Could Courtney Love's 'diaries' be the laziest book ever published? We mourn the downward trajectory of an almost-feminist almost-icon.

COURTNEY LOVE
ILLUSTRATION:
KAI WONG for QUALITY PORTRAITS


imagine this:

You’re dressed in a Sixties velvet minidress, navy blue and soft soft soft, with that little snap beneath the fingers that velvet has. There’s a patch near the hem rubbed smooth and shiny and you slide your index finger back and forth across it. You like the feel of the dress against your face sometimes, touching the pile against your cheek to feel the softness; inhaling the faint mustiness of the second-hand store.

You’re looking at a picture of a singer in a weekly music magazine. She’s wearing a similar kind of babydoll dress to you and you’re thinking how the tangles of her hair might maybe smell of chemicals; of the sting of bleach and the hiss of lacquer in a long gold can. You’re looking at her lipstick and picturing her putting it on really slow, her hand zooming round and round her mouth like a go-kart wheeling round a track.

And on the record player her voice is grinding and rasping around a song called ‘Teenage Whore’ about a girl fighting with her mother, which you can certainly relate to. And then your mother bangs on the door and you turn it up and roll onto your back and look at your fingers and wonder how long it will take before the tips turn flat and hard and you can play your guitar as rough and fast and mean as the girl in the photo does.

AND NOW A BAZILLION YEARS LATER: doll parts: tractor-tyre lips; ruptured implants; repeated rhinoplasty; bad drugs; Steve Coogan; oh my! This was not what you once had in mind for your rabid heroine; not at all.

 
 

angry young women in rock

FOXCORE: stupid name (cheers Thurston!) but for a few brief moments between 1989 (when Babes in Toyland first relased Spanking Machine) and 1993 (when they headlined Lolopalooza) nobody ever had to ask that hackneyed old chestnut re: the whereabouts of angry young women in rock, because they were fucking everywhere.

‘Foxcore’ described a form of hard-core music made by bands which were all or mainly female: despite the ‘fox’ tag, it wasn’t pretty in the least, not even on the inside. It was waves of Sonic Youth-style howling guitars; it was psychotic rhythms like trains clattering down abandoned tracks; and, most of all, it was female vocals that were all bellowing belting roaring whispering crooning breathing howling rasping gutteral wow.

It wasn’t about the toes-turned-in juvenilia of the riot grrrl look: this was some kind of woman thing that you weren’t even old enough to really understand yet, save on some base instinctual level; something to do with rage and betrayal and friendship and disgust and bitterness and possessiveness and abandonment and self-loathing and botched abortions and fingerbanging and mad sex and all the rotten things that people do to each other even when they’re trying to be nice.

And the bands, well, they were called things like the Nymphs and Dickless and Calamity Jane and L7 and Babes in Toyland, and then, of course, there was Hole.


female castration

“Now that I’ve been through FEMALE CASTRATION from marrying a ROCKSTAR, I want a bass player in my band, a REVOLUTIONARY, inspired by those hot D.C. bitches, someone who can play ok, and stand in front of 30,000 people, take off her shirt and have FUCK YOU written on her tits. If you’re not afraid of me, and you’re not afraid to FUCKING SAY IT, send a letter. NO MORE PUSSIES, NO MORE FAKE GIRLS, I WANT A WHORE FROM HELL that loves the PIXIES and the GERMS.”

- From ‘Pretty on the inside’, a fanzine made by Courtney in Spring 1992


 

courtney used to count

It’s hard to remember back to ripped tea-dresses and green vinyl and no internet and weekly music magazines that mattered and Courtney Love not being an international joke, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

For a brief while, Courtney Love existed without reference to Kurt Cobain. With the 1991 release of ‘Pretty on the Inside’, Hole’s critically acclaimed (at least in the UK) debut, a record that howls with righteous, incendiary anger, Courtney Love appeared to be a furious, formidable, politically aware artist. She existed with reference to Bikini Kill, and Nation of Ulysses 7-inches, and Euripides, and analyses of female rage vs stereotypes of hysteria.

She seemed to be living an ongoing deconstruction of the beauty myth, talking openly about her varying experiences of being different weights, and of the responses to her appearance once she’d had a nose job. (“It’s bad that I have to do this [bleach her hair / look good] to get my anger accepted”, she told Simon Reynolds in 1992, “But then I’m part of an evolutionary process. I’m not the fully evolved end.”)

And she was a musician, not just a mouthpiece, enquiring why girl singers in all-male bands didn’t just pick up a guitar, chastising girl guitarists and drummers who weren’t prepared to practice enough and who used their gender as a get-out clause for continuing ineptness, while championing those she respected. Wierd as it seems, Courtney Love used to count.

how it all went wrong:

You know how it all went wrong. You’ve seen it on gawker.com and awfulplasticsurgery.com and you’ve heard it on Celebrity Skin and America’s Sweetheart. And the publication of these ‘diaries’ - and I use the term loosely - is just another manifestation of said wrongness.

For those three weeks back in 1991 when Courtney used to matter, her untrammelled ambition rode hand in hand with talent, creativity and actual hard graft. Somewhere along the line, these were severed. You can see it here: this is perhaps the laziest book ever published.

This book - a huge, hardbacked, glossy beast of a publication - is little more than the literary equivalent of the moment the basket case dumps the contents of her bag on the couch in front of the jock and the brain in The Breakfast Club. This is jottings and detritus: drafts of letters; photos of Courtney with Drew and Elton and Donatella and Hillary; emails to and from Lindsay Lohan; lists of ‘Celebrity Callers of the Day’; shopping lists, to-do lists; crappy doodles; poems written when Courtney was nine. The arrogance is staggering. Does she really think we care about her this much?



 

burn false idols

The marginalia of artists is only interesting as it pertains to their work, and Courtney simply hasn’t done enough work - let alone good work - to justify a collection of this size. Most enjoyable is her collection of scraps from the Pretty On the Inside / Live Through This era - flyers that showcase the cut’n’paste design aesthetics of the day, the swirly handwriting favoured by Hole and Babes in Toyland; the angel / whore third-wave feminist diatribes, the images cut from SM magazines. The rest is just the otiose exhibitionism of a narcissist who has confused her neuroses with her creativity. The book ends with an afterward from prominent third-wave feminists Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, (authors of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and The Future), claiming that Courtney is an ‘emboldening prescence’ who inspires young women to pick up guitars, learn about feminism, and ‘be more aggressive and ask for more’. This once had the potential to be true. It is true no longer. Avoid this book, burn false idols, and pray that one day, a woman as fierce and ferocious and creative as Courtney never was will rise to fill the space left in her wake.

WORDS: MISS AMP

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