If She Floats: In Defense of Courtney Love

Having excoriated comments made by an associate of one of their favorite wicked witches, the media’s retraction of the bad vibes aimed at Courtney Love is barely visible:


Fairly typical really. Courtney can do no right in the eyes of many and a significant number of publications are happy to leap on her every misstep because they know there’s a ready audience prepared to hate her. For the sake of argument, I’m going to offer the opposing position that, to quote King Lear, she is “more sinn’d against than sinning.”

Courtney Love and Hole were responsible for three of the finest albums of the entire grunge era; 1992’s Pretty on the Inside, 1994’s Live Through This and 1998’s Celebrity Skin. Her band had already built a substantial underground following — yet the fact that Hole undoubtedly did benefit from her relationship with Kurt Cobain is deemed to be a Machiavellian scheme manipulating him for profit. That does mean ignoring her own history in music (she was in a number of punk bands prior to an early version of Babes in Toyland) and the fact that, in 1992-1993, her band were one of the few top-quality unsigned acts (Helmet?) A major was always going to sign them. And if she did benefit from a relationship with Kurt Cobain then hold on, Kurt gave far more visible and heavy support to other bands without there being accusations of cheating (The Vaselines’ reissues, The Raincoats’ reissues, opportunities for Shonen Knife…) Bands help loved ones, it happens, the entire grunge scene was built on mutual support.

Rumours and bitchy talk also held that Kurt wrote her music for her. The sum proof amounts to Kurt gifting her the song Old Age yet, comparing the three extant version (boom box demo, studio version, Kurt acoustic solo) it’s clear that Courtney heavily revised the words. Again, there’s nothing wrong with musical collaboration between married musicians. Courtney Love acted as an inspiration for a number of lyrics on In Utero while some of Kurt’s most amusing outbursts (The Word TV show; “we love you Courtney”; the Incesticide liner notes; Axl Rose at the 1992 MTV VMA’s…) wouldn’t have happened without her. We can thank her for parts of the story of Nirvana and for various lyrics from the artist we adore.

Courtney also gets no credit for her effect on Kurt. She didn’t get him hooked on heroin; he did that all himself. She made plentiful efforts in 1993 to get him into studios to try to restore his faded muse, she had him write playful efforts with her (the apocryphal Nighty Nite songs) — it was his own choice to evade studios and avoid his band, not her decision. She can also be thanked for helping persuade a frantic Kurt not to kill himself in the hospital at the time of their daughter’s birth. It’s difficult to imagine trying to raise a child and maintain one’s own creative interests with someone in tow who is chronically unable (and unwilling) to drop the drug habit. She also deserves credit for several occasions when he had to be rescued from overdoses. Like any responsible and loving partner it is well recorded that she put it all on the line with him at the drug intervention in 1994 just to try and get him back to rehab again; she was trying to get her husband off the drugs that were destroying him and seems to have had precious little help from numerous other individuals who could perhaps have been expected to offer more support.

Some part of the annoyance with Courtney focuses on her custodianship of the estate of Kurt Cobain. Yet, again, as the nonsense surrounding the rumours of a musical showed, there’s often little substance to the annoyance. The flow of fresh Nirvana material was interrupted by the legal spat between Courtney, Krist and Dave — unfortunately, though annoying, it’s fairly reasonable to seek a revision of terms if one feels misled. And legal matters take time regardless of the desires or otherwise of the people involved, it’s a process not a conversation. As soon as it was resolved the promised material appeared; there’s little evidence around that of Courtney doing anything untoward with Nirvana’s legacy, any weaknesses in post-millennium releases are as much down to Krist and Dave as to her and there have been few products or uses of Nirvana’s music that have stepped outside the bounds of taste.

Courtney’s reputation suffered in the Vanity Fair debacle, yet it’s clear Frances Bean Cobain was born a perfectly healthy baby and, as Courtney had always stated, she had stopped drugs as soon as she knew she was pregnant. Courtney certainly hasn’t helped herself by being more than happy to provoke journalists but predominantly her problem has been too much information and saying everything that comes into her head rather than fiendish secret evil. At the 1992 MTV VMAs Axl Rose’s then partner Stephanie Seymour asked Courtney “are you a model?” Courtney snapped back “are you a brain surgeon?” It sums it up really. There’s a comfy acceptance of rock stars going out with pretty models who know to keep their mouths shut. Yet, for Kurt Cobain, a star with a progressive attitude, to be attracted to a creative (and attractive) woman from a similar musical culture and background, one with a sharp sense of humour and no tolerance of fools — there’s no credit given. The gold-digger view gets more play than the idea that two young people felt a fierce attraction, loved one another and had plenty in common.


One thought on “If She Floats: In Defense of Courtney Love”

  1. The guy was suicidal at multiple points in his life and it was documented by him before his death. One thing I never see or hear discussed is the lithium theme. Lithium is a song about a guy who has decided to end his life but wants to do a few things before he checks out. Kurt recorded and shared the story with Michael azerrad of his wanting to kill himself as a teenager but not until he lost his virginity. Then as an adult he has his best friend buy a gun for him and wanting to see his daughter and get wasted a few more times he is found dead days later.

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