NFC Nirvana Information Articles and Interviews "The Courtney Story"

"The Courtney Story"

RAW magazine - 08/16/95

A brief Courtney Love biography

by Mick Wall.


Courtney is born in Portland, Oregon, the only child of father, Hank Harrison, a Grateful Dead hanger-on, and mother, Linda Caroll, a trained psychotherapist. Courtney's life is unconventional from the word go. Communal hippy-style living is the norm. The photo of the whey-faced infant Courtney the adorns the back of Hole's current album, 'Live Through This', dates from this time. "We are living in a tepee and I always smelt the piss," she later claimed. "If you look carefully at that picture, it looks like someone who doesn't tale a lot. It's kind of a clue as to who I am".


Little Courtney's parents split up when she just five. She will hear less and less from her father as she is growing up. These days, contact is virtually non-existent, except that Harrison now plans to write a book, ostensibly about his "life" but centred on the fact he fathered the female rock icon of the late 20th Century. Courtney stays with her mother is various different environments. Herself the adopted child of wealthy parents, Linda sets up a trust fund for her daughter; money she'll later use to fund a number of trips - at home in the US and overseas - that will lead to some of her most formative experiences.


Courtney goes to live in New Zealand where her mother decides to run a sheep farm. Courtney is expelled from school for the first time. It won't be the last.


After several run-ins with disgruntled teachers, Courtney quits school at the age of 16. Fiercely intelligent, an avid reader, and with the allowance the trust-fund provides, she sets out to find fame and fortune. The first step is to return to the states, where she begins a short career back in Portland as a stripper. Spotted on stage in Portland, Courtney is recruited to join a troupe of 'dancing girls' for a Japanese club. She spends the next three months 'entertaining clients' before "taking the money and running" back to America again. Her next move is to relocate to Dublin, Ireland, where she enrols in a humanities course at Trinity college and occasionally takes pictures for the Irish rock paper Hot Press. Her most memorable photo-sessions are The Pretenders, whose leader Chrissie Hynde Courtney "idolised". "I would love to write a couple of great rock songs in my life, like Chrissie Hynde did," Courtney later explained. "She's really the only person of my gender who I find completely accomplished."


Bored and restless, Courtney gives up her occasional studies in Dublin and heads for mainland Britain; specifically Liverpool, England, hotbed of the burgeoning new wave scence. Much as Manchester would come to dominate the UK indie scene in the '90s, Liverpool is where it's a post punk-wise in the early '80s. The biggest names on the local scene are Echo And the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes. Within days of arriving, Courtney moves into the house occupied by Teardrops singer Julian Cope and his friends. Imprudent and frequent doses of the hallucinatory drug LSD and a brief and unsatisfactory fling with the band guitarist led to he being "asked to leave" the house. "I took a lot of acid in Liverpool and basically I never recovered," she later reflected. Cope and the rest of Teardrop Explodes have sine publicly denounced Courtney's time with them, claiming her influence was a purely destructive one. Cope's autobiography, Head On, published a decade later in the blue-flame of Nirvana's first flush of success, contains a damning profile of Courtney as a drug-taking, band-leeching teenager in the Nancy Spungen mould (the deceased, bleached-blond American punkette who moved in with Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious - also now deceased). Cope even took out an ad. In the music press to denounce her. "He portrays me as a demon 16 year old, which I was," Courtney latter tells Amy Raphel, author of Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock (Virago). Her time in Merseyside leaves Courtney's vocabulary littered with some choice Scouse-isms - the words 'ponce', 'cack' and 'twat' still puncture her conversation today.


Courtney returns with her tail between her legs to the relative safety and anonymity of Portland, Oregon, where her attentions turn to becoming an actress, even going so far as to employ an agent. The real reason behind her decision is, as usual, more prosaic. She has fallen for a guy who dislikes musicians, but is impressed with models and actresses.


Decides to abandon the acting career. Runs away to Minneapolis, where she gets back in touch with her friend Kat Bjelland, whom she met while stripping in Portland. Kate introduces Courtney to Jennifer Finch and the three decide to form a band together, Sugar Baby Doll. It was a partnership doomed to fail - "too many egos, too much eye-liner, not enough songs," as Bjelland will characterise their time together years later. Courtney has already quit the band by the time they've evolved into capable, well-respected outfits they are today: Babes in Toyland (Bjelland) and L7 (Finch).


Undeterred, Courtney ups sticks once again, pointing her toes in the direction of San Francisco and into the arms of Roddy Bottum, keyboardist in the then little-known punk-funk band Faith No More. Courtney moves in with Bottum, who will later come out as being gay. Courtney's account of her time in FNM ("I was the singer for the best part of a year") has always differed from the way the band say they remember it. "Courtney's no the sort of person you can be an equal with in a band, She's got to lead and tell people what's what. She was the dictator, and in our band things were democratic, so she had to f**k off." Out of luck, Courtney's discontent is completed when she auditions but is turned down for the part of Nancy Spungen in Alex Cox's cult file Sid & Nancy, starring Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious. In a fit of pique, she buys a plane ticket for Guam where she begins working as a waitress in a topless bar. When that gets "too much" Courtney returns to Europe briefly, where she takes a bit part in directory Alex Cox's next feature, Straight to Hell. No-one notices as the film flops.


Courtney decides to form her own group. Moving yet again, this time down the Coast Road to Los Angeles, home of the music industries big wheels, Hole is eventually formed over a period of months and several stop-start attempts to actually play a gig. The name is regarded as controversial of course, but Courtney insists that it's not just meant to be understood in the pejorative form. The idea for the name 'Hole' goes back to the classics, she says. There is a section in Euripedes' famous Medea, where the female protagonist describes hole going directly through her soul. "It's about the abyss inside," Courtney tells whoever will bother to listen.


Courtney sees Nirvana play for the first time in a bar in Portland, supporting the Dharma Bums. After the show, Kurt sits down unannounced at her table and pours himself a glass of beer from her pitcher and glares at her. She glares right back. "I thought she looked like Nancy Spungen," Kurt tells biographer Michael Azerrad. "I thought he's got Dave Pirner damage, but he's way cuter," says Courtney.


With the Hold line-up stabilising around guitarist Eric Erlandson, drummer Patty Schemel and bassist Kristen Pfaff, the first Hole album, the spiky 'Pretty on the Inside', finally gets recorded. Geffen eventually wins the race for the panda-eyed blonde's signature. In the interim, Courtney allows City Slang to release one last Hole EP, entitle 'Beautiful Son', "just to wind the majors up."


'Pretty on the inside' is released. The open line on the album sets the tone for what follows: 'When I was a teenage whore.....' Courtney describes her new band's first recordings as "angry vagina music". Impressed with the image (Courtney had long ago perfected her broken doll look) as much as the music (spiteful, pre-Nirvana punk), the major labels begin to get interested. Starts a new relationship with the 24 year old singer of a relatively unknown punk band called Nirvana, who are in LA that summer recording their own major label debut, 'Nevermind'. She remembers him from Portland. He has never forgotten her. Soon Courtney's relationship with Kurt Cobain is making music press headlines. The UK press dubs them 'The Sid and Nancy of the nineties'. The couple pout and say that is "ridiculous". "I thought I was going to be much more famous than him," says Courtney.


With 'NEVERMIND' perched precariously at the number one position in the US charts and Kurt and Nirvana's picture increasingly on MTV and the covers of more and more magazines, the couple retreat to Hawaii, where they are married in February 1992. Courtney is already three months pregnant with the couple's first child. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is deliberately not invited to the ceremony. Courtney does not get on with Krist's wife, who disapproves of the couple's obvious drug taking . She is not the only one who feels drugs and/or Courtney will be the downfall of the band. "Courtney Love is the best f**k in the world," Kurt announces shortly afterwards, during a Nirvana appearance on the UK TV show 'The Word'. Baby Frances Bean is born in August, named after Frances Farmer [sic], who's tragic, drug addled life-style led to her imprisonment in a mental hospital where she was eventually lobotomised and left to die. Within weeks of the infamous Vanity Fair article by Lynn Hirshberg appears, in which Courtney allegedly admits to tacking heroin while she has been pregnant. Conducting the interview while still heavily pregnant, it is also notes that she chain-smokes throughout, even during the photo session for it (pictures of her pregnant and naked with a lit cigarette in her mouth are eventually airbrushed out of the finished article by nervous editors). Speaking of drugs, she sarcastically tells Hirschberg: "If ever there is a time when a person should be on drugs, it's when they're pregnant, because it sucks!" The reaction was immediate. 'ROCK STAR'S BABY BORN A JUNKIE' screamed the US supermarket tabloid The Globe. Yet again, her 'bravado' appears to have backfired on her, and though Courtney strenuously denies having taken heroin during her pregnancy, two month old Frances Bean is taken into custody by local authorities in LA. A family court ruling swiftly follows, stating that the child's upbringing will be strictly monitored for a period that will eventually last nearly six months.


Just a month after the family court ruling in May to cease supervising the upbringing of Frances Bean, Kurt comes home to the couples new house in Seattle "flushed and shaking" after what a police report later describes as "a large dose of heroin". Before the police are summoned, however, Kurt's mother and sister watch horrified as Courtney injects her husband with buprenorphone, an illegal drug favoured by serious addicts as a sure fire way to 'awaken' overdose victims. Later that summer, police are called by Courtney to the house after she claims "Kurt has locked himself in a room with a gun and I think he's going to kill himself!". Kurt manages to talk himself out of that one, putting down Courtney's anxieties to "over-reaction". The police accept this and leave. But they will be back again. Courtney tells execs at Geffen she wants a contract "just like Nirvana's" and gets it. Work begins in earnest on the next Hole album, 'Live Through This'.


Kurt OD's in Rome while touring Europe with Nirvana. For once, Courtney's reaction is neither purposefully dumb, nor bafflingly untypical. She was simply a young wife and mother frightened for her husband's life and her own sanity. After falling into a coma that lasts over 20 hours, having taken a "near-lethal cocktail" of alcohol and sleeping pills, Kurt flies back to America with Courtney and baby Frances in tow. All of Nirvana's touring commitments are cancelled for the "foreseeable" future. In fact, they will never play again. Courtney's second album with Hole, the prophetically titled 'Live Through Thos', is released four days after Kurt's death is announced. Courtney appears on MTV the morning after Kurt's mutilated body is discovered in a room above the garage at the house in Seattle. He has shot himself through the head. She is wearing a pair of Kurt's jeans and socks and carrying a lock of his blood-stained blonde hair. "Everyone who feels guilty, raise your hands," she tells the goggle-eyed audience. Within days Courtney is admitted to hospital in LA after OD-ing on prescription drugs in her own hotel room. "Kurt would have left this world several years ago if he hadn't met Courtney," Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg tells the world in the memorial service in Seattle. "I've hung out with her and stuff and her thing was counter-productive," Stone Temple Pilots sing Scott Weiland later tells RAW. "Just say, 'F**ker, you're a f**ker!" she tells the huge public gathering at Kurt's memorial in Seattle. They do. Loudly. "And then tell him that you love him," she adds, then tears falling. They do. Quietly. Within weeks, Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff dies of a heroin overdose. Pfaff is replaced by Melissa Auf Der Maur. Courtney appears on stage at Reading Festival with Hole, apparently totally drunk. Courtney, understandably, appears to go into an emotional tailspin. She feuds with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam on the Internet. Then she allegedly begins taking a sting of short-lived lovers including Evan Dando from the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins singer and pre-Kurt flame Billy Corgan, Ministry's Al Jourgensen, even movie stars Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves.


Hole tours with Nine Inch Nails and Courtney has another of her brief "flings", this time with NIN mainman Trent Reznor. Lives to regret it Reznor is apparently "furious" when Courtney at first denies the liaison. Then himself denies it when she admits to it. "Yeah, I f**ked Reznor," she tells the press. "But it wasn't that great an experience, I was slumming." "No, I didn't f**k Courtney Love," Trent responds. "She's a manipulator and a careerist." "Get back to me when you've starred horror in the face, farmboy," she sneers right back at him. Courtney and her new friend Amanda de Cadanet attend the Oscars together, along with Pulp Fiction writer-director Quentin Tarantino. Seated at the same table as the Vanity Fair writer who levelled the heroin during pregnancy charges against her. Courtney threatens to "brain" her with Quent's Oscar. Back in England for Hole's first UK tour since Kurt's death, she heckles fans at the shows for wearing Pearl Jam T-shirts. She then asks them to help her to choose between Billy Corgan, Trent Raznor and "Chris and Jim from Soundgarden" for her next partner. Few get the joke. There was a joke there somewhere, wasn't there? At the Brixton Academy show in London, she swings so hard from the scaffolding, her breasts flop out of her top. Not that she cares Courtney just stage-dives into the crowd. During a personal appearance at London's Virgin Megastore, she is so 'tired and 'emotional' she ends up collapsing in a heap on the ground, flashing her knickers to the embarrassed throng, before someone eventually helps her to her feet. Courtney has her request to bury Kurt's ashes at a proper cemetery in Seattle rejected by the powers that be. Lake View Cemetery refuse outright, saying they can't cope with another "star grave". (Both Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee are buried there.) Courtney says she wants somewhere "fans can mourn" and something that will help "keep them away from the house. Her plans include a marble angel with a line from the Nirvana song, "Dumb", carved into its base. Courtney OD's on Valium on a flight from New York to her home in Seattle. Her manager tells the press: "Can I tell you all that Courtney is as sober as a church mouse all the time? No.. But is she out of control? No. I see her every couple of days when she's working and she's coherent and intelligent. "Courtney wants to be successful. She wants to be respected as a musician, and she wants to be as good a mother as she can be." Currently the most famous female rock star in the world, whatever she's lived through so far, it's clear the Courtney Love's not through it yet. Said these days to be buying a house in New Orleans ("where you can disappear easily if you want to"), Hollywood is back on the phone and she recently played a part in Felling Minnesota with Keanu Reeves. Admits, though, that mainly she gets offered parts for "junkies, whores and stripers..." As her good friend, REM singer Michael Stripe comments: "I think the media went a little crazy over Courtney. She's had intense media attraction for over a year now. How would you react to it?" Courtney once claimed that Kurt and Stripe had had a brief homosexual fling, but Kurt no longer around to confirm this and Michael simply shrugs and says: "Of course we didn't f**k each over - it's absurd." Controversy also surrounds the opening date of this years Lollapalooza travelling extravaganza, in George Gorge, Washington State, on July 4, when Hold stopped their set midway so the Courtney could bring a group of girls on stage for the remainder of the show after they had all complained loudly in between numbers that hey were being molested in the mosh-pit. "You guys are f**kin' idiots," Courtney scolded the assembled testosterone dummies before her. Subsequent dates have all been dogged by the kind of trouble Courtney always seen to revel in. For instance, her on-going battle with Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna. Courtney is currently facing charges levelled by Hanna, who claims that she was physically assaulted during a backstage incident on the opening date of the tour, during headliner's Sonic Youth's performance, when Courtney allegedly burned Hanna with a cigarette, then punched her. However it seems that Courtney came off the worse of the pair as she was unable to play guitar at the following night's Lollapalooza show in Vancouver, appearing on-stage with her hand bandaged and her are in a case. "I punched some bitch in the face last night," she told the assembled non-plussed fans. Ludicrously, if found guilty, Courtney faces up to a year in prison. Even more recently, Courtney has got into hot water after allegedly "flashing her privates" at the audience at the Lollapalooza stop-off at Riverbend Amphitheatre in Cincinnati, then inviting members of the audience to flash back at her. It was meant as a show of "support" for Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, who let his trousers fly earlier in the day during the band's set and was subsequently arrested for his efforts and charged with "disorderly conduct". Miraculously, Courtney was not arrested and immediately demanded to know why. "I got by coochie out and they wouldn't arrest me. Sex discrimination!" she chides officials. "Testosterone is being kicked out of rock," says Courtney. "Part of rock is dick, part of rock is going to see a gig and wanting to f**k a guy. I didn't get into this to chop off everyone's dick and have nothing but girls playing music." Apparently, most of the songs for the next Hole album are already written and are about everything from Kurt's death to her own stardom. Working title: 'Celebrity Skin' (also the name of the US magazine that specialised in printing pictures of naked celebrities). A possible producer or collaborator is the hip new US techno star Moby.