Love performing at South by Southwest, 2010
|Born||Courtney Michelle Harrison
July 9, 1964
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Singer, musician, actress|
|Spouse(s)||James Moreland (m. 1989; annulled 1989)
Kurt Cobain (m. 1992; d. 1994)
|Children||Frances Bean Cobain (b. 1992)|
|Origin||Portland, Oregon, U.S.|
|Associated acts||Hole, Sugar Babydoll, Pagan Babies|
Fender Squier Venus
Courtney Michelle Love (born July 9, 1964) is an American musician, actress, and visual artist. Prolific in the punk and grunge scenes of the 1990s, Love's career has spanned four decades. She rose to prominence as the frontwoman of the alternative rock band Hole, which she formed in 1989. Love has drawn public attention for her uninhibited live performances and confrontational lyrics, as well as her highly publicized personal life following her marriage to Kurt Cobain.
The daughter of psychotherapist Linda Carroll and Hank Harrison, Love had a nomadic early life; she grew up in Oregon and California, where she was in a series of short-lived bands before landing roles in films by British director Alex Cox. After forming Hole in 1989, she received substantial attention from underground rock press for the group's debut album, produced by Kim Gordon. Hole's second release, Live Through This (1994), lent her high-profile renown with critical accolades and multi-platinum sales. In 1995, Love returned to acting, earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance in Miloš Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), which established her as a viable mainstream actress. The following year, she saw further mainstream success with the release of Hole's third album, Celebrity Skin (1998), which was nominated for multiple Grammy Awards.
Love continued to work as an actress into the early 2000s, appearing in big-budget pictures such as Man on the Moon (1999) and Trapped (2002), before releasing her first solo album, America's Sweetheart, in 2004. The next several years were marked by rampant publicity surrounding Love's legal troubles and drug addiction, which resulted in a mandatory lockdown rehabilitation sentence in 2006 while she was in the process of writing her second solo album. She returned to the music industry with Nobody's Daughter (2010), a new album as Hole but without any members of the original lineup. Between 2014 and 2015, she debuted two solo singles and returned to acting in the network series Empire and Sons of Anarchy.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Musical style
- 4 Public image
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Philanthropy
- 7 Cultural impact
- 8 Discography
- 9 Filmography
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
Love was born Courtney Michelle Harrison on July 9, 1964, in San Francisco, California to Linda Carroll (née Risi) and Hank Harrison, a publisher and road manager for the Grateful Dead. Love's godfather is the founding Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. Her mother, who was adopted as a child, was later revealed to be the biological daughter of novelist Paula Fox. Love's great-grandmother was screenwriter Elsie Fox, and she learned in 2002 that, through marriage, her great uncle was actor Douglas Fairbanks. She is of Cuban, Welsh, Irish, German, and English descent.
Love spent her early years in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco until her parents' 1969 divorce, after which her father's custody was withdrawn when her mother alleged that he had fed LSD to her as a toddler. Love described her parents' household as being full of "hairy, wangly-ass hippies running around naked." According to sources, Love's mother, who was studying to be a psychologist, had her in therapy by the age of two. In 1970, her mother moved the family to the rural community of Marcola, Oregon where they lived on a commune along the Mohawk River, while her mother completed her degree at the University of Oregon. Love was legally adopted by her then-stepfather, Frank Rodriguez, with whom her mother had Love's two half-sisters, Jaimee and Nicole, and adopted a brother Joshua, at three years old, from an African American family; another half-brother died in infancy of a heart defect when Love was ten. Love attended a Montessori school in Eugene, where she struggled academically and had trouble making friends. At age nine, she was diagnosed with mild autism.
In 1972, Love's mother divorced Rodriguez, remarried, and moved the family to New Zealand. There, she enrolled Love at Nelson College for Girls, from which Love was eventually expelled. Love's mother then sent her back to the United States, where she was raised in Portland, Oregon by her former stepfather and other family friends. During this time, her mother gave birth to two of Love's other half-brothers, Tobias and Daniel. At age fourteen, Love was arrested for shoplifting a T-shirt from a Woolworth's and was sent to Hillcrest Correctional Facility, a juvenile hall in Salem, Oregon. She spent the following several years in foster care before becoming legally emancipated at age sixteen. She supported herself by working illegally as a stripper, adopting the last name "Love" to conceal her identity, which she came to use thereafter. She also worked various odd jobs, including picking berries at a farm in Troutdale, Oregon, and as a disc jockey. During this time, she enrolled at Portland State University, studying English and philosophy. Love has said that she "didn't have a lot of social skills," and that she learned them while frequenting gay clubs in Portland.
In 1981, Love was granted a small trust fund that had been left by her adoptive grandparents, which she used to travel to Dublin, Ireland, where her biological father was living. While there, she enrolled in courses at Trinity College, studying theology for two semesters. She would later receive honorary patronage from Trinity's University Philosophical Society in 2010. In the United Kingdom, she became acquainted with musician Julian Cope and his band, The Teardrop Explodes, in Liverpool and briefly lived in his house. "They kind of took me in," she recalled. "I was sort of a mascot; I would get them coffee or tea during rehearsal." In Cope's autobiography, Head-On, Love is referred to as "the adolescent." After spending a year abroad, Love returned to Portland. In 1983, she took a short-lived job working as an erotic dancer in Taiwan, but was deported after the club was shut down by the government.
1981–87: Early projects; music and film
Love began several music projects in the 1980s, first forming Sugar Babylon (later Sugar Babydoll) in Portland with her friends Ursula Wehr and Robin Barbur. In 1982, Love attended a Faith No More concert in San Francisco and convinced the members to let her join as a singer. The group recorded material with Love as a vocalist, but was subsequently kicked out of the band. According to the Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum, who remained Love's friend in the years after, the band wanted a "male energy". She later formed the Pagan Babies with friend Kat Bjelland, whom she met at the Satyricon club in Portland in 1984. As Love later reflected, "The best thing that ever happened to me in a way, was Kat." Love asked Bjelland to start a band with her as a guitarist, and the two moved to San Francisco in June 1985, where they recruited bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Janis Tanaka. According to Bjelland, "[Courtney] didn't play an instrument at the time" aside from keyboards, so Bjelland would transpose Love's musical ideas on guitar for her. The group played several house shows and recorded one 4-track demo before disbanding in late 1985. After Pagan Babies, Love moved to Minneapolis, where Bjelland had formed the group Babes in Toyland, and briefly worked as a concert promoter before returning to California.
Deciding to shift her focus to acting, Love enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute and studied film with George Kuchar. Love featured in one of his short films, titled Club Vatican. In 1985, she submitted an audition tape for the role of Nancy Spungen in the Sid Vicious biopic Sid and Nancy (1986), and was given a minor supporting role by director Alex Cox. After filming Sid and Nancy in New York City, she worked at a peep show in Times Square and squatted at the ABC No Rio social center and Pyramid Club in the East Village. The same year, Cox cast her in a leading role in his film Straight to Hell (1987), a spaghetti western starring Joe Strummer and Grace Jones filmed in Spain in 1986. The film caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who featured Love in an episode of Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes with Robbie Nevil in a segment titled "C'est la Vie". She also had a part in the 1988 Ramones music video for "I Wanna Be Sedated", appearing as a bride among dozens of party guests.
In 1988, Love aborted her acting career and left New York, returning to the west coast, citing the "celebutante" fame she'd attained as the central reason. "I hated it," she recalled. "It was misery itself." She returned to stripping in the small town of McMinnville, Oregon, where she was recognized by customers at the bar. This prompted Love to go into isolation, so she relocated to Anchorage, Alaska. "I decided to move to Alaska because I needed to get my shit together and learn how to work," Love said in retrospect. "So I went on this sort of vision quest. I got rid of all my earthly possessions. I had my bad little strip clothes and some big sweaters, and I moved into a trailer with a bunch of other strippers."
1988–91: Beginnings of Hole
At the end of 1988, Love taught herself to play guitar and relocated to Los Angeles, where she placed an ad in a local music zine: "I want to start a band. My influences are Big Black, Sonic Youth, and Fleetwood Mac." Love recruited lead guitarist Eric Erlandson; Lisa Roberts, her neighbor, as bassist; and drummer Caroline Rue, whom she met at a Gwar concert. Love named the band Hole after a line from Euripedes' Medea — "There's a hole that pierces right through me" — as well as a conversation she had had with her mother, in which she told her that she "couldn't walk around with a hole inside herself."
Love continued to work at strip clubs in the band's formative stages, saving money to purchase backline equipment and a touring van, and rehearsed at a studio in Hollywood that was loaned to her by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hole played their first show in November 1989 at Raji's, a rock club in central Hollywood. The band's debut single, "Retard Girl", was issued in April 1990 through the Long Beach indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry, and was given airtime by Rodney Bingenheimer's show on local rock station KROQ. That fall, the band appeared on the cover of Flipside, a Los Angeles-based punk fanzine. In the spring of 1991, the band released their second single, "Dicknail", through Sub Pop Records.
With no wave, noise rock and grindcore bands being major influences on Love, Hole's first studio album, Pretty on the Inside, captured a particularly abrasive sound and contained disturbing lyrics, described by Q magazine as "confrontational [and] genuinely uninhibited." The record was released in September 1991 on Caroline Records, produced by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth with assistant production from Gumball's Don Fleming. Though Love would later say it was "unlistenable" and "[un]melodic," the album received generally positive critical reception from indie and punk rock critics and was labeled one of the twenty best albums of the year by Spin magazine. It also gained a following in the United Kingdom, charting at 59 on the UK Albums Chart, and its lead single, "Teenage Whore", entered the country's indie chart at number one. The underlying feminist slant of the album's songs led many to mistakenly tag the band as being part of the riot grrl movement, a movement that Love did not associate with. The band toured in support of the record, headlining with Mudhoney in Europe and opening for The Smashing Pumpkins in the United States. They also opened for Sonic Youth at the Whisky a Go Go and performed at CBGB in New York City. Love designed and distributed flyers promoting the shows, which included cutouts of women and young girls, as well as scattered lyrics and quotes from poems.
After the release of Pretty on the Inside, Love began dating Kurt Cobain and became pregnant. During Love's pregnancy, Hole recorded a cover of "Over the Edge" for a Wipers tribute album, and recorded their fourth single, "Beautiful Son," which was released in April 1993. Love and Cobain married in February 1992 and, after the birth of their daughter Frances Bean Cobain, relocated to Carnation, Washington and then to Seattle. On September 8, 1993, Love and Cobain made their only public performance together at the Rock Against Rape benefit in Hollywood, performing two acoustic duets of "Pennyroyal Tea" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." Love also performed electric versions of two new Hole songs, "Doll Parts" and "Miss World", both written for the band's upcoming second album.
In October 1993, Hole recorded their second album, Live Through This, in Atlanta, Georgia. The album featured a new lineup with bassist Kristen Pfaff and drummer Patty Schemel. Live Through This was released on Geffen's subsidiary label DGC in April 1994, four days after Love's husband, Cobain, was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound in their home. Two months later, in June 1994, bassist Kristen Pfaff died of a heroin overdose, and Love recruited Melissa Auf der Maur for the band's impending tour. Love, who was rarely seen in public in the months preceding the tour, split time between two Washington homes, Atlanta, the Paramount Hotel in New York City, and the Namgyal Buddhist Monastery in New York.
Live Through This was a commercial and critical success, hitting platinum RIAA certification in April 1995 and receiving numerous critical accolades. The success of the record combined with Cobain's suicide resulted in a high level of publicity for Love, and she was featured on Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People in 1995. At Hole's performance on August 26, 1994 at the Reading Festival— Love's first public performance following her husband's death— she appeared onstage, tear-drenched, with outstretched arms, mimicking crucifixion. John Peel wrote in The Guardian that Love's disheveled appearance "would have drawn whistles of astonishment in Bedlam," and that her performance "verged on the heroic ... Love steered her band through a set which dared you to pity either her recent history or that of the band ... the band teetered on the edge of chaos, generating a tension which I cannot remember having felt before from any stage." The band performed a series of riotous concerts during the tour, with Love frequently appearing hysterical onstage, flashing crowds, stage diving, and getting into fights with audience members. In retrospect, Love said she "couldn't remember much" of the shows as she was using drugs heavily at the time.
In February 1995, Hole performed a well-reviewed acoustic set on MTV Unplugged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and continued to tour late into the year, concluding their world tour with an appearance at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, where they were nominated for Best Alternative Video for "Doll Parts".
1996–2000: Acting and mainstream success
After Hole's world tour concluded in 1996, Love made a return to acting, first in small roles in the Jean-Michel Basquiat biopic Basquiat, and the drama Feeling Minnesota (1996), before landing the co-starring role of Larry Flynt's wife, Althea, in Miloš Forman's critically acclaimed 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt.
"I went for that part so hard," she recalled, "because I felt a need for atonement for some cultural damage that had arisen out of me and things that I had done. By doing that role, I felt that, personally and creatively, I could exemplify why this was the most un-glorious, unglamorous, fucked-up thing. And then, bang!, I was done with all that. I could fuck off and do something else."
Despite Columbia Pictures' reluctance to hire Love due to her troubled past, she received critical acclaim for her performance in the film after its release in December 1996, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress. Critic Roger Ebert called her work in the film "quite a performance; Love proves she is not a rock star pretending to act, but a true actress." She won several other awards from various film critic associations for the film, and consequently adopted a more polished public image; during this time, she also had endeavors in fashion, modeling for Versace advertisements and appearing in Vogue Italia.
In late 1997, Hole released a compilation album, My Body, the Hand Grenade, featuring rare singles and b-sides, and an EP titled The First Session which consisted of the band's first recording session in 1990. In September 1998, Hole released their third studio album, Celebrity Skin, which marked something of a transformation for Love, featuring a stark power pop sound as opposed to the group's earlier punk rock influences. Love divulged her ambition of making an album where "art meets commerce ... there are no compromises made, it has commercial appeal, and it sticks to [our] original vision." She said she was influenced by Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, and My Bloody Valentine when writing the album. The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan helped co-write several songs on the album. Celebrity Skin was well received by critics; Rolling Stone called the album "accessible, fiery and intimate—often at the same time ... a basic guitar record that's anything but basic." Celebrity Skin went on to go multi-platinum, and topped "Best of Year" lists at Spin and the The Village Voice. The album garnered the band their only No. 1 hit single on the Modern Rock Tracks chart with the title track "Celebrity Skin." The band promoted the album through MTV performances and at the 1998 Billboard Music Awards. Hole toured with Marilyn Manson on the Beautiful Monsters Tour in 1999, but dropped out of the tour nine dates in after a dispute over production costs between Love and Manson; Hole resumed touring with Imperial Teen.
Before the release and promotion of Celebrity Skin, Love and Fender designed a low-priced Squier brand guitar, called Vista Venus. The instrument featured a shape inspired by Mercury, a little-known independent guitar manufacturer; Stratocaster, and Rickenbacker's solid body guitars and had a single-coil and a humbucker pickup, and was available in 6-string and 12-string versions. In an early 1999 interview, Love said about the Venus: "I wanted a guitar that sounded really warm and pop, but which required just one box to go dirty ... And something that could also be your first band guitar. I didn't want it all teched out. I wanted it real simple, with just one pickup switch." In 1999, Love was awarded an Orville H. Gibson award for Best Female Rock Guitarist. During this time, she also starred opposite Jim Carrey in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon (1999), which was followed with a role as William S. Burroughs's wife Joan Vollmer in Beat (2000) alongside Kiefer Sutherland.
After touring for Celebrity Skin finished, Auf der Maur left the band to tour with The Smashing Pumpkins; Hole's touring drummer Samantha Maloney left soon after. Love and Erlandson released the single "Be A Man"—an outtake from the Celebrity Skin sessions—for the soundtrack of the Oliver Stone film Any Given Sunday (1999). The group became dormant in the following two years, and Love starred in several more films, including in Julie Johnson (2001) as Lili Taylor's lesbian lover, for which she won an Outstanding Actress award at L.A.'s Outfest, and in the thriller Trapped (2002), alongside Kevin Bacon and Charlize Theron. In May 2002, Hole officially announced their breakup amid continuing litigation with Universal Music Group over their record contract.
2001–11: Solo work, Hole revival
With Hole in disarray, Love began a "punk rock femme supergroup" called Bastard during autumn 2001, enlisting Schemel, Veruca Salt co-frontwoman Louise Post, and bassist Gina Crosley. Though a demo was completed, the project never reached fruition.
In 2002, Love began composing an album with songwriter Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes, titled America's Sweetheart, also reuniting with drummer Patty Schemel. Love signed with Virgin Records to release it, and initially recorded it in France, but was forced by the label to re-record the entire album in the summer of 2003. America's Sweetheart was released in February 2004, and received mixed reviews from critics. Charles Aaron of Spin called it a "jaw-dropping act of artistic will and a fiery, proper follow-up to 1994's Live Through This" and awarded it eight out of ten stars, while The Village Voice said: "[Love is] willing to act out the dream of every teenage brat who ever wanted to have a glamorous, high-profile hissyfit, and she turns those egocentric nervous breakdowns into art. Sure, the art becomes less compelling when you've been pulling the same stunts for a decade. But, honestly, is there anybody out there who fucks up better?" The album sold less than 100,000 copies. Love has publicly expressed her regret over the record several times, calling it "a crap record" and reasoning that her drug issues at the time were to blame. Shortly after the record was released, Love told Kurt Loder on TRL: "I cannot exist as a solo artist. It's a joke." Love also collaborated on a manga comic titled Princess Ai, illustrated by Misaho Kujiradou and Ai Yazawa, which was released in July 2004.
In 2006, Love released a memoir, titled Dirty Blonde, and started recording what was going to be her second solo album, How Dirty Girls Get Clean, collaborating again with Perry and Smashing Pumpkins vocalist/guitarist Billy Corgan in the writing and recording. Love had written several songs, including an anti-cocaine song titled "Loser Dust", during her time in rehab in 2005. She told Billboard: "My hand-eye coordination was so bad [after the drug use], I didn't even know chords anymore. It was like my fingers were frozen. And I wasn't allowed to make noise [in rehab] ... I never thought I would work again." Some tracks and demos from the album (initially planned for release in 2008) were leaked on the internet in 2006, and a documentary entitled The Return of Courtney Love, detailing the making of the album, aired on the British television network in the fall of that year. A rough acoustic version of "Never Go Hungry Again", recorded during an interview for The Times in November, was also released. Incomplete audio clips of the song "Samantha", originating from an interview with NPR, were also distributed on the internet in 2007.
In June 2009, NME published an article detailing Love's plan to reunite Hole and release a new album, Nobody's Daughter. In response, former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson stated in Spin magazine that contractually no reunion could take place without his involvement; therefore Nobody's Daughter would remain Love's solo record, as opposed to a "Hole" record. Love responded to Erlandson's comments in a Twitter post, claiming "he's out of his mind, Hole is my band, my name, and my Trademark". Nobody's Daughter was released worldwide as a Hole album on April 27, 2010. For the new line-up, Love recruited guitarist Micko Larkin, Shawn Dailey (bass guitar), and Stu Fisher (drums, percussion). Nobody's Daughter featured material written and recorded for Love's unfinished solo album, How Dirty Girls Get Clean, including "Pacific Coast Highway", "Letter to God", "Samantha", and "Never Go Hungry", although they were re-produced in the studio with Larkin and engineer Michael Beinhorn. The album's subject matter was largely centered on Love's tumultuous life between 2003 and 2007, and featured a polished folk-rock sound, and featuring more acoustic guitar work than found on previous Hole albums.
The first single from Nobody's Daughter was "Skinny Little Bitch", released in promotion of the album in March 2010. The album received mixed reviews. Robert Sheffield of Rolling Stone gave the album three out of five stars, saying that Love "worked hard on these songs, instead of just babbling a bunch of druggy bullshit and assuming people would buy it, the way she did on her 2004 flop, America's Sweetheart." Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine also gave the album three out of five stars, saying "It's Marianne Faithfull's substance-ravaged voice that comes to mind most often while listening to songs like "Honey" and "For Once in Your Life." The latter track is, in fact, one of Love's most raw and vulnerable vocal performances to date ... the song offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a woman who, for the last 15 years, has been as famous for being a rock star as she's been for being a victim." Love and the band toured internationally from 2010 into late 2012 promoting the record, after which she dropped the Hole name and returned to a solo career.
2012–present: Career expansion
In May 2012, Love debuted an art collection at Fred Torres Collaborations in New York titled "And She's Not Even Pretty", which contained over forty drawings and paintings by Love composed in ink, colored pencil, pastels, and watercolors. She then collaborated with Michael Stipe on the track "Rio Grande" for Johnny Depp's sea shanty album Son of Rogues Gallery and also contributed guest vocals and co-wrote a track on Fall Out Boy's album, Save Rock and Roll (2013).
After solo performances in December 2012 and January 2013, Love appeared in advertisements for Yves Saint Laurent alongside Kim Gordon and Ariel Pink. Love completed a solo tour of North America in the summer of 2013, which was purported to be in promotion of an upcoming solo album; however, it was ultimately dubbed a "greatest hits" tour, and featured songs from Love's and Hole's back catalogue. Love told Billboard at the time that she had recorded eight songs in the studio. "[These songs] are not my usual (style)," Love said. "I don't have any Fleetwood Mac references on it. Usually I always have a Fleetwood Mac reference as well as having, like, Big Black references. These are very unique songs that sort of magically happened."
On April 22, 2014, Love debuted the song "You Know My Name" on BBC Radio 6 to promote her tour of the United Kingdom. It was released as a double A-side single with the song "Wedding Day" on May 4, 2014 on her own label Cherry Forever Records via Kobalt Label Services. The tracks were produced by Michael Beinhorn, and feature Tommy Lee on drums. In an interview with the BBC, Love revealed that she and former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson had reconciled, and had been rehearsing new material together, along with former bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and drummer Patty Schemel, though did not confirm a reunion of the band. On May 1, 2014, in an interview with Pitchfork, Love commented further on the possibility of Hole reuniting, saying: "I'm not going to commit to it happening, because we want an element of surprise. There's a lot of i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed."
In 2014, Love was cast in several television series in supporting parts, including the FX series Sons of Anarchy, Revenge, and in Lee Daniels' network series Empire in a recurring guest role as Elle Dallas. The track "Walk Out on Me" featuring Love was included on the Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1 album, which debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200. Love's contribution to the album was critically acclaimed. Alexis Petridis of The Guardian praised the track, saying: "The idea of Courtney Love singing a ballad with a group of gospel singers seems faintly terrifying ... the reality is brilliant. Love's voice fits the careworn lyrics, effortlessly summoning the kind of ravaged darkness that Lana Del Rey nearly ruptures herself trying to conjure up."
In addition to television acting, Love collaborated with theater producer Todd Almond, starring in Kansas City Choir Boy, a collaborative "pop opera" which showed at the Manhattan arts center Here during their annual Prototype festival in January 2015. The show toured later in the year, with performances in Boston and Los Angeles.
In the spring of 2015, Love joined Lana Del Rey on her Endless Summer Tour, performing as an opener on the tour's eight west coast shows. During her tenure on Del Rey's tour, Love debuted a new single, "Miss Narcissist," released on Wavves' independent label Ghost Ramp. She also was cast in a supporting role in James Franco's film The Long Home, based on William Gay's novel of the same name, marking her first film role in over ten years. In January 2016, Love released a clothing line in collaboration with Sophia Amoruso titled "Love, Courtney," featuring eighteen pieces reflecting Love's style over the course of her career. In May 2016, it was announced that Love was cast in a lead role in The Possibility of Fireflies, an adaptation of the novel by Dominique Paul, directed by Deborah Chow.
Songwriting and lyrics
Spin's October 1991 review of Hole's first album noted Love's layering of harsh and abrasive riffs buried more sophisticated musical arrangements. In 1998, Love stated that Hole had "always been a pop band. We always had a subtext of pop. I always talked about it, if you go back ... what'll sound like some weird Sonic Youth tuning back then to you was sounding like the Raspberries to me, in my demented pop framework".
Love writes from a female's point of view, and her lyrics have been described as "literate and mordant" and noted by scholars for "articulating a third-wave feminist consciousness." She has repeatedly stated that lyrics are the most important component of songwriting for her, saying: "I want it to look just as good on the page as it would if it was in a poetry book". A great deal of her songwriting has been diaristic in nature. Common themes present in Love's songs during her early career included body image, rape, suicide, conformity, elitism, pregnancy, prostitution, and death. In a 1991 interview with Everett True, Love said: "I try to place [beautiful imagery] next to fucked up imagery, because that's how I view things ... I sometimes feel that no one's taken the time to write about certain things in rock, that there's a certain female point of view that's never been given space". Her later work was more lyrically introspective. Celebrity Skin and America's Sweetheart deal with celebrity life, Hollywood, and drug addiction, while continuing Love's interest in vanity and body image. Nobody's Daughter was lyrically reflective of Love's past relationships and her struggle to sobriety, with the majority of its lyrics written while she was in rehab in 2006. Poetry has often been a major influence on her writing; Love said she had "always wanted to be a poet, but there was no money in it." She has named the works of T.S. Eliot and Charles Baudelaire as influential.
Voice and instruments
from Live Through This illustrates Love's raw and expansive contralto range.
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Love possesses a contralto vocal range, and her vocal style has been described as "raw and distinctive." She has referred to herself as "a shit guitar player", further commenting: "I can write a song, but I have trouble with the execution of it". According to Love, she never wanted to be a singer, but rather aspired to be a skilled guitarist: "I'm such a lazy bastard though that I never did that", Love said. "I was always the only person with the nerve to sing, and so I got stuck with it". She has been regularly noted by critics for her husky vocals as well as her "banshee[-like]" screaming abilities. Her vocals have been compared to those of Johnny Rotten, and David Fricke of Rolling Stone described them as "lung-busting" and "a corrosive, lunatic wail". Upon the release of Hole's 2010 album, Nobody's Daughter, Amanda Petrusich of Pitchfork compared Love's raspy, unpolished vocals to those of Bob Dylan.
Love has often played Fender guitars throughout her career, including a Jaguar and a vintage 1965 Jazzmaster, the latter of which was purchased by the Hard Rock Cafe and is on display in New York City. Love is seen playing her Jazzmaster in the music video for "Miss World." Earlier in Hole's career, between 1989 and 1991, Love primarily played a Rickenbacker 425 because she "preferred the 3/4 neck", but she destroyed the guitar onstage at a 1991 concert opening for The Smashing Pumpkins. She also often played a guitar made by Mercury, an obscure company that manufactured custom guitars, which she purchased in 1992. Fender's Vista Venus, designed by Love in 1998, was partially inspired by Rickenbacker guitars as well as her Mercury. Love's setup has included Fender tube gear, Matchless, Ampeg, Silvertone and a solid-state 1976 Randall Commander. During her 2010 and more recent tours, Love has played a Rickenbacker 360 onstage.
Love has been candid about her diverse musical influences, the earliest being Patti Smith and the Pretenders, whom she discovered while in juvenile hall. As a teenager, she named Flipper, Kate Bush, Soft Cell, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, and Dead Kennedys among her favorite artists, as well as several new wave and post-punk bands, such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Television, Bauhaus, and Joy Division. While in Ireland at age fifteen, she saw The Virgin Prunes perform live in Dublin, and said the experience "framed her [music career]." Her varying genre interests were illustrated in a 1991 interview with Flipside, in which she stated: "There's a part of me that wants to have a grindcore band and another that wants to have a Raspberries-type pop band". Love also embraced the influence of experimental artists and punk rock groups, including Sonic Youth, Swans, Big Black, Diamanda Galás, the Germs, and The Stooges. Love's Kinderwhore style of dress was inspire Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls. While writing Celebrity Skin, Love was mainly influenced by Neil Young and My Bloody Valentine. She also cited her contemporary PJ Harvey as an influence, saying, "The one rock star that makes me know I'm shit is Polly Harvey. I'm nothing next to the purity that she experiences."
Love's personal struggles with addiction and legal problems have been significantly publicized over the course of her career. She has admittedly struggled with substance abuse problems throughout her life. She became addicted to heroin in the early 1990s, and her addiction was placed in the media spotlight in 1992 when Vanity Fair published an article by journalist Lynn Hirschberg which stated that Love was addicted to heroin during her pregnancy; this resulted in the custody of Love and Cobain's newborn daughter, Frances, being temporarily withdrawn in a Los Angeles County court and placed with Love's sister. Love claimed she was misquoted in the piece, and asserted that she had immediately quit using the drug during her first trimester after she discovered she was pregnant.
During Hole's 1994 and 1995 tours, Love's erratic behavior and suspected drug problems were subject to major publicity. On July 4, 1995 at the Lollapalooza Festival in George, Washington, Love punched musician Kathleen Hanna in the face after alleging she had made a joke about her daughter. Love was charged with assault, to which she pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to anger management classes. The same year, she was arrested in Melbourne after disrupting a Qantas Airlines flight after getting into an argument with a stewardess. Journalist Neil Strauss characterized the public's interest in Love in a 1995 New York Times article, writing:
After the suicide of her husband, Kurt Cobain, 10 months ago, Courtney Love acquired a strange distinction reserved for Presidents, major felons and celebrity widows: every word she said and wrote became newsworthy. Her postings on the computer bulletin board America Online were repeated word for word in magazines; her arrests, scandals and the drug overdose of the bassist in her band, Hole, made national headlines. Her travels to Buddhist monasteries and lingerie shops were followed in gossip columns, and speculation about her dalliances and the upbringing of her 2-year-old daughter became a voracious hobby among fans and detractors ... People have trouble accepting Ms. Love because in her odd way she fits the classic model of the controversial celebrity. She is both fan and star, heroine and villainess, celebrity and pest, sex symbol and homely urchin, critical darling and tabloid pariah.
In 1996, Love went through rehabilitation and quit using heroin at the insistence of director Miloš Forman, who cast her in a leading role in The People vs. Larry Flynt. She was ordered to take multiple urine tests under the supervision of Columbia Pictures while filming the movie, and passed all of them. During this period, and after the release of Hole's Celebrity Skin, Love had maintained a more polished public image, though she attracted public attention after punching Los Angeles Times journalist Belissa Cohen in the face at a party; the suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
In February 2003, Love was banned from Virgin Airlines by founder Richard Branson after being arrested at Heathrow Airport for disrupting a flight. The same year, in October, in the midst of what Love would later admit was a serious cocaine and prescription drug addiction, she was arrested in Los Angeles after breaking several windows of her producer and then-boyfriend James Barber's home, and was charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance. The ordeal resulted in custody of daughter Frances Bean being withdrawn from Love. On March 18, 2004, Love was arrested in New York City for allegedly striking a 24-year-old male fan with a microphone stand at a concert at the Bowery Ballroom. On the morning of March 22, 2004, Love called in numerous times to the Howard Stern Show, making various claims and speaking erratically; in conversations with Stern, she claimed that the incident with the fan had not occurred, and that Natasha Lyonne, one of the concertgoers, was told by the alleged victim that he had been paid $10,000 to file a false claim leading to Love's arrest.
On July 9, 2004, Love's 40th birthday, she attempted to commit suicide at her Manhattan apartment, and was taken to Bellevue Hospital, allegedly incoherent, and put on a 72-hour watch. According to police, she was believed to be a potential "danger to herself," but was deemed mentally sound and released to a rehab facility two days later. In 2005 and 2006, after making several public appearances clearly intoxicated (namely on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson) and suffering drug-related arrests and probation violations, Love was sentenced to six months in lockdown rehab due to struggles with prescription drugs and cocaine. She has stated she has been sober since 2007, and in May 2011, confirmed her sobriety.
In 2009, fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir brought a libel suit against Love concerning a defamatory post Love made on her Twitter account, which was settled for $450,000. Six years later, Simorangkir filed another lawsuit against Love for further defamatory Twitter posts, and Love paid a further $350,000 in recompense. A similar suit was brought against Love by her former attorney Rhonda Holmes in 2014, who also accused Love of online defamation, seeking $8 million in damages. It was the first case of alleged Twitter-based libel in U.S. history to make it to trial. The jury, however, found in Love's favor.
She was briefly married to James Moreland (vocalist of The Leaving Trains) in 1989 for several months, but has said that Moreland was a transvestite and that their marriage was "a joke", ending in an annulment filed by Love. After forming Hole in 1989, Love and bandmate Eric Erlandson had a romantic relationship for over a year, and she also briefly dated Billy Corgan in 1991, with whom she has maintained a volatile friendship over the years.
Her most documented romantic relationship was with Kurt Cobain. It is uncertain when they first met; according to Love, she first met Cobain at a Dharma Bums show in Portland where she was doing a spoken word performance. According to Michael Azerrad, the two met at the Satyricon nightclub in Portland in 1989, though Cobain biographer Charles Cross stated the date was actually February 12, 1990, and that Cobain playfully wrestled Love to the floor after she commented to him in passing that he looked like Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. Love's bandmate Eric Erlandson stated that both he and Love were formally introduced to Cobain in a parking lot after a Butthole Surfers concert at the Hollywood Palladium in 1991. The two later became reacquainted through Jennifer Finch, one of Love's longtime friends and former bandmates.
Love and Cobain began dating in the fall of 1991, and were married on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 24, 1992. Love wore a satin and lace dress once owned by actress Frances Farmer, and Cobain wore green pajamas. Six months later, on August 18, the couple's only child, a daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was born. In April 1994, Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in their Seattle home while Love was in rehab in Los Angeles. During their marriage, and after Cobain's death, Love became something of a hate-figure among some of Cobain's fans. In reflecting on their relationship, Love said: "I think that it looked like it was headed for doom, but it didn't feel like it was headed for doom on a daily basis. We went mountain biking; we would go camping. We were damn normal." After his cremation, Love divided portions of Cobain's ashes, some of which she kept in a teddy bear and in an urn. Another portion of his ashes was taken by Love to the Namgyal Buddhist Monastery in Ithaca, New York in 1994, where they were ceremonially blessed by Buddhist monks and mixed into clay which was made into memorial sculptures.
Love has practiced several religions, including Catholicism, Episcopalianism and New Age religions, but has said that Buddhism is the "most transcendent" path for her. She has studied and practiced both Tibetan and Nichiren Buddhism since 1989, and is a member of the Soka Gakkai International, a global lay Buddhist organization.
Love is a Democrat. In 2000, she gave a speech at the Million Mom March to advocate stricter gun control laws in the United States, calling the country's gun laws "nihilistic and barbaric", and urging stringent registration of guns, licensing of gun owners, and thorough evaluation of legal and mental health records. In 2016, Love endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
In 2000, Love also publicly advocated for reform of the record industry in a personal letter published by Salon. In the letter, Love stated: "It's not piracy when kids swap music over the Internet using Napster or Gnutella or Freenet or iMesh or beaming their CDs into a My.MP3.com or MyPlay.com music locker. It's piracy when those guys that run those companies make side deals with the cartel lawyers and label heads so that they can be "the labels' friend," and not the artists." In a subsequent interview with Carrie Fisher, Love divulged that she was interested in starting a union for recording artists, and also discussed race relations in the music industry, advocating for record companies to "put money back into the black community [whom] white people have been stealing from for years." She also cited Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst as an example of "a white guy [getting] to express a black man's rage with all the privileges of [being] a white guy." Love has also consistently advocated for LGBT rights, and identifies as a feminist.
In 1993, Love and husband Kurt Cobain performed an acoustic set together at the Rock Against Rape benefit in Los Angeles, which raised awareness and provided resources for victims of sexual abuse. Love has also contributed to amfAR's AIDS research benefits and held live musical performances at their events. In 2009, Love performed a benefit concert for the RED Campaign at Carnegie Hall alongside Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright, and Scarlett Johansson, with proceeds going to AIDS research. In May 2011, she attended Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation event for victims of child abuse, rape, and domestic violence, donating six of husband Kurt Cobain's personal vinyl records for auction.
Love has also participated with LGBT youth charities, specifically with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, where she has taken part in performances at the center's "An Evening with Women" events. The proceeds of the event help provide food and shelter for homeless youth; services for seniors; legal assistance; domestic violence services; health and mental health services, and cultural arts programs. Love participated with Linda Perry for the event again in 2012, relating her experiences as a nomadic teenager and having to live on the street:
This really resonates with me, [because] I was a kid from Oregon, and I came to Hollywood like a lot of people do, and you know, what happens is that we end up on the street ... and if you're gay, or lesbian, or transgendered— the more "outside" you are, the more screwed you are in a lot of ways ... Seven thousand kids in Los Angeles a year go out on the street, and forty percent of those kids are gay, lesbian, or transgendered. They come out to their parents, and become homeless. [The charity helps them] get sent to the right foster care, they can get medical help, food, clothing ... and for whatever reason, I don't really know why, but gay men have a lot of foundations, I've played many of them— but the lesbian side of it doesn't have as much money and/or donors, so we're excited that this has grown to cover women and women's affairs.
Love had a significant impact on female-fronted alternative acts and performers, particularly the Riot grrrl movement, with Hole's first album, Pretty on the Inside. She has been cited as particularly influential to young female instrumentalists, once infamously proclaiming: "I want every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming." "I strap on that motherfucking guitar and you cannot fuck with me. That's my feeling," she said. In The Electric Guitar: A History of an American Icon, it is noted that,
"[Love] truly lived up to Paul Westerberg's (The Replacements) assessment of pretty girls 'playing makeup/wearing guitar' ... She frequently stood on stage, microphone in hand and foot on monitor, and simply let her Fender guitar dangle around her neck. She truly embodied the empowerment that came with playing the electric guitar ... Love depended heavily upon her male lead guitar foil Eric Erlandson, but the rest of her band remained exclusively female throughout several lineup changes."
Time deemed Hole's Live Through This to be supplemented by "primal guitar riffs and high-IQ lyrics." Having sold over 3 million records in the United States alone, Hole became one of the most successful rock bands of all time fronted by a woman. In 2015, the Phoenix New Times declared Love the number one greatest female rock star of all time, saying: "To build a perfect rock star, there are several crucial ingredients: musical talent, physical attractiveness, tumultuous relationships, substance abuse, and public meltdowns, just to name a few. These days, Love seems to have rebounded from her epic tailspin and has leveled out in a slightly more normal manner, but there's no doubt that her life to date is the type of story people wouldn't believe in a novel or a movie." Simon Castles of The Sydney Morning Herald commented on Love's cultural status and media ridicule, writing: "[She] has been painted as part grunge Baby Jane, part Yoko Ono for Generation X, and part Lady Macbeth ... what Courtney Love did do was live wild. She took drugs and trusted others could look after themselves. She flirted with self-destruction. She got into fights. She burned with ambition. She flaunted her sexuality and was upfront with her desire."
Among the alternative musicians who have cited Love as an influence are: Scout Niblett; Brody Dalle of The Distillers; Dee Dee Penny of Dum Dum Girls; and Nine Black Alps. Contemporary female pop artists Lana Del Rey, Avril Lavigne, Tove Lo, and Sky Ferreira have also cited Love as an influence. Love has frequently been recognized as the most high-profile contributor of feminist music during the 1990s, and for "subverting [the] mainstream expectations of how a woman should look, act, and sound." According to music journalist Maria Raha, "Whether you love Courtney [Love] or hate her, Hole was the highest-profile female-fronted band of the '90s to openly and directly sing about feminism." She has also been noted as a gay icon since the mid-1990s, and has jokingly referred to her fanbase as consisting of "females, gay guys, and a few advanced, evolved heterosexual men".
Love's aesthetic image, particularly in the early 1990s, also became influential, and was dubbed "kinderwhore" by critics and media. The subversive fashion mainly consisted of thrift shop babydoll dresses accompanied by smeared makeup and red lipstick; MTV reporter Kurt Loder described Love as looking like "a debauched rag doll" onstage. Love later said she had been influenced by the fashion of Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls.
The artist Barbara Kruger used one of Love's quotes on her NYC bus project. Indie pop punk band The Muffs named their second album, Blonder and Blonder (1995) after a quote by Love, and a recording of Love talking about a stolen dress appears as the track "Love" on the band's 2000 compilation album Hamburger. There is also a band named after her.
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I think that great personal style is being true to yourself and speaking your mind, which, since I'm up here, I'm going to do. I feel that keeping gay people in the closet with our attitudes and our actions is cruel, and it's tacky, and most of all, it's boring. I think that we really need to respect each other and ourselves, and respect who we are and what we are, and not be afraid to be what we are, whether we're gay, or straight, or insane ... It's 1997, and respecting each other's sexuality is about the coolest thing I can think of.
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