"I've been tortured and scorned since the day I was born"
Courtney Love and BRIAN BOYDspend an hour backstage in Glasgow, sharing stories, sharing ketchup, talking Kurt, Bono and Gaga – and remembering Bobby Sands
‘BIG DADDY”, a 6ft 9in minder, opens the door to Courtney Love’s dressing room, says “you’re on” and closes the door quickly behind you. Inside it’s like a scene from Mad Men – a thick fug of tobacco smoke envelops everything. Love has her head bowed; she looks disconsolate. You look around in vain for a stiff drink only to find unwrapped hamburgers and dozens of paper cups filled to the brim with tomato ketchup.
You survey her lair for a few moments, turn to her and say: “Christ, Courtney – what’s with all the ketchup?” She looks up with un-made-up eyes, very childlike and vulnerable. “You’ve got to help me,” she implores.
A song is playing: “Something told me it was over, when I saw you and her talking, something deep down in my soul said ‘Cry, girl’ when I saw you and that girl walking around. I would rather, I would rather go blind, boy, than to see you walk away from me.”
“Etta James, great heartbreak song,” you smile.
“You really have to help me here,” she repeats while thrusting her iPhone (from which the song is playing) into your hand. “I have to e-mail this song to someone and I have to send it NOW.”
“You can’t e-mail a song from iTunes Courtney, but if you have a laptop, I can sort it for you.”
She walks across the dressing room, sits in the lotus position on a couch, lights up a cigarette and sighs loudly.
She confesses to a “man problem”. Said man is apparently in Istanbul at the moment and it appears that the texts between them over the last hour or so haven’t been as luvvy-duvvy as required. She grabs her phone again and begins pecking out a text message – occasionally glancing your way and whispering “sorry . . . man problem”. After a while, head tilted, she pauses to read over what she has written then presses the send button impatiently. Dressed in black silk pyjamas, a fetching beige coat and wearing reading glasses, she looks more like a groovy librarian than “The Most Controversial Woman In The History Of Rock”.
“So you’re Irish,” she says. “Bobby Sands,” she says staring at the ceiling. “Bobby Sands everywhere.” After a “troubled” early childhood in the US – spent mainly in hippy communes – and later a schooling in New Zealand, Courtney Love, aged 16, pitched up in Dublin.
“U2 had a big song at the time called I Will Followand I was so in love with U2 that I followed them to Dublin. I was also in love with The Boomtown Rats,” she explains. “My biological father, my real father, who used to work with The Grateful Dead, had this beautiful house in Drogheda, just by the sea. I loved it in Drogheda; it was the time of Bobby Sands and his name was just everywhere you looked. Things didn’t really work out with me and my biological dad – ha ha big surprise – so I moved down to Dublin and into a squat in St Stephen’s Green. I’m sure that big old house on Stephen’s Green is worth about €20 million now.” Maybe not.
“Then I talked my way into a job with U2 at Windmill Lane. I used to hang out at the Baggot and McGonagles – I was a real McGonagles girl and I got this job making coffee and all of that when The Edge was doing his guitar sounds for the Octoberalbum. I think I lasted about four days at Windmill Lane. Most American girls of my age then who had come into a little bit of income would go to London or Paris, but I went to Dublin and I loved it. Looking back now, it was a totally random thing to do. I tried to do a degree in Trinity College, I studied theology for a while, but I didn’t finish that. I still have my shamrock tattoo – but I usually only show people that when I’m drunk.”
Gosh, give us a look. “It’s on my ankle,” she says wiggling both her legs up in the air to display said tattoo. “The Dublin thing all came full circle last year when I was at the Carnegie Hall show with Gavin Friday and Bono. I felt that night that I had gone from being U2’s red-headed stepchild to their first cousin.”
And this is how the conversation unfolds. Love has Attention Deficit Disorder and can go (in one breath) from Bobby Sands to Grateful Dead bootlegs, to the connection between Vietnamese charities and never being able to see the British Queen’s Christmas message (this latter one, still a mystery to me).
After a few minutes of this, you learn to roll with the punches and busy yourself eating ketchup with your fingers while she hammers out another few text messages to a man in Istanbul. In between all of this, she begins, but doesn’t finish, sentences concerning Leonard Cohen and her time in rehab.
“I love this venue,” she repeats more than once (Glasgow’s Academy, in the middle of The Gorbals). “There are only two venues in the world where I can stagedive from one end of the venue to the next without getting my tits felt, my dress ripped or getting fingered – and this is one of them.”
Tonight is the first UK gig of Hole’s European tour. Hole came screaming out of Los Angeles at about the same time that further up the West Coast in Seattle, Love’s future husband Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were just out of the traps and on their way to becoming the band of the 1990s. Hole were more than the distaff equivalent of Nirvana – the band’s Live Through This(released just four days after Cobain’s death in 1994) and Celebrity Skinalbums were coruscating affairs, with Love, as a frontwoman, alternating between “kinderwhore” and “grunge’s Sally Bowles” personae.
Hole have been dormant for the past 10 years, during which time Love fronted the short-lived punk rock femme supergroup Bastard and had high-profile affairs with the actor Ed Norton and musician Billy Corgan. She recently told US shock jock Howard Stern on his radio show that she also had an affair with Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale – husband of Gwen Stefani. There have been numerous arrests, probation orders, enforced lock-downs in rehab, a lot of “issues and tissues”, problems with eating disorders and loud claims that $20 million had been “stolen” from her personal account by persons unknown (following Cobain’s death, all his royalty payments go her way).
Along the way she has also lost custody of her daughter by Cobain, Frances Bean (now 18), for differing periods of time.
Quite a bit going on for you there Courtney?
“Ha ha. My Crazy Life. You know what my favourite lyric is on the new album (Hole’s comeback Nobody’s Daughter)? It’s: I’ve been tortured and scorned since the day I was born.” There’s an awkwardly long pause before she continues.
“I wrote these songs during rehab. It’s not a ‘rehab’ album though, more a cathartic album. Sometimes it’s difficult to delve into my personal life, but I’ve just gathered my poetry up and gathered my energies again. Doing the album was one thing, but now having to tour it is a completely different thing. But I want to play. I need to play.”
An hour or so later, she appears on stage in Glasgow dressed in a fetching pink designer number. The band open with a cover of Sympathy For The Devilbefore Love enters into one of many monologues (all bawdily hilarious) about hating men, suing her record company for not making a certain song a hit, and various other unprintable subjects. With her leg astride a speaker and her body contorted into weird shapes as she bellows out “rehab blues”, she can still emanate rock music’s equivalent of static electricity. It really feels like Fosse’s Cabaretwith a post-grunge soundtrack.
Back in the dressing room, she’s back to Dublin. “You know, I never got the Bono Talk. I call it the Bono Talk because I’ve seen him give it to so many people. He sits the person down and gives them the ‘10 Rules Of Bono’: ‘If you go online, be nice/Thou shalt be wary of TV/Thou shalt not be a prick/Thou shalt not be a dickhead . . .’ .
“I saw him give it to Gaga in New York. My advice to Gaga right now is: ‘don’t spend so much money’. She wakes up every day with all these little bags . . . But as I said, I never got the Bono Talk – read into that what you will.”
She’s worried about the upcoming biopic about her and Cobain – working title All Apologies– that’s she’s a producer on.
“Scarlett Johansson wants to play me, maybe James McAvoy as Kurt. There’s a script. I’m only working on it to make sure they get it right. I’m not even going to go and see it. I haven’t seen anything about the Seattle scene. I don’t want to see that stuff.” There’s almost a shudder as she says “there’s nothing there for me”.
As we say our goodbyes, there’s a touch on the arm. “By the way, you asked me earlier on if there was anything I left off the album lyrically. About sparing people’s feelings. There isn’t. And there isn’t because the truth is I don’t have anyone’s feelings to spare.”
- Nobody’s Daughteris out now