Hole in fun!

You can talk to the guitarist when the singer ain't around

This is no knock on Eric Erlandson--guitarist-songwriter in Hole, co-founding member with Courtney Love, ex-boyfriend of Drew Barrymore, and all-around decent guy, at least during 20 minutes of all-biz chitchat. But when he's offered up by the Interscope/Geffen publicist in place of Courtney Love, who had scheduled an interview but bailed shortly before it was to take place, well, it's like being told you get to talk to the drummer. Erlandson may be in the band, but he ain't, ya know, the band.

It's not as though Erlandson's not full of intriguing pieces of information. He will, for instance, tell you that Hole was thrilled to have quit the Marilyn Manson tour a few weeks ago, especially in the wake of "what happened in Colorado," he says, referring to the fact that Manson was scapegoated once more after 15 died in that Littleton high school. And, he says, Hole did not escape the Universal Music Group-PolyGram Music merger unscathed. He explains that Geffen Records barely worked the band's Celebrity Skin when it was released last September, as most Geffen employees were more concerned about losing their jobs than promoting one more damned rock record.

He also says that during the past six months, Hole has fired its manager, its lawyer, its booking agent, and its drummer. The lanky guitarist shrugs that it's a bit like starting over. New label (Interscope has since taken ownership of Geffen), no manager, hitting the small theaters after a few weeks of playing the arenas with Manson--from overrated to underdog, all in a matter of weeks.

"It feels like the beginning, when Courtney and I did everything," Erlandson says from Cincinnati, where the tour began last Friday. "It's liberating in the sense that we don't have anybody bullying us anymore and anyone misdirecting us and not understanding us. We know who we are, where we're going, and how we want to get there. It's just a weight off your shoulders. We've had a major spring-cleaning. It's kind of mind-boggling that we're actually out on the road and able to function."

Yes, Erlandson is the man you want to talk to when you need The Facts. But when it all comes down to it, nobody buys Hole records to hear his sparse, sagacious guitar-playing or, for that matter, his rather catchy, compelling melodies (he penned three for Celebrity Skin, including the gorgeous "Northern Star"). People buy Hole records because they are fixated upon the beautiful carnage that is Courtney Love. They buy Hole records--and fewer have purchased Celebrity Skin than 1994's epic tantrum Live Through This--for the same reason they buy tawdry pulp non-fiction: to look in on the lives they wish they had but, more often than not, are thankful they do not suffer.

Such is Courtney Love's lot in life. She's the latest self-made rock-and-roll martyr, the pinup girl for excess and foolishness, genius and cynicism. Love's at the very least a fascinating study in Rock Stardom, a vestige of the surfeit and self-parody that spawned punk rock in the first place. Erlandson and bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur (drummer Patty Schemel has been ousted...or quit, depending upon whom you ask) are just collaborators along for the roller-coaster ride. They're musicians in a band with a woman who always wanted to be a Celebrity, a woman who acts the role better than anyone since her good pal Madonna. And Courtney's the real Material Girl, made from gold and Teflon. Courtney sleeps with famous people; Madonna bangs the help.

No doubt Love wishes she had been a star in 1975, back when she could have been Carly Simon or Linda Ronstadt hanging off the arm of Jack Nicholson; she never wanted to be just one more punk-made-good, white trash in Versace. She adores Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell, writes songs about escaping to the comfy-cozy confines of monied Malibu, plays industry gigs at the Viper Room for her celeb buddies. She name-drops Madonna in interviews and gets all bitchy when she realizes she and Jewel wore the same thing to an awards show. She complains about the fact that so much has been made of her transformation, then insists to writers that she'd gladly get more plastic surgery if the occasion arose.

There is one reason Love picked up a guitar and formed a band a decade ago: A casting director once told Courtney that if she hoped to get starring roles, she'd better go out and become a famous musician first. Maybe that story's a bit of bullshit--all rock myths are--but at least it smells like the truth, especially when she tells interviewers she wished she "had gone to the New York Performing Arts School, then on to Brown or Yale, and become an actress or something." No matter how brilliant her rock and roll--and there is no denying the beautiful wasteland that was Pretty on the Inside, the powerhouse desperation of Live Through This, or the Go-Go's glam of Celebrity Skin--it's so much fodder for her, the access road that leads to the golden highway of Hollywood.

When Erlandson says Hole's "not the most prolific band," it's for a reason. How the hell do you expect Love to write and record when she's busy making such ridiculous, dull detritus as 200 Cigarettes or filming the Andy Kaufman story with her tabloid-page-only honey Jim Carrey? Music's her side project; acting, on the other hand, is her Destiny.

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.

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