These days, when celebrity interviews are micro-slivered like bread in a Victorian workhouse, perhaps one should be grateful for five minutes on the phone with Courtney Love. Five minutes of Love: It sounds like a bad night of speed-dating.
The problem is that Courtney Love doesn’t come when called. When I first try to contact her at the appointed hour, she isn’t there. The second time, she has been “called back into the studio to do some vocals.” The third time I’m told by an anxious assistant that she isn’t feeling well, but might feel better within the hour. This less-than-rigorous commitment to scheduling isn’t surprising given that she was once a one-woman booze cruise who carried her late husband’s ashes around in a teddy-bear backpack. You can set your party by Courtney, but not your watch.
Finally we do connect, so that she can tell me about her 19-city mini-tour (which lands in Toronto on Saturday and Vancouver on July 22) and her upcoming projects – a new record and a long-promised memoir, slated for release in December. But where to begin? Love has accordioned a century’s worth of tumult into her 49 years (a Rolling Stone slideshow called “Courtney Love’s wildest meltdowns” is particularly instructive). The ferocious contribution she and her band Hole made to rock in the mid-1990s is in danger of being overshadowed by her marriage to Kurt Cobain, her estrangement from their daughter Frances Bean Cobain, and her talent for shooting from the lip. As a self-proclaimed feminist, it must gall that her biography has trumped her art.
Initially she sounds a little tired on the phone – “sorry, I was up late in the studio” – but Love is soon a tornado of chat, scattering famous names and wisdom with equal abandon. Five minutes stretches to nine, enough time to learn a few things about Courtney Love. Such as:
She does not, to quote Joan Jett, give a damn about her bad reputation.“Oh my God,” she says, and I’m pretty sure she’s taking a haul on a cigarette on the other end of the phone. “So much myth, it’s insane. Mythmythmyth. I’m so many mythological creatures it’s not funny, like a thing with three heads. I’m this siren/medusa/nymph/gorgon.”
But not a snitch.“This [memoir] is not a list of my sex life – that’s off the table. I’m not a gossip columnist.” Love’s autobiography, which she’s co-writing with Anthony Bozza, will be “juicy” but not unexpurgated: “If I could ever write the real book, empires would crumble. By the way, that’s a quote I stole from Stevie Nicks. She said if she published her journals, empires would crumble.”
Not that she keeps a journal any more, thanks very much Edward Norton.“I went through a string of boyfriends who read my diaries. I find that to be really disgusting. I’ve never been a diary reader. If you leave your diary by the bed, I’m not going to read it. It’s your diary. But Edward Norton, he read my diary. It was like getting burned on the stove. Then he made this big confession about it, but still. It was like ‘eehhhhhhhh.’ (This is an approximate transcription. Feel free to imagine a noise combining disgust and disappointment.)
And you too, Alex James.“It’s the guys that have big mouths. Like one time I woke up and got a fax from England: Alex from Blur had written a book saying I was his greatest shag or something. I’m not writing a kiss and tell. My life is really, really exciting enough without having to tittle-tattle on people.”
But enough about men. In a world dominated by teen pop, where are the women who rock?“There’s hardly any chicks playing rock anymore,” Love says, sounding wistful. “It’s very, very, very scarce. I think the girls who normally would have been in bands are doing art or extreme sports. They’re still around, they just don’t play instruments.”
The girls who want an alternative can always come and hear her play.“I’ve been really lucky every year to get a new bunch of 15-year-olds. I feel really blessed by that. I did play one weird show in Long Island recently. The audience wasn’t my gays, it wasn’t my girls, it was women my age with their husbands. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was freaky. I was like, ‘Okay, where are my kids?’
And then, with a slightly tubercular laugh, she is gone. Back to her book, or the recording studio, or to phone her agent (she is “very aggressively” trying to revive her acting career). Her tour is called “I’m Still Alive,” if anyone had any doubts.