and she had protested. What about the divine whore? she asked. Why were so many religions based on the grace of the creation of life?
“What about the woman as the keeper of everybody else’s sexuality? She maybe doesn’t make the sons but she keeps the sons. Okay?”
As she recited these intensely personal experiences into my tape recorder, I though this is how she annoys people. She is too needy for comfort, too raw ever to be truly embraced. She says she will never again offer up her innards for public inspection, then she does just that. She thinks this spectacle will elevate the horde. Maybe it will; and maybe it is her own destruction, too. Is any other popular figure so hugely compelling?
“So in my vision there were these gates at the end of an arc,” she continued. “Like a Roman arc of triumph, and I’m on a horse, going in through the gates on a stallion, or in my case, a mare. So as I’m going through the gates I see by the side of the road this exquisite house. And I’m thinking the divine whore is the person who’s never allowed into the gate. She has to live in the nicest house outside the town before the gates. You can’t even see her trophies, because her trophies have been covered up by the trophies and inheritances of other people. And all she does is covet men’s power. And I realized, I don’t live in that house anymore.”