By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
She's at once grating and captivating, the Last of the Rock Stars hiding out at the Chateau Marmont. She makes records about being famous, about being a widow, about being The Courtney. She doesn't even bother to bury the implications or obscure the meanings. She lays it all right out there--the stage-diver wearing nothing beneath the baby-doll dress.
"Wilted and faded somewhere in Hollywood / I'm glad I came here with your pound of flesh."
"I was a punk / Now I'm just stupid / I'm so awful."
"Put me above the boy / The one I love I should destroy."
"Love hates you / I lived / My life in ruins for you / And for all your secrets kept / I squashed the blossom and the blossom's dead."
Your mother could suss out the meaning of the lyrics to Celebrity Skin: Being a star kinda sucks, but it's really pretty cool. Oh, yeah. And my husband is dead.
Celebrity Skin has all but disappeared from the charts; it's as though Hole is touring behind a rumor. There have been two singles--and nothing sounds better on FM radio than "Malibu"--yet both came and went like ads during morning-drive radio. As a result, Celebrity Skin was among the most remarkable records of 1998--and among the most underrated, if such a thing is possible where Courtney Love is concerned.
It's the ultimate L.A. record, Rumours times Los Angeles divided by Beauty and the Beat. It has that lush, produced sound that denotes not only records made in L.A., but records made by bands raised on the sound of Los Angeles--acoustic guitars that sound bigger than electric guitars, pretty vocals and voluptuous harmonies tanning themselves on Malibu patios, ooohs and aaaahs tossed about like candy sprinkles. It sounds best in the car on a sun-drenched day, turned up to 10 on the tape deck as cars whiz by on the Hollywood Freeway; that, and in a hot tub during a coke-and-hookers bash at 3 a.m.
Erlandson says that was precisely the point, even though he had begun using acoustic guitars on Live Through This. Los Angeles was the band's muse this time around, thanks in no small part to the fact that the band had just moved back to Southern California before recording began last year.
"I had grown up there my whole life and moved away for a few years, but it was in me the whole time," he says. "It all started coming out. There's something you can't really pinpoint too. What is it? It's not just jangly guitars or anything like that. There's definitely a certain vibe or aura, something that soaked into the record that has California written all over it. I don't know. That was a concept we used to get into the record, and it definitely worked."
Yet the record has been branded a sell-out move by those fans who wanted--expected--Live Through This Again. Never mind that the new record is no doubt the sound closer to Love's heart; never mind that the first two albums were Love's attempt to be heard, get noticed, make a scene. In 1991, Pretty on the Inside was pure primal scream--all release and no tension, the sound of a failed actress (Love had briefly appeared in Alex Cox's Sid & Nancy and Straight to Hell) trying to get her shit together by blowing it apart. Three years later, Live Through This captured the hurricane in a glass jar. She finally became the girl with the most cake, though Courtney had no time to enjoy it--the record was released days after Kurt Cobain ate a shotgun in the couple's Seattle home.
What's unfathomable is how easily Love outrages people, how so often her shtick, real or manufactured, is blown out of proportion and used to crucify her. No celebrity in recent memory should have been portrayed with more sympathy--her husband killed himself, for Christ's sake, leaving her to raise their daughter all alone--yet in profile after profile, she's referred to as the Yoko to Kurt's John, as a manipulative bitch, as a sell-out whore. She's been accused of stealing her dead husband's songs and of having others (especially Billy Corgan) do her dirty work.
She's had to endure her own father--or sperm donor, as she prefers to think of Hank Harrison--hawking a book, Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, that outright accuses her of murdering the Nirvana frontman. And despite the denials of crass, talentless documentarian Nick Broomfield, countless reviewers came away from his Kurt and Courtney convinced the filmmaker made a convincing argument that Love was involved in Cobain's death. She may not be the friendliest kid in class, but nobody deserves to take such a beating.
Maybe this is where Love will do her best work--at this new beginning, as Erlandson says. It's as though she and her band must prove themselves all over again: hope that Interscope doesn't abandon Hole to the Wall Street trash heap and pray that their audience doesn't forget about them. The best art often comes from anger, and there's no one in this world more pissed off than Courtney Love. The weird thing is, she's angry because she got everything she ever wanted.
Hole performs May 8 at the Bronco Bowl. Imperial Teen opens.