Today’s post is written by the most excellent music maven, author, and lover of good music, Steve for the Deaf. Steve has chosen to write about Courtney Love. Thanks so much, Steve, for writing and hope this is the first of many. Take it away, Steve!
Discography: With Hole : Pretty On The Inside (’91), Live Through This (’94), MTV Unplugged (’95), My Body The Hand Grenade (’97), Celebrity Skin (’98), Nobody’s Daughter (2010) As a Solo artist America’s Sweetheart (’04)
Some things to share:
Courtney Michelle Harrison changed her name to the far more iconically rock and role-play ‘Courtney Love’ at some point between going to school (in Olympia?) and making a living as a dancer in ‘those kinds of places. She was born of show business. Her father was part of The Grateful Dead entourage, her great granny a screenwriter. Pre-fame Courtney had a tiny role in the Alex Cox directed Sex Pistols Biopic (she would have been a knock out as the lead) Sid & Nancy. The movie that made a star of Gary Oldman. It was hanging out with Julian Cope (of head rockers The Teardrop Explodes) that introduced her to her first bandmates. It was Anthony Keidis who left the door ajar for the fledgling Hole to record during downtime on early RHCP studio bookings that got them on tape in those pre-grunge days.
Lazy misogynists will tell you Courtney’s place in rock and roll history is indebted to her late husband. Owning a pair of ears will tell you that’s a pile of steaming nonsense. Courtney Love has one of the very best voices in heavy rock music. She’s written some of the most spellbinding songs and she brought unique visceral representation of the strength and complexity of the female experience to a scene that was in serious danger of just becoming The Sad Boys Club. To make a case for Courtney being The Greatest Rock Star of the 1990’s you have to work through a few arguments but you know what? Working through arguments is something the Courtney Love discography is designed to do.
Pretty On The Inside might be the canonical Hold debut long player. It’s punk AF and it’s raw in tooth claw and emotion. It’s also not really their first release. Before Pretty On The Inside there were two singles that sear into the memory for their names alone. Retard Girl and Dicknail show two sides to a band named after a euphemism for their own gender as not rendering them void. Two unapologetically uncouth single names. Both featuring that magnificent scream. Surely they’d tone it down for the first single from an album on a proper record label? Well, Teenage Whore raised eyebrows and a racket when it was released to introduce the world to the future of female punk rock. Shock and awe can wear thin quick though. Beautiful Son was released as a single between the first two albums and celebrated liberation from gendered norms and crossdressing as a way for boys to express themselves. It also featured many a Courtney growl. That voice now ready to add a soft yet smooth texture to the classic follow up album Live Through This. Her unique image was getting noticed too. Here comes a storm in the form of a girl.
The Songs on Live Through This are the best bits of all that was great about grunge. You can hear things Nirvana, Soundgarden and The Smashing Pumpkins would love to have been able to do in Doll Parts, Miss World, Jennifer’s Body, Plump, Violet and Asking For It. To believe this was a master of puppets and his pocket poppet, not the work of the author’s own life experience is a tad insulting to all involved and most people just listening. Feel the real. The bands reputation for incendiary live shows alongside the perils of rock and roll decadence made Hole the perfect rebel band for many. Controversy was never far from the new Sid & Nancy even before Kurt left us that note and joined what his own mother would describe as ‘That stupid club’.
I’m not claiming she was an angel. Find me a rock and roll icon who hasn’t succumbed to the excesses. People like you fuck people like me in order to feel anything. But the rule is that the women have to pay the heavier toll. Reputations cannot go untarnished. Scarlet letters must be worn. Robert Maxwell, Network News and Rolling Stone could not let her survive the 90’s… Of course she did. Courtney went on to prove her acting chops were as powerful as her rock and roll muscles in the Oscar Nominated The People Vs Larry Flint. She could act, She could sing, She could write. She was a star. She had influence. Ask Brody Dalle of The Distillers, Lana Del Rey, The Pretty Reckless, Halestorm, Venus Grrrls, The Linda Lindas and Lilith Czar.
Courtney and the band refined their sound to acknowledge Love’s California roots for album proper number three. Celebrity Skin is a very different kind of record to the first two Hole albums. It’s slick, sun kissed and radio ready. It also came to the world post Cobain. So conspiracy nuts, heartless tabloids and sexists went to work dismantling Courtney. A successful woman surviving a very public trauma was not to be tolerated. Drugs and scandal and scandal and drugs. That’s all that matters to a redtop selling tomorrow’s fish & chips wrapper. The 12 years that bridged the gap between Celebrity Skin and the reformed Hole recording Nobody’s Daughter were punctuated in 2004 by the only semi-ironically titled solo album America’s Sweetheart.
It fits the cannon of her work perfectly. Bridging that extension of the Hole sound showcased on Awful and Boys On The Radio. Sweetheart transitioned them via it’s more urgent tracks (such as single Mono and The Strokes referencing But Julian, I’m a Little Bit Older Than You) to Fleetwood Mac shaped AOR like Hold On To Me and Sunset Strip. If you’re a full on classic rock kind of person this album is a treat from end to end.
Courtney has moved to London in the 21st Century and these days it seems she attends more fashion shows than tour dates, fair enough. Not every rock and roll band has to keep going forever. Lone tracks have popped up on soundtrack albums (Like Mother for the 2019 movie of The Turning) and as stand alone singles (Miss Narcissist and You Know My Name are both belters). She’s an amazing guest star to walk out with acts like Ginger Wildheart (As she did on the none more punk duet Honour) and still tells her tales well from behind a deep throaty laugh and that luxurious voice.
To me Courtney Love is the ultimate rock and roll voice. As cool as Joan Jett, as defiant as Janis Joplin. As grunge as Kim Deal and as punk as Debbie Harry.
Steve for the Deaf has written a lot about Courtney at his blog. Included are links to learn more: