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It Felt Like A Kiss: The Courtney Love Anthology


Introduction: 20 Years In The Dakota

And I know all you devils by your Christian names/and I know all you bitches by your Christian names Turpentine, 1990 There isnt one creation story. Courtney Love didnt pop into the world fully formed. She was a shadow at the edge

of rock music for years. Shes a glimmer in Alex Coxs Straight To Hell. Shes was bit part player on the edge of the Liverpool scene. Julian Cope described her as:

Reads funny but said with love. The kind of love, that Courtney would get, the kind of screwed up, fucked up, contradictory hell of it statement she aces. Courtney Love wasnt born Courtney Love. On July 9, 1964 the screaming baby girl was Courtney Michelle Harrison. Courtney went through several names and personalities before Courtney Love rose from the ashes of a terrible childhood. She is her own creation. This wicked witchs brew of mythology, pop music trivia, folk wisdom and folk foolishness. Shes her own dream of Stevie Nicks made real by force of will, shes Madonna in the fairground mirror. She is herself always and everyone else at the same time. Why is Courtney so fascinating? Because she swerves like a car with the breaks cut. Shes a terribly brilliant singer, a scrappy pup pummeling the guitar strings. Shes a punk who wants to be as smooth as Fleetwood Mac. Shes a Yoko Ono who never, ever shut the fuck up and certainly didnt preach peace and love like a pull-string doll. So full of energy that it looked like shed make a wonderful icon for ugly girls everywhere.

I made my bed: I lie in it. I made my bed: Ill die in it. Miss World, 1994 Those words from Miss World sort of sum up the mad media strategy of Miss Love. She knows what the chaos will bring but she does it anyway. She knows what the drugs can bring but she did them anyway. She is always at the heart of a maelstrom but unlike say Keith Richards she is not venerated for it, she is vilified for it. Because mothers in rocknroll are meant to learn their lesson. They are meant to turn into brand ambassadors for fucking awful makeup and do Got Milk? commercials in pristine Photoshopped splendour. Around the time of the People Vs Larry Flynt, Courtney turned into Hollywood Love but it didnt last. The spit and vinegar rose again. It cannot be quelled. This collection springs from a long gestation memory. I sat one day with a gaggle of male music writers pitching figures for a series on heroes. I raised the idea of Courtney and almost reflexively one of them spat: Shes a fucking stupid slut. From that moment Ive wanted to put this together, a monument to the fascinations held by not just the albums and films of Love and Hole but in her life, her very existence. She is an icon for messy times and these are messy thoughts in her honour.

Mourning Sickness
I live my life in ruins for you/And for all your secrets kept/I squashed the blossom and the blossom's dead

Mourning Sickness
Suzanne Moore (Originally published in The Guardian. Taken from Head Over Heels (Collected Columns 1993-1996)

Some day you will ache like ache. So Sings Courtney Love in her single Doll Parts. To ache like Courtney aches is that a threat or a promise? Surely no one can ache like she aches and that is why we love her: she has been to hell and back. She has lived through her husbands suicide and carried on touring, being a mother, being a star. She has mourned and ranted and raved in public. She has shown us how it is to be on the edge. Our fascination with her is entirely morbid, like watching a road accident, as some have said, yet somehow shes coming through, coming into her own. She will be bigger than Madonna, bigger than Nirvana so they tell us. She is the anti-Madonna. A rock chick to Ms Ciccones pop tart. Madonna is hard-bodied and always in control. Courtney is fleshy and continually threatening to lose it, big time. Madonna, saint of health and efficiency, with her pip squeak of a voice, inhabits a different world from Courtneys rockedout Scotch and smack rasp. Madonnas sexuality is entirely inner-directed, her object of desire is fundamentally herself. Courtneys sluttish, Blanche Du Bois persona draws in whoever will watch her. She behaves, not as a widow and mother should behave, and for all Madonnas calculated taboobusting, Love effortlessly blurs the lines between the prescribed behaviour of a mother, a whore, a grieving widow, a young woman.

Which part of Courtney is real? Which parts are skillful image manipulation is not a question that can be answered. We assume her pain is for public consumption even though the burden of representing other peoples fantasies contributed to Kurt Cobains misery. And here she is on the cover of Vanity Fair, photographed by Herb Ritts to show us how far she has come. Last time she featured in this magazine, she was pregnant and said to be taking heroin, resolutely a bad girl providing a little frisson of freakiness, of celebrity low-life among the usual Vanity Fair gloss. The bigger she gets the less we can have of her and the resentment starts to build. Already its there. In this weeks NME she is accused of signing Faustian pacts with the voyeuristic tabloid sordids so as to keep the celebrity machine whirring, while knowingly exorcising their torment. She is lost to the underworld of those who study their NME as if it was the Bible, and has become a creature of the mainstream media. She no longer belongs to that cult because we all know about her. Shes not the same anymore, shes not so real. Maybe its true but why isnt it said of the boys too? Are the Gallagher boys of Oasis lost now? Is Damon Albarn as real as he used to be? Why can Courtney Love not make her own myth? What do you want her to do? Open her veins on stage?

Sylvia Plath is mentioned. Of course, Courtney has become a Sylvia Plath replacement. Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of Prozac Nation, a book about depression, is also being marketed as the Sylvia Plath of the MTV generation. Instability is in. Madness is kind of sexy. Depression drips authenticity and depth when nothing else does these days. To be depressed is at least to feel something and something is better than nothing. But Sylvia Plath didnt take Prozac she just put her head in an oven. Courtney has not committed suicide though the public seems to have judged her guilty of this act by association. Ever astute, Love has said: One of the largest duties I have is to report on that madness and try not to become a victim of it in the same way as Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath or Zelda Fitzgerald. The recent anniversary of Cobains death has sparked a recognition of a culture of suffering that has afflicted the young, who pour their tormented little hearts out in the pages of the music press. Anorexia, bulimia, self-cutting, all the angst turned inwards eventually spills out. Love used to cut herself, she says. Elizabeth Wurtzel describes in her book the patterns she used to make on her legs with razor blades. Now her story of self-laceration is to be made into a movie. Wurtzel is to be found this month posing topless in GQ.

Having exposed her tortured psyche, she tiredly exposes her breasts. Is this to make us believe she is a better writer, or more depressed than ever, or so zonked out on antidepressants she couldnt care less, or fully recovered? God only knows, although the copy that reads Feeling down? A little depressed? Sounds like a job for Prozac girl simply trivialises whatever it is she is trying to achieve. Prozac girl, it seems, is so depressed she might even sleep with a GQ reader. Some might say that our authors are now our rock stars and we like our rock stars to live their lives for us. We want them to be extreme, to have bigger lives than we do. To pose in the nude for us. As Courtneys mother puts it, Her fame is not about being beautiful and brilliant, which she is: its about speaking the voice of the anguish in the world. Wurtzels writing is so thoroughly self-involved that she can barely acknowledge the anguish of any world but her own. Courtneys job is bigger to absorb all the pain that is projected onto her and to throw it out again. If anger turned in on itself causes depression, we are among a lost generation who seem no future in getting angry. Depression is on the increase, especially among young people. Women are three times more likely to suffer depression than men and, as BBC2s excellent States of Mind series on mental

illness reminded us, there is not much glamour about being mentally ill. There was a woman where I used to live who roamed the streets in mid-winter, wearing nothing but a nightie and begging for money for Lucozade. Lucozade aids recovery she used to intone whenever I gave her some change. With her matted hair and calloused feet, she was a far cry from todays psycho-babes whose mental disarray adds to their allure. A far cry from the artists who, on the programme Prozac Diary, took the drug as if it were lucozade in order simply to unblock them creatively. The media obsession with Prozac points to a generation gap not just between doomed youth and mystified elders, but between those who seem surprised that a drug can make you feel better and those who grow up taking drugs precisely because they do make you feel better. We are unhappy about offering Prozac as a cure-all because we feel that chemicals cannot truly be the answer to existential crisis. It is no coincidence that the young find no meaning in their lives when so many of our bigger belief systems have imploded over the last twenty years. It is almost twenty years since punk first proclaimed that there was no future. A generation raised in its shadow finds it

could only claim its alienation second-hand and so couldnt be bothered. Thus the new heroes and heroines, from Courtney to PJ Harvey to Kurt, sing of deep, dark things and show that all this suffering may be worth something, even if that something is only a pop song. They show that madness is not ordinary, even though we know differently. Is Courtney Love and her media circus for real? Is this what you really want? Really? an anguished NME writer asks. Yes, its what we want. Really. Or, as the woman herself drawls it: I fake it so real I am beyond fake.

Glory in the madness

I can really fuck you up/because Im the demon buttercup

Courtneys a mad bitch: why I love Hole

Mic Wright

Courtney Love is a mad bitch. If she was a man, that'd be rock'n'roll but she's a mother so she gets sneered at. She takes drugs, she gets drunk, she embarrasses herself in public, she rocks when she straps on a guitar, she's not the ideal parent. Those are all qualities Keith Richards had in the 70s and 80s but he had a penis, the universal membership card for being a rock'n'roll arsehole. Once a woman squeezes a child out of her vagina, the press acts as if she is then not allowed to behave badly: be quiet, be decent, shut up woman. Well, Courtney Love hasn't done that. Sometimes at expense of her music, her career, her sanity. She has been painted as a Nancy Spungeon type and frequently put in the frame for the 'murder' of her drug addict, depressive husband. Who apparently wrote all her records. Including the ones that she wrote before she met him and the ones that came out after he died. Live Through This is one of the finest rock albums of the 90s. Eric Erlandson's guitar is driving and serrated, Patty's drumming is heavy and hard hitting and at the forefront is the sweetness and acid of Courtney Love's vocals and her dirty, sloppy punk rock guitar playing. Lyrically, Live Through This is about the experience of being a woman. It is motherhood in all its horrid beauty, it's jealousy, self-image, sexuality and more. Courtney Love is a mad bitch. It's her best quality.

Prettier on the inside?

Slut kiss girl wont you promise her smack/is she pretty on the inside?/is she pretty from the back?

Pretty On The Inside: primal screams and pretty ugly memories

Luci OBrien

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Live! Tonight! Witch trials!

I know you havent saved me and you havent saved her yet

Liar at a witch trial: Courtney vs. Vanity Fair

Sara Jayne Morris

Cobains fame and wealth for her own advancement. It is also suggested that Love had introduced Cobain to heroin. We know from the publications of Kurts letters, and diaries that this is spurious nonsense, he had made a conscious decision to be a regular heroin user prior to meeting Courtney. In fact, Love was a huge star in her own right prior to her relationship with Cobain. Her band, Hole was an inuential component of the Riot Grrrl musical movement where predominantly female musical acts took the previously patriarchal rock and roll community by storm.

Gina Davis was on the cover of September 1992s Vanity Fair but the article that would be remembered for years to come is featured as a byline under the title; Plus; Courtney Love. The article was titled Strange Love and was written by Linda Hirschberg, whose name you may recognise from the legions of (particularly female) celebrities that she has denigrated over the years. The most prominent of late being M.I.A. She responded to the criticism by posting Hirschbergs telephone number on Twitter. Hirschburg examines Courtney Love and her career, mainly through the restrictive lens of Love and Kurt Cobains relationship. She paints Love in an almost entirely unflattering light throughout the article calling her a trainwreck personality and characterising Loves marriage to Cobain as nothing more than a career move. Hirschbergs article paints Love as little more than a groupie, cashing in on

They pioneered the kinderwhore style, comprised of 1920s tea dresses, barrettes, exaggerated makeup, and Mary Jane shoes that was a hugely influential fashion movement in its own right . Love, and her friend and sometimes band mate, Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland, coined the style as an attempt to parody societys gender stereotypes through their on-stage artistic personas. Love first encountered Kurt Cobain at a concert. He recalled: I thought she looked like Nancy Spungenlike a classic punk-rock chick. I did feel attracted to her. Probably wanted to fuck her that night but she left. Indeed, Love resembled Nancy Spungen (70s punk rock groupie extraordinaire and Sid Viciouss girlfriend, but unlike Nancy, Love moved beyond the passive role of spectator; she wrote her own music. Holes debut album Pretty on the Inside was released by Caroline Records in September 1991 and the album was unanimously well reviewed. When Love rst met Cobain her bands

debut was outselling his bands initial record, Bleach, two to one. The confusion for the mainstream press came from the fact that Nirvana released their wildly popular Nevermind album a week after the couple got together. Hirschberg was very keen to write that Madonna had famously asked: Who is Courtney Love?. This is yet another example of untruth within the article used to shape out a negative view of Love. Earlier that year Maddonnas record label had been chasing Hole for a record deal which Love turned down on the grounds that Madonna was trying to cash in on the grunge/ riot grrl movement rather than admiring Holes music. It is fair to say that Courtney was majorly misrepresented throughout the piece, much as she has been has been misrepresented throughout her career. It was, however, the quotes from an unnamed source close to the Cobain family expressing concern over the health of France Bean and their couples drug use during Courtneys pregnancy that caused the most damage. We are aware now that whatever protestations Love made at the time that she did take heroin in the first trimester of her pregnancy with Frances Bean. She admitted this in later interviews. However, she did make a huge effort to give up and was successful in the later trimesters of her pregnancy. This is evidenced mainly by Frances Bean Cobains healthy, non opiate dependent arrival in the world on August 18th 1992,

shortly after the Vanity Fair issue containing the interview was published. It is sad that, instead of celebrating a pregnant womans triumph over a crippling addiction for the sake of her unborn child, society tends to publicly shame and judge her for the addiction in the first place. This is especially galling when we know that Cobain had continued to use heavily throughout this time, as well as after Francess birth. Hirschberg neatly skirts around discussing Cobains hugely problematic heroin addiction though it must have been glaringly obvious. Damnation of male rock stars really does not sell as well as the demonisation of women. In deciding to ignore this in her article she neatly avoided a debate about whether or not it appropriate for an expectant father to be as addled by drug addiction as Kurt was at this point and happily focused on the unfit mother Love. There are plenty of irresponsible, drug addicted rock star fathers who retain an air of cool, especially if, like Cobain, they die. The best rock star death comes from a drug overdose. Tt is the martyrdom that leads to sainthood, so long as youve got that all important Y chromosome. Heroin and rock and roll romanticism, is one of those nonsense notions that is saved for the boys, it seems. Hirschberg also fails to address the issue that drugs had become a looming component of the music circuit in general at this point. The scene was flooded with the brown stuff. When the grunge thing first started happening, an insider in14

terviewed by Rolling Stone related, I never met a band out of Seattle that wasnt either dabbling or full-on heroin addicts Where no respectable journalist would ignore the fact that a pregnant woman was using heroin, Hirschberg had an opportunity at this point to open a genuine and useful debate about drug use and vulnerability in this community, to question the wider social implications of this substance that was eating people up. Instead she chose to begin a pop culture witch hunt, waving her pitchfork whilst wearing a fake mask of piety and concern. But Hirschberg had smarts, this stuff sells, people love to hate a bad mother and Courtney fit the bill. Twenty years down the line weve still eating up the chance to judge a bad mother. Last year ago, Stacy Soloman was berated for smoking three cigarettes a day whilst pregnant. Its fair to say, this is not sensible or responsible behaviour but societys enthusiasm for attacking vulnerable women struggling with addiction is about as helpful as beating them around the legs and arse with a sign saying youre shit. As a result of Hirschbergs article, social services became involved with the family and Love was not allowed to take her daughter home when she left the hospital three days later. The court ordered that she must be kept in the hospital for observation despite being declared healthy by the medical team that delivered her. Frances was released a few days later into the care of a nanny as the court would not release her to her parents.

Six days later on 24th August the first court hearing ruled that the couple were only allowed to see Frances in the presence of a court appointed guardian, alongside this Kurt would have to undergo a 30 day drug treatment programme and both parents would have to give random urine samples. The punitive method of treating mothers with addiction problems as if they need to earn their children is as highly dubious as writing nasty articles about pregnant women.

Studies have shown that far from addiction itself, the gravest risks related to children of drug-involved mothers during infancy come from the harsh and punitive treatment of mothers by aggressive and overzealous courts. Research has repeatedly shown that newborn babies need a present and consistent care giver in order to have the best chance of meeting the first psychosocial milestones which specialists recognise as being crucial to social and personal development throughout the lifespan. As Courtney was present, at that point clean, and willing it seems absurd that she was kept from spending those first few weeks with her child. There is an assumption that empathy and mothering behaviour are innate female skills, where actually they are a set of behaviours which are triggered by physical and emotional reactions to spending time with an infant.

One of the main problems with this set of beliefs is that allows mothers like Courtney who struggle with motherhood as a result of a set of complex social and emotional circumstances to be labelled unnatural and gives birth (if youll pardon the pun) to the notion of the bad, or unfit mother. Labels that have hung over Courtney Loves head to this present day. There seems to be a general lack of empathy for Courtney and her struggles throughout her life. Courtney was a talented musician and unwell drug addict with very little in terms of current or historical familial support who has been reduced to a caricature of the bad woman for public entertainment. It feels like its less about her conduct during her pregnancy and much more to do with the combination of being a woman in mans world at the same time as having huge struggles with addiction and her mental health. Rather than endeavoring to understand the ways in which the act of being a drug addicted mother could be psychologically damaging or demeaning, the media has used these tragic anecdotes as ready proof against Loves general value as a human being. I worry about the impact of the demonisation of Courtney Love-the mother in a plethora of arenas. The increased pressure on expectant mothers to become perfect individuals as soon as the blue line appears on the piss soaked pregnancy test helps no one, least of the child in utero.

This culture leads to social exclusion, lies, and self loathing all of which are known to perpetuate destructive behaviour. All those factors hold women back from being brave enough to ask for help at this vulnerable time. All of which hold women in those polarised positions of mother or whore which have held us in shackles for eons. All of which are unhelpful for men and women and the childhoods of generations to come.


Doing It for the Kids

we look the same, we talk the same, we even fuck the same.

Broken Doll, Shattered Whore, Doing It for the Kids: Courtney, juvenility and pedagogy
Jamie Woods

Any extended biography of Courtney Love will refer to her childhood, the deadhead deadbeat dad and the estranged mother. It will make reference to the odd, dirty, smelly peegirl, bumped from family to family, school to school, country to country. And it will, no doubt, cover the time in slumming in Liverpool, stripping in Asia, stints in Faith No More and Sugar Babydoll. A piece of contextual, artist-led analysis on Courtneys oeuvre would, I believe, be negligent were it to ignore the impact these experiences have had on her recorded output. Images of childhood, pre-pubescence, and adolescent isolation permeate her lyrics: with both nascent, nave Courtney cemented in vile, desperate, juvenile teenage rage; and bitter, experienced, smarter Courtney as both precautionary teacher, and third-wave feminist leader. Punk rock has become the accessible white-noise-riot of protest for many generations: but in its accessibility it has becomes devalued and diluted, sound pollution, a soundtrack clich of rage. As The Indelicates put it: absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar. Such audio universality is where good singers can plead their respective cases, to become lauded rock stars, manic preachers, spokespeople and heroes. Succinct poetry, heartfelt melancholia, conscious and rebellious lyrics, grand anthemic statements: these, combined with the fury of spiky threechords and vitriolic solos effectively elevate lazy slant-rhymes and badly mixed tenses into inspirational, aspirational axioms

for the masses. The feminist writer Hlne Cixous declared: There is no revolution without there being people who get up and begin to yell and Courtney sure can yell, and get her message, her voice, over and beyond the grungy guitar noise and mass of other angsty shouty contemporary bands. For all the labels, self-proclaimed, derogatory and celebratory hooker / waitress, model / actress, junkie, whore, slut, witch, Yoko Courtney Love has become an idol, an icon. Courtney exploits the ingnue. The vintage silk and tattered lace places her somewhere between Lolita and Miss Havisham, a naf malnourished waif, encapsulated in a time forgotten, a love forbidden and lost: seductive to men and boys; identifiable to women and girls. Her doll eyes, doll mouth align Courtney with the girls in the schoolyard. But these are doll parts, torn and ripped snatches of childhood. These are the fragments of girls whose mothers ask: Baby, why are you a teenage whore? Girls who are ripe for the plucking. She returns to the theme later, in Nobodys Daughter The worlds broken doll, the worlds shattered whore, linking the images of a ruined childhood with sexuality. As she grows up shes still stained by her pee girl persona, her bullied and ridiculed self, in Softer, Softest. She dismisses the conventions of childhood and societal morality, and instead mourns the passing of the more gratuitous and exciting fantasy: I dont really miss God, but I sure miss Santa Claus.

Courtney sings of boys, whose kisses taste of candy and who crash and burn like high-school rebels, the leaders of the pack. Courtney isnt shy about her mothering instinct: Plump documents her pregnancy while Heaven Tonight shows the unconditional love and awe for her daughter the finest sweetest thing in the world. The video for her solo single Mono shows Courtney as a destructive, messianic sleeping-beauty / mother hen, leading an army of little girls, all silk and taffeta and tiaras, wielding power-tools-as-weaponry while they trash everything they come across. Years earlier, while touring Celebrity Skin, Courtney would invite the audience up on-stage. Teenage girls singing along to the last songs of the set. Glitter make-up, fairy-wings, tiaras. Heavy eyeliner, heavy mascara, heavy metal. Doc Martens and Converse. Ripped fishnets under babydoll dresses. I have run into some of those women [who joined us onstage] in the last ten years writes Melissa Auf Der Maur, and it seems those on-stage experiences left a lasting impression on those people. Courtneys greatest success as an artist is her ability to use her position as stage matriarch and airwave-filler to express her beliefs: Crucial themes run through Courtneys lyrics. Asking For It remains a vital piece in the ongoing discourse of feminism and rape; Pretty on the Inside exploring body19

image and sexual worth; she violently tears through misogynistic Hollywood culture on the album Celebrity Skin. The title track looks at the wannabe actresses, willing to sacrifice anything to be a star, being used up and spat out, left out as beautiful garbage, forgotten. Courtney here uses herself her reputation and her experience as an example and as an indication of what happens in Tinsel Town. She is, by this point in her career, a Golden Globe-nominated actress and therefore as reliable a source of LA practice as any. Awful, from the same LP, takes the lessons of a burned, embittered Courtney I was punk, now Im just stupid and apply them to girls like you, aged only 16 who would go on to be heart-broken and exploited by the record companies. 20 Years in The Dakota marks Courtney as grown-up, mature, the pee girl burns to be the bride. Celebrity, notoriety, clutching that pound of flesh is overrated, shed rather die than be Madonna, or be in Nirvana. In Mono she realises rock is dead but asks for one more song. And if she can continue to inspire and influence through her vitriolic and dialectic lyrics, combined with sensitive childhood imagery and adolescent discomfort, then who would deny her that?


My body, the hand grenade

Hey hey, this much is true, baby I burn black for you

My Body, The Hand Grenade: an unexploded bomb

Mic Wright

There are unlikely to be many essays that begin with Hole and Oasis being compared. This is possibly the only one. So do please enjoy. Oasiss best album is not officially an album at all but a b-side collection. On The Masterplan, Noel Gallagher flicks out an entire record of wonders that could kick merry hell out of most of his post Be Here Now output. B-sides can do that sometimes: horde all the good ideas for themselves. My Body, The Hand Grenade is not Holes best album but it is Holes most fascinating record and home to Courtney Love at her most unrestrained. With Turpentine as its opening salvo, it is gorgeous and profane, a fury let out of hell, given a guitar and told to have her revenge. I can really fuck you up, yeah! cause Im the demon buttercup Ladies, gentlemen, bastards, bitches, sluts, gigolos and witches, I present Ms Courtney Love. On Phonebill Song, Courtney is just flayling at enemies left, right and centre including herself. Its a squalling mess and goddamn brilliant for it: Im a loser buttercup, uh huh Retard Girl, Burn Black and Dicknail form a trilogy of facekicking, ball-breaking, love-spurning beauty. Three harsh little punk songs that owe more to London 1977 and Manchester 1978 than Seattle, Portland or any of those obvious places, they are raw, raging id.


Beautiful Son, a single which came bedecked with a picture of Kurt as a toddler, is Courtney singing an odd oedipal hymn to her husband. It is both disturbing and beautiful, a three-word descriptor that almost always applies to Courtney Love. 20 Years In The Dakota is the best meditation on the nature of rock widowdom ever written. Courtney in the role of Yoko Ono for the grunge moaners, blamed and blaming herself: they want to burn the witches inside us/oh you/you dont fuck with the Fabulous Four/or you spend the rest of your life picking things up off the floor The Miss World demo has the wonder of all demo versions kicked out into the world. It is like a small, determined calf just about standing on its feet, more honest for its fragility and the brittle nature of its skeleton. Old Age, a song written with Kurt and that existed in both Nirvana and Hole versions, is haunted and mystical with an opening that sounds like the prayers of the morphine monks of grunge high on a mountain: What was she for halloween? The ugliest girl youve ever seen, somebody she will die alone Courtney in dark mood spits out prophecies about herself and fairground mirror images of the world sees her: She seems to me to know/all that glitters is sour/all the lies in place/Jesus saves/old age

The trio of songs from MTV Unplugged Softer, Softest, He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss) and Season Of The Witch add up to two separate conclusions: one it is outrageous that the entire Hole MTV Unplugged is not available and two that Courtney was once again picking at the scab of her relationship with Kurt there. Drown Soda and Asking For It, both included in live versions, reveal to the doubters how much emotion, anger and skill she injects into her performances. Courtney Love is one of the finest rock performers alive, one of the most visceral too and those tracks capture that in acidic clarity.


Celebrity Skin
a walking study in demonology.

The Middle Of The Road To Malibu

Eddie Robson

Courtney Love is one of the few musicians who I actively wish would go closer to the middle of the road. (In fact, theres probably only one other Scott Walker.) Let me explain why. Theres clearly a part of Courtney that wants to make an album like Fleetwood Macs Rumours. It might even be the biggest part of Courtney. She would love to make an album that sells to everyone and speaks to everyone, the kind of record that you see in everyones collection. There is nothing at all wrong with this kind of ambition as long as it doesnt adversely affect the quality of the product; in recent years weve lacked people who can pull this off whilst making music of real character, that doesnt achieve mass success by simply hitting the lowest common denominator. Its hard for her to make such a record just because of the baggage she carries. Discussion of her music is often an afterthought. Shes much more famous than any of her songs. Even many of her most fervent fans treat her as if her life is her art, that she justifies herself merely by being. This is a shame as it obscures what a very good songwriter she is. The ever-more-epic gaps between her records shes managed just five albums in twenty-one years are partly attributable to her chaotic personal life. But the 2006 documentary The Return of Courtney Love suggested another reason: she genuinely does seem to work hard on her records, and is determined to make the album she hears in her head.

The solo album she was seen working on in the documentary was scrapped (though it sounded good in the clips we heard) and begun again as a Hole album, eventually appearing four years later: above all, she wanted to avoid a repeat of the disappointing Americas Sweetheart (which shes admitted featured some weak songs and was badly produced, her own judgement clouded by cocaine). Courtneys more crafted approach was best expressed on Celebrity Skin. Overshadowed at the time by the fact that it was her first record since you-know-what, it stands up well today: the title track sounds like Courtneys signature song now, whilst Awful is the most anthemic thing shes written. But the outstanding track, Malibu, shows what shes really capable of. When I hear this, I wish she would write a whole album of Malibus. Until I came to write this piece, Id never bothered finding out what the song is actually about, or what relevance the location has. Its so specific, you presume it has some meaning and wasnt just chosen because the word sounds nice. Its not hard to guess the subject you only need the vaguest notion of who Courtney Love is and when this song was written to work out who the line Oh come on, be alive again is addressed to. But Id honestly never given any of this a great deal of thought, even though Ive loved the song for years. I now know the story behind the song, because I looked it up on

Wikipedia, but I cant say it makes much difference to how I feel about it. Quite often, the most successful pop songs are those which take a specific experience and make it universal. In Malibu Courtney abstracts her experience, turning it into a sequence of evocative images. The song is undoubtedly stronger for being born of painful reality, but as far as the listener is concerned, none of this is necessarily important: you can bring your own meaning. The glossiness of the music doesnt compromise this at all: in fact its slightly brittle lightness is perfectly matched to the lyric, and is keenly judged with a rawer edge constantly threatening to break through. Above all, Courtneys own voice is insurance against any of her recordings becoming slick to the point of airlessness. The result is a poppier rendition of the bruised melancholy of Miss World and Doll Parts.
The song transports you to another place with cinematic vividness: we probably all imagine a different Malibu when we hear the song, especially those of us whove never been to the real one and have to paste it together from what weve seen in movies, but thats the beauty of it. Whilst it was written about literally going to Malibu, it transcends the specifics of its creation and becomes a song about a Malibu of the mind, a place we retreat to at moments of crisis.

Above all the song is infused with a sense of loss, and you can feel its about your own loss, whatever that might be. Its exactly what Fleetwood Mac pulled off on Rumours, in fact: personal chaos and drug abuse, transformed into songs which even the straightest-living person could relate to. A perfect song, perfectly executed. And then the next track is Reasons To Be Beautiful and yeah, its good, but as it kicks in the dream of an album of Malibus slips away. It feels like an obligation to her roots when she includes a track like this, as if shell lose her punk union membership if she doesnt. For all the messiness of her public image, I think her brilliance is best expressed within more conventional boundaries, perhaps because, like a lot of wayward talents, she thrives when trying to be structured. Her personality is strong enough to take a conventional form and own it she can never be truly middle-of-the-road, but the closer she gets, the better she is. She can still work like that Pacific Coast Highway from Nobodys Daughter hits a similar note with almost as much success, and the albums final track Never Go Hungry shows shes superb with just an acoustic guitar. Is there still time for her to make a truly great record in that vein? I hope so.


Celebrity Skin: Ms Love goes to Hollywood

Mic Wright

Its also a record immensely strengthened by Love finding true songwriting partnerships with the radiant Melissa Auf de Maur and her ex-beau Billy Corgan. The melodies are strong, the hooks are iron-clad and the singing is passionate without the vocal-cord shredding Love had previously employed so frequently. While Live Through This could be filleted for clues and allusions about the darkness in her relationship with Kurt Cobain, Love wrote the songs on that record long before the Rome overdose and Kurts eventual suicide. Celebrity Skin is the record where she addresses her new and unwanted role as Americas First Widow. Arguably, not since Jackie O had there been such a highprofile widow at the heart of American culture. Where Jackie had lost not just the man but the president and the myth, forced to carry that weight with her, Courtney lost not only her husband but a generational icon, a figure who will stare at her forever from hoodies and t-shirts, from posters and commemorative supplements. No famous rock star ever truly dies. Celebrity Skin is so raw beneath the glossiness. Images of Courtney hanging herself instead of Kurt, of descent into the underworld, of Malibu as a stand-in for heaven (oceans of angels) and desperate pleas for history to reverse (Oh come on be alive again, dont lay down and die) are scattered over every song. One in particular, Reasons To Be Beautiful, is Courtneys wail of anguish against her loss put to music:

Im glad I came herewith your pound of flesh. Celebrity Skin was the first album after it happened. Its Holes biggest selling record. Its the album that could have made them into a massive band, operating up in the stratospheric mega-selling realms where Courtneys sometime nemesis Dave Grohl resides with Foo Fighters. But Courtney cant, wont, wouldnt play the corporate rock game that Grohl has mastered so effectively. Even on her most commercial album, Love drips as much poison as there is sweetness. Hole had previously covered Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac and Celebrity Skin is where Courtney Love finally let rip and put her soft-rock, faded-Hollywood-glamour worshipping tendencies into the foreground.

And they say in the end/youll get bitter just like them/ and they steal your heart away/when the fire goes out

you better learn to fake/its better to rise than fade away That first with its echo of the Neil Young line quoted in Cobains suicide note is Celebrity Skin encapsulated. It is Courtney Love rebuilding herself as a demonic revenger, a beautiful avenging angel and attempting desperately to exorcise the ghost of Cobain floating around her. Neil Young was trying to reach Kurt Cobain in the week before the younger mans suicide. He has rarely spoken about Cobains use of his lyrics in the suicide note but quickly composed a grief-filled record, Sleeps With Angels, soon after Kurts death. Young said of the period: I wanted to tell him you dont have to do anything anyone tells you to do I had a whole thing I wanted to tell him but I never got the chance. Thats what Courtney is addressing in a sense with Celebrity Skin, it is her emotions, her therapy, her message to her lost husband all wrapped up in the sound of the glossy MOR that comforted her as a lost and lonely kid before punk arrived. Celebrity Skin is Holes most accessible record because it is the most human and, beneath the production gloss, the most truthful.


The body of evidence

Oh give me a reason to be beautifulso sick in this body, so sick in this soul

Pretty on the Inside: Holes lessons on body image.

Ruth Michaelson

Oh give me a reason to be beautifulso sick in this body, so sick in this soul Women are not supposed to be angry, certainly not this angry, in our society. Male rage can be labelled bravery or passion, but there is no generally accepted label for feminine rage, no social box to tick to understand and digest it easier. Holes music, lyrics and aesthetics were filled with references to traditional feminine expectations being inverted, twisting and warping expected female behaviour and throwing them back in the face of anyone listening, or watching. Hole is a band that came of age at the height of the MTV years when music videos were almost as important as the songs they accompanied. It was all about subverting visual expectations, whether in Courtney Love's lyrics or in real life. In other words, they took the visuals of a Stepford Wife and showed the rage that bubbles beneath the surface. It could be said that society desires mute, passive little girls, and nothing could subvert this more than a grown woman dressed like a doll, screaming obscenities as her mascara runs down her face to meet the lipstick smeared across her cheek. While members like Patty Schemel or Melissa Auf de Maur definitely had an impact on the look and sound of Hole, no discussion of what the band was can happen without reference to its dynamic centre, the behemoth of female rage that is Courtney Love.

The band has been through many incarnations (with the most recent being an all-male lineup with Courtney as the front-woman) but Love remains the beating heart of Hole, guiding its style and spirit with her lyrics and on-to-offstage controversies. Love is not just an experienced provocateur, it is also clear that she loves to play with being shocking in public and she doesnt give a fuck who knows it. It is almost refreshing in some ways to hear how many people dislike her because of this- it is confirmation of the fact that she needs to exist. Love courted this controversy with her behaviour, swearing and spitting at journalists, but signified it through her appearance: channelling a kind of obscene, screwed-up Marilyn Monroe or a beautiful child from a horror film. I am doll eyes, doll mouth, doll legs, I am doll arms, big veins, doll base [Doll Parts] Hole werent just angry: they were angry about being made angry in the first place. Female anger in music is traditionally directed at men, at broken hearts or promises; think of the muted wails that penetrated Phil Spectors Wall of Sound, the sneers of Debbie Harry or the pleading cries of Janis Joplin in Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, but this is anger about a

male-dominated societys expectations on women, not any one man in particular. Women screaming about society was not new, Patti Smith and the punk scene had defiantly broken through that barrier over a decade previously, but this was not just anger, this was bitterness, targeted at the society of the 90s which told women that they were freer now than ever before, yet increased the focus on the female body and heightened ideas of beauty. The 90s was, in a certain sense, a time of progress for women, but as women entered more boardrooms and assumed a more visible place at the core of a society, the focus on their bodies and appearances increased. This was the having it all moment, and female bodies had to reflect this by having toned abs, albeit hidden under a suit. Holes own image combined with visuals and lyrics to describe something beautiful thats somehow been ruined or desecrated, evolving from the fucked up baby-dolls of Pretty on the Inside, the weeping beauty-queens of Live Through This to tarnished celestial, pre-Raphaelite figures of Celebrity Skin. Songs from each of their five albums are peppered with references to whores and the selling of bodies (You want a part of me? Well Im not selling cheap Celebrity Skin), or even body parts (Im glad I came here with your pound of flesh, Celebrity Skin or the pieces of Jennifers Body Jennifers Body) and playing with the idea that conforming to how society

wants women to look can often feel like selling yourself, in other words: society ruins beauty, by packaging it up and making it sellable, and in so doing, it destroys it. Shes too pure, for the likes of this world, this world is a whore All the lilies bloomed and blossomed, wilted and theyre shivering, I cant stop their withering, oh this world is a whore [Petals] Female body image and self-harm lie neatly at the intersection between female rage and the visual: women are not supposed to get angry at society, they are supposed to turn their rage inwards. Its difficult to think of a Hole song that doesnt involve some reference to pain or self-harm, all tied to the idea of beauty and suffering. To some, this might sound like a love-song to an eating disorder: but the combination of thrashing guitars makes it seem more like rage at the society that makes such demands on women, that projects eating disorders as desirable. In essence, this isnt pro-eating disorder, its anti-society. This is two-fingers-to-you-for-making-me-feel-this-way, lamenting at being demanded to harm oneself and call it beauty. Everything about Holes aesthetic, lyrics and music was about screwing with traditional perceptions, particularly those about femininity, trying to scratch away the surface of traditional, socialised appearances to show what it takes to appear

beautiful in a society that demands women feel pain to achieve it. And they say in the end, youll get better just like them. And they steal your heart away, when the fire goes out youd better learn to fake [Reasons to be Beautiful] "Fake it so real I am beyond fake. Someday you will ache like I ache. [Doll Parts] At the heart of this were also constant references to ideas of fakery and artifice, the sense that the goodness, wellness and beauty is actually a faade. In other words: societys expectations are wrong. It may seem like these ideas are only relevant to those who are angry, or at least beleaguered, by such expectations: the raging feminists or the psychology students. This is part of the falsehood, that being pissed off at societys expectations of you makes you a freak. In many ways, the only appropriate response to the level of pressure placed on women about their appearances is anger, and this is a message that sadly has only grown more relevant with time. If Hole were pissed off by the 90s, then we need a renaissance of this kind of agitation for now, as demands on women to conform with their bodies has only grown. There has never

been a greater need for women to scream messages that effectively tell society and its expectations to go fuck themselves. Even those who previously hated her need to start uttering the following words like a mantra: come back Courtney Love, all is forgiven


The future
Your whole wide world is in my hands

Photo by rufusowliebat used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence

Nobody's Daughter: Hole's beautiful neglected child

Mic Wright

Most established bands hit The Rolling Stones tipping point, the stage at which their albums become just like mile markers rather than explosions of glitter and glam lighting up a dull sky. For the Stones themselves the point at which that occurred is a point of debate. Plenty of people will tell you its Some Girls, others will plump for Emotional Rescue. Either way, best case scenario: The Rolling Stones haven't made a truly great album since 1980. 1980! 19-bloody-80. It's controversial i.e. some folk get antsy to say that Hole/ Courtney Love have not reached that point but in my not so humble opinion they haven't. America's Sweetheart, Courtney's only solo album to date has been savaged even by Linda Perry who co-wrote on it and produced the record but it's not a fair assessment. It was a good power pop album with more ideas and anger than most bands manage in a whole career. Mono and All The Drugs alone mean that record stands up. The latest Hole album, Nobody's Daughter, finds Courtney writing some of the best lyrics of her career. But, as often happens to bands which shed original members, the absence of Eric and the presence of Courtney's new collaborator, British guitarist Micko, means it has been brushed aside by many. Again: wrong! WRONG! WRONG!!! Nobody's Daughter opens the record in a brash clattering attack of acoustic guitars, as nakedly autobiographical as Courtney has ever been: "I'm not stupid, I just need a lot of help to understand how stupid you really are."

She picks at the scabs of her romantic and family life and digs deep into her history, she understands herself as a character in her own and other people's fictions. #solidarity is not something Courtney Love has ever signed up to. She writes both feminist tracts and utterly frank takedowns. Skinny Little Bitch sits in the latter category: "Skinny little bitch, stare at the mirror, in your desperation to disappear, you would be oh so dumb to fuck with me because baby you're much to young to end up with meyour bedrooms are falling down, cause everyone can see you now." Honey is the ragged romance Courtney has always specialised in. Channeling the spirit of Stevie Nicks at her least witchy and most bruised: "Are you up there? Do you listen?" Being a widow is like a scar, it never completely heals, it is a mark on your forever and it runs through Courtney's work like a message in Brighton rock. Pacific Coast Highway enters the territory that Courtney covered so powerfully on Celebrity Skin Los Angeles as a prism for focusing her feeling of loss and lust. Kurt Cobain is a living thing in Courtney Love's mind, a maths problem she will never solve, a sentence without a full stop: "I knew a boy, he came from the sea, he was the only boy who ever knew the truth about me/I'm overwhelmed and

under-sexed/baby what did you expect?/I'm over-wrought and so disgraced" Since the very beginning of Hole, Courtney has written brilliant female protagonists into her songs. Samantha is another brilliant one: "Keep waiting for war/you'll never win/you'll lose again/ watch her wrap her legs around this world/can't take that gutter from the girl" Somebody Else's Bed is dark and from the sweaty aftermath of disasters: "So your lying in your underwear/in someone else's bed/and the silence is so dangerous/there's a terrible sense of dread" Courtney, an over-sharer before it was mainstream, sings to herself and lets us in there too. For Once In Your Life is a similarly self-help, self-delusion, self-obsessed piece: "You just don't love me and I just don't care" A rehab record, a record coming when Courtney was at her lowest, Nobody's Daughter is as raw as a skinned knee: "And when you're gone/it gets so cold/I swear I'm too young to be this old." To be famous is to be childlike and ancient.


"I've been cheated/covered in diamonds/and covered in filth." Letter To God takes the record even rawer to even more painful places: "Dear God, I'm writing this letter to you because I don't have a clue/can you help me? I'm sitting here simply trying to figure out what my life's all about, can you tell me? I never wanted to be the person you see/can you tell me who I am? I always wanted to die/but you kept me here alive, can you tell me who I am?" Kurt went but Courtney stayed. The tougher path, living is not the best revenge, it's the hardest struggle. Loser Dust. Pretty On The Inside was a punk record with Kim Gordon at the desk. Loser Dust is that back and bold and beautifully brutal: "I love every inch of you/you're going down for what you love/every single part of you/you're going down for your loser dust" How Dirty Girls Get Clean rehab rock gets literal: "I've lost my money/I've lost control/I've lost the feeling in my arms/I'm a lost soulthis how dirty girls get clean/don't leave me now"

Can her lover stay as she rebuilds herself? He should but by god, what a raw list of mental collapses to listen to, no matter how nice the guitar might be: "What angry star runs your devil heart?" Never Go Hungry Courtney always said, despite the spite spat her way, that the money was not her money but Kurt's money, Frances Bean's money. Without parents to save her Courtney Love has always had to make her own money and this song sings of that clearly: "I don't care/what it takes my friend/I will never go hungry/ go hungry again" Happy Ending Story wishful thinking and wistful thoughts. Courtney sounds utterly ragged on this one: "Tell me a happy ending story/is there a happy ending story?" It's a song for 4am when the world looks like it could end before sunrise. Nobody's Daughter isn't a busted flush final strum from a rockstar out of ideas. Hole has not reached Rolling Stones point. Rather it is a chapter in one of the most remarkable catalogues of art about the experience of a woman in the modern world, an extraordinary woman experiencing extraordinary fortune and incredibly public humiliation and pain.


Authors, photographers and artists


2012 Breadcrumb Trail Publishing

The essays contained in this collection are the property of the respective authors. Lyrics quoted for reasons of scholarship and criticism.


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