Why Courtney Love MattersS

Courtney Love — stripper, actor, rock star, widow, drug addict, Nelson College for Girls alumna, deadbeat mom, author, litigant, blogger, vintage enthusiast, and all-around Bad Girl — is an individual who seemingly has an uncommon devotion to making bad choices.

Times writer Eric Wilson, the latest cannon fodder for the fusillade of Love's personality, was sent to document the Hole frontwoman's apparent delivery into Hermès-toting middle-aged respectability. The piece isn't a take-down — Wilson scrupulously notes examples of Love's intelligence, and states outright that she is canny enough to use the fashion industry and its media just as much as they are using her — but if one were looking to paint a picture of Love the victim, Love the pathetic "train wreck," she serves up plenty of raw material. Ahem:

Shortly after 8pm, Ms. Love burst into the room with the Marchesa dress slung on one arm and the noted German Neo-Expressionist artist Anselm Kiefer on the other. She was entirely naked. She made one lap around the room, walking in front of a photographer, an assistant, a hairstylist and me. She pulled over her head a transparent lace dress that covered up nothing, and demanded my assistance — "Not you," she said to Mr. Kiefer, who was bent over trying to help her — to stuff her feet into a pair of black Givenchy heels that were zipped up the back and tied with delicate laces in the front. Then she applied a slash of red lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth.

And:

At one point, she took me upstairs to her room to show me some clothes. The bed was unmade, and there was an overflowing ashtray on the night stand next to five prescription bottles and some junk food. "These are my wakeup cupcakes, some anti-depressants and a cellphone book," she said without embarrassment.

"I speak to you as someone who doesn't want to be perceived as a train wreck," she said.

Now that the descriptor "polarizing" is, like everything else, getting defined downwards by our controversy-chasing hyperbolic media, it's bracing but not altogether unpleasant to encounter a figure actually worthy of the term. Of the woman who wrote, for starters, "Doll Parts," "Miss World," and all of Celebrity Skin, I will forgive a lot.

But even apart from the undeniable force of her talent — and even I accept, or at least I know rationally, when I'm not actually listening to "Violet", that it's specious to argue that talent alone is a fig leaf for the mad, bad, and/or dangerous behavior that it so often accompanies — Courtney Love is important. If you caught me good and drunk, late at night, I might even argue she is in certain ways admirable. What other woman in recent memory, having been given (hell, earned) the media's Bad Girl label, has snarled at the designation — and then continued on her own, misguided but apparently basically contented, way? (Angelina Jolie wriggled out of her "reputation" with supermotherhood and charity photo-ops; Juliette Lewis found God, or at least Scientology.)

Courtney Love is unwilling to become boring — I don't think carrying a Birkin and telling André Leon Talley about how high she was on Letterman counts — and for that alone, it seems some must condemn her. Perhaps she realizes that women are judged for their personal lives in a way that men in the public eye rarely are — where male rock stars who are neglectful parents with histories of drug abuse are concerned, the press narrative is, shall we say, markedly different — and that trying to please those strangers who have come to feel they have a stake in her family, her personal life, or her choices is a losing game. Perhaps, as Wilson writes, Love has an "apparent inability to neither ignore the public expectation of another outlandish performance, nor to resist the temptation" to give us what we want. Perhaps she just doesn't give a fuck. Courtney Love has been the subject of vicious takedowns and spirited defenses for over twenty years. The vastly different interpretations served up, I would suggest, say more about the journalists who write them and the audiences who consume them than they do about Love herself. For Love presents a conundrum: even at her most drug-addled, she's as cheerful and self-secure as she is self-destructive. We truly don't have enough women capable of or willing to play the bad girl with a smile — and without a trace of victimhood.

So even though she is a bad singer (the point of Courtney Love is kind of that she's a bad singer, just like it's kind of the point of Dylan) and (probably) a bad mother, and even though her Twitter was like a harrowing download from her Id, and even though I do not really understand what she was doing wandering a hotel naked with Anselm Kiefer and I do not believe that "a combination of Zoloft and a cocktail" really explains it, I love Courtney Love. Because she's not a role model — and, even more, because she has never aspired to be. Because she's not passive. Because she's a woman who takes issue with the view that she ought to be defined by who she used to fuck in the early 90s and who she gave birth to as a result. Because she auditioned for the bloody Mickey Mouse Club at age 12 by reciting Sylvia Plath's "Daddy." Because she is subjected (and subjects herself) to industrial-strength moral and legal scrutiny at every turn and still gets up in the afternoon, applies lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth, and faces the world. Are these achievements too small to cheer? In a world that still orders up sacrificial pop virgins — Britney, Lindsay, Demi — to swallow down whole, I'd argue they're anything but.

Courtney Love: "I'd Like To Be Trusted Again" [NYTimes]
Strange Love [Vanity Fair, via The Black Hole]
Love Conquers All [Spin, via Google Books]