Click Here
The Life of Love, by Jeff Apter

Book Review -- Courtney Love: The Real Story
By Poppy Z. Brite, November 1997

The term “survivor” is usually reserved for war veterans and sitcom actors, but Courtney Love has worked hard to deserve this badge of honor. At the same age when most of us were, at worst, dabbling with illicit substances and having strange nocturnal rustlings, Courtney Love had already been shuffled between homes like a chessboard piece, stripped in Tokyo for big gangland bucks, spent hard time in institutions and even listened to Journey. No wonder her band Hole’s breakthrough album was titled Live Through This: Love has endured life’s seamier side.

Yet in spite of the fact that Love is probably the most divisive figure in pop culture since Madonna pranced about on a gondola and confessed she felt “like a virgin,” author Poppy Z. Brite plays it safe with her connect-the-dots bio, Courtney Love: The Real Story (Simon & Schuster). Brite recently stated how “some of the media impressions of Courtney are true -- she’s certainly demanding, loudmouthed and attractive to men,” yet Brite doesn’t really explore these impressions in the book.

Sure, she whispers the odd secret, such as Love being an heiress to the Bausch fortune, her pre-Cobain flings with Billy Corgan (aka “Billy Pumpkin”) and fellow Hole-ster Eric Erlandson, not to mention her quickly annulled marriage to transvestite Falling James Moreland (who now considers himself “the Eddie Fisher of punk”), but there’s nothing here that could be considered incisive or new. And apparently Brite had no intention of digging deep. “The purpose of this book is not to condemn or defend Courtney Love,” the author states early on, “but to chronicle the first thirty-two years of her fascinating life as accurately as possible.”

Brite’s friendship with Love may have provided her with access to private journals and inside connections, but it’s hampered a rare chance of determining exactly whether Love is a genuinely tormented talent or a hanger-on par excellence. I mention this because hanging on -- or at least hanging out -- was where Love gained her first glimpse of rock’s liberating power: backstage at a Cheap Trick concert, no less. It took several years and numerous aborted efforts at stardom -- such as clinging to Julian Cope and dark Brit-popsters, The Teardrop Explodes, and getting kicked out of Faith No More and Babes In Toyland -- before Hole, Kurt, detox and Larry Flynt transformed Love from a despairing wannabe to today’s Versace-clad woman of style and grace.

While she may have tidied up her public image, Love will never totally shake off the demons of her past. As is the case with most extreme rock stars (and I’ve done my research here, folks), Love’s alienation -- and Cobain’s, for that matter -- was shaped by wildly irresponsible parents. Again, Brite documents this but never clearly states the fact, although in a chat she confessed that “Courtney has a great deal of vulnerability, largely caused by her horrible childhood.” So why not explore it in her book?

Love’s “bio-Dad” was a Grateful Dead acolyte, an acid-gobbling drifter who reportedly force-fed his four-year-old daughter LSD. Love’s restless mother worked her way along a procession of husbands and situations, one day running a sheep station, the next dragging her confused offspring to a commune. She also bounced the young, unloved and increasingly anti-social Courtney (or Love Michelle Harrison, as she was originally known) between New Zealand, San Francisco and Portland; this displacement obviously contributed to Love’s reckless teen spirit. Yet the biggest shock is that Love took a good sixteen years before she decided the rock life was both her chance for adoration and an outlet for chronically pent-up emotions.

A fair chunk of Courtney Love: The Real Story is, naturally, dedicated to charting the downward spiral of Cobain and Love’s doomed relationship -- Love’s very own “Yoko phase.” And it’s certainly the most engrossing section of the book. For Love it was a tumultuous time when “I just hold up my finger and shit sticks to it.” A messy post-Cobain fling with Trent Reznor, the occasional arrest, and the OD death of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff, didn’t help Love’s growing-up process, either. But survivor that she is, Hole has lived through all this.

Her star turn in The People vs. Larry Flynt and the seriously anticipated new Hole album -- plus an ongoing romance with actor Edward Norton -- has given Love hope for the future. She’s now living the role of Hollywood style queen, adorning Harper’s covers and even espousing the values of cosmetic surgery, as she did in a recent US magazine article. “I think the fact that you can buy beauty now is a really good thing,” she declared matter-of-factly. Battered baby doll no more.

As rock tomes go, Courtney Love: The Real Story is undeniably readable. But that’s more a reflection of Love’s vicariously thrilling life -- and her metamorphosis from fast-living rock chick to solid-gold celebrity -- than a nod to Brite’s skills as a biographer. Rather than get inside the head of Courtney Love and answer, conclusively, whether she’s an arch manipulator or a serious talent, Brite takes the Jackie Collins approach, lacing her book with enough sex, drugs and (especially) rock’n’roll to turn even David Lee Roth’s head. Which, of course, means there’s a screenplay just begging to be written: what better way to cap Love’s supernova ascendancy than to star in her own bio-pic.


NY Rock Home Page