‘Crazy’ Courtney Love – Why Women can’t be Rock Stars, Pt 2

Posted by Irresponsibility



Just over seven years ago Courtney Love appeared naked on the cover of Q200. It has taken me that long to understand and articulate my shame at my part in the proceedings. It was a minor role. I fielded her hoarse, furious phone calls, possibly signalling my boss, then-editor Danny Eccleston, across the desks it’s her. For a while, I had a tape of her inchoate voicemails stashed in my desk drawer, just in case.

Everyone involved would agree it was a messy episode. Courtney was scheduled to do a photo-shoot and interview. Arrangements were protracted; grandiose. On the day, reports filtered back to the office. Courtney was late, Courtney was refusing to do this, or demanding that, timings were out the window, chaos in the door. The most salacious detail became a picture caption recording Courtney’s request her beautician wax her “box”. Ultimately, the interview never happened. The cover “shoot” was a series of candid snaps of Courtney Love naked in a black cab and writhing nude on a street somewhere in London, in the middle of the night. Her press officer, Barbara Charone (a fire-breathing legend in music circles) railed and Courtney called to howl imprecations, but it didn’t matter. Q had their shot and by god, they were going to use it.

Naïve and eager to get along, I nodded and chuckled at the appropriate points as the story of the shoot was bandied around the office. What a state. What a druggie. What a lunatic, my colleagues said aloud. What a slut. What a disgrace. What a blot on Kurt’s holy memory, came through plain enough between the lines. The Q staff, apart from the lesbian designer and I, were typical music journalists, e.g. well-educated middle-class boys whose dreams of rock glory landed them in front of broke-down iMacs in a badly ventilated office tower convenient to Marks & Spencer Oxford Street (good for lunches and the occasional bottle of inexpensive birthday champagne). Cynicism prevailed. I was faintly perturbed by the whole Courtney thing. Using the shots seemed, tasteless, at best. But what did she expect? You can’t hoover (presumably) a load of drugs, act crazy, take all your clothes off in front of a photographer and expect the magazine to not do anything. Right?

For a while I repeated the story because it advertised my intimacy with the inner-circle workings of rock journalism. Then I forgot about it. Not until the Britney “meltdown” did I began to reconsider Courtney’s place in my stock of anecdotes. Older, I was wise to the blatant misogyny of the media attacks on Britney. Surely it was different, though, I thought. Q was – we were – justified in our treatment of Courtney. After all, we hadn’t made her go nuts and take her clothes off. Had we? The skin-prickling realisation hit me: we were worse. I was so keen to appear hip, to prove I could be as cynical as the boys, to show I wasn’t like her, that I joined right in.

What did she expect? Probably to be treated like a human being. She was plainly in no state to undertake a promotional photo shoot. Someone, from her team, or ours, should have called it off long before it got to naked-in-the-cab.

Arguably, Q would have used the pictures if a male rock star had comported himself in a similar fashion. The interpretation, however, would have been different. Eye-watering, stomach-turning stories about men are their badges of honour; medals pinned to the battered black leather jackets we dream all rock stars wear. Ozzy Osborne drinking his own piss; Duff McKagan boozing till his pancreas exploded; Steven Tylor and Joe Perry of Aerosmith – aka the Toxic Twins – allegedly locking themselves in Perry’s honeymoon suite to do speedballs while his wedding reception went on without them. In my time at Q I heard all of these stories, and dozens like them, repeated with reverence. Proof of the protagonist’s rawk credentials. By comparison Courtney flashing some skin in a deserted intersection is downright pedestrian, yet it made her a scarlet woman. Unlike the frantic excesses of her male peers it was shameful. Courtney’s pale bare flesh against black asphalt didn’t make her wild, it made her a slag.

This realisation has made me reconsider my long-held acquiescence to the traditional view that Courtney Love is a nutter. The endless gossip column inches about her penchant for odd costuming, her yo-yoing weight, the occasional public tantrum, the self-justifying messages flung out on the world wide web. Oh, and she used to take her clothes off onstage, and once let a strange man suck her nipple. These are the crimes which make her target of a thousand media slings and arrows.

Look at it like this, though. She was a young woman, an artist, a mother, who had the unenviable task of trying to hold together her fragile, adored, junkie artist lover. Courtney gets a lot of shit for how she acted in the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide, but it was Kurt who took the easy way out by putting a shotgun in his mouth. The shock and grief would have floored anyone, and she had to live through it in public. To make it worse, suddenly he was a god. Only suttee would have satisfied his fans. She had the temerity to keep on living, to keep on being a woman, an artist, a mother. Compassion is notably absent from public response to her. The fashion press pillories her style choices, the moralists wring their hands about the fate of Francis Bean, the music press dismisses her as a harpy and coattail-hanger. Looking at some of the pictures of Courtney through the years – the wild hair, the immense eyes, the almost palpable waves of pain, fury, confusion – I think of Virginia Woolf’s comment: “When… one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils… then I think we are on the track of a suppressed poet… who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift ha[s] put her to.”

Courtney’s problem is, I suspect, that she is smart enough to know the game is rigged, and angry enough to play anyway. Women can’t be rock stars. The men who hold the key to the rock ‘n’ roll kingdom decided that a long time ago. Love gets it. She called her band Hole, and sang “They know how to break all the girls like you/And the rob the souls of the girls like you”. But what is a rock star to do? Buy a house in the suburbs? Wear a black veil? Knit? Anything Courtney could do to “redeem” her public image would be a betrayal of her passion and talent. It is an impossible choice imposed by the misogyny of the media and by fools like me, who subscribe to its cruel faux-morality.

11 thoughts on “‘Crazy’ Courtney Love – Why Women can’t be Rock Stars, Pt 2

  1. Pingback: Seventh Carnival of Feminists « Shut Up, Sit Down

  2. In a note left to his widow, Courtney Love, prior to his 1994 suicide, Kurt Cobain apologized for killing himself and begged her, ”Please don’t follow me.” Last month, as Love, once known for her dirty baby-doll dresses, smeared lipstick, and fondness for heroin, landed on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar as one of ”America’s Most Stylish Women,” it’s clear there was never any danger of that.
    Love has often been skewered for her shrewd careerism, while Cobain is remembered as a tortured soul. But after reading about Love’s wretched early years in Poppy Z. Brite’s Courtney Love: The Real Story, it seems Love also suffered the kind of pain that could lead to suicide. In fact, the chilling details of Love’s childhood from hell are what save this book from being just another celebrity clip job. While the latter chapters mostly rehash old stories, Brite, who had access to court records and some of Love’s journals, describes her nightmarish family and her stints in foster homes, reform schools, and strip clubs so effectively that the book briefly transcends its genre. It’s a snapshot of a ’60s hippie couple and their abysmal child-rearing practices that would be fascinating even if Love weren’t famous.

    Love’s parents, a onetime Deadhead named Hank Harrison and Linda Risi Carroll, a flaky heiress, raised her in a ragtag household in San Francisco. They divorced when Courtney was 5, and her mother won custody after testifying in court that Harrison had given his daughter LSD when she was 4. Carroll married twice more and had two other daughters, finally moving with her third husband to a commune in Oregon. Brite says other kids called Love Pee Girl, ”because no one ever thought to wash her clothes.” When she was 8, her family moved to New Zealand, but because she and her mother fought, Love was left behind with a friend of Carroll’s in the States. Eventually, Love was shipped to New Zealand. Once there, Brite claims, her mother again found her too difficult, and Love wound up back in the U.S., where she spent several years in reform school and juvenile hall. According to one reformatory report, 13-year-old Love came back from a visit with Harrison smelling of marijuana and said her father had given it to her. Love’s friend Robin Bradbury recalls once visiting Harrison with her and says he gave them a baggie containing LSD when they left. Bradbury also remembers Love’s delight when her first stepfather gave her a toothbrush: ”I don’t think she got the normal things kids get from their parents. I mean, to get so excited about a f—ing toothbrush.” (Carroll, now a therapist, once said Courtney had been troubled since the age of two.)

    Given her childhood, her later years, in which she shuttled between strip clubs in Japan and L.A. and punk-rock hangouts in Liverpool, sound less apocryphal here than when first reported in Lynn Hirschberg’s notorious 1992 profile in Vanity Fair. When she marries Cobain, who reportedly never got over his parents’ divorce, it seems more like the inevitable union of two damaged souls than Hirschberg’s take that Love played a scheming Yoko to Cobain’s vulnerable Lennon.

    Hirschberg’s devastating and prescient portrait of Love ruthlessly plotting her path to stardom, however, is sorely missed here. Brite seems reluctant to explore why Cobain ultimately turned on himself while Courtney, so far, has triumphed, morphing from the original riot grrrl into a Dolce & Gabbana-clad Serious Actress and mainstream media darling overnight. It could be that Love’s ferocious survival instincts were forged in a childhood that was actually far worse than Cobain’s. One clue to how far she’s come may lie in Love’s reform-school records. ”Internally, Courtney appears to be a very frightened young lady,” reads one report, ”who has never met with very much success at anything she has tried.” Now that the former Pee Girl has a potentially dazzling movie, music, even modeling career ahead of her, that kind of statement, of course, is no longer true. B
    …. why can’t women be rockstars again? this is more fucked up than sean penn’s bitching letter to trey parker and matt stone about Team America World Police

    • Trumendontkillcoyotes wins the “unclear on the concept” gold star for the day. Next time, buddy, try reading properly before telling someone “your [sic] an amateur writer”.

      • well, I didn’t read the whole fucking thing, I guess I get a gold star for that. Sweet profile pic, are you fatigued by dealing with comments like mine all day? get a life bro/sis/whateverthefuckyouare

  3. Pingback: Melissa & Courtney – Love in the Headlines « Irresponsibility

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