Courntey Love on Sax, Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll
'I do know what it's like to be homeless'
“I Google myself every morning,” Courtney Love says. “This week, it was all ‘Courtney bashes Springsteen!’” She makes the sound of a nose-diving plane. “Oh, shit.”
She’s referring to an incident a couple of days ago. On her semi fly-on-the-wall YouTube series “Courtney Love On…” she was seen giving her verdict on the Boss, insisting that “saxophones don’t belong in rock ‘n’ roll,” which she insists is private banter accidentally released.
Cue a media meltdown, to which Love herself notes she is no stranger. “Spin summed it up when they wrote: ‘Sigh, and she was being so good…’ Ughhh!
“The night before this comes out, I’m in a restaurant drinking wine with Bruce Springsteen and talking. I’ve had to write an apology letter to Bruce, an apology letter to his manager and tweet the five best saxophone players in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t need this shit in my life. I don’t need any more controversy.”
Courtney’s lack of self-censorship frequently lands her in trouble. You might say the 21st century equivalent of “Garbo talks!” would be “Courtney shuts up.” A life lived in the public eye means she’s completely lacking in mystery. She can consult a search engine to discover what she did recently.
And yes, she talks. Eloquent, loquacious, sprawling sentences that veer suddenly from subject to subject, dropping first names — “And then Billie Joe [Armstrong, Green Day] told me…” — like she expects you to be intimately familiar with her complicated bio. She’s hugely entertaining company — funny, charming and bracingly honest — perhaps because everything you could throw at her has already been said.
Over the years, Love the artist, musician and songwriter has gotten a little lost in the fog of drama and misdemeanors. “People expect me to be this mythical rock character all the time. The Dirt book [Mötley Crüe’s infamous biography] years are behind me. I went to rehab in 2005 and haven’t touched narcotics since then.”
Speaking from her home in Runyon Canyon, Los Angeles (“I look out my window and all I can see is actresses with perfect bodies like
Reese Witherspoon hiking”), she’s promoting a UK tour and a single, the double A-side, “You Know My Name/Wedding Day,” her first new music in four years.
“I wrote about 20 songs but threw them all out. I’m like: I don’t want to make an album with this stuff because it’s not good enough. But these two songs are really, really good — two minutes 59 seconds of really fast punk-pop. I know it’s only hip-hop that works in this climate, but I can’t be like Chris Martin and do something with
Rihanna. It’s not very me.”
Although this year has been about new material, she’s also dealing with the past. April 5 marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of her late husband Kurt Cobain, who took his own life at the height of his fame. A week later, his band Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
The night marked the thawing of a frosty relationship between Love and drummer Dave Grohl. At odds over Nirvana’s legacy for two decades, the pair hugged after Love referred to the assembled people — including Cobain’s mother and sisters — as “my family.” She later tweeted: “Thank you Dave, I love you. I know this made him smile up there.”
“It was really genuine,” she reflects days later. “We didn’t go into the press room and whore it out or something. The only pissy thing was he came up to me first back in the bathroom line, and I’d wanted to come up to him first.”
The rapprochement was partly motivated by her receiving new information about Grohl and his connection to the £360 million ($612 million) Cobain fortune she claims has been stolen from her and daughter Frances Bean.
“What you’ve got to understand is these are current financial issues relating to Nirvana Inc.; it wasn’t something old sitting in the grave that goes back to Kurt’s suicide. If it happened in the past, I don’t count it. Marilyn Manson said worse things about me — I couldn’t give a shit. That’s rock ‘n’ roll. When I found out that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily true, it was easier to let it go. Dave has a lot of money from the Foo Fighters — he doesn’t need to be stealing pension plans from Nirvana. And he’s not.
“For a lot of years, we were never agreeing on anything. I always remained close with Pat [Smear, guitarist], ‘cause if you recall, I put him in Nirvana. Kurt wanted a happy person and between the two of us, we could only think of one and it was Pat.
“It [the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] was very, very nice. How can I put this? We are a family in the sense that everyone on that stage has to deal with the guilt of ‘How could I ever have stopped this?’ every day.”
At the ceremony itself, Love was booed. Even before Cobain’s death, Nirvana fans had unfairly vilified her as a gold-digger, and she recently alienated them further by revealing that she is developing a Broadway musical about his life.
“You just have to trust me. Other than that Muppets travesty [a barbershop cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit by Beaker and co. was used in the 2011 Disney reboot] — which I had nothing to do with — I’ve never allowed Kurt’s music to be used for anything naff. And I never will.”
Ironically, chaos has been the one constant in Love’s life. Following her parents’ divorce, she moved through her mother’s subsequent marriages, juvenile homes, foster families and spells of homelessness. Like Yoko Ono, to whom she is often compared, she hung out with Liverpudlian musicians — immersing herself in the city’s post-punk scene in 1978.
“There was one point in the nineties when I was begging on the streets of Hollywood Boulevard. And then I got a promotion to stripper. So you know, I do know what it’s like to be homeless. And getting kicked out of Julian Cope and Pete de Freitas’s [drummer, Echo & The Bunnymen] squat on to the streets because I read some of his first wife’s letters. Bono and The Edge I really followed around Dublin but they didn’t seem to take to me. Whereas Julian was like: ‘Here’s the keys to my house.’ And being homeless and 15, I went to Liverpool instead of sticking it out in Dublin.”
The specter of being the “grunge widow” hangs over Love. But her band Hole received tremendous critical acclaim. Love’s last album, Nobody’s Daughter, was released under the Hole name, despite containing none of the original members apart from her. Now, she’s decided to reform the classic Hole line-up for the first time since 2002 and is rehearsing material with Melissa Auf Der Maur, Eric Erlandson and Patty Schemel.
“The four of us were in the car the other day and we were talking about every band that’s reformed. Everyone’s done it. I don’t mean Nine Inch Nails’s three victory laps, or Soundgarden. I’m talking Sunny Day Real Estate, Jesus Lizard, the Lemonheads. It’s like we’re the last to the dance in terms of a reunion. I mean, it’s only the Smashing Pumpkins that are not coming to the dance, ’cause unless he evolves, Billy [Corgan, her one-time ex and musical sparring partner] is a little too tough to get along with and holds his grudges too much. Look, if me and Dave Grohl can put aside our shit, then this reunion was easy.
“If we do anything with Hole, we’re not interested unless we put out something that’s relevant and amazingly now. It needs a killer single to drive it.”
If the start of the year has been characterized by reconciliations — with Grohl, with Hole and with her daughter Frances, following a very public estrangement (Frances filed a restraining order against her in 2009) — July will see Love celebrate her 50th birthday. How does she feel about reaching her half-century?
“Well, I reckon I’m cute for seven or eight more years. And if I invest it wisely, I won’t end up a cat lady. I don’t look that bad — I’ve had a little surgery, I’ve had my nose fixed and stuff but although I didn’t inherit much from my parents, I inherited very, very good health. Both parents, as crazy, sociopathic and narcissistic as they are — and estranged as I will always be from them — they’re both very charismatic. And I guess I inherited some of that charisma. And I just don’t feel that old.”
Back in L.A., after living in New York for six years (“I was doing a lot of dating, visiting galleries and operas and living like a socialite — and honestly, I got bored”), she’s got a “powerful agent” and is attempting to “get out of movie star jail.” Despite receiving a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in The People vs. Larry Flynt in 1996, her film career was torpedoed by the cost of insuring her.
The Leveson Inquiry represented the biggest celebrity controversy of the decade, so naturally Love was slap bang in the middle of it. As a result of the News of the World inappropriately obtaining information about her relationship with Steve Coogan, she received a payout.
“That was in 2005 with ‘the comedian.’ I told everyone I could think of it was voicemail hacking; they all thought I was crazy. So a law firm in the U.K. contacted me.
“I didn’t get paid a fortune but Gordon Ramsay told me he got paid the same.
“Whenever I have to see that guy Coogan, he’s still a dick to me. It’s like: ‘Uggh, really?’ You made a million pounds off that and I made, like, a 20th of that. It was in the top ten of worst things ever. It was the cover of the News of the Screws. It was the last hurrah of me doing cocaine and I had a two-week non-fling with this guy. I didn’t even leave him my phone number and then I left a voicemail that was really graphic and had some conversations with my female guitar player at the time and it all made it into the paper as though I’d given an interview and been paid for it or something.
“I was in rehab at the time, so I didn’t know what was going on in the media — but I knew it was big and horrible.”
Casually, she mentions something as an aside, and with a laugh, that epitomizes what a fascinating mess of contradictions she is.
“The funny thing is I’m friends with someone who’s being convicted of it all in the Chipping Norton set. I’m friends with quite a few of her relatives. I couldn’t give a shit. You know, shit happens. I just stay away from cocaine and fading British comedians.”