Courtney Love attends a charity event in Vienna, Austria in 2014.
People have always hated Courtney Love.
Perhaps this was not the primary feeling we were intended to take away from the intensely personal new Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, but there it is nonetheless.
From the moment she emerged as a pop culture figure -- first at the helm of Hole, as a 20-something blonde, husky-voiced tornado, who later landed the true-life version of that heartthrob poster inside your locker -- Nirvana fans were sending Love hate mail. After Cobain’s death, she’d be accused of everything from driving him to suicide, to getting him hooked on heroin, to actually pulling the trigger herself.
The message boards devoted to this hatred -- and there are plenty -- are fascinating. It’s such a plainly gendered narrative, and one that's all too common in the rock world (just ask Yoko Ono): The crazy lady destroyed our imaginary rock star boyfriend! (Because he would have been an angel otherwise?)
This is not, of course, to suggest that Love, now 50, has been an angel herself. On the contrary; her personal life has consistently overshadowed her music, which is a shame -- Live Through This, in particular, released just a week after Cobain's death in 1994, deserves a re-listen on its own terms. Still, it's understandable: the singer and sometime actress has famously feuded with everyone from ex-beau Billy Corgan to Dave Grohl to Gwen Stefani to her own daughter. She consistently says ridiculous, unapologetically batshit-crazy things. She’s a narcissist of the highest degree (listen to her own up to it on her new single, posted below), and videos of her drunk or high in public make Lindsay Lohan look like a decorated Girl Scout. (Love’s official line is that she’s been sober since 2006.)
In short: She’s a bona fide rock star, one who’s been keeping us laughing for more than two decades, and we’re so glad she’s still around. In honor of her appearance tonight, May 20, at the Shoreline Amphitheater with Lana Del Rey, here are five reasons we’re still carrying a torch for Courtney Love.
1. She knows how to make an entrance.
This is peak Courtney for you: Here she is interrupting Madonna and Kurt Loder’s conversation -- sorry, make that saving Madonna and Kurt Loder from the most boringly stilted interview ever -- at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards. She gets Madonna’s attention by throwing a makeup compact at her. She falls off her stool. She calls Michael Stipe “Stipey.” We’d rather hang out with her than probably anyone else in attendance that night.
2. She’s never been afraid of the F-word.
No, not that one. Well, okay, that one too -- but here we mean “feminism,” and not of the Taylor Swift variety, either. Courtney Love was demanding to be taken as seriously as her male counterparts, and letting those who would challenge her right to express her sexuality as she pleased know exactly where they could stick it, back when Bey and T-Swift and Meghan Trainor were in diapers. Which is to say, before it was a safe or trendy word at all.
This 1993 interview from the zine Rollerderby, thankfully archived on tumblr, is insane for many reasons -- unsolicited weight loss tip: STOP EATING CHEESE -- but the section in which Love talks about how she plans to overturn the system from the inside by being pretty, then yells at an interloping Cobain that “I’m a feminist and I try to f---ing help other feminists and I’m sorry if that offends you and I’m not gonna talk to her about my f---ing drug problem” is, well, especially loaded. (Spoiler alert: He gets pissed at that.)
3. She embraces changes in the new media landscape.
Always a trailblazer, Love has the distinction of being the first person to ever be sued for libel because of Twitter -- twice. In 2010, she had public words over a business deal gone bad with fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, which concluded when Love settled with her out of court for $430,000. Three years later, in a civil suit seeking $8 million in damages, Love’s former attorney Rhonda Holmes sued the singer after Love tweeted some accusatory gibberish about Holmes being “bought off” -- and this one actually went to court, in a first-of-its-kind case the media promptly dubbed “Twibel.”
Love had hired Holmes in 2008 to look into missing funds from Kurt Cobain’s estate; the two women parted ways on less than amicable terms before six months were out. A Los Angeles jury found Love not guilty in January 2014. “It was a really great learning experience,” Love, always the comedian, told the LA Times.
4. She is often, quite literally, the girl with the most cake.
Asked to keep a food journal for New York Magazine in 2012, Love did not disappoint, this time trucking out 20 years’ worth of culinary advice, plus a serious affinity for toast soldiers, and a medical need for sugar between 4 and 5am.
“One thing from living next to Paris Hilton in L.A. … she always had a fresh cake in her house. So I make sure someone gets a full, fresh new one every day, like marzipan. My house manager tries to put it in the fridge, but I don’t like refrigeration.”
Pineapple upside-down cake: yes. Chocolate: no. Also: “My testosterone level is 358, which is crazy because I don’t have a beard, no acne, and I’m not a lesbian.”
5. She puts on a great show … even when she puts on a terrible show.
Yes, we heard that isolated vocal and guitar track from a 2010 performance that was making its way around the internet last year. And if you think the fact that a then-45-year-old frontwoman of a grunge-punk band didn’t hit every single note on one of her 20-year-old songs means she isn’t worth going to see, you are missing the point.
Even when she’s at her worst -- especially when she’s at her worst? -- Courtney Love shows are spectacles of the highest, most rock 'n' roll order. In 2004, on a sloppy visit to the Fillmore, she stumbled around and grabbed her crotch a lot, before Robin Williams came out in camouflage to announce the encore (“House of the Rising Sun”). In this excellent Washington Post review from 2011, she went topless, then “quickly became self-conscious and asked the audience for a bra.”
Her more recent shows have reportedly been tighter: KQED music editor Gabe Meline saw her at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma in 2013 for what he describes as a "solid, formidable show that evoked a weird sense of relief, dare I say pride." But even if things go awry? We got you, Courtney. You’ve earned it. You’re keeping it interesting. In a pop culture landscape full of meticulously managed, publicist-mediated celebrity "experiences," one where even the public meltdowns are staged, we'd even venture to say we need you, maybe now more than ever.
Besides, let's be honest: We’d still rather hang out with you than Madonna.