Why I Love Courtney Love
Courtney Love performing at House of Blues in 2013.
Photos by Jim Bricker
Tonight the always volatile and divisive Courtney Love will take the stage at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion opening for the equally controversial Lana Del Rey. It's a bizarre combination: Love hasn't exactly been a musical force in recent years, so her opening slot seems to be a choice made out of pure adulation on the part of Del Rey. Except Del Rey's adulation is tempered by controversy as well, having publicly said that she wanted to die at 27 just like Love's deceased husband, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. Love and Cobain's daughter, Frances Bean, then called out Del Rey on the whole snafu, because the sentiment offended her.
Obviously Love herself wasn't offended, or perhaps Del Rey's inviting her on tour was a sort of mea culpa. Either way, Love's opening slot is going to be one of the most interesting in recent years. While Del Rey is the bigger star at this point, her music is so chill as to put one to sleep. Love is the antithesis of this, and that's why I love her. Wait, what? Yes, I love Courtney Love, even if I may be the only one. So many criticisms of Courtney exist, and so few of them are founded in anything except an irrational “Yoko Ono syndrome” that plagues her. But let's take a look at who Courtney Love really is.
Her debut as a musician, as the singer of Hole, was Pretty on the Inside, released only a week before Nirvana's monstrous debut, Nevermind. Whereas the latter album was a revolutionary radio hit, featuring a melding of Cobain's punk ethos with the college-rock movement of the '80s that he so loved, Pretty on the Inside was a difficult album to listen to. It was purely in the vein of Sonic Youth and other noise-punk bands of the era; there was nothing radio-ready about it.
Love's screeching vocals were tempered by her ability to twist and turn a melody. She resembled Stevie Nicks by way of Joan Jett, but she forged her own personality through her lyrical content. These songs were frank discussions about her upbringing and the difficult life of a woman abused, cast out, and finding herself in the male-dominated punk rock scene. Opening track “Teenage Whore” is essentially the anthem of this lifestyle.
It was a massive hit in the UK, but US audiences didn't much get it. That makes sense. Even in the grunge era, American listeners have always been hesitant to approach an album this heavy, this noisey, and this decidedly unbeautiful, especially coming from a woman. In a deft stroke, through her fame as Cobain's wife and her band's simultaneous debut which many would find repulsive, Love established herself as public enemy number one, a fantastically interesting artist, and a feminist icon all at once. She eschewed every expectation of a woman in music, even in the punk rock scene.
Despite my name-checking Joan Jett, even she never approached this kind of punk rock; her style was more bubblegum punk. Love instead delved into the ugly side of punk: hardcore. Much of Hole's debut plays out similar to any other hardcore punk band of the era. Contrast it with Fugazi before you contrast it with the Pixies. It paved the way for women in hardcore, and even in pop. Would Alanis Morissette have broken through with her decidedly harsher and atypical vocals if not for women like Love and Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, who has a production credit on “Teenage Whore.” Did those two lead the charge against the cliché that women should make nice-sounding pop music? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
As a musician, no, Love never quite approached the heights of Hole's heyday again. Live Through This was an excellent follow-up that broke Hole into the American mainstream, though most likely bolstered by her relationship with Cobain. Then, after 1997 followup Celebrity Skin, little happened. Even a 2010 album that featured Love and no original members of the band, Nobody's Daughter, failed to capture the public's imagination. The Love era came to an abrupt end to due to her own personal struggles, which, despite the public's fascination with them, remain irrelevant to her stature as an artist. I will not discuss them here, except to say that this kind of tabloid garbage smearing her as a human being is disgusting and distracts from what she truly contributed to the music of the 1990s.
In recent years, that tabloid shit is pretty much the only reason anyone pays attention to Love. Everyone wants to jump on whatever the latest bizarre thing she has said or done is to accumulate page-hits and readership. Love's very public turmoil and refusal to be anything other than herself, even as a massive celebrity, has just fueled it. However, her “gives-no-fucks-ever” attitude is more admirable to me than any public figure who would play into the media's desire for all our celebrities to be some phony ideal of a perfect person.
Love's very flaws are what make her such an interesting icon. She is real in a town full of fakes. The punk-rock ethos that fueled her music early on has never faded in her heart and mind. Even today, she stirs controversy with almost everything she says. That's who she is, and it will never change.
Putting all that aside, she remains an interesting and vital musician. Though her music may not have made much of an impact in recent years, her shows remain an interesting and engaging affair every time. When she opens for Lana Del Rey tonight, it will be, by far, the most intriguing part of the show to me. How will Love fare on this massive scale, performing before an audience of a generation who hardly recognizes her? Will her status as an icon translate to this stage?
All I can say is I'm looking forward to it, despite the controversy and criticisms. They are meaningless. Love is an artist, a great one at that, and all those other outside discussions will be left outside the door when she performs tonight.
Courtney Love and Lana Del Rey perform tonight at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.
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