Courtney Love Talks About Her L.A. Stripper Days, and Her Brawl With a Weekly Writer
Long before Courtney Love was a household name, a famous rocker, actress, drug addict, widow of an icon, estranged mother or social media rabble-rouser, she was Courtney Michelle Harrison, a girl from Northern California obsessed with music and consumed by dreams of Hollywood stardom. When she moved to L.A. in 1989, she took steps to make her dreams a reality.
We were a bit apprehensive to talk to her, considering her past issues with the Weekly. (See below.) But Love practically volunteered most of the answers to questions before we even asked them, and she was in giddy spirits -- our conversation was peppered with beeps, which sounded like her face accidentally tapping the phone. Though there were lots of non-sequiturs and we got off track at times, she was clearly excited about the new material she's been creating, not to mention reconciling with her daughter Frances Bean Cobain and her "billionaire boyfriend," whom she would not identify.
Love plays the Troubadour tonight, on the heels of a recent rough show in the area. Now living in New York, she says she'll be moving back to L.A. soon, mainly to return to acting. In the meantime, she promises a new book, as well as a full album by spring.
Let's talk about your early L.A. life. Can you reflect on spots like Jumbo's Clown Room that always get mentioned?
Yeah, Jumbo's...It's like in the Zagat guide, "Courtney worked at Jumbo's..." I didn't just work at Jumbo's, I worked at Nude, Nude, Nude! Century Lounge near the airport. I worked at Seventh Veil. But Jumbo's did give me more consistency. I got to work in the day. To me back then, 300 bucks in a day was fine. I was able to do the kind of stripper economy which is ... for every $5 I made, I would give Eric Erlandson three of them and that's how we bought our van and we bought our backline.
So stripping funded your band?
Absolutely, and you have to be really savvy to do it. There was a lot of temptation in terms of drugs back then. I was like, OK, when I make a million dollars, then I'll do all the drugs I want. Which I did, by the way.
It's a world-class secret and no one knows it, and it would absolutely ruin my image if you told anybody but, you know, I did drugs.
Tell me about music spaces you played, like Jabberjaw. A book about the music space is coming out soon. Nirvana played there also. What were some of your favorite venues in L.A.?
There was Cheetahs, which is now a strip joint. It was called Shamrock. And then, where we got our biggest break, it was called the "No-Bozo Jam." I had gone down to Robert Hilburn's mailbox at the L.A. Times and.... the thing with Hilburn was, I knew he was a lyrics guy. At that point he was really into Mary's Danish and Thelonious Monster. Anyway, I put all my lyrics in his box. He came out to No Bozo Jam and we played a 25-minute set. That Thursday, the Calendar section had a huge article about us. That was the big break.
And what about the Weekly?
You gotta remember something, the standard for being famous in L.A. was making the Weekly's L.A. Dee Da column.
I started here as an intern for that column, actually.
You worked with Belissa Cohen? [Cohen was the last to write the column before it ended, after other writers including Pleasant Gehman, Kim Jones and Tomata Du Plenty. Our column, Nightranger followed in its tradition, several years later. -- LL]
Yes, wasn't there some big drama with you two? A fight?
Her cousin works for Gloria Allred, and Belissa and me got in a pushing thing. It was at Michelle Mason's fashion show, and she was like, "Can I take a picture," and I said "Not now, can you wait?" She took it anyway, and I was like, "What, are you paparazzi now?" Um, she pushed me, and I pushed her back. She charged me with assault. After that I didn't go out without a bodyguard for like, forever... I had to pay like 30 grand. Gloria Allred was calling me a misogynist.
You know I actually punched Kathleen Hanna and paid 30 grand for that too. But that punch was so well-deserved, I wouldn't take it back for anything.
So your relationship with L.A. Weekly has been up and down.
I made a bet with my first boyfriend Jeff that I could get in L.A. Dee Da. He was like, "No you can't." I got in it, and they called me a "squall," and I didn't know what a squall meant. It sounded like "fat," so I freaked out. I was like, "I made L.A. Dee Da as a fat person!" Then I found out what it meant -- a storm on the sea -- and I went to Kinkos and blew it up really big and put it on my fridge. I made the Weekly with my new name. I had only come up with "Courtney Love" two months earlier.
Let's talk about your new projects.
The new book is called The Girl With The Most Cake. It's gonna be on Harper Collins and it's coming out around Christmas. There's 250 pages written so far. I tried to write about myself Patti Smith style. I'd get my typewriter out -- 'cause I write better on typewriter than computer keyboard -- and try to write Just Kids. But that's not what this is. Neither is it a Chelsea Handler Kindle-type book -- Kindle is great actually -- but I tried to read a Chelsea Handler book and it just wasn't funny to me.
The book that I look to as a kind of model is actually Russell Brand's book. It's got a really dumb name, Booky Wook, but it's really good. Also it's not a tell all in terms of my romantic life. I mean some of it would blow your mind, like jaw on the floor... the point being that you don't kiss and tell. Like Stevie [Nicks]'s quote to me, "If I ever do that, empires would crumble."
Are you sharing your ups and downs with drugs and that kind of stuff?
Yeah, anything that's mine is fine. But anything involving another person who might now be married or whatever, not cool. Never doing a tell-all. Hell no.
And the new music?
At the same time as the book, my new single's coming out, which is very ambitiously named "California." The other song is called "Wedding Day." [Love starts spontaneously singing the ditty]:
"One... break my neck on my wedding day.
Two...here comes the bride and she's covered in [indesipherable]?
Three- she can walk but she cant crawl
four, oh-oh oh-oh- ohhhhh.."
It's pretty hooky.
It's hooky and it's raw and it's my favorite song I've ever written.
Is "California" another ode to the West Coast? You're really into using it as a musical theme aren't you?
Well how many of them have I written? Let see we've got, "Malibu," we've got "Sunset Strip," we've got "Celebrity Skin," we've got "Pacific Coast Highway"... It's a muse to me.
I was listening to "Californication" in the car and I was like, ya know, you guys...I grew up with them...But I was around a lot of prostitutes in juvenile hall who would listen to a lot of Cameo, and Clinton. I wasn't into it. It was hooker music to me. My song is very different.
So, I wasn't into the Peppers' funky stuff, but I love Flea. One of the ways that we saved money back in the day was to rehearse at the Peppers' space in Echo Park. It was great, I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for Flea. If you haven't seen the documentary Bob and the Monster you should. It's really good and shows what it was like at that time.
Did you read Eric Erlandson's book? Are you guys cool these days?
No, we're not cool. I'll tell you why. In 2003, when Melissa got into my storage and took her bass and Patty went in and took her drum riser and drums, Eric wanted everything from storage. He got 74 guitars, 18 of them are Kurt's, 22 of them are mine. He got four crates. In the crates are broken guitars too. He took Nirvana's and Hole's backline.
[Erlandson responds: "In my humble opinion, Courtney is confused, having a memory lapse, and getting incorrect information from her confused '80s Whitesnake roadie. I wish her the best and hope that someday we can resolve our difference and deal with unfinished business regarding our contract together, which she broke, about usage of the name Hole."]
See also: Our 2012 interview with Erlandson
Eric was the kind of guy, who if me or Kurt would blow our nose, he'd grab the Kleenex. It's like he's an archivist naturally, and he was a good treasurer. What we wasn't, was he wasn't a good co-writer with me. It was very difficult to get songs out of him... His finest moment was "Northern Star," though.
We had a meeting at my house couple years ago [about Hole getting back together]. My manager was like, "Do it with Eric, do it with Melissa." He didn't care about Patty. He's like, "You could do Glastonbury, you could have Coachella." And I'm like, "Dude, you're talking about a Pixies fucking reunion tour." And then we started talking and we realized we don't get along.
What about the fact that you used the name Hole the last time you played around without the other members?
In 2002, I signed a document that let him have 50 percent of the name Hole. But when I last toured, I was like, "It's my name! It's like Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails." I was like, "You can't do anything about it. No lawyer's going to take your case, it's way too weak." He tried and nobody wants the case. But on this tour, it's been easier to just call myself Courtney Love. I was afraid because I'm a band person. But it's fun for me. I like it.
What is your relationship with your daughter [with Kurt], Frances, at this point? It had gotten pretty bad there, according to reports.
We've spent a lot of physical time together. We write each other almost every day. We don't talk as much as we should. We talk about once every two weeks. There was a restraining order, that was a nightmare, but that's what happens when there's that much money at play with a trust fund. It's the lawyers. Frances has often said to me, "Mother, if you and me were in the same band, everything would be way better."
Why don't you guys make music together?
Well, that probably is not going to happen. Frances is focused on keeping a low profile right now. That her thing and I need to respect it.
What about the Nirvana estate? The 20th Anniversary of In Utero is coming up and a release is planned. How involved are you in the release of Nirvana catalog and related merchandise?
I am aware of it all. My consultation is meaningful but I am not the manager of it. A lawyer that needs to prove whether he can do it or not, who's been legally appointed is. But L.A. County Superior is still quibbling over legalities, which is the most corrupt system in the entire country, as we know from O.J. Simpson, and as we know from Britney Spears' conservatorship.
I do hate Paul Allen's exhibit for Nirvana [at the EMP Museum in Seattle]. It's ridiculous. It's untrue. It represents the band, like "Hey, hey we're the fuckin' Monkees!" That's just not the way it was.
You were seen modeling in YSL ads recently, revealing a new Let it Bleed tattoo on your arm. Is it a Rolling Stones reference or something more meaningful? Did you see the Stones on this last tour?
No, I did not see the Stones when they were in town. The tattoo was right when the whole Frances thing was going down. I went down to the East Village, St Marks... I don't like the song but I do like the title. So it was to just a "let it go... let it bleed..." thing.
What new music are you into right now?
I love The Savages from England. They're kind of like Elastica meets Siouxsie and The Banshees. Also, the new The Queens of the Stones Age. And Brody Dalle's new stuff. Can't wait til that comes out.
How are things different performing these days versus when you started?
Well my reputation is... the last interview I just did was like, "Oh what stunt are you going to pull on stage now?" But it's been 10 years since I played without my top off, for goddsakes! The only thing I can do at this point, is dig within myself and rock really, really hard.
Like us on Facebook at LAWeeklyMusic.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.