When I was a teenager, the love story between Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love seemed beautiful and inspiring. They were portrayed as two messed-up people who were deeply in love, the perfect romantic story. In her 90s interviews, Courtney Love was a force of nature, a defiant feminist, who rose above jealousy and sexism to lead one of the era’s most impressive bands.
Through her management, Courtney Love had a powerful press machine to defend her. A lot of stories were suppressed at the time, and this helped shape the perception of Love. Over the years since, other stories have emerged that cast her in a different light.
Watching the documentary Hit So Hard, about Hole drummer Patty Schemel, it was hard not to see Schemel as being betrayed by Love, sacrificed for her ambition to make Celebrity Skin (still the best Hole album, but not worth the toll it took on her band).
During the pandemic, I found a podcast by Mary Lou Lord. I only knew Lord from the accounts in the 90s music press, where Courtney Love denigrated this woman as a groupie who was chasing her husband. This was all detailed fairly uncritically in the press at the time. Love’s campaign of harassment against Lord involved aggressive calls to her family. Lord has finally told her story, and it is very different to the one Love put out.
Or there was the case of Victoria Clarke, a journalist who was writing an unofficial but supported biography of Nirvana. Love and Cobain carried out a campaign of harassment against Clarke, which included death threats left on her answering machine. On top of that, Nirvana’s management warned people away from being interviewed for the book, saying that Clarke and her collaborator were “groupies who had offered bribes and sexual favours to interviewees in exchange for information”.
Cobain is often celebrated as a feminist icon and his advocacy of feminism, DIY-culture and gay rights in the mainstream was significant. But this sort of intimidation and sexist slander stands very much in opposition to that.
There was an incredible love story between Kurt and Courtney, and I still adore those glimpses of a couple living a romantic dream amidst the chaos. But now I’m aware that the story I read in the press at the time was a fiction.