Courtney Love Brings Anarchy to Hollywood
Story by Alex Scordelis / Photography by Richard Phibbs / Fashion Direction by Nicola Formichetti27 August 2014
It's a sweltering summer afternoon as I climb the steps to the Hollywood home of Courtney Love Cobain. I knock, the door swings open and "Miss World" herself appears before me. She's wearing black skinny jeans, flats and a tattered Enfants Riches Déprimés T-shirt that probably costs more than a down payment on a car. Her blond hair, worn long and mussed, flows freely like a tribute to either Stevie Nicks or Rapunzel. She's on the phone, but places the receiver on her shoulder.
"Alex," she says, "what's your last name?" I tell her, and she relays it to whomever she's speaking with on the phone. "He doesn't know who you are," she informs me. "Come inside." I follow her into the living room, and sit down. Love waltzes into another room, and continues her phone call. Her manager greets me. "Courtney's talking to David LaChapelle," he says. "She'll be with you shortly."
As I wait and fidget with my iPhone, I notice a bound manuscript, The Girl With the Most Cake, on the coffee table. It's Love's long-awaited memoir. I'm tempted to skim for a salacious passage, but resist. From the next room, I can hear Love on the phone with LaChapelle, dishing Internet-crashing quotes that I wish I could print, but shall remain off the record. Her hyperactive white Shih Tzu, Sugar, gnaws at my shoelaces and occasionally jumps on my lap. After 15 minutes, Love reemerges, pulls a cigarette from a pack of Marlboro Lights and lights up.
"Let's start," she says. If I had a seatbelt, this is where I'd buckle it.
My interview with Love is, at times, less of a conversation and more of a one-sided game of Trivial Pursuit. She spouts obscure facts like a Jeopardy! champion. My first question — "How's your day going?" — elicits a 15-minute response that touches upon Buddhism, celebrity court cases, dentistry and cheese.
"If you Google 'Courtney Love' and 'cheese,'" she says, "you'll see I've been talking about cheese for 25 years. I have a nutritionist who told me there's an opiate substance in cheese. I haven't done drugs since 2005, but I'm battling a cheese addiction."
For a rock star who's famous for feuding, it's a positive sign that Love's biggest grudge match in 2014 is with dairy. And after remaining relatively quiet since the release of the last Hole LP in 2010, Love is enjoying a landmark year. In April, she released "You Know My Name" and "Wedding Day," two of the punkest songs in her catalog, as if to prove she can still rile up a mosh pit. "Wedding Day" in particular features some of her most eardrum-piercing screams. "I just have a big voice," Love shrugs, and then stands to demonstrate. "I can DO THIS!" she thunders. "It's a TOOL! And I can USE IT!" What Maria Callas is to opera, Courtney Love is to screaming.
Courtney wears an AF Vandervost jumpsuit. Cartier bracelets worn throughout.
April also marked the 20th anniversaries of her breakthrough LP, Hole's Live Through This, and the death of her husband, Kurt Cobain. Almost 20 years to the day of Cobain's suicide, Love delivered a brief but moving speech at Nirvana's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in Brooklyn.
"This is my family," she said from the podium that night, before hugging Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, Cobain's former bandmates who Love has feuded with in the past. "I just wish that Kurt was here." Love noted that she prepared a speech for that night, but scrapped it at the last second.
"It was really emotional," Love says of the induction ceremony. "I didn't want to cry in front of all those people. On the left side of the stage, there were people who were booing me, which was scary. I just thought, Yuck, this is weird. So I didn't focus on the punters. I focused on the community."
Michael Stipe, a friend of Love's for more than two decades, gave Nirvana's induction speech, and stood by her side onstage. "For Courtney," Stipe told PAPER via email, "fearlessness was never an issue. For her, it was how to position the power that fearlessness offers, and then to make that power work to everyone's advantage. That is true evolution, and I believe she has achieved it."
Frances Bean Cobain, Love and Cobain's 22-year-old daughter, was unable to attend the induction due to illness. Love and Frances have endured a rocky public relationship, and Love insists that's behind them. Now, she beams when talking about her daughter. "She's great and we're doing better than ever," Love says. "Part of the reason I'm in L.A. is to be close to her. We just went to a no-kill cat shelter together, and I got a new cat. I haven't named it yet. I'm picking it up next week."
This summer, Love has also celebrated two milestones: her 50th birthday and landing her first notable acting gig in more than a decade: an against-type role as a preschool teacher in the final season of FX's Sons of Anarchy.
"It's a challenge to be 50 and starting over in acting," she says. "But I'm focused. I mean, look at this house." Love gestures at the room with her cigarette. "It's a corporate rental. It's not a me house. I'm here to work. I don't go to events. My excuse for not going out is that I only have one couture gown. I don't even want to be doing this interview."
Courtney wears a Diesel dress, Bond NYC ring and Augustin Teboul headpiece.
So why is Love talking to PAPER? "The reason I'm doing this," she explains, "is because the first press I ever did was for Interview and PAPER, for a  film called Sid and Nancy."
Before breaking out in the early '90s, Love toiled in obscurity for more than a decade as a struggling artist. She even studied under a then-unknown film director, who would go on to direct Last Days, a 2005 film loosely based on Kurt Cobain.
"I've known Gus Van Sant since the late '70s," she says. "He was teaching a film class in Portland, and my stepfather would take me. I was the only girl in that class. Gus had just moved to Portland. I've known him since I was a preteen."
"I have been told by Courtney about the class that I had taught," Van Sant said by email. "I did teach a class but I don't remember Courtney specifically, and it seems like I would have, unless she was being very quiet and shy, which doesn't seem possible. Courtney has always been a friend, partly because of our past Oregon lives being intertwined."
In the 1980s, Love landed in the Big Apple, where she tried in vain to launch her career as an artist. "My New York years were not a success," she says. "I was a big hustler. I worked in Times Square at a peep show. I squatted in the basement at [punk venue] ABC No Rio. That's before they had cement floors. I was sleeping on dirt. Once a month, I'd have to get up on stage while [drag queen performance artist] Lady Bunny would throw fish at me. I was covered with hamburger meat and was being beaten with fish — fresh mackerel and flounder."
IF being covered in raw meat makes Love a proto-Lady Gaga, it shouldn't be a surprise that Love has become a role model for a younger generation of performers. Recently, Lana Del Rey has come under fire for inserting the lyric "He hit me and it felt like a kiss" — a reference to a 1960s doo-wop song by The Crystals (co-written by Carole King) — into her song "Ultraviolence." But it's nothing new: Love's been covering that controversial song for 20 years. Two years ago, after Del Rey covered Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box," Love tweeted to the young pop star, "You do know the song is about my Vagina right?"
"I've talked on Twitter with Lana," Love says. "I went out with Miley the other night, who's great and grounded and has a very deep voice. They usually come to me. Brooke Candy sought me out. Even Sia, we talk on Twitter and text. The only one who hasn't sought me out is Katy Perry, which is fine."
Love may be in the midst of a creative renaissance, but don't expect two of her most anticipated projects until next year at the earliest: her memoir and a reunion of Hole's classic lineup.
"It's a disaster," Love says of the current draft of her book. "A nightmare. I never wanted to write a book in my entire life. It just sort of happened. And I have a co-writer, but it's just not working. One of my rules about the book is that it has to stop in 2006. What happens from 2006 on in the book is my personal business. I've been discreet from that time on, and I want to keep it that way."
As for a Hole reunion, Love is optimistic that she, Eric Erlandson, Melissa Auf der Maur and Patty Schemel will play in 2015, and she insists that her strained relationship with the band is a thing of the past. "It's more important for me to act right now than to play rock 'n' roll," she says. "Me and Melissa and Patty and Eric have rehearsed a few times. In order to pull that off, we'd have to make some music that's relevant to now, and we'd have to get a modern producer. I'm not going to do the oldies circuit. My relationships with Melissa, Patty and Eric are all great. At this point in my life, no one is my enemy. Any grudges or issues with that past? I'm done with it."
Love takes a drag off her cigarette and continues.
"The only person I'm concerned about is Corgan. I'm like, what is your problem?"
At the mention of the Smashing Pumpkin-in-chief, Love's manager, who's been sitting across the room looking at his phone for the past hour, perks up and points at my recorder on the coffee table.
"You can turn that off now," he says.
"No," Love says. "You can say that. I just wish he'd mellow out. That's all. We're older. Get over it."
Her manager stares at me, and then at my recorder, then back at me. I turn it off. The interview is over.
Courtney wears a Paula Cheng dress and Grey Aunt sunglasses. Hat by Rossalino.
A few days later, Love calls me from her room at the Bowery Hotel in New York. She apologizes for the rushed ending of our conversation. On the phone, she's less harried. "I prefer New York so much better," she says. "I've never learned how to drive, so it suits me here." I figured that living in Page Six's hometown would cramp her personal life. Love disagrees.
"I'm looking out my window now," she says, "and I don't see any paps. Even if they were there, I'd know how to avoid them." She pauses. "How do I put this politely? I like having a boyfriend, and I don't like exposing my boyfriends to my celebrity. I've had meaningful relationships in the past 20 years, not just Kurt. But all the public wants to read about is Kurt, and being a movie star, and a fall from grace followed by a rise. I tend to be attracted to guys who don't want anything to do with all that. I don't like guys with tattoos. If you're an investment banker or a hedge-fund manager, the last thing you need is to be in Page Six."
Hold the phone. Courtney Love has a no-tattoo rule? "Yeah," she confirms, "I don't date guys with tattoos. Tattoos turn me off."
Love imagines she'll move back to New York in the fall, possibly to act in an off-Broadway play. "I'm on a quest," she says. "That's why I went and got a life coach, an acting coach, an Alexander method teacher, a voice coach, a karate teacher, a trainer. I have a whole situation so I can get my confidence back."
Courtney Love may never have been the girl with the most cake, but she's always hustled to get the next slice.
Photography: Richard Phibbs
Fashion Direction: Nicola Formichetti
Styling: Prince Franco
Hair: Louis Angelo at Garren New York for Kerastase
Makeup: Christopher Ardoff at Art Department
Stylist assistant: June Lei
Stylist assistant: Bryan Ferrari