20 Questions for Courtney Love, The Queen of Grunge
Somehow, in 2019, Courtney Love—she who once threw makeup at Madonna and threatened to hit a journalist with Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar—is a practicing Buddhist who, in her spare time, reads Susan Sontag and watches Netflix while being Rolfed with her girlfriends. And yet, sanity has done nothing to diminish her spark. The legendary musician, actress, and bullshit-caller has maintained her place in the cultural pantheon since her days as the snarling frontwoman of the band Hole. A front-row staple at fashion weeks across the world, and a regular at Kanye West’s Sunday gospel service in the Valley, Love has amassed a pool of friends that includes designers, writers, supermodels, and, of course, rockstars. Here, she answers some of their questions as only she could.
KATE MOSS: What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
COURTNEY LOVE: There was a super-transcendent Whiskey a Go Go gig in, I think, ’91. It was winter and Nevermind by Nirvana had just come out. “[Smells Like] Teen Spirit” was on K-Rock like 50 times a week. It was a big deal, and nobody yet knew what it was going to become. My future husband Kurt [Cobain] came in. He was wearing this beautiful cowboy leather coat, and he just parted the crowd like Moses. I was onstage, with the original old-school Hole. We were messy, but when we went into the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”—I think we practiced it once or twice—we did it flawlessly. It was amazing. We were this perfect band for about four minutes, and that’s it. That’s the gig: 1991 in Hollywood with my beautiful, creamy-blue-eyed boy Kurt. We rocked that whorehouse sky-high.
KIM JONES: What is the most beautiful place in the world?
LOVE: I can’t answer with just one. First of all, I have a Malibu fetish. I have a dear friend who says that Malibu is the biggest land hoax in history, but he’s wrong. Or else I’m stupid. But I really do love it. I was very sick about two years ago, and my friend Lana Del Rey was like, “You can have my Malibu house.” It was even more magical that she gave me her Malibu house with a little beach for seven months when I needed it. Then there’s the Thames, where I went to visit my friend Russell Brand, who lives in Oxfordshire. We went walking by the river, and he was like, “I stole your life, didn’t I?” And I was like, “Yeah, you kind of did.” The Sunday roasts with Russell and his wife and two lovely children—amazing. I love Oxfordshire and I love Malibu, so that’s two bodies of water. My third is the Chateau [Marmont]. That’s it. I’m sort of pedestrian.
LANA DEL REY: First of all, you know how much I love you and how inspired I am by you. I was wondering, from one artist to another: What’s your best advice for staying inspired to write music?
LOVE: I’ve had some successes and I’ve had some failures, and failure is really hard to overcome. I don’t have a lot of advice because I haven’t done it, but I’m trying to do it. It’s so hard. I think the stuff you have to do is super plebeian. You’ve gotta to stay weird and you’ve gotta exercise. If you’re an addict or something—which I am—you’ve gotta pray. And then you’ve gotta sit down and write 20 longhand pages. This has to be small writing, the smaller the better. You write pages of shit. It doesn’t matter what you write. It’s your way of releasing something creative in your life every morning. It’s so dumb, but it helps. You’ve gotta feel safe to fail.
DEL REY: I have another one: Is the environment in which you create important to you, or are you thinking up projects no matter where you go?
LOVE: I very much believe, especially as a Buddhist, that my environment 100 percent reflects what I’m putting out. About eight months after my cessation of all nicotine and all mood- or mind-altering substances, my environment has changed so radically and in such great ways. I feel like I’m gonna do what pleases me, and if it doesn’t please me I’m not doing it. I’m not fucking around with things that don’t make me happy. I don’t need to put on weird smooth jazz, because I don’t like it. So fuck it. I’m not getting a dog I don’t want. I’m not gonna fuck that guy. I just don’t want to.
SHIRLEY MANSON: Who is your favorite writer or poet and why?
LOVE: It always changes. Right now, I’m liking Susan Sontag for those long interviews and her stuff on photography. Sontag once wrote that a writer has to be, at all times, a nut, a moron, a stylist, and a critic. I like that a lot. She also wrote book lists when I feel like nobody wrote book lists. I like Eve Babitz. I feel like she’s a huskier, smarter Joan Didion. Everyone’s like, “But Didion’s a writer and she’s from the East Coast.” Yeah, fuck that. I’ll take a girl from Hollywood any day. There’s something about a native Angeleno who’s like, “I’m not gonna tell you everything.” I love Patti Smith’s Just Kids. If Patti hadn’t said she reads Rimbaud, I would never have read Rimbaud, let alone Baudelaire. I feel like Gen Z isn’t learning anything from Gen X or Y—whatever the fuck they’re called. Kids need to learn from other kids, or else they just won’t learn, you know? Learn some shit.
MICHAEL KORS: What do you think are the three touchstones in fashion and style that people will forever associate with you?
LOVE: History is funny. I would say that Calvin Klein didn’t actually invent slip dresses as outerwear in ’91. I did. At least more than him. Then there’s this debatable thing about a nutcracker, Veruca Salt velvet dress that has its own Wikipedia entry. It’s called “kinderwhore,” which is a word I made up in’90 or ’91 when I was fighting with somebody about that dress. The third one would be a body-skimming charmeuse dress, lobbed-off above the knee. I always customize them. To clarify one thing: I really never had a pair of steel-toe Dr. Martens in my life. But whatever, I’ll resell them to people who really want to believe that. For my generation, it wasn’t cool to put your name on a trend. But if you don’t put your fucking name on it, somebody else sure will.
TOM FORD: What have you learned from everything that you have been through in life?
LOVE: I’ll borrow from Patti Smith: “Kids, take care of your teeth.”
KAREN O: What’s one of your favorite uses of a piece of music in a movie?
LOVE: I remember the night of the Golden Globes in, like, 2000, when I was asked to read the winner for Best Song. I had gone on that show sober and been really angry that R.E.M. hadn’t been nominated for “Man on the Moon.” Phil Collins won the award, and I was very rude. I made him beg for his Golden Globe, and they never asked me back. I even sang a little R.E.M. at the podium. There was an original song in that soundtrack called “The Great Beyond.” A producer asked me to go to Michael [Stipe] and ask him whether or not they could have that song for less. I went to Michael and he was like, “Why are they sending you? That’s so horrible. You should not be sent for this.” That song meant so much to me. Then I remember very specifically some time after the Golden Globes, I was out with a bunch of people and Paul Thomas Anderson looked at me and went, “You know, if you were really punk, when you read Best Song, you would have read Aimee Mann for the Magnolia thing.” I was like, “What?” I remember feeling just crushed, because I had risked some shit. I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. Kids today don’t get yelled at by the voice of their generation because they didn’t pull a Jack Palance, allegedly, and read off Aimee Mann. A kid who’s made a lot of money like Justin Bieber doesn’t even understand that concept. Selling out to him means there’s no more tickets to Madison Square Garden. He’s a sweet kid, though.
MICHAEL STIPE: What’s your favorite Liz Taylor story?
LOVE: Wow. I have two. The first one happened on March 25, forever ago. It was Elton John’s birthday. I had only seen Liz Taylor at amfAR stuff. She was fabulous. She would come in wasted on pills in a wheelchair looking like, ugh, but then she’d get up onstage and fucking shine. I was sitting between her and Donatella [Versace], which is a lovely place to sit, man. I was wearing these yellow canary diamonds, borrowed from Martin Katz. I had a huge yellow one on my finger. She wouldn’t say one word to me all night. At the end of the meal, she clenched her big diamond against my big diamond and she was like, “I’m bigger than you.” That’s it, and then she left. The next one was in 2008. It was Carrie Fisher and me, and she was like, “Meet me at Liz Taylor’s.” Everyone went to Liz Taylor’s Easter party. I was with Carrie and Debbie [Reynolds, Fisher’s mom]. Debbie was downstairs. Debbie and Liz were totally close, even though the Eddie Fisher thing had happened a long time ago. Whatever. They had worked it out. Eddie was a jerk and the ladies were cool. It was an Easter party and a lot of people were downstairs, like the dermatologist Arnie Klein—Debbie Rowe had come from his office. A lot of historic stuff was downstairs. But I was bored after an hour, and everyone had been waiting five hours for her to come downstairs. I went to Carrie and I was like, “Not worth it. I’m leaving.” She was like, “Oh no, you have to stay. It’s worth it. Come on.” Carrie grabbed me and we snuck upstairs. As soon as we were at the Warhol of Liz Taylor, I started getting the shivers. I was like, “Fuck. This is gonna be crazy.” We got up the stairs and there was José Eber with his wig and his cowboy hat and he’s doing Elizabeth’s hair in the mirror of this ill-fitting, little bathroom. She’s got this Easter bonnet with all these artificial flowers on this beautiful, crazy frosted wig. I remember her eyes were so beautiful, but they were bloodshot. She looked at Carrie and said, “Hey. It’s fucking Carrie.” Really bawdy. Carrie was like, “Hey, fucking Liz.” It was hilarious. I was leaning, trying to make myself small because this bathroom was really tiny. I looked in her bedroom and her bedroom was entirely violet. There were two turtledoves and a ton of pictures of her dogs.There was a picture of her and Michael [Jackson]. By the bed, there was a lot of medicine. I was really marveling, looking at the medicine and trying to suss if there was anything I might like. Then her hand hovered above my head. She was again wearing the big fat diamond, I want to say the Taylor-Burton. She took her hand and she clacked on my head really fast and she said, “Stop looking.” Then she went, “We like Courtney.” That’s it. That’s all I got. “We like Courtney,” with this diamond real heavy on the top of my head. She was chastising me for looking for Oxy.
HARI NEF: Describe the ideal woman.
LOVE: I’ve started reading this lesbian, urban, feminist lit criticism. Virgins and demons and monsters and metallic urban lesbian vampires. Right now, I’ve become really ensorcelled by this Venusian fertility cult in the Valley. They’re beautiful women, all related to each other. [Ed note: Love is referring to the Kardashians.] I’m seeing all of these connections to poet warrior men and great jewels and all the wealth. It’s like, “Oh my god, you women did it. And you did it by doing the chores that courtesans used to do.” Fuck, it’s amazing. People insulted these women. They’ve done nothing but put these women down, and yet these women are laughing all the way to the fucking bank, as well they should. They’re geniuses. I feel like Camille Paglia should have saved it for them instead of wasting it on Madonna. No offense, Madonna, but what the fuck?
KRIS JENNER: What’s your favorite thing to do with your girlfriends?
LOVE: I recently had three girlfriends over and we sat on my epic Majorelle art nouveau bed. My Rolfer came over to do his thing. We don’t call it massage—they get so pissed off, the Rolfers do. He does deep tissue bodywork on ladies. We watched the dumbest Netflix film ever called The Dirt [a biopic about the band Mötley Crüe]. It’s so stupid and vile about women, and just fucking dumb. It was super fun to groan together. We had jasmine tea. We all got our bodies worked on and watched this white rapper named Machine Gun Kelly, and we just made jokes. I was like, “When’s Ozzy gonna snort the ant?” Then, within seconds, he snorted the ant. Then the Nikki Sixx character was like, “I have a new girlfriend. She’s sweet. She’s wonderful.” I was like, “And her name is heroin.” Two seconds later:“Her name is heroin.” I was killing it.
GWYNETH PALTROW: How has grief shaped your life?
LOVE: There are these stages in Buddhism: hell, hunger, animality, anger. All anyone wants is a proper service, proper burial, all that stuff. But it’s really hard to deal with emotionally. With [Kurt’s] estate, you have to be ruthless. I have a kid. There are still, like, 12 lawyers in Washington, 12 lawyers in California, and, like, six lawyers in New York. It’s insane. History is set of facts that gets incredibly distorted, and the right side of history needs proper stewardship. It’s really hard to do that. There’s shock. There’s turmoil. There’s lament. There’s relinquishing. There’s remembrance. There are huge swings of emotion. There’s fake smiling. There’s ugly crying. I really felt like there were a couple of times where I’d get over it, and then it would come back a few years later. Carrie Fisher used to say of Frances [Bean Cobain, Love’s daughter], “Well, we know she’s gonna come looking for the big hug.” I don’t quite know what that means, but it’s one of those great Carrie things. The game’s not over yet, but one really pertinent thing about grief is to not let anyone tell you that it should be over: “It’s been 15 years, it should be over now.” “It’s been 25 years, you should be over it by now.” You get over it when you get over it, which is probably never.
RICCARDO TISCI: What advice have you passed on to your daughter?
LOVE: I used to have a really good one, which is: Always keep the negatives. But technology no longer recognizes that. This world has gone technologically way beyond me. [The costume designer] Arianne Phillips recently sent me a very frightening link. It was a talk at Business of Fashion by Chris Wylie, who was the whistleblower at Cambridge Analytica. He’s crazy and super hyperbolic, but he talks about how the data gathered by fashion brands was used to help Steve Bannon [build the alt-right]. He talks about how the founders are not nice people and how they don’t recognize any laws and they’re not being called to task. Oh my god, the culture wars are really scary.
ARIANNE PHILLIPS: Looking back at your body of work, what do you think your greatest legacy is? Or what do you hope it will be?
LOVE: I would hope that it’s a high bar for lyrics. It’s good to teach other people. I was so completely influenced by Baudelaire. It’s pedestrian even to say Baudelaire in my generation, but kids don’t know. They don’t know Paul Paray. They don’t know Elsa Schiaparelli. They don’t know Joan Didion. They don’t know Susan Sontag. This is the shit you’ve gotta pass on to them. I would love to know that a kid read Balzac or Coleridge because I asked them to, or because I said something about it.
MELISSA AUF DER MAUR: If you were now 25 years old, starting a band, how different do you think your lyrical content and references would be? I very much wonder how a 21st-century Courtney Love would be and what she would sing about.
LOVE: I don’t know that I could do it now. I don’t feel like the reward for being in a rock band is quite enough. I remember once I was in the car with Kurt and I was like, “If it was 1968, what would you do for a living?” He was like, “I’d be in a Sonics-like punk band”—which made sense. I think I’d have opened a bar because I don’t think, in 1968, it would have made sense for a woman to be in a Sonics-like punk band. Women did not play guitar or really sing that kind of music back then, like trying to ape The Rolling Stones or the Beatles. I feel like it would be really, really hard to do. And right now, unless you’re gonna do the Ariana Grande thing, it would be really hard to do. Not that being in a rock band is ever easy, but right now, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of upside to it.
AARON SORKIN: What were some of the challenges of pairing your acting process with Jim Carrey’s in Man on the Moon?
LOVE: I obviously saw the documentary [Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond], and I didn’t sense that kind of anarchy with him on the ground. I feel like it was poofed up for the documentary. Miloš [Forman, the director] and his wife, Martina, named their second set of twin sons Jim and Andy, so he clearly didn’t mind. Jim just seemed out of touch with things, like he gets. Which is cool, because he’s a great artist. I remember he said some shit that was provocative to Entertainment Tonight. He got in trouble for it. It was a national incident. But I didn’t give a shit. It was just Jim being Jim.
DEBBIE HARRY: I’d love to know who you’d most want to collaborate with on a song.
LOVE: I straddle it all, babe. I try listening to the American Top 40 on the weekend. I don’t know who Juice WRLD is. I’m trying to figure it all out, man. I listened to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next.” I’ve been going out to the Valley on the weekend and listening to Kanye—Yeezus Jesus. That’s super cool. It’s gospel, so I have time for it. I like Nick Cave. I like Polly Jean Harvey. I have time for all of them.
ALESSANDRO MICHELE: How do you feel when you are really happy? Is there anything you physically perceive in those happy moments?
LOVE: I feel happy on the beach. So when I’m happy, I physically feel like I’m gonna go down to the water. I’m gonna smell the ocean. I love stealing my daughter. I love smelling her head. I’m super sober and I feel happy when I wake up now. I cleared a lot of wreckage out of my past and I just feel increasingly happy every single day. Good karma, great creations, a good war well-fought. Great abs of steel. It makes me happy to do the right thing, and to do the right thing requires me to have this border in my life, this boundary. If you cross that line, then you’re in my territory. And that’s where the war must be fought.
JOSHUA BOONE: Have you ever seen a ghost?
LOVE: When I moved to Hancock Park from Seattle with Frances and Edward [Norton, Love’s ex-boy-friend], I saw Kurt in a chair for a moment and he said hi to me and then he left.
MARILYN MANSON: Who was your most memorable sexual experience?
LOVE: Somebody told me that in the Ariana Grande song I listened to this weekend, she names her exes or something. Is that true? Please, next, or whatever. I didn’t hear it. There’s this sport thing with girls like Tay Tay and Ariana, where they go out with famous guys and then sing about them, which of course I used to do, too. But it wasn’t as much of a sport back then. Actually, no. Forget it. I’m not fucking answering this shit.
Hair: Ramona Eschbach at Total World.
Makeup: Ozzy Salvatierra at Lowe & Co.
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