Courtney Love once sent me a Twitter DM calling me a "prick", and when I read it, I squealed with delight. I'd tweeted that something funny she'd said made me want to "punch the air", and she'd evidently seen my tweet and wanted to say thank you in her own unique way. The message, which I've obviously kept saved, reads: "you can quit punching the air!! prick! bwaaha xoxo dont think i didnt see your lilll tweet there. ;)"
I got a fanboy thrill from this Twitter DM because even at her least appealing, I've always had a massive amount of admiration for Courtney Love. Obviously she's not normal, even for a huge household name - no other celebrity would get a bikini wax in front of a journalist, pour a bottle of champagne over her head and decide to run down Park Lane naked, as Courtney did during a legendary 2002 encounter with Q Magazine. And it's hard to imagine any other A-lister gate-crashing a live TV interview with Madonna, as Courtney memorably attempted at the 1995 VMAs. "Yeah, we've have had a few encounters," Courtney replied when the presenter asked if she actually knew Madonna. "I disagree with her A&R guy a bit..."
Of course, Courtney's crazy streak has sometimes turned destructive - she's battled serious substance abuse issues for large chunks of her life, and at one point her own daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, placed a temporary restraining order against her. But Courtney is candid about her fuck-ups and somehow she's always managed to pick herself up again. "I think of myself as sober," she explained in a 2012 interview with addiction recovery website The Fix, while admitting that for her, "sober" will always be a relative term. "When you're used to heroin and cocaine, a few pills doesn't seem like the end of the world. As they say in AA, it's about progress, not perfection."
Because her public persona is inextricably linked with the death of her husband and their drug addiction, it's easy to forget all the awesome stuff Courtney's done over the years. With her band Hole, she was one of the brightest stars of the 90s grunge era, and played a major role in popularising the so-called "kinderwhore" look of the time with her ripped babydoll dresses and generously smeared make-up. When Marc Jacobs later drew inspiration from this aesthetic in a way she didn't appreciate, she wasn't afraid to call him out, claiming the designer "never got it right".
And while some music fans don't consider Courtney a proper Riot Grrrl like Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, her unapologetic on-stage persona certainly acted as a lightning rod to aspiring female musicians--something she actively encouraged. "I want every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming," she famously said at the time. Two decades later, a lot of Courtney's music really holds up. Hole's 1994 album Live Through This is an undeniable grunge classic and the band's 1998 follow-up, Celebrity Skin, was a smart attempt to scrub up their sound - imagine Fleetwood Mac gone alt-rock. As a lyricist, Courtney has often been crushingly underrated. Celebrity Skin's brilliant title track still skewers the Hollywood dream with savage economy. "When I wake up in my makeup, have you ever felt so used up as this?" Courtney sings. "It's all so sugarless - hooker/waitress, model/actress, oh just go nameless..."
Although she's disowned her only solo album, 2004's ironically-named America's Sweetheart, it wasn't without the odd flash of inspiration. Who else would come on to the frontman of the world's then hottest band, The Strokes, by writing an obviously tongue-in-cheek song called But Julian, I'm A Little Older Than You? So genius.
That's the thing about Courtney Love - she's always been tremendously entertaining. When Lana Del Rey included a cover of Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box in her live show a few years ago, Courtney tweeted at her with some interesting pop trivia. "You do know the song is about my vagina, right?" Courtney wrote. "So umm next time you sing it, think about my vagina will you?" Lana clearly saw the funny side and recently invited Courtney to open for her on tour, a double bill Courtney dubbed "the queen of rage and the queen of anguish."
A food-based 2012 interview in which Courtney outlined her so-called "New York diet" was just as quotable. "Every day I have my house manager, Hershey — who I stole from the Mercer Hotel with André Balazs's blessing — wake me up with a hot washcloth for my face, a leg rub, and a plate of toast soldiers," Love told Grubstreet. "Then someone always gets chicken potpie and potato salad from D.D., you know, Dean & Deluca. If I can't afford D.D., I just don't eat..." A couple of years ago, Courtney even managed to pull off the impossible by making an e-cig look cool in this hilarious TV advert for NJOY.
So next time you roll your eyes when you read something scandalous about Courtney Love, maybe take a pause. If she were a guy, a lot of what she's done would be written off as "proper rock star behaviour". If she'd been born in the UK, we'd probably be calling her a great British eccentric by now. Instead she belongs in a category all of her own: sharp, outrageous, talented, flawed and glamorous, Courtney Love is one of pop culture's ultimate survivors, a woman who's refused to accept the "rock widow" role that could so easily have defined her.
Text Nick Levine
Photography David LaChapelle