Today is Courtney Love's birthday. I usually celebrate privately, but the rockstar is 48 today, so join me in the festivities.
I remember when I thought it was uncool to like Courtney Love. I kept my obsession with her secret, frantically ordering every record, book, or magazine she was involved with and hoarding the information in my head like a squirrel saving nuts in his cheeks. I studied Courtney. She was the first woman with a guitar who made me excited. Courtney was unforgiving, challenging, smart, and totally insane. When I read her essay "Bad Like Me" in a 1996 issue of BUST Magazine, I suddenly knew how to approach sexuality. It became my manifesto for feminism and blow jobs.
I used to be ashamed of idolizing Courtney, but I'm not anymore. In fact, all my friends know she's my unicorn. I met her once during her self-deemed "fat stage." Her hair was in big, prom date curls that shaped her irregularly large head. Her glasses were propped on her nose as she signed copies of her latest book, Dirty Blonde. I didn't say a word. Unlike the gaggle of Olympia-born Courtney fans behind me clutching their sticker-studded love letters, I just mouthed "Thank you" to my teenage idol and walked away. She was too surreal. I couldn't handle her presence. Courtney is very big in more ways than one. She's a force.
Girls and gays love Courtney. Smart, fearless men love Courtney. Alpha beasts call her "crazy" and claim she killed Kurt. They are just jealous that she got to hear him practicing songs under their staircase and they didn't even get close enough to touch Cobain in concert.
Courtney has gone through many phases. I argue that she was her most incredible between 1991 and 1994. Have you ever seen the Nardwuar with Courtney in the basement of a small club in Vancouver? She's brilliant. The way she calls out the record industry, denies any piece of Nirvana memorabilia Nardwuar gives her, and then takes a coveted cheap shot at her frenemy and front woman of Babes in Toyland, Kat Bjelland. (Only a serious Courtney-obsessed fan could detect this, but I am one of those people.)
The late 90's were entertaining. Courtney was fucked up. She had lost the only person in the world she truly loved and the whole world blamed her for it. How could she grieve properly? She couldn't. So, instead, she went on tour, made out with Evan Dando while wearing a teddy bear backpack filled with Cobain's ashes, punched Kathleen Hanna in the face, and put on some of the best rock shows of the 90's.
Then, the "Fairy Stage" happened. Maybe she was trying to channel her hero Stevie Nicks, but she ended up wearing plastic pink wings on stage. She flashed a lot of people in Australia. Courtney is a boob-flasher. The last time she really gave a good flash was during "The Letterman Years," when she was high, up on the Late Night host's desk, pulling up her top. She refused to get off the stage, taking up the entire hour and bumping other guests. Who does that? Courtney love on crack does that, and even then, it's kind of awesome.
Courtney is a feminist rock n' roll icon and a dominating performer. She is the Queen of Noise. Of course, like any interesting rock star, she is surrounded by a cloud of controversy. The rock widow stuff, the drugs, the break-ins, the "fraud," the Dave Grohl stuff, the detachment from her only daughter, the surgery, the near death experiences. People scold her for all this, but it just makes her more surreal. Courtney is a true performer. Her performance doesn't start and stop with the stage. I like my rock stars to go big or go die, and—let's be realistic—if she's lasted this long, Courtney is not going anywhere. I want to call her the Keith Morris of grunge, but she's not. She's Courtney Love.
I could talk about Love all day. I know too much about her, or maybe not enough at all. I'm just a fan. What I know for sure is that without Courtney, I never would have picked up a guitar, and that's important. I probably wouldn't swallow either. (Bad girls always swallow, we never spit, which is a lesson I learned early from "Bad Like Me.") So, Happy Birthday, Courtney, wherever you are. Pull a benzo out that big Birkin bag of yours and eat a cupcake or something. You deserve it.