LOS ANGELES -- Courtney
Love was in a frenzy. It was Saturday night, and the part-time rocker,
actress and activist and full-time controversial celebrity was scheduled to
make a high-profile appearance at the Grammys in less than 24 hours.
"They gave me 40 grand so that I can go," Love said. "All those
photographers -- I'm going to be in front of the entire world."
Love's new label, Virgin Records, was about to release her first solo
album, "America's Sweetheart," on Tuesday, and it was necessary for the
singer to appear at the Grammys to show the world that, contrary to popular
belief, she is not a junkie hurtling full-speed toward self-destruction. But
there was a problem: She had nothing to wear.
A woman who specializes in dressing pop stars (she's designed outfits for
Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and many others) had carted a rack of a
dozen gowns up to Love's rented short-term apartment in the Westwood section
of L.A. Love has relocated because she has been charged with two counts of
felony drug possession, and she is barred by court order from sleeping in
the same house as 11-year-old Frances Bean, her daughter with her late
husband, Kurt Cobain.
It's a popular practice in Hollywood for top designers to give stars
their finest clothes to wear on the red carpets at events such as the
Grammys and the Oscars. "But nobody in L.A. will dress Courtney anymore,"
the designer confided. Love wasn't pleased with the dresses the resourceful
woman had managed to scrounge up, even though they included names like
"I can't wear this crap," she railed. "No offense, but I don't care about
the names, and this is crap!"
As Love's fit of high dudgeon mounted, she suggested that we take a break
from our interview and dispatched me along with her aide, a young kid from
New York who serves as her gofer, to collect some more clothes from the
mansion in nearby Beverly Hills where she usually resides. "I want you to
see Franny," she said.
I've met Frances Bean Cobain twice before: backstage at Lollapalooza in
the early '90s, when she was a toddler playing in the grass, and in the
Beverly Hills house in spring 2002, when I was writing about Love's
celebrated legal feud with her husband's surviving bandmates. Then, Frances
bounded into the living room to collect a fiver after she heard her mom
curse. "She charges me $5 every time I say the 'f-' word," Love explained at
Now, the beautiful pre-teen was sitting in the kitchen, wearing a T-shirt
from the club where she goes horseback riding along with the daughters of
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Spielberg. She was having her hair
tastefully curled by a punk-rock stylist so that she could accompany her mom
to the Grammys. "She really wanted to go with me," Love had explained. "It's
the first time she's ever asked to do that sort of thing."
Frances is being cared for by a loving relative, Courtney's stepfather,
Frank Rodriguez. "I can be with her all day long -- we're together like nine
hours a day -- I just can't sleep where she sleeps," Love said. "Which is
what we do -- we hang out in the house. It's our thing."
If Frances was upset about the situation, she wasn't letting on. We
chatted about building snowmen (she'd just done that for the first time
during a trip to the Northwest), her mom's new album ("I've heard some of
it, but I really like Good Charlotte," she said) and my job.
"Did you ever interview my dad?" she asked with a sparkle in piercing
blue eyes that are eerily like her father's.
I told her that I had, back when she was still in diapers, shortly before
the release of Nirvana's "In Utero." At one point, Cobain had asked me if I
had any kids; I said I was expecting a daughter, and that the prospect of
fatherhood scared the hell out of me. "No, it's the greatest thing in the
world," he said. "You'll see."
Frances smiled when I recounted the story. "Oh," she said.
Several months after our last interview, in fall 2002, Courtney Love
scored a victory in the Nirvana legal fight with a settlement that favored
her claim that as Frances' guardian, she should have more control over the
posthumous career of her late husband's band than his former bandmates. But
things have not gone quite as well for her since then.
At the time, she was already long overdue for delivering new music -- she
had not released a new album since "Celebrity Skin," the thoroughly
disappointing final effort by her band Hole in 1998 -- and she hasn't had a
prime film role since "The People vs. Larry Flynt" in 1996.
Then on Oct. 2, the 39-year-old singer was arrested when she was found
screaming in the middle of the street at 3 a.m. after breaking several
windows at the house where her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jim Barber
(who co-produced "America's Sweetheart"), was living. She was charged with a
misdemeanor for possession of narcotics. Three hours later, she overdosed on
the prescription painkiller OxyContin -- which she calls "hillbilly heroin"
-- and was taken to a hospital. The felony charges for possession of
OxyContin and Vicodin followed.
Love claims that she had prescriptions for both drugs, and that she will
prove it to California Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox, the same man who
heard the celebrated shoplifting case against Winona Ryder. She dumped a
plastic grocery bag full of empty pill vials on the floor of her apartment
to make her case. "Look, I've kept everything I've ever been prescribed,"
she told me, though she added, "I had a little coke phase for a while there,
everybody knows it."
She has since been through rehab -- though some news organizations
reported that she did not complete her stay -- and she insisted that the
only drug she is taking now is a legally prescribed anti-anxiety treatment.
"I'm on Xanax, which normally I don't feel very good about, but 80,000
Americans take it," she said.
On Oct. 10, Love lost custody of Frances because of an investigation by
the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services; under
California law, the agency can remove a child from a parent's custody if
that parent has been arrested or is being hospitalized for drug abuse. Love
is also fighting in court to regain custody.
"I really f---ing miss her," she said of her daughter. "She's my best
f---ing friend. At first, I had a slow lawyer who didn't understand that
every night away [from Frances] is hell." But Love is now confident that her
legal problems will be cleared up soon.
It's not surprising that amid this turmoil, Love is having a hard time
focusing on music. "[New York Times rock critic] Neil Strauss was just
ordered to write my obit!" she railed when we talked earlier in the evening,
before she got distracted by her wardrobe crisis.
With quite a bit of help from Barber and producers Josh Abraham (Staind)
and Matt Serletic (Aerosmith, Santana, matchbox 20), as well as
co-songwriters Linda Perry and Bernie Taupin, "America's Sweetheart" was
finally finished. And it is some of the strongest music of her career.
For the first time, the lyrics capture Love's style in conversation --
quick, scattered, but sometimes brilliantly sarcastic; alternately seducing
and raging, and pairing seemingly heartfelt expressions of self-doubt with
egotistical boasts. These are matched with hard-rocking but ultra-melodic
sounds, and a voice that, while it's never been pretty, is as robust and
filled with personality as it's ever been.
Love is disappointed only by the fact that she wasn't in control of
mixing and mastering the disc. "I wasn't in shape," she said. Otherwise, she
maintains, "I have a f---ing great record out." And she is eager to "clear
up" what she calls "the Linda thing."
Perry, the former leader of 4 Non Blondes, became pop's most celebrated
hired songsmith after writing hits for Pink and Christina Aguilera. Skeptics
are giving her all of the credit for "America's Sweetheart," which is
With every album she's released, Love has been attacked for appropriating
the work of others: Hole's debut, "Pretty on the Inside," was said to have
been ripped off from her friend and former collaborator, Kat Bjelland of
Babes in Toyland; some credited the band's masterpiece, "Live Through This"
(1994) to the influence of Cobain, and "Celebrity Skin" was written in part
by Love's former boyfriend, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.
Love has never denied that she needs songwriting collaborators (though
the credit for "Live Through This" should go to Hole guitarist Eric
Erlandson, not Cobain). "But no one touches the words," she said. The one
exception on the new album was "Hold On to Me," a tender ballad, which can
be heard as a pledge to Frances, and which was fine-tuned with help from
Elton John's veteran lyricist Taupin.
"Bernie offered to help with a lyric, a song that had too much Linda on
it," Love said. "Writing with him was ecstasy for me -- I got to be Paul
As for working with Perry: "It wasn't just she did the music and I did
the lyrics -- it was musical for me, too."
Love prides herself on being a survivor. "Let's talk about the people
that went down with the ship," she said. "Trent [Reznor], Scott [Weiland],
Eddie [Vedder] and Anthony [Kiedis]. When I was in seventh grade, the Red
Hot Chili Peppers were making records, so all I know is that if they're
still around, I'm OK. I'm under the f---ing radar. I've never been a part of
She believes that her audience is no longer the one that supported her in
the alternative era -- she's aiming younger. "F--- the Gen X'ers," she said.
"One of the things I noticed from the demographic thing was that boys 18-25
like me more."
And she is eager to return to the stage to restake her claim as one of
rock's most gripping live performers. "I'm good live," she said. "Hole
wasn't a good guitar band live," but the new all-female band that she's in
the process of putting together "will kick ass."
So far, she has only two confirmed members: drummer Samantha Maloney (who
played with Hole and Motley Crue) and Chicago violinist Emilie Autumn. She
plans to complete the group with two guitars and bass.
Love is optimistic that the rock world will embrace her once again. But
there is also a glimpse of lingering concerns and more than little bit of
"I truly believe I will be shot onstage," she told me. "And I truly
believe it will occur because the zeitgeist demands I live my rock-star
In her view, the drug arrest and what she says was a 14-week
investigation by DCFS were not because of her behavior as much as they were
the result of her making waves about what she says are financial
improprieties in the administration of her income from Nirvana and of
Frances' trust fund.
She also believes that she is being persecuted because of the fact that
she has not been working as an actress or musician.
"They came and got me," she said. "I got arrested for not getting a job."
When I returned to Love's apartment after visiting with Frances, it was
clear that our interview wouldn't be resuming: The designer was sitting in
the building's lobby in tears, and Love was frantically working both the
phone and her BlackBerry e-mail device in search of suitable dress to wear
to the Grammys. She planned to have the English designer Vivienne Westwood
put some clothes on a plane in London and fly them to Los Angeles overnight.
"If I can't find anything to wear, I'm not going!" she yelled.
But the next night, there she was during the ceremony, with an obviously
thrilled, Betsey Johnson-clad Frances at her side. (Love would make more
sensational headlines for "losing" Frances at the Grammys. In fact, she and
her daughter were only separated for a few minutes in the crowded but
well-secured media area backstage at the Staples Center.)
The consensus in the media seemed to be that Love looked like a million
dollars. She had solved her problem in typical punk-rock style; when I asked
her where she finally found a dress, she grinned widely, high-fived me and
replied, "Contempo Casuals -- $32!"
But it wasn't long before the shadows fell again.
Love was scheduled to appear Wednesday before Judge Fox on the felony
drug charges. She didn't show -- or at least not on time; a Virgin Records
spokeswoman said she was late -- and Fox issued a bench warrant for her
arrest, though he agreed to stay it, providing she appears Tuesday.
Love's attorney said she did not turn up because of "security reasons,"
though he didn't elaborate. Love has been shadowed by a documentary
filmmaker from Seattle who has hounded her during her last two court
appearances, shouting questions that accuse her of having a role in Cobain's
suicide, 10 years ago this April.
In 1967, when the Rolling Stones were considered a scourge upon the youth
of Great Britain, Scotland Yard famously raided Keith Richards' estate,
Redlands. Richards and Mick Jagger were charged with possession of four
amphetamine tablets and some marijuana residue, and they were sentenced to
several months in jail. They actually did time -- until the verdicts were
overturned when the conservative Times of London ran an editorial quoting
"I need a 'Who breaks a butterfly on the wheel,'" Love e-mailed me last
week, referring to that famous editorial. "I need a way out of the insanity
and the witch-trial madness."