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Monday 16 December 2019

Love and other drugs: an interview with Courtney

We talk to the inimitable Courtney Love, and as predicted, she's a walking, talking sound bite machine – and some of it may (still) shock you.

Courtney Love with husband Kurt Cobain and daughter Frances Bean in the 90s
Courtney Love with husband Kurt Cobain and daughter Frances Bean in the 90s

Stephen Milton

Most Courtney Love interviews open with a garrulous quote plucked from mid conversation. It's usually some caustic barb or biting candour. Why should Insider tinker with a successful technique?

Presently, she's citing the drive behind her daily motivation.

"Sometimes I have a crush on somebody. Sometimes, I want to impress somebody and sometimes it's [daughter] Frances. I get up generally in a fairly good mood. I don't wake up thinking, 'Oh God' ... "

She takes a gulping pull from a cigarette and allows an exhale so colourful, you can practically smell the nicotine down the phone line.

"I'm actually not really sure why I was prescribed anti-depressants," Courtney ponders. "It's not that bad. I'm not going to go out and get a gun."

Those who remember the death of her husband Kurt Cobain might recoil at that comment. A staggering proportion of Nirvana purists revile Courtney, and blame her Yoko Ono-esque presence for dismantling the band, and for apparently leading Kurt Cobain down a rabbit hole of self-destruction.

Last week's discovery of his supposed suicide note, mere days after we speak, fans the flames.

"Do you Kurt Cobain take Courtney Michelle Love to be your lawfully shredded wife," it reads. "Even when she's a bitch with zits and siphoning all yr [sic] money for doping and whoring."

When these words were written and in what context is now almost impossible to figure out. It's certainly a contrast from the official note, which called her, "a goddess of a wife who sweats with ambition and empathy".

Speaking to Insider from her new LA locale, after four years as a self-prescribed New York socialite, Love is fascinating and instantly likeable.

Yes, the balloon-lipped, growling, messy former frontwoman of criminally underrated outfit Hole, is skittish and impossible to steer. She's cartoonish, makes crude, naïve gaffes and swears like a sailor on leave.

And at 49, she still mortally craves overwhelming attention, the backbone to an uneasy, gaudy, 'look at me' existence.

But away from the depression (managed she maintains, by chanting and meditation) and the drugs – ten years clean – the singer is articulate and hyper-intelligent. And fun.

"Somebody recently asked me, 'Why do you get so much shit from everyone?'

"And I explained it as casting. In rock'n'roll, we're like cartoon characters. I'm sort of like, the Joker's daughter of this Batman, Gotham City. I'm like a rock villainess, and the 'ess' is important as I'm also a woman and there's not a lot of us left playing rock these days that has a set of breasts or ovaries."

Seeking to distract us from the ever powerful zeitgeist of 'stripper pop', she returns with her first record since the last Hole album from 2010, Nobody's Daughter, a cluttered, middling effort which in turn was a reparatory offering after the dismal solo dirge of 2004's America's Sweetheart.

The first single from upcoming album, Died Blonde, You Know My Name is Love inching closer to the glory days of 97's recording, Celebrity Skin, that of Grammy nominations and 1.4 million sales.

It lacks the scratchy catchy melodies of Malibu and Boys on the Radio but showcases her signature curling snarl over burning riffs in a ferocious, unrelenting attack.

"It's obviously self-referential," she snaps. "It doesn't have words like translucent or asphyxiate. It's rock!

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday’s Irish Independent

"All I know is for six months, we recorded like 18 tracks but I just didn't find any of them to be killer. And if I'm going to put something out, they need to be killer."

She's touring the new material around the UK, starting this weekend in London's Shepherd's Bush.

Amongst the intoxicating chaos of rehab and lawsuits, Twitter spats, bankruptcy and perennial uncertainty, the stage remains the one place where Love feels the love.

"I'm one of those people who likes myself on stage better than in real life. It's not that I don't like myself, I know who I am on stage."

"I was on anti-depressants for a little while and I played a show on them and I couldn't feel anything. I felt like I was phoning it in.

"I felt like I'd much rather just be depressed."

She takes another laboured pull and winsomely chatters through the exhale. "I don't get the full load where I'm going to kill myself depression by the way. I get depressed just enough that I can pull myself up.

"I have coping mechanisms though, whether it's chanting or yoga or taking a walk. There are different ways to cope."

Perhaps this Zen-like adherence led to the bittersweet reunion with Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana at the band's Hall of Fame induction last month, after an acrimonious public battle over the past two decades about the rights to Nirvana's music.

They shocked the attending audience with a hug. "It's nice to put that shit away," she says. "We're family and I'm the black sheep. That's what families do."

Relations with her and Cobain's 21-year-old visual artist daughter, Frances Bean are on the mend, after she famously applied for a restraining order against her mother in 2009.

But her absence at the Hall of Fame event was noted and scrutinised. Courtney believes she'll grow to regret it.

"Frances might've been afraid to go but I live four houses down from her. I went to see her and she was definitely very ill. She had walking pneumonia, she really did but then she went to Coachella three days later and made it worse.

"I really think she missed an evening she should have gone to, but if she's too sick, she's too sick."

There are tender, touching moments of clarity in Courtney's motormouth brashness. She blinds you with the frenzied pace of her words and then pulls it back momentarily, the piercing modulation in her tone audibly softening.

Aware of a decelerated window in her thought process, I wonder how she looks upon her widow status and why she's never remarried since.

There have been reported romances and hook-ups with Billy Corgan, Trent Reznor, Ed Norton and allegedly Kate Moss, not to mention a recent rumour of amour with Aaron Sorkin and even a fling with Steve Coogan. Difficult to figure out if she has a type of any kind?

"I've been in love since Kurt died. I've had deep relationships. I almost got remarried twice and sometimes wonder if I should have. Though I might still, I don't know.

"That was what, twenty years ago when Kurt died, and he's a great love but not the only love. And it's not like you only get one.

"Technically, I am a widow. On the passport thing, where they say 'Are you married?' And I always have to write 'widow,' which is fucking ... it's annoying. It came to me at too young an age."

A promising big screen career, at its highest point with a Golden Globe nod for Milos Foreman's The People vs. Larry Flynt, was dashed by addiction and emotional turbulence. Love is now after a comeback.

"If I could go back in time, I would fix the way I fucked off Hollywood. I've done one great movie [Flynt] and I'd like to do more great movies, which is why I moved back to LA after four years of living in the West Village.

"Plus I'm still relatively, kind of cute. I've seven years before I have to go to a surgeon and then I'll look like a crazy Beverly Hills housewife."

Courtney hopes in the future, it'll be her music and acting that lands her in the headlines but she's an admirable realist. "I say stupid things all the time. I say, 'Jesus, your mouth Courtney, come on!' I'm 49 now, I know better."

"As you age, you can see the impact of your words but hurting people's feelings is not something I'm really interested in doing."

So what's in the five-year plan? "I'd like to have my daughter go to education and find herself where she needs to be. Really super stable and not care about [what] anyone says.

"When people say stuff on the internet, it can really affect a kid. Things get said about me, it rolls off my back and I just laugh at myself. With Frances, when people say stuff about her dad, she's so young it really affects her ... "

Love interrupts herself abruptly. Perhaps aware she's already welching on her vow of new found discretion. She clears her throat and sighs quietly.

"And for myself? I'd like to have all my credit fixed and I'd like to do more great movies. And then," she chuckles, "I'll be Queen of the World."

You Know My Name is available to download. Courtney starts a nine-date UK tour on May 11.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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