Buddhism. Booze. Bette Davis. Boobs. Courtney Love bares all while talking about Hole’s first album in 12 years.
Fasten your seatbelts — it’s going to be a bumpy night. Change that last word to interview and Bette Davis’s famous line from All About Eve becomes fair warning for any journalist trying to interrogate the one and only Courtney Love. It’s no secret that the Hole frontwoman and widow of grunge hero Kurt Cobain is nobody’s shrinking violet. From her intensely personal lyrics to her rambling interviews to her typo-riddled, expletive-laced Twitter bursts and Facebook rants, the infamous Love seems to have no secrets, no shame, no sense of discretion. Her supposedly plundered finances, her high-profile romances, her strained relationship with 17-year-old daughter Frances; she puts it all out there. She is as unstoppable as a force of nature. And like a hurricane or a tornado, you can’t fully appreciate it until you’ve survived the experience, hanging on for dear life while the storm blows past.
That’s where I found myself last week when I was offered a phone interview with the 45-year-old Love from her suite at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, ostensibly to talk about Nobody’s Daughter, the first new Hole album in 12 years. Originally a 15-minute interview, our time tripled in length as Courtney talked about anything, everything, and sometimes nothing in particular. Buddhism, booze, her boobs and yes, Bette Davis — they were all part of her rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness monologue, along with discourses on sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, fame, fortune and fashion. Names were dropped. Grievances aired. Confessions made. Most of my questions went unasked. The ones I could wedge in sometimes went unanswered. And a publicist’s futile attempts to get Love to move on to her next interview were swatted away like so many pesky flies, lost in Courtney’s swarm of words. Yet somehow, amid all the verbal chaos, a self-portrait of Love began to emerge.
A portrait of a star who is simultaneously drawn to and repelled by the flames of fame; of an artist trying to reveal herself through her work; of a widow determined to escape the all-consuming shadow of her iconic late husband; of a mother seeking a better relationship with her estranged teenage daughter; and ultimately, of a complex, intelligent woman who simply wants to be understood and accepted for who she is. Following are just some of the 6,000 words Love spoke during our question and answer time. Buckle up.
How does it feel to finally get this CD out?
Oh, nice! Oy vey — what a rough 12 years it’s been!
Was there a point when you thought it wasn’t going to happen?
No, because I’m weird that way. Unfortunately — or fortunately — I’m somewhat delusional in my ability to reframe things as positive when they’re totally negative. Tony Robbins once said to me that success is the ability to take massive amounts of rejection and turn them into something positive. And I do that. As a devout Buddhist, I chant every day And yesterday’s guidance was pretty awesome… And very interesting given these interviews I’m doing. Because your press up there tends to be a little tabloidish and doesn’t always get the gestalt of things. So I much prefer (the) Q&A format, where if i f— up, it’s my problem. But I rarely do, because I’m actually quite an adorable and funny person. But then there’s this weird CL Monster. I am Courtney Michelle Cobain… But I thought of my punky showbiz name when I was a kid. It’s a great-sounding name. It was going to be Courtney Loveless — I liked the concept better. But then I read that the three most popular words in America were love, free and clearance! So that’s the name I gave myself. But I feel there is a schism between me and her.
Do you think you’ve found a middle ground between the two Courtneys?
No, I’m not quite there yet. But I’m getting there. For instance, I threw out all my kooky clothes. And they’re beautiful. I mean, I made them in order to be completely autonomous from fashion. Although I love fashion. One of the great and only privileges of being a female in this industry is that you get to engage in serious sartorial pleasures that men don’t even understand. The guys in Slayer have no f—ing clue. Fashion is a huge part of my life and my existence. But I didn’t want to be dependent on Marc Jacobs or Rick Owens or Givenchy or anyone for my clothes. So I got a seamstress and started taking Edwardian clothes and ’20s clothes and doing what’s called “upcycling.” I started adding different things to them. The first thing I did was I took a 1990s skirt and an 1880s skirt and mixed them together and put a big huge pumpkin applique on there. Karen Elson really wants it and Melissa Auf der Maur really wants it and it’s really beautiful… A lot of people don’t get me until they meet me. Or they need to see me live.
Well, I just saw you live at your first North American show with the new band at SXSW. Were you nervous?
I was a little nervous. I wanted to have a drink before I went onstage that day. But I made the clinical decision that I wasn’t going to drink. So (guitarist) Micko (Larkin) and me just slammed, like, six espressos — boom, boom, boom. And then I wanted to play three hours because I had so much caffeine! But I really craved alcohol before that show. And I do drink a little bit again. I drink wine and I had a vodka martini the other night. But I won’t drink before I go onstage anymore. I used to drink a big gulp of vodka, and by second song it wears off and you’re not even drunk anymore and your top’s off. Chris Rock told this great joke in Never Scared: At (age) 20, they’re community t—–s; after 40, they’re someone else’s t—–s and you should keep them inside. The way I used to be Amazonian about playing topless, it was a different concept. It was hot onstage, I didn’t want to wear a shirt, my boobs aren’t perfect, so there. Then it became shticky — ‘Is she going to show her t—s tonight?’ And it wasn’t meant to be shticky. It was just a feminist move. But then the other night at this dinner party I renounced feminism, so now I’m on the fence.
Getting back to the album: Is it tough to get back in touch with the dark emotions in your new songs now that you’re in a better place?
This record was cathartic. And it was painful to make. I was like, ‘This is going to be my last record, I’m gonna do Blood on the Tracks, I’m going out with a bang.’ To me this record is far more important than (1998’s) Celebrity Skin. What I did on Celebrity Skin was, I ignored what happened (to Kurt). I ignored 1994, other than on the song Northern Star. And on this record, it’s been 16 years, and I just dumped it. And I’m done. And so, in the last two months, I’m not a widow anymore. I’m done. I refuse to buy into the stigma. I just feel like I’m over it. And it has been a painful five years… but the only thing I can do is chant my ass off because it’s the thing that works the most for me. I occasionally take an antidepressant, although I really don’t like them. I’ve asked every shrink I’ve ever had if I’m bipolar, and I’m not. I’m not a manic-depressive and I’m not bipolar.
What are you?
I’m impulsive and I have the propensity of a drug addict. And I have a very, very poetic nature that vacillates from extremely tough to more vulnerable than most people are… A lot of people think that rock ‘n’ roll makes musicians stupid, that we’re stupid people because we play rock ‘n’ roll. Slash isn’t stupid. Polly Jean Harvey isn’t stupid.
I don’t think anybody would say you were stupid.
Well, my net worth is higher than my IQ. But my mother was stupid enough to tell me my IQ and that f—ed me right up. Frances had to get her IQ taken and she’s two points above me.
I’m not saying… The IQ test is really outmoded. All it does is test your mind for abstract linear advanced mathematical constructs. It doesn’t test your emotional IQ at all. And a high IQ can mean nothing. It’s like in that book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Have you read it? That book changed my life.
Well, the 10,000-hour rule. I put my 10,000 hours into rock and not acting. And I could have been a more accomplished actress. But I don’t know all the little tricks. Also, I don’t get off on it as much… But I’ve been noticing something lately. The crocodile smiles and the ass-kissing, they’re back. It’s been quite a while. It happened with Hole initially. It happened when me and Kurt were married, but it was so terrifying that I hid from it, because it was alien to me; it was about Kurt and wasn’t about me. And then it happened when I was a movie star, and it happened during Celebrity Skin. And it’s happening now. It’s the record, it’s gotta be the record, because I don’t know what else it could possibly be. I went to this producer’s party — very fancy, very, very A list — and just the smiles… I’m not talking about people who have stuck by me for many many years and who have always gotten me. I’m talking about people I don’t fricking know… and all of a sudden all of these men are hitting on me en masse. It’s been 12 years of not being well-respected at all and then all of a sudden, to have it happen again is a little creepy. It’s like being a fat girl and then losing a ton of weight. And what can you say about that? When you were fat you weren’t attractive. Now you’re skinny and you are. You can’t be mad about it. But at the same time, you can certainly scratch your head.