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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Dylan Jones

Courtney Love: “Taylor Swift is not important. She’s not interesting as an artist”

‘People used to say that I was so difficult,’ says Courtney Love on the velvet chaise longue in her west London house. ‘They said I was disagreeable. Yes, I am completely disagreeable and I’m never going to apologise for that. I always wanted to be known as a bitch. Being liked was never my thing. Kurt wanted to be liked but not me. He was able to hide behind me, but then I got hated. Then Kurt died, and the hatred towards me reached a completely new level. I did not plan for that. I’m all for taking my wiener out on stage, like Jim Morrison did. If I had a wiener and I was drunk enough, I would have totally taken it out, just like Jim. I had a bitch capacity and I was cool with not being liked. I saw Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back and he didn’t want to be liked and I thought, yeah, I want to be like that.’

For the past five years, Love has been the Queen of London. She moved here in 2019 with her pack of pomeranians for a much-needed escape from Los Angeles, and based herself in an attic room in Chiltern Firehouse, the ridiculously hip hotel owned by her ex-boyfriend, André Balazs. She was sequestered there throughout lockdown before moving over to west London (obviously), where she quickly became the high priestess of afternoon tea, creating an ad hoc salon full of the great and the good that featured both Kate Moss and Laura Bailey. It was, frankly, the only game in town and if you weren’t invited to sup from her cup then who the hell were you anyway? She might swear more than Joe Kinnear and she might still be proud of her disrupter status, but Love is a lady.

Courtney and her bandmates from Hole

This month she also takes to the airwaves presenting a new eight-part series, Courtney Love’s Women, on BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Sounds, in which the legendary Hole founder and singer shares the ultimate soundtrack to her 59 years as she reflects on the women in music who have shaped her journey, her sound and what she calls her next chapter. The episodes are predictably fascinating and offer a unique and personal glimpse into Love’s life as well as celebrating her favourite women in music.

Throughout her radio series, she discusses her formative years, in which she discovered disco through the record collection at a childhood care home; reciting Sylvia Plath poetry for a Mickey Mouse Club audition; her love of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone; her time at an all-girls boarding school in New Zealand and in juvenile detention; couch-surfing across America; her struggles with drug abuse; and her acting career, which resulted in a Golden Globe nomination for her role in The People vs Larry Flynt in 1997.

The series also highlights how she creatively attempted to matchmake Stevie Nicks and Billy Corgan; hanging out with Debbie Harry at a Limp Bizkit album launch at the Playboy Mansion; her relationship with Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain; taking pandemic guitar lessons with The Big Moon’s Juliette Jackson and much more.

Love with Kurt Cobain and their daughter, Frances Bean, at the MTV Awards, 1993 (FilmMagic)

Generally, she is positive about the way female artists have come to the fore in recent years. ‘It’s great that there are so many successful women in the music industry, but lots of them are becoming a cliché,’ she says. ‘Now, every successful woman is cloned, so there is just too much music. They’re all the same. If you play something on Spotify, you get bombarded with a lot of stuff that’s exactly the same. I mean, I like the idea of Beyoncé doing a country record because it’s about Black women going into spaces where previously only white women have been allowed, not that I like it much. As a concept, I love it. I just don’t like her music.’

Courtney Love’s Women is not just the perfect listen for music fans or fans of Love and Hole — it’s also a varied soundtrack across musical eras, championing female artists along the way. It also shines a light on the fierce intelligence of a woman who has been much maligned by a complacent media that has often appeared to go out of its way to disparage and demean her. ‘Big mistake: huge!’ as Julia Roberts so memorably says in Pretty Woman. Frankly I think she should write the ultimate encyclopaedia of the music industry, as her observations would flatten those of the bottom-feeding fanboys and fanbots who usually occupy that space. Courtney Love: underestimate her at your peril.

Love at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, March 27, 1995. (Getty Images)

She espouses the validity of her art like almost no other female artist, and her withering comments on the ‘so-called’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Jann Wenner, the former Rolling Stone editor who co-founded it, could fill a book.

‘Five old white guys, right, who have apparently never heard of Kate Bush. I mean, really? Jann Wenner should be put out to pasture. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke. You know, some guy takes a girl out and tries to kiss her and she doesn’t feel like it, and he gets his whole career ruined. But Jann Wenner is allowed to say that Black people and women weren’t intellectual enough to be included in his book of rock ’n’ roll masters? Eat me, you f***!’

Hollywood was like the rest of the music industry: run by men. So, I didn’t accept it. I said, f*** you. Producers, critics, musicians, all men. I don’t think so

Surrounded by a complete collection of Star magazine, the infamous groupie magazine of the early 1970s — a title in which she says women were actually empowered — she explains why she agreed to the BBC’s request for a biographical history of women in music. ‘With my BBC show I’m trying to redeem some of the women who have been treated so badly by the record industry. That’s all. After I saw the success of [all girl band] The Runaways in the mid-1970s, I had this idea that Hollywood was run by girls in bands, or at least by girls who wanted to f*** guys in bands. Boy was I wrong. Hollywood was like the rest of the music industry: run by men. So, I didn’t accept it. I said, f*** you. Producers, critics, musicians, all men. I don’t think so. Women are still marginalised in this industry, even though they’re more successful.’

She wanted to try to elevate some of them, not least the early blues singers, who were always in debt to their male counterparts. ‘Whenever I read interviews with Keith Richards, I would always go and buy records by the people he’d been talking about, whether it was Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ma Rainey or Billie Holiday. But it was mainly the women. That became the music that interested me, the early blues and soul records. The women owned those roadhouses, the places that were half brothel, half music venue. It’s time they had some respect. These women invented it all. Sure, they might have needed good guitarists, but so what? It was all about the women.’

Courtney Love with friends Stella McCartney and Kate Moss in 2007 (WireImage)

She sings the praises of Patti Smith (whom she listened to in juvenile hall at the age of 11), Nina Simone, PJ Harvey (‘The first four albums, then I’m done’), Julie London and Joni Mitchell (‘The early albums, not the experimental s***’). She likes Deborah Harry, having listened to her when she was in a foster home. She had to quote scripture in order to get breakfast and she played Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ instead. ‘I wasn’t a superfan, but she was very beautiful.’

Other women don’t come across so well, and she positively hates the idea of Taylor Swift. ‘Taylor is not important. She might be a safe space for girls, and she’s probably the Madonna of now, but she’s not interesting as an artist.’ And she’s even tiring a little of Lana Del Rey: ‘I haven’t liked Lana since she covered a John Denver song, and I think she should really take seven years off. Up until ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ I thought she was great. When I was recording my new album, I had to stop listening to her as she was influencing me too much.’ And as for Madonna, ‘I don’t like her and she doesn’t like me. I loved Desperately Seeking Susan, but for the city of New York as much as her.’

I don’t like Madonna and she doesn’t like me

Love has been incredibly industrious in London. In between the various pit stops on her giddy social whirl (she is now much sought-after as a DJ) she not only put the finishing touches to her memoir, The Girl With the Most Cake (which I’ve read, and which reads like a brilliant cross between Emmett Grogan’s Ringolevio and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, covering every part of her life, from her extraordinary childhood to her time with Kurt Cobain), but is nearing completion of an equally exceptional solo album. It is the missing link between early Lana Del Rey and mid-period Marianne Faithful, but with the maturity of Bob Dylan. Both of these projects will reconfirm that Love isn’t just a bold-faced name, she’s an artist.

Courtney Love at the Balmain Menswear show, 2018 (Getty Images for Balmain)

And how much does the Queen of London like her adopted city? ‘I’m an Anglophile. I love London, it’s my favourite city and is the best place I’ve ever lived. I’m left alone, there are laws here that protect me when I’m being outspoken, I like the friends I’ve made here.’

This afternoon, Love will probably be out in her very west London urban Japanese garden, tending to her David Austin roses. Because, like every other queen of the city, she has become a gardener. And she takes it very seriously. ‘Am I an English lady?’ she asks with a smile. ‘Well, I have a gardener, so maybe I am. Maybe I f***ing am.’

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