“I'm not a woman. I'm a force of nature". —Courtney Love
Courtney Love isn’t wrong. Much more than just the wife of Kurt Cobain, Love was at the forefront of several influential grunge bands in the early 90s. She’s also lived the kind of life that only a force of nature could survive. Here are 43 wild facts about Courtney Love.
Love’s father is Hank Harrison, the road manager for the Grateful Dead. Unsurprisingly then, her godfather was bassist and founding member of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh. Talk about rock royalty.
Love spent her childhood in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco from the years 1964-1969, when her parents divorced. This means Love was there for the famous “summer of love” in 1967.
In 1970, Love moved with her mother to Marcola, Oregon. While there, Love was adopted by her step-father, Frank Rodriguez.
Love’s biological grandmother is novelist Paula Fox, but Love’s mother Linda Carroll had been given up for adoption right after she was born, and Love didn’t find out who her grandmother was until much later in life. The two are not close, in part because of the fact that Fox won’t tell Love who her grandfather is. In what could be a steamy twist, Love believes it might be actor Marlon Brando. Her evidence? Love has said, “If you look at me before my first nose job I kind of look like Marlon Brando".
Love didn’t have the easiest time in school as a child. She got bad grades and had difficulty making friends. When she was nine, a psychologist said she was showing signs of autism. When the family moved to New Zealand after yet another divorce, Love was enrolled at Nelson College for Girls, but was expelled within the year.
Love’s childhood only got more difficult from there. In 1973, her mother sent her to live with her former stepfather in Oregon, where she would be raised by him and family friends. At age 14, she was apprehended for shoplifting and sent to a juvenile correctional facility. After that, she was placed in foster care. It can't be easy at 14 to have had your mother send you away and your stepfather not want to raise you after the first sign of trouble.
At 16, Love emancipated herself and struck out on her own. She took a wide variety of jobs in order to support herself. She picked berries at a farm, worked as a disc jockey at a gay disco, and illegally danced shirtless. That was when she changed her last name to Love in order to hide her identity, though later she wound up just keeping it. Love credits spending time with drag queens during her teenage years for helping her pick up social skills.
Love studied English and philosophy at Portland State University.
In 1981, Love inherited some money from her adoptive grandparents. She used that money to travel over to Dublin, Ireland, where her biological father was then living. While there, she enrolled in Trinity College and studied theology for a year.
In 2010, Trinity College gave her an honorary degree from the University Philosophical Society.
Love left Ireland and went to Liverpool, England, where she met musician Julian Cope and moved in with him for a time. Love started hanging around with his band The Teardrop Explodes, a post-punk band from England. “They kind of took me in,” Love said of the band, “I was sort of a mascot; I would get them coffee or tea during rehearsal".
Love then worked as an exotic dancer in Japan and Taiwan, but when her club was shut down, she was deported back to America.
Love kicked off her music career in the 1980s. Her first band was called Sugar Babylon, and was later renamed Sugar Babydoll. She started the band with her friends Ursula Wher and Robin Barbur.
Love convinced the successful band Faith No More to let her join as a singer. Faith No More did record tracks with Love singing, but she was eventually kicked out of the band because they wanted "a male energy". Despite this, there are no hard feelings between Love and the band, and they remain friends.
In 1984, Love formed the band Pagan Babies with Kat Bjelland. Since Love didn't yet play guitar, Bjelland would often take her musical ideas and translate them onto the instrument.
Always the learner, Love enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute, as she decided to study acting and film instead of focusing on her music. There, she studied under low-fi experimental director George Kuchar, and was even in one of his short films, Club Vatican.
During her acting phase, Love auditioned for the role of Nancy Spungen in the movie Sid and Nancy. While she didn’t get cast as the lead, she was given a minor role in the film. Later, the director Alex Cox cast Love as a leading actress in his 1987 spaghetti western Straight to Hell. Love was in good company: music icons Joe Strummer and Grace Jones were her co-stars.
Love was the bride in the Ramones' 1988 music video for “I Wanna Be Sedated".
By the late 80s, Love was something of a celebrity, and was easily recognizable even in the small town of McMinnville, Oregon where she lived. With this new fame, Love found she just wanted to get away from it all—so she moved out to Alaska for three months. She worked at a local strip joint, got rid of everything she owned, and lived in a trailer with some other women. That's one way to clear your mind.
As soon as Love taught herself to play guitar, it was time to start another band. You might have heard of this one: Hole. She placed an ad in a zine listing her influences as Big Black, Sonic Youth, and Fleetwood Mac. The ad must have worked, because she recruited Eric Erlandson, Lisa Roberts (her neighbor), and Caroline Rue.
Love won the award for Best Female Rock Guitarist in 1999. Not bad for a girl who had to teach herself how to play guitar.
Right before she brought Hole together, Love married minor rock star James Moreland. It didn't last long, and Love had the marriage annulled just months later, confessing that their union was just "a joke".
In the early days of Hole, the band rehearsed in a studio space owned by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Hole’s first studio album was Pretty on the Inside, and it was met with a pretty positive reception from punk rock critics. Spin magazine even listed it as one of the 20 best albums of the year. However, Love now thinks the album is “unlistenable".
Hole has played at New York’s famous punk rock club CBGB.
Because of the feminist messages of some of Hole’s songs as well as their female lead singer, the band was mistakenly labeled as part of the riot grrl movement, even though Love didn't personally identify as part of the movement.
In the early 90s, Love infamously met and fell in love with troubled Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. No one is quite sure how they met, but each account is fascinating. Cobain’s biographer says the two met in 1990 when Cobain wrestled Love to the ground after she made a passing comment that he looked like another singer. However, Love herself claims they met at a garage band show in Portland, Oregon, while one of Love's bandmates says they were both introduced to Cobain in a parking lot after a concert in 1991.
Love and Cobain's relationship burned fast and hot, and they were married on February 24, 1992 in Hawaii. Love was dressed in a satin and lace gown, while Cobain wore pajamas. Guess this was one time where the bride really didn’t care what the groom wore.
Six months after the wedding, Love gave birth to Frances Bean Cobain, the couple's only child.
Love and Cobain have only performed together once. They performed side by side at the Rock Against R*pe benefit in 1993.
The band name "Hole" comes from a line in Euripides' Medea: “There is a hole that pierces right through me". Studying the classics in English clearly had an influence on Love. However, there's also a much more tragic origin story to the band name: it also comes from a talk she had with her mother, where her mother told Love she couldn't live her life "with a hole running through her".
Love released Hole's second album, Live Through This, in October 1993. But what should have been a moment of triumph turned into an utter tragedy: The album came out four days after Cobain’s passing.
Love was utterly devastated by Cobain's demise. When he killed himself, she had been in rehab—but after his passing, she took a major backslide. She withdrew from the public for months, and when she did go out she was erratic and violent. She held a series of macabre, chaotic shows where she even got in fist fights with the crowd. Even worse, she once punched Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of Bikini Kill, at a show while wracked with grief. Love says she barely remembers this period of her life.
In 1992, a Vanity Fair article came out about Cobain and Love that alleged the couple were doing illicit substances while Love was pregnant with their daughter Frances Bean. It caused a media firestorm, and the authorities were forced to take Frances Bean from the custody of her parents for a time—but the article may have had far worse consequences. Love believes the piece had a huge, negative impact on her marriage, and may have even helped drive Cobain to his tragic suicide. Through it all, she still asserts that she quit using as soon as she found out she was pregnant.
At Cobain's funeral, Love read out part of his suicide note to the crowd, which contained heartbreaking words for the love of his life and his daughter. In the very last lines of the letter, Cobain wrote, "Please keep going Courtney. For Frances. For her life which will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU".
Once Cobain was cremated, Love split up his ashes, dividing them between a traditional urn and a teddy bear.
In many ways, the divorce of Love's parents sent her down her tragic path—but the split had even darker origins. Love's mother alleges that she divorced her father, Hank Harrison, because Harrison was feeding the young girl psychedelic substances. If it's true, that is absolutely chilling.
Although Love and Cobain rarely performed together, they did have a profound influence on each other. Love influenced Cobain’s lyrics for In Utero, Nirvana’s third album. She’s credited with helping Cobain make his lyrics more direct, where before they were more abstract. There are even some theories out there that claim she wrote their third album, but friend of the band Everett True says that theory doesn’t hold any water.
Hole released their third album, Celebrity Skin, in 1998. Love said her influences for the album were Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, and My Bloody Valentine. The album was also a commercial and critical success: it was on Best Album of the Year lists at both Spin and The Village Voice. “Celebrity Skin,” the title song, was the band’s only number one single.
Hole toured with Marilyn Manson in 1999, but wound up dropping out of the tour for a host of reasons. One of them? Love didn’t like the way Manson treated and took advantage of his very young female audience members. As she said, "What I really don't like—there are certain girls that like us, or like me, who are really messed up... and they do not need to be—they're very young—and they do not need to be taken... going out into the audience and picking up 14 and 15-year-old girls...it's just uncool".
In 2004, Love was in the news again for her erratic behavior on the set of Late Show with David Letterman. She flashed the host several times throughout the interview, and even stood on his desk. But just hours later, it got a whole lot worse: she was apprehended for assaulting a fan at one of her shows that evening, though she initially denied the charges.
Thus, in the mid-2000s, Love was court-ordered back into rehab. During this latest stint, she wasn't allowed to make any music and, moreover, the drug use had compromised her hand-eye coordination. At the time, she truly believed she was ruined as a musician—but Love has always found a way to persevere. She released another Hole album, Nobody's Daughter, in 2010.
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