Love story: Courtney Love
Courtney Love leans forward and whispers. "This is the dark side of rock and roll," says pop's most famous widow. "When the Frances thing went down that's exactly what I said. 'This is the dark side of rock and roll'."
In a luxury suite at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, Love is talking about Frances Bean Cobain, her recently estranged daughter by Kurt Cobain. Shortly before Christmas, 17-year-old Frances went to live with her paternal grandmother, reportedly fed up with Love's eccentric ways. They have barely been in contact since.
"I've been page-one news for fucking ever -- for all the wrong shit," says Love, in a 100-Marlboro-a-day croak. "It drives me bananas. Ba-na-nas."
The subject of motherhood is much on Love's mind at the moment. She's counting the days until the release of her long-awaited comeback record, Nobody's Daughter. Four years, millions of dollars and half a dozen producers in the making, the album is, among other things, a rumination on her place in the world and her relationships with those closest to her, living and dead. Not surprisingly, it was once a thrilling and torrid affair.
"It's true," she continues. "There really is some dark shit that goes down. I'm looking for something a little lighter in my life."
Before our interview a chap from the record company forwards a polite note, insisting there are to be no questions about Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean, Love's history of drug abuse or her arrest in February for allegedly striking a fan with a mic stand. Love, we are informed, would rather talk 'about the music'.
But, how do you separate the personal and the artistic when it comes to a perennial problem child such as Love? Certainly, she doesn't try. Lyrically, Nobody's Daughter reads like a series of rambling diary entries ripped straight from the pages of her life. Consider the LP's strongest song, a 90s-style indie power ballad called Pacific Coast Highway: "I knew a boy he left me so damaged/Do you even know the extent of what you ravaged?" she croons. Now who could that be about?
"There's some Kurt in there," she says. "There's definitely someone else too. I've had my little affairs. Billy Corgan said to me recently, this thing his therapist said to him, 'sing your love'. So you know... it could be any number of people."
Smashing Pumpkins leader Corgan is, of course, one of Love's many rock star exes. She's also been romantically linked with The Lemonhead's Evan Dando and had a four-year relationship with actor Edward Norton. In addition to being a former lover, Corgan helped write much of Nobody's Daughter. However, a few weeks ago he and Love had a falling out. Threatening to veto the use of his songs, Corgan said his relationship with Love was permanently over ("after 20 years of friendship, I have decided to break all ties to Courtney," he told Spin).
Snorting, she poo-poos the story. "Billy is an incredibly talented person," she says. "I don't know why he can't make a relevant record for himself. Nor do I understand this latest bout of bitchery. It confuses me. You know, I love him. I'm sure he'll get over it. He's just being Billy."
Jabbering at 100mph, Love lives up to her force of nature billing. In many ways, she's an interviewer's dream. She'll take a question and run with it until every permutation and anecdote is exhausted. Good luck reining her in, though. For instance, asked about her friendship with Bono, she embarks on a 15-minute stream of conscience story about singing with him and Gavin Friday in Carnegie Hall, New York last October. All you can do is buckle up and go with the flow.
"He handed me my ASS," she says. "That's right. Bono handed me my ass. I've told like 2,000 people in my life this. But never a journalist. The closer at Carnegie Hall was The Jean Genie. I was backstage chatting with Scarlett Johansson [rumoured to be playing Love in a forthcoming Kurt Cobain biopic]. We were talking about clothes and boys. I was being really girlie. Then I got pushed on stage -- it was going to be a gang vocal. I opened my mouth and let out a flat note. OHMYGOD, I let out a flattie. So Bono comes up and covers for me. I didn't go near the microphone for the rest of that song."
Love pauses for a gulp of oxygen. "Honestly, maybe I'm being a big megalomaniac. I didn't know he could hand me my ass. I have a healthy ego. I didn't know he could do that. Then again his voice is beautiful. He's been part of my life since I was 14."
She's not exaggerating. Love and Bono have quite a history. In the early 80s, Love, then a footloose teenager living off a small trust fund, moved to Ireland, where she briefly managed to talk her way into a job as a studio assistant on U2's October album.
"I lived in Drogheda," she says somewhat improbably. "I had a friend who lived in a squat on Stephen's Green. Can you believe it -- Stephen's Green? I mean those houses are worth, what 20 million now? Crazy. Anyway, there was a squat on Stephen's Green and on my way I would pass Windmill Lane. I worked for about a week there during the making of October. They were just starting up. Then I got fired. It was very hard for me to get transportation there. I can't drive. I had to take a bus and hitch-hike. It was a pain in the ass."
How in heaven's name did she end up in Ireland in the first place? "I wanted to get the fuck out of Portland Oregon. I heard [early U2 hit] I Will Follow. And I fucking followed. Normally a girl who had the means -- not that I had a lot of means -- would go to London or New York. I went to Ireland. In part because that's where my biological father was. Of course, within a week, it was obvious THAT wasn't going to work out. But I loved U2. They were my favourite band."
A convert to Buddhism, Love says she has finally kicked drugs. It's been a long time coming. While pregnant with Frances Bean, she and Kurt were accused of injecting heroin (which she has always denied). Since his suicide in 1994, she's been an on-and-off abuser. Perhaps her lowest ebb was 2004, when she released her messy solo album America's Sweetheart (the new record is credited to her band Hole). Described by Love as "that piece of shit I made in the south of France", the launch was accompanied by a relapse into cocaine and prescription pill use. This culminated in an infamous appearance on CBS's The Late Show where, sweaty and strung out, Love flashed her chest at host David Letterman.
Does it feel good to be clean? "I went to school with Lenny Kravitz, Flea and Michael Antony [late of Van Halen]," she says, plunging into another apparently random anecdote.
"Christ, is there anyone I don't fucking know since I was a kid? In any case, those guys look exactly the same from behind as in high-school. Their asses look exactly the same. I'm very good friends with [Green Day's] Billie Joe Armstrong. I saw him do three and a half hours at Madison Square Garden. Then he lights up a Marlboro. I was like, 'what the fuck...? How do you do that?' Well, he runs, three, four miles a day. So I've started an exercise regime. Because you don't slide on by on rock and roll forever. I'm 45. You've got to get your athleticism in place."
For the past few minutes, a flustered record label employee has been trying to catch Love's attention. It's time to wrap up our conversation. Before we finish, she has one request.
"Just don't stitch me up," she says. "I gave you a really good interview. I've been giving these Austrians and Germans crappy interviews all day. So don't stitch me up, man. That's all I'm asking."
Nobody's Daughter by Hole is released on April 30