On April 12, 1994, Hole released its second album. Four days earlier, frontwoman Courtney Love's husband, Kurt Cobain, was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun blast. As Love publicly contends with her grief and her career, Craig Marks bears witness.
The last time Hole played in Vancouver, British Columbia a town, frontwoman Courtney Love knowledgeably points out, with "really great looking whores" she petulantly stormed offstage after just a few songs. "The kids didn't know that it was cool to like us," she recalls with a smirk. Tonight, at the very same venue, there's no such problem. The fervid gathering of moon eyed grrrls and alt rock boyettes know full well that it's cool to like Hole. And they're not alone. MTV knows it: the Buzz Clip video for "Doll Parts" airs constantly, and Hole has been invited to tape an Unplugged segment in February. Lollapalooza knows it: negotiations are already well underway for Hole to perform as part of next summer's tour. The hipeoisie of L.A. knew it big time at Hole's sold-out Hollywood Palladium show: Stringy scenesters such as Juliette Lewis, Stephen Dorff, and Samantha Mathis vied for Love's gaze, while graybeards Ringo Starr and Belinda Carlisle ambled sheepishly about, and powerbroker Danny Devito patiently waited for an audience. The tabloids, for reasons less than savory, know it: "I'm in the Star every fucking week," says Love from behind a new issue, with equal parts satisfaction and disgust. And, by now, you know it, too: Hole's second album, the unanimously acclaimed Live Through This, is steadily climbing the Billboard charts, as the self imposed promotional blackout has finally been lifted, and Love endeavors to sell a record forever stained by her late husband's self hatred, dissipation, and bad timing.
The performance in Vancouver the fifth I've seen in six nights, and not a freak show among them is spectacular, with Love's shock schtick at a minimum, and her power as a singer and a songwriter at the fore. The band Love, guitarist Eric Erlandson, new bassist Melissa auf der Maur, and drummer Patty Schemel barrels through a turbulent set of polished punk rock and nougaty new wave, proving as comfortable with the fire and brimstone of "Gutless" as with their your roots are showing cover of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf." And, as was consistently the case with the week's shows, this is firmly a "go Courtney" crowd; there's nary a curiosity seeker. Love intentionally played smaller venues than she could have. "I did not want the O.J. Simpson people attending my shows," she says.
Still, even during their most earnest attempts at a straight ahead live performance, a Hole show is no mere rock gig: Each and every one is elevated (or, occasionally, buried) by the mad life Love has lived, not just recently but for all the days of her incendiary 29 years. She indeed has lived through not only the gruesome suicide of her husband and best friend Kurt Cobain, but an impossibly unstable childhood, a globe trotting turn as a stripper, a whirlwind marriage, a pregnancy lousy with scandal, and the fatal overdose of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff.
And, of equal if not greater importance to her music, she's also been a player, either minor or major, in nearly every notable punk and postpunk scene of the past ten years. Her zigzag wanderings stops in England, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Portland, and Seattle, among others add up to an education that would alone ensure a bachelor's degree in punk rock. "Even if I were talentless," cracks Love, "after seeing Echo & the Bunnymen eight million times and Nirvana ten million times, how could I not write an okay new wave record?" Live Through This, however, easily surpasses Love's self deprecating description, and her grandeur as a performer and writer is due more to drive and intelligence than to good timing.
If there were such a thing as a rock star competition and for Love, there unmistakably is La Love would easily take the cake. Aesthetes might argue that we have no need for such a bloated, antiquated notion after all, Nirvana can be found on a compilation called Kill Rock Stars but rock would be a million times less fun without such constructions. Of course, unless the artist comes armed with a thick skin and an affection for the absurd, serving as a dartboard for the myriad longings of young adults can be painful. But not only is Love comfortable in the glare of the spotlight, she barely needs to squint. Not only is Love our very best rock star, she's happy to oblige.
What may strike a neophyte as jaw dropping drama is routine for Love. Heroine, villain, feminist, slut, poet, punk, fashion plate, gossip, punching bag, bitch, survivor, wife, mom: Love slips into each of these roles as if born for the part. Her deeply confessional songs." I may lie a lot, but never in my lyrics," Love says are sometimes revised during her shows for extra voyeurism and bloodletting. "I get a blister from Fucking everything I see," she now sings on "Softer, Softest." And it's only recently that Love has dropped the morbid "disease who should have died" rewrite from "Miss World."
Love's life bleeds heavily into her art, and vice versa. Don't bother trying to untangle what is real from what is artifice; at this point the knot is so gnarled that the strands are barely traceable. Or, as fellow S/M poet Greg Dulli might have put it: "It's in her heart / It's in her head / It's in her love / Baby, it's in her bed."
The afternoon following Hole's triumphant Los Angeles appearance, I venture up to Love's room at the Mondrian Hotel. There isn't a spot of carpet visible; countless piles of clothes, cosmetics, magazines, and press clippings form a new layer of floor covering. Love's appearance mimics the sprawl: The pale pink slip she's wearing is dotted with smears and smudges, her hands and forearms scabbed and bruised, her blonde hair fighting for space alongside brown roots and pink tints.
In rapid succession, Love darts from one phone conversation to another, pores over live reviews, warns me to "stay the fuck away" from some private letters propped on the coffee table, and relives the glories of the previous evening's after show schmoozathon. "Did you see me with Danny DeVito?" she prods. A blind man could have noticed their conversation: Love, in post show powder blue slip, draped on top of DeVito's table, sharing a cigar with the cherubic actor director producer (Love is up for a part in an upcoming DeVito production called Feeling Minnesota, starring Keanu Reaves). There's some debate regarding the Kurt look alike quotient and general fuckability of Stephen Dorff. And there's the detailed recounting of the bizarre scene that transpired between Love and indie folk singer Mary Lou Lord. Lord, who Cobain claimed exaggerated a single sexual encounter in 1991 into a full fledged relationship in order to garner publicity for herself, brazenly turned up backstage after the Hole show. Moments later, Love was being unsuccessfully restrained by a bevy of bouncers; the spectacle soon spilled out of the Hollywood Palladium, as Love, barefoot, still in floor length slip, gave chase to Lord across Sunset Boulevard and down Gower,followed by two dozen cheering fans. "There are five people in this world that if I ever run into I will fucking kill," Love says, "and she is definitely one of them." Lord declined to comment on either Cobain or Love.
Love's reputation as a 50-foot drama queen plays itself out with some regularity during our time together. "All I have to do is lick my finger, stick it up in the air, and shit sticks to it," Love claims, and she's got a point. With a keen mind, a ruthless sense of humor, and a dizzying mouth, Love is a lightning rod even while trying to maintain a low profile. "I go to a bar and I leave, and I know that no matter how quiet I've been or what I haven't done, for the next month it'll be spoken of that I came in and yelled and screamed and fucked whoever on the floor."
Nonetheless, you won't catch Love too often shying away from a juicy tete-a-tete, as her infamous America Online postings reveal, all breathless gossiping, prickly put downs, and endlessly self referential rants. Love can be a swaggering bully a shopping spree in the Barbie department at FAO Schwarz leads to Love tongue lashing a bedraggled mom for dressing her daughter in a fur lined coat but it's difficult to tell for whose benefit these outbursts are intended. Provide her an audience, and she'll rarely disappoint.
Case in point: Just prior to our first formal sit down interview, Love suddenly grabbed the phone and rang up Charles Cross, editor of the Seattle Rocket, a bimonthly music tabloid with a Top 20 list of the hottest selling Northwest bands. Upset by the geographical omission of Hole from the chart, Love, eyeing my pen and notebook, went to work. "Charles, this is Courtney. Hi, I'm sitting here with Craig Marks.
He's the music editor of SPIN magazine. Listen, Charles, this has been on my mind for quite some time, and I want you to take care of it right now, okay? I am an Oregon native, all right? Born in San Francisco, raised in Eugene, all right? Spent most of my life in Portland, okay? Patty Schemel is a Marysville native, okay? Born in Marysville, lived in Seattle most of her life, all right? That makes two members of my band Northwestern natives. Now I heard that there's, like, some sort of hot Northwest scene going on, and I'd like to catch that train before it leaves town. But that's not really the point. The point is that, like, Candlebox Charles, are you listening to me? are, like, the worst nightmare that any of us Northwest natives could ever have had. A band that moved up here, literally, with flat hair to get signed during my husband's band's media craze, okay? But they fucking make your fucking local fucking list, all right. Fucking all of Tad is from Idaho, not even half. Let's just establish the fact that I'm a native of this part of the country, and I'd like to be perceived as such. And it really annoys me that, like, I don't get to. Am I too continental for you, Charles? What's the problem?"
Perched atop Love's lap is her and Cobain's beautiful two year old daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. I'm not sure what sort of sociopathic mother daughter relationship I had expected Mommie Dearest? Mildred Pierce? but I was heartened, and admittedly relieved, to see Love gleefully singing the hits of Barney the Dinosaur with her child. "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family," cooed the pair, either oblivious or accustomed to the bustling surroundings.
"Did you see Mommy play last night? Did she play loud?" Frances, who, with her long bangs and woodsy innocence bears a striking resemblance to the young Courtney found on the back of Live Through This, was proudly exhibited to the throng at the Palladium, to rousing applause. "I don't care if people think I'm exploiting my child," said Love from the stage. "She's the only successful thing I've ever done in my life." When I ask her about the wisdom of these public showings of Frances, Love's eyes turn black. "I have a big mouth, and I talk about a lot of stuff. But I've always found it really difficult to discuss my child. Because she's my child, and it's private. So fuck you." Later, though, she admits that she may be finished with these displays. "I don't think I'm going to do it anymore," she says, "because she's getting to the point where her face is recognizable, and I'm worried about some crazy asshole kidnapping her."
Frances reaches into her nose, pulls out a choice booger, proudly shows it to her mom, and then pops it into her tiny mouth. Love doesn't blink. "Once I tell her that picking her nose and eating it is not considered attractive," she says, "she'll just do it more and more and more. And the same thing goes for any behavior. Like, she reaches in her butt diaper and pulls out a piece of her poo. And it's like, 'Here. Here's some of my poo. And if you reject it I'm worthless.' It's very Freudian."
Watching Frances blithely play with her mommy's lipstick, or pick her nose and eat it, it's easy to forget that she will grow up under the shadow of her father's famous shotgun blast. Love knows that the time will come when Frances will have to wade through a swamp of ugly emotions. But for now, when it comes to Frances, Love is committed to honoring her husband's spirit, not wallowing in the mire of his death. "Who's that?" Love asks Frances while shuffling through some lovely black and white photos of the threesome. "Mommy!" exclaims Frances. "And who's that?" "Daddy!" "And who's that?" "Me!"
These Kodak moments aren't always so toasty and warm, though; there are scenes of unmentionable sadness, not to mention confusion. "Daddy," Frances blurts, pointing to the televised image of The Grind's Eric Nies, mistaking one MTV icon for another. And once, while I'm mindlessly eyeing the Nirvana Unplugged CD, Frances pulls the disc from my grasp and peers soulfully at the picture of her father, seated, sadly beautiful. I turn my head away.
To paraphrase the Army slogan, Courtney Love has done more in 29 years than most people do in a lifetime. It's her early life, though, that provides the best glimpse into her subsequent chaos. She was born Love Michelle Harrison in San Francisco on July 9, 1965, to Hank Harrison, a small time associate and biographer of the Grateful Dead; and Linda Carroll, then a student, later a therapist. The two were married for less than a year; a custody battle ensued, with Carroll gaining full rights to her daughter. The three year old, now renamed Courtney Michelle Harrison" First it's Love Michelle Harrison, then it's Courtney Michelle Harrison, then it's Courtney Michelle Rodriguez, then it's Manely, then, finally, it's Courtney Love" moved to Eugene, Oregon, with her mother, her new stepfather Frank Rodriguez, and half sisters Nicole and Jamie. Carroll lived well off an inheritance left to her by her adoptive parents, attending college in Eugene, and "gathering disciples wherever she went. My mother had ties to a lot of the women around the San Francisco hippie scene, like Ken Kesey's wife, and the Magic Bus people." Carroll and Rodriguez shortly divorced, and, while on a rafting trip in Colorado, Carroll met husband number three, David Manely. By the time Courtney was seven, her home life resembled a scene from The Trip. "There were all these hairy, wangly-ass hippies in our house. We had this huge mansion in Marcola, Oregon and all these hippies are there doing Gestalt therapy, running around the swimming pool naked, screaming. My mom was also adamant about a gender free household: no dresses, no patent leather shoes, no canopy beds, nothing." Love had already begun a pattern of attending and getting kicked out of an assortment of schools. Meanwhile, Carroll and Manely decided that a change of venue was in order, and so they emigrated to New Zealand to start a sheep farm, leaving Love to reside with a friend of Carroll's back in Eugene. When I ask Love why she was left behind, she shrugs. "I guess I was too much trouble." As soon as Carroll and Manely left the country, Love, now in the third grade, was booted from yet another school. Bounced from school to school, and from therapist to therapist, Love began to shoplift. "I thought crime was the cooler subculture going. Cooler than the subculture of crazy." She also found it difficult making any friends. "The only people that liked me at this time were men: male teachers, male principals, male therapists. Kids hated me."
Due to constant fights between Love and her caretaker's son, she was shipped off to her parents in New Zealand in 1973. Carroll, in turn, sent Love to live with a nearby matron named Shirley. "Shirley was great," says Love. "She had this incredible library and garden. I changed my name to Michelle my middle name, which is a really decent, normal name and I was really popular in school for a year. I thought Shirley and I were doing really well. Then my mother tells me that Shirley doesn't like me anymore and I can't continue to live with her. Which was really fucked." Love is again packed off, this time to live with Rodriguez in Portland." I was Courtney again" and her troubles started anew.
The next few years brought more rootlessness, as Love shuttled between Portland and New Zealand. When seventh grade rolled around, she finally settled down with another friend of her mom's in Eugene, where she "started getting fascinated with the local coterie of juvenile delinquent girls. I'd been living in New Zealand, I'm really into the Rollers, I had, like, tartan on the bottom of my fucking pants, I had a semi-David Bowie hairdo, and I'm a freak at my school. I get the shit beat out of me enough times so I start to become really scrappy. I was a runt no tits, no period, no puberty so I get picked on, and I realize that I can fight really well if I just pretend I'm going to murder the person. I started hanging around the mall and running with this crowd of teen whores."
For the next four years, Love would "do anything to get arrested. But just arrested. Like shoplift." After temporarily running away from Eugene, Love, at age 13, ventured into a two-year period where she was shuttled between reform schools, such as Skipworth in Eugene, and the Hillcrest School For Girls in Salem. Courtney says that during one of her Skipworth stays, "An intern who was working for school credit came back from England and said, 'You should really be into this stuff, it's really you.' And he gave me three records: Pretenders, Squeeze, and Never Mind the Bollocks. I decided then that I was going to be a rock star."
Love looks back upon this period of instability with surprising fondness. For example: "I was really quite pretty until I was 11 or 12, which I think the back of Live Through This shows. I sort of looked like Eddie Vedder. I was the last girl on the planet with tits. I was the girl that would never hit puberty. I forever looked like I was seven. And then I got ugly; I was ugly until I was 25. But back then, I was usually one of the most attractive people in the room, except in an unusual way. Still, I knew what I had, and I worked the fuck out of it. And so when it was gone I really missed it. I really resented puberty for that. It took away my beauty."
While Love served as a witness in a statewide sexual political scandal, she became acquainted with a counselor to whom she confessed the existence of her trust fund. "I finally got free, and went to live in Portland in my own apartment. I bought a trench coat and tried to stay away from all of the people I knew from around the mall because I wanted new friends. I wanted punk friends. And then I met Ursula [Wehr, now in the Portland band Candy 500] and Robin [Barbur]."
Love, who has garnered a well-deserved reputation as a nonstop gabber, confesses to being disturbingly mute up until then. "I didn't ever really talk until I started hanging out in '80 or '81 with the drag queens at the Metropolis [or Met, a gay new wave club] in Portland. I was very, very quiet. So much so that at one point when I was very young I was diagnosed as a probable autistic. And then I started hanging around with bitchy drag queens and with Ursula and Robin, and they basically raised me. I found my inner bitch and ran with her."
Love and her inner bitch lit out at a fevered clip over the next ten or so years: Japan (earning her living as a stripper), Ireland (attending Trinity College), England (tailing Julian Cope), Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland (forming the band Sugar Baby Doll with Wehr and Barbur), Taiwan (stripping), San Francisco (singing in Faith No More), Portland (again Sugar Baby Doll, this time with Kat Bjelland), Seattle, San Francisco (Sugar Baby Doll 3, with Bjelland and Jennifer Finch), New York (auditioning for the Nancy Spungen part in Alex Cox's film Sid and Nancy), Minneapolis (playing in an early incarnation of Babes in Toyland with Bjelland and Lori Barbero), Spain (appearing in Cox's abysmal Straight to Hell), Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Alaska (stripping), Portland, and, finally, in 1989, Los Angeles, where, after placing an ad in L.A.'s Recycler, she formed Hole with Eric Erlandson. "After I called her, she didn't call me for two weeks," remembers Erlandson. "Then she called me back at three in the morning and talked my ear off."
"He had a Thurston quality about him," says Love of Erlandson. "He was tall, skinny, blond. He dressed pretty cool, and he knew who Sonic Youth were. Eric's gotten pushed aside so much because of my persona that he doesn't nearly get enough credit. He's an intensely weird, good guitarist, and he's the glue that keeps me together." Hole's first album, Pretty on the Inside, backgrounded Love's agility as a songwriter for headache-inducing riffs and churlish vocals. Drummer Caroline Rue was replaced by Patty Schemel, who came recommended by Cobain. But the band didn't really find its voice until Erlandson recruited bassist Kristen Pfaff. "That's when we took off," says Erlandson. "All of a sudden we became a real band."
Erlandson grows indignant when I inquire about Pfaff's alleged heroin addiction. "Kristen's drug use wasn't bad at all. All those media reports were wrong. She wasn't a junkie. She dabbled in drugs before she was in our band, in Minneapolis, but it was very light. She moved to Seattle and felt disconnected from everything, and she made friends, drug connections, which I told her not to do. The only way you can survive in this town is if you don't make those connections. She moved into a place where drugs were within walking distance, so she got into them for a little while. But to get away from it she moved back to Minneapolis. She went on tour with her old band, Janitor Joe, and when she came back to Seattle from that, she was clean. On that last day of her life [June 15, 1994], the drugs were more like a kind of celebration thing' Yay, I got all packed up. I'm gonna leave in the morning.' She had already sent most of her belongings back to Minneapolis. Her U-Haul was already loaded up. Everyone that talked to her that last night said she sounded really happy, excited to be starting this new life."
"It was just the times," adds Love. "Everybody was doing it. Everyone, everyone. All our friends were junkies. It was ridiculous. Everybody in this town did dope. Every-fucking-body. It was unbelievable."
Immediately facing you when you head up the driveway to Courtney Love's Seattle home, on top of the garage, is an A-frame wooden greenhouse. A clear ceiling lets in whatever daylight the oppressively grey afternoons will allow. A small stone staircase winds up to the greenhouse, a child's swing set off to the right. Once inside, five or so paces leads you to French doors that open onto a small balcony. The view, the last one Kurt Cobain ever saw, is grand; lush green pine trees, miles of slate sky, the serene foam blue of Lake Washington, and the whitecapped slopes of the Cascade Mountains. An odd-looking stool, the only piece of furniture present, sits adjacent to the glass doors. A jumble of limbs jut off in different directions. A copper plaque built into the seat of the stool reads: "Now you have many legs to stnd on."
Love sleeps up here sometimes. Candles are scattered about. The mood is chilling, to say the least. "He's gone," Love says softly, sensing my unease. "There's no ghost in here. The only thing that would make him hang around is guilt, and I don't want him to feel that."
A believer in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, Love walks me over to theside yard. A lone weeping willow tree, framed by massive rhododendron bushes, grows hesistantly. This, she tells me, is one of the spots where her husband's ashes have been placed. "Willows are really sad, beautiful, Piscean trees, really delicate. They need tons of water. And the way that they die is that they collapse under their own weight. It's so perfect." Love blinks hard, then continues. "Some of Kurt's ashes will be buried in a public cemetery, some are underneath the Buddha in my bedroom, some are in the altar in the living room, and some more of Kurt not a great amount is in India, being made into a stupa [a shrine blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama]. For the stupa you get to pick a place, and a deity. The place I picked is Nirvana, and the deity is a minor god. He's a small man, and he has this really large diamond that he's holding, and the diamond is so big that it keeps knocking him over. The diamond is far too heavy a burden for him."
Love's performances are singed by Cobain's memory, from the haunting refrain of "Asking for It" ("If you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you") to the cathartic version of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" that she occasionally closes with. "I am just the classic person who wants to learn stuff," says Love. "I want good tutors, and with Kurt I had the best." Even the video for "Doll Parts" features a young blond boy obviously meant to invoke Kurt. But her paeans to Cobain never devolve into sentimentality; they're celebrations of his life and his art. During the week I spent with Love, I counted seven different occasions when a Nirvana song popped up on either the radio or MTV; each time, Love reached over and turned the volume up. Among other things, Love is a fan. " 'Violet' [on Live Through This] was officially born on Halloween at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit opening for the Laughing Hyenas with 40 people there. And I was in the van outside the show during soundcheck, and we had five songs from Nevermind, and I was so jealous of those songs that I had to try and top them. I could not believe that somebody that I knew, from our underground, had written a batch of songs so fiercely great."
While sifting through shoeboxes full of family photos, Love sits on her bed, cross-legged, charging through her memories, the gale force of her love for Kurt battling with the dark clouds that refuse to lift. Full-throated laughs fluctuate with tears. "With me and Kurt, it was either Bonnie and Clyde, Sid and Nancy, or mommy. That's where it got at the end, but the rest of the time it was equal. The equality was based on Bonnie and Clyde, which is fucking goddamn fun. And Romeo and Juliet. But it was also Hamlet and Hamlet. Not Hamlet and Ophelia. These two fucking Hamlets sitting around."
She shows me shapshots: Frances at birth, Kurt in his Aberdeen Elks Little League uniform, her and Kurt's wedding, Nirvana's Christmas card, live shots of friends Mudhoney and the Melvins. Later, in the room where Kurt did much of his painting, Love pulls out boxes of sent and unsent letters the two had amassed. "Look," bursts Love, "this is a fax Kurt sent me in Europe when we first started going out." Sketched on the bottom are hilarious portrayals of their respective childhoods; while young hippie Courtney is eating placenta soup, young Aberdonian Kurt is munching on sausage and muffins.
Conversation eventually leads to the drug abuse that took center stage in both the private and public lives of Love and Cobain. Love is brutally frank about her husband's downward spiral. "Kurt loved to hang out with dealers. He just thought that was so cool. He was real salt-of-the-fucking earth. Kurt Cobain in front of the Jack-in-the-Box, on Broadway, copping a 30-piece. Please. It was just like, 'Kurt, you really have to chill on this shit.'"
"Kurt was a gobbler. If you had acid, he'd take acid. If you had mushrooms, he'd take mushrooms. When it came to drugs, he was abusive in a very intense way. If there were 40 pills, he'd take 40 pills, instead of taking two pills and making it last a month. He took eight Prozacs once, and he got furiously sick. And he refused to take Prozacs ever again because, quote, 'They made my stomach hurt,' unquote. And I was like, 'Kurt, that's because you took eight of them at one fucking time.'" Love, pulling hard on her ever-present cigarette, recalls the hellish spectacle of her husband's frequent overdoses. "The day Frances was born this dealer came to the hospital. There were 8,000 nurses and doctors outside the door, and Kurt was in the hospital, on a morphine drip for his stomach. He's already on a fucking morphine drip, and then he arranges for this dealer to come and stick a needle into the IV. And he like totally died. He would totally die all the time. Some people OD. I've never ODed, ever. I've gotten really fucking blasto, but instead of ODing, I chatter and start talking too much, screaming and running around naked and getting hysterical, cutting my arms, you know, crazy shit. Breaking windows. But I never have fallen on the floor blue."
"The day of the New York show at Roseland [July 23, 1993] Kurt totally died. His eyes were wide-fucking-open, like a cadaver. Dead. It was awful. I made Wendy come up one time, and I'm like, this is your fucking son, and just threw him at her. And he was right over there, and he just looked at her and said [affecting a junkie rasp]: 'I'm not on drugs, Mom. I'm not on drugs. Uhhhh.' And after Rome I completely lost influence with him." I ask her to describe Cobain's March 3 suicide attempt in Rome. "I hadn't seen him for 26 days, which was the longest we'd gone without seeing each other since we'd been together. He was all nervous, too. He knew how obsessed I am with Roman history, and he got this beautiful hotel room, and he covered it with flowers. He went to the Colosseum and he kicked a rock off" Love goes over to the mantle and retrieves a small box" man, I haven't touched this since. And these are rosaries from the Vatican that he bought me. And he bought me these beautiful jewels, some three-carat diamond earrings, and some roses. Which I thought was beautiful. It was not his deal. He was not Mr. Romance. He even bought me lingerie."
"And so we ordered champagne, 'cause Pat [Smear] was with us for a little while, and Kurt doesn't drink, and then we put Frances to bed. And we started making out, and we fell asleep. He must have woken up and started writing me a letter about how he felt rejected. But I'm not sure I believe that because he wasn't rejected. We both fell asleep. Anyway, I woke up at, like, four in the morning to reach for him, basically to go fuck him, 'cause I hadn't seen him in so long. And he wasn't there. And I always get alarmed when Kurt's not there, 'cause I figure he's in the corner somewhere, doing something bad. And he's on the floor, and he's dead. There's blood coming out of his nostril. And he's fully dressed. He's in a corduroy coat, and he's got 1,000 American dollars clutched in one hand, which was gray, and a note in the other. It was on hotel stationery, and he's talking about how I'm not in love with him anymore, and he can't go through another divorce [referring to his parents]. And then the next page is like how we're destined to be together, and how he knows how much I love him, and please don't take this personally, and how Dr. Baker [a senior psychotherapist at Canyon Ranch, a health and wellness resort the couple attended] said that like Hamlet, he had to choose life or death, and that he's choosing death."
After Kurt came out of the coma and the two of you flew back to Seattle, how did you approach the subject of his suicide attempt with him? "I just held his ass. I just held him. I felt like I really needed to show him that I loved him and, you know, 'please stop this.' I may seem quite flip and everything now, but I was not flip then. I was catatonic. I really was over the edge. And there was a third person involved here. It wasn't just between me and Kurt. It was me and Kurt and Frances." Love nods toward the bedroom door. "See those marks on the door. On the wall. That's from when he was in here with guns, and I kicked it in. Or tried to. It was too secure. He finally just unlocked it. And there were the guns, out. And I grabbed one. This was March 18. I grabbed the revolver, and I put it to my head, and I said, 'I'm going to pull this right now. I cannot see you die. I can't see you die again.' He grabbed my hand. He was screaming, 'There's no safety. You don't understand, there's no safety on that. It's going to go off. It's going to go off.' So he got it from me. And I was seriously going to blow my head off right in front of him, because I could not deal with it. I didn't find this out till later, but he had called from the ICU in Rome and had arranged for a gram of heroin to be delivered in the bushes of our house. It was fucking five or six days after Rome, and he was high as a kite."
Love recognized that Cobain was destined to take his own life. "How could I not when he talked about it every single day? If there were 99 dots on the wall, he was going to kill himself. If such and such happened that day, he was going to kill himself." Kurt's mother, Wendy O'Connor, knew what lay in store for her son: "I said if he ever lived to be 30, I'd be surprised." Love harbors deep regrets over a number of incidents during Cobain's last month, particularly her involvement with a March 25 intervention. "I flipped out because he absolutely was crazy. Out of his tree. I was desperate. So I called an intervention. And then they wouldn't even let me stick around. They had a Lear jet waiting for me. I never got to kiss Kurt goodbye, or even say goodbye to him." Later, with Love checked in to the Peninsula of Beverly Hills hotel, Cobain tried to reach his wife one last time. "It was on April 2. There was a block on the phone for everyone but him. I did not sleep. I called the operator every couple of hours to make sure, in case they changed shifts. They all knew that if Mr. Cobain called, put that fucking call through to me. 8:54 a.m. I was not asleep. He called, and for six minutes he tried to get through, and could not. For him to argue for six minutes on the phone is crazed. I cannot imagine him arguing for six minutes. He did, though. And what that told him is that I was on their side, that I had a block on the phone for him. And I did not. Kurt's whole plan was to try and wear everyone down, but he could never wear me down. I think, though, that at that very moment he thought I had given up on him." A spokesperson for the Peninsula denies that the incident took place.
Despite her pained account of Cobain's demise, Love is committed to making certain that their life together be portrayed with dimension, and not as some dope-crazed cartoon. "People don't give Kurt enough credit for how hard he tried to kick," she says. "All they want to talk about is how much drugs he and I did. That is not all we did. We had a life. We ate breakfast. We ate lunch. We ate dinner. We rented movies, and ate ice cream. We would read out loud to each other almost every night, and we prayed every night. We had some fucking dignity.
"He was not stupid at all. And nobody fucking believed that one either. They just thought he was this dumb idiot songwriter. He was smarter than me. He didn't read as much, but like that whole Civil War PBS series I got him that for Christmas because we got charged so much for the rental he would just watch it over and over again. We even spoke about going back to college here. "And we would spend at least two hours every day with Frances. That was definitely a rule. He was way better about it than me, actually. I was a little lazier. He'd get up as soon as she awoke and spend most of the day with her. "I have home video footage I want the world to see, just 3 seconds or a minute of Kurt at home so they can see how fucking funny he was, and how utterly earnest he was. He was one of the most earnest people in the world. Really, really sincere. He made Winnie the Pooh look insincere."
Love, who readily admits to a sexually active past, discovered with Cobain that fidelity could be a turn-on. "Kurt looked upon time and marriage as an aphrodisiac. He looked upon stability as arousing. And he really cured me of my former cheating problem. Because my cheating problem had always been based on power. You know, like, 'fuck you' power. And Kurt never played those games at all."
In the aftermath of Cobain's death, rumors have swirled around the nature of Love's relationships with Michael Stipe and Trent Reznor. "My friendship with Michael is really complicated and strange," says Love. "I'm halfway in love with him. Kurt was halfway in love with him. Together, we were in love with him in this sort of nonsexual, romantic, and worshipful way. He's the only celebrity I've ever met in my entire life where it's a little bit difficult because I'm a such a major fan. When I hang out with Michael, I hear 'Radio Free Europe' in my head. "Michael's been absolutely supportive of me. He's really been my friend. His perception of me, though, is fairly distorted; he loves me, but he believes a lot of the hyperbole about me, and that really gets to me. I know he has great respect for my music, but he thinks I love the drama and the starmaking bullshit a lot more than I do."
A ten-day tour opening for Nine Inch Nails and a subsequent romance with Reznor left a vulnerable Love with a bitter taste in her mouth. "My relationship with Trent was a minor or major disaster, depending on your perspective. I really liked him a lot as a friend, and I was surprised to find out we had so much in common. What angers me the most, though, is that I think at some point he probably sat down and said, 'What does this do for my image?' He is that image-oriented, even though I pretended that element didn't exist. I was in full denial. I thought he would have a lot of problems like Kurt, but that I could fix them. Like his silver Porsche, like having to prove to himself that he's a rock star. I thought these were erratic little problems, and I could smooth them over, and make him perfect. Because he really does have a large IQ and he really is sensitive. And I can't think of another male except for my husband who writes lyrics in such a feminine, graphic way. I saw a lot of cool things in Trent, but I was also projecting a lot of Kurt onto him. The whole thing was just too soon after Kurt, ultimately, and I really regret it."
In better order are Love's relations with Nirvana band members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl. "I'd describe them as slightly tense, but good," Love says. "Our intentions toward each other are all really positive. There's not some horrible Yoko nightmare going on, and hopefully there never will be. I totally respect Krist's feelings for Kurt and the way he's handled himself since Kurt's death. One thing that Kurt told me a long time ago, and he made it very very clear, was that no matter what mood he was in with Krist, he and Krist had the exact same taste in music."
One possible point of contention arose when Novoselic caught wind of Love's plans for the public mourning space for Cobain in Seattle's U district. "Krist was kind of adamant about there not being a place for people to go. He wasn't into me putting Kurt in a public cemetery. And it was just this whole thing all over again, of Kurt saying to Krist, 'Put yourself in my shoes. Look at what I have to fucking go through.' And if they don't have a place to go, you know where they'll end up? My house. "Sometimes I'll go over to the park that's right next door, where all these kids come to hang out and gawk and try to jump my fence. Once in a a while I'll talk to them, and some turn out to be decent people that really don't have any other place to go. They need to go somewhere, and I understand that. My friend Joe Cole [murdered on December 19, 1991, while with Henry Rollins], his remains are up at Forest Lawn, and I go there. I hang out and I talk to him sometimes. I don't know who hears it or how it works, but it's important that all that life energy be somewhere." One source of Love's strength in the face of such tragedy stems from her faith in Tibetan Buddhism, which she recently discovered after years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism (best known by its Nam-myoho-renge-kyo chant). "Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has a detailed description of what happens when you die, and how you can help a dead person. That's what was really important to me: having control over the destiny of Kurt in terms of his spirit, where he was, and where he's destined to be." Love, whose piety waned some when she met Cobain "I just thought I had everything that I wanted, and I didn't need to chant anymore." Chastises herself for her spiritual laziness. "I'll tell you this right now period, guaranteed, end of story if I had not stopped chanting, Kurt would still be here."
Two longtime friends also played key roles in the healing process. Warner Bros. Chairman/CEO Danny Goldberg, who formerly managed Nirvana, "was extremely important to Kurt. He was the only person in the industry that Kurt could really talk to. If I ever get married again, Danny's absolutely the prototype." And Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, who first met Love in 1989, spoke with her nearly every day between May and September. "Billy kept me alive," she says bluntly.
Ten months have passed since Love suffered the loss of her spouse, and slowly very, very slowly the life that lies ahead gains ground on the one left behind. Her daughter, her career, her will, all work in tandem keeping her head above water. But when Love references the infamous September 1992 Vanity Fair article (the story accused Love of using heroin while pregnant with Frances, a charge she categorically denies), her undying affection for Cobain, and her fear for her own future, become excruciatingly clear. As Love recalls her despair from the article's fallout, she just as well could be delivering an elegy for her life during, and after, Kurt Cobain.
"Imagine this: You're peaking. You're in your youth. At the prime of your life. The last thing you want to be is a symbol for heroin use. You've finally met somebody of the opposite gender who you can write with. That's never happened before in your life. The only other person you could ever write with wasn't as good a writer as you, and this person's a better writer than you. And you're in love, you have a best friend, you have a soul-fucking-mate, and you can't even believe it's happening in your lifetime. And as a bonus he's beautiful. And he's rich. And he's a hot rock star to boot. And he's the best fuck that ever walked. And he wants to have babies, and what you want is babies. You've wanted to have babies forever. And he understands everything you say. And he completes your sentences. And he's lazy, but he is spiritual, and he's not embarrassed about praying, he's not embarrassed about chanting, he's not embarrassed about God, Jesus, none of it. He fucking thinks it's all really cool. He wants to fucking learn the path. He wants to be enlightened. Everything. And there's even room for you to fix him, which you like, 'cause you're a fixer-upper. He's perfect in almost every fucking way. The only fucking happiness that I ever had.
"And then it all gets taken away..."
In Vancouver, Hole closes its set with a new song, as yet untitled. The chorus is sad and tender: "He said I'll never ever ever go away / He said I'll always always always stay." Toward the song's end, the volume dramatically increases, and Love's voice grows harsh, defiant, challenging. The song's final words are left hanging in the air: "Now you decide."