Judging Courtney

I’ve got a soft spot for Courtney Love. I listened to a lot of grunge in my teens and early twenties, but it’s Courtney as a public figure that I’ve always found fascinating. She seems to not give a shit about the rules controlling what female celebrities are supposed to be like, and for that I love her. But, like all women who don’t follow the rules about looking sexually available yet “not slutty”/not being sexual after 40/not having a relationship with a man who is cheating on his partner/not complaining when you get groped at work/not having more than one sexual partner during your adult life/not being controversial in any way – Lara Bingle, Kristy Fraser-Kirk, Madonna, Camilla Parker Bowles, Germaine Greer, Candice Falzon, Britney Spears, Lindy Chamberlain, Lindsay Lohan, even Julia “can’t be a real woman because she doesn’t carry a handbag around the office and besides, I don’t like her earlobes” Gillard – she’s copped so much shit.

So it won’t surprise you that I’m annoyed by all the judging that goes on in this otherwise interesting article by Eric Wilson in the New York Times: Courtney Love: ‘I’d Like to Be Trusted Again’.

She looked, as she has for several months, remarkably well put together. Her appearance is a startling contrast to the very low standard she set for herself during the years when she relapsed into heavy drug use, went overboard with plastic surgery and behaved in a manner that could hardly be described as rational… But if she was trying to present herself as a more respectable lady, it did not help that she had just posted some naked photographs of herself online.

Talk about being Judgy McJudgypants: low standards + she’s not rational + naked photos = not respectable. Not deserving respect. And what about the idea a woman should be well-dressed at all times, even when she’s addicted to “hard drugs”? I’m in jeans, Cons, and a Goonies t-shirt – Wilson would have a heart attack.

The article is about Courtney Love’s role in the fashion industry, yet a big chunk just rehashes her past. And, annoyingly, when Wilson writes about a dress she wore, he hyperlinks to a NYT page about the designer, not to the picture of Love in the dress. That’s poor practice.

Our conversation stretched on for more than five hours, during which time Ms. Love demonstrated, as is widely acknowledged, a keen intelligence and a remarkable understanding of the fashion industry, both about its history and the way things work today. She came across as calm, funny and well read.

And then, back to judging:

The bed was unmade, and there was an overflowing ashtray on the night stand next to five prescription bottles and some junk food. “These are my wakeup cupcakes, some anti-depressants and a cellphone book,” she said without embarrassment.

Who gives a shit about whether her bed is made or not? Mine isn’t. Besides, it’s a hotel bed which simply means the interview was done before housekeeping arrived. And again with the judging: apparently someone should be embarrassed about taking anti-depressants. It’s 2010 and this is being published in the New York Times?

“I speak to you as someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a train wreck,” she said.

“Living in L.A. had a really bad effect on me in particular,” she said, describing what sounded like obsessive behaviour regarding the legal cases regarding the rights to Mr. Cobain’s estate and allegations of financial wrongdoing.

Would that be the DSM-IV classification of obsessive behaviour? Is fashion writer Eric Wilson also a psychiatrist? How many rhetorical questions can one ask before one disappears up one’s own arse?

As Jenna Sauers writes in Jezabel in response to Wilson’s article:

Perhaps she realises that women are judged for their personal lives in a way that men in the public eye rarely are ā€” where male rock stars who are neglectful parents with histories of drug abuse are concerned, the press narrative is, shall we say, markedly different… Perhaps she just doesn’t give a fuck.


I love Courtney Love. Because she’s not a role model ā€” and, even more, because she has never aspired to be. Because she’s not passive. Because she’s a woman who takes issue with the view that she ought to be defined by who she used to fuck in the early 90s and who she gave birth to as a result.

The constant sniping about what female public figures look like always reminds me of this fabulous quote from Cher about cosmetic surgery: “If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.”

Damn straight.

To the mainstream media, all female public figures are the same. A grunge/indie musician is supposed to invest the same amount of time and money in her appearance as a woman who gets paid to ensure her appearance fits within the narrow limits of what is considered “hot”. And when she doesn’t, she gets called a train wreck.

29 responses to “Judging Courtney

  1. PS. Sorry for the stupidly long post.

  2. I don’t really understand why you care… All I think is WTF is this person anyway? Sorry! x

  3. “Iā€™m in jeans, Cons, and a Goonies t-shirt”
    where are the naked pictures of you on the internet…?

    Courtney Love, my grunge princess

  4. Thank you NWN. I loved it. Not too long for me. She is fabulous.

    I particularly love his declaration of holding special powers:

    ‘.. Courtney Love sent me a series of lengthy text messages, as she often does to anyone she meets, but these were unusually coherent’. How the fuck does he know what she texts ‘usually’!

  5. I love this piece, the power of words should always be used with care, and I object to the concept being judged on the items on my bedside table. (no media member would be going anywhere near my room at all!!).
    To be fair though, the woman is a train wreck. I worked with her in a non-musical capacity in NY and she showed up for a non-media-not-about-her event totally off her head and went back into the limo to do god knows what halfway through the day, while her kid was wondering where Mom had gone.
    A train wreck, but not because of her choices in food, but her choices in drugs, alcohol and parenting.
    And just to clarify that, I dont mean you cant have fun as a parent but life becomes a timeshare if you choose to be a caregiver, and the kid has to have some of the priority. By all means live it up with 24/7 drugs and parties, but sorry, you cant then try to be a parent too. Sometimes you just have to choose one path. Sucks, but it’s true.

    • Scubanurse, I think the term ‘train wreck’ is an awful way to describe a person whose life happens to be different to the mainstream ‘work 9 to 5, binge drinking is ok but binge drugging is not’ idea of what life should be. Particularly when that ‘train wreckedness’ is media manufactured, because we only see the bits that are newsworthy, not the boring bits where the famous parent is at home helping their child brush their teeth, do their homework, watching tv most nights together. Besides, you can live a ‘normal’ non-famous life and still be a bad parent.

      But you’re right about probably not being good at either if you’re trying to do both.

  6. I too have a soft spot for her. She is sex drugs and rock n roll. Why does she have to be respectable? She was (is) an addict…addicts are irrational, make poor decisions and don’t treat their health well. I don’t think addiction is good (and it makes poor bedfellows with parenting – agreed) but why judge a female addict any different to Cobain or Hendrix or lets find a living one with kids – Keith (bad hair) Urban.

    Speaking as a person who does make her bed at home….not hotel beds…that’s the beauty of room service!

    I have a Hole cd that I used to listen to particularly during times of break ups and singleness. My fav line in one song “when I wake up in my make up, its too early for that dress” (or something)

    Speaking of judging, I was once reading an old social services type file from the 70s where it was making a case for bad parenting and an inability to cope – it said “11am, dishes in sink, mother still in housecoat” I like to remind my sister of this when she calls and says “oh god its midday and I’m not showered cos the kids wouldn’t have breakfast”. Times have changed…..mostly!

    • My favourite Hole line is ‘I wanna be the girl with the most cake’

      Although Courtney ideally would have spent her life in a more coherent state for the sake of Francis Bean, unfortunately she was married to a man who made a conscious decision to become a junkie.
      I am often annoyed by the inuendo surrounding Courtney Love suggesting she had a hand in Kurdt’s death (even though she was ina recording studio in LA at the time) aside from the man himself his friend Dylan Carlson about whom this song was written who even after cobain tried to overdose (and was revived by Ms Love) bought him a gun. I always loved Courtney Love although she wasn’t quite my favourite woman of rock, that was Darcy Wretzky.

      • Darcy Wretzky eh? Most of the guys I went to school with were in love with love/lust with Fiona Horne, simply because they got to see boobs. Wonder what they think of her reinvention as a white witch?

  7. I find it interesting that Kurt Cobain is a hero – despite being an “addict” (it seems to some people addict=bad, horrible person) and someone who abandoned his child. Yet Courtney can never do right. She’s a bad mother – say people who know nothing about her parenting skills or lack of. She’s a druggie – well so is most of Hollywood. She’s a mess – by whose standards?

    I think she does the best she can. And who the fuck are we to judge? I particularly hate rants about her parenting. Her child isn’t a baby. And most people who bleet on about Francis don’t even know anything about the kid. She doesn’t even live with Courtney so how can Courtney be a ‘bad mother’ if she’s not Francis’ full-time carer? Oh wait – is THAT what makes her a bad mother?

    The fact is – you can booze all night, take drugs, party and do what you want and as long as you look pretty and ‘put-together’ at events you’re not a bad mother. She’s a “bad mother” to people because she doesn’t dress or look the way some people want her to. And she’s loud and not ‘lady-like’.

    Sorry for the epic rant but I love Courtney and it fucks me off when people pull the bad mother shit. Courtney has had a really rough life. She married a useless no-hoper asshole who left her alone with an infant. And yet somehow – he’s a hero. And she’s a whore. Fuck that. She’s a survivor. And she’s awesome.

    And addict doesn’t mean scum of the Earth.

    • Boganette, you’re absolutely spot on.

    • Speaking of Francis bean, have you ever seen any of her artwork? It’s pretty good. In fact, really good. Yay for having two creatively talented parents.

    • Hang on leave Cobain alone. I agree that Courtney is unfairly portrayed as a whore however the gist of your last paragraph seems to be that she is awesome for simply surviving (true) whilst Kurt was a no-hoper because he didn’t. She had a rough life however Kurt’s was almost identical.

      • I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for Kurt Cobain – I’m sorry.

        • I do have sympathy for him. No one makes the decision to kill themself without going through a huge amount of pain. I also have a huge amount of sympathy for the people left behind. However, I agree with you that Cobain is always revered as a hero while Love copped it while she was in a relationship with him and in the decades since.

          • I have general sympathy for people who suicide and for those left behind. But I get tired of the hero stuff around Cobain. I don’t think it helps anyone to idolise him and see him as someone who can do no wrong. He was a human being with flaws. I don’t even think he’d like what he’s become in pop culture.

  8. good points all.
    My perspective was a personal one as someone who has worked with Franny, and I see what kind of a mother a kid needs, and what kind they definately do not need.
    Dont fight for parental rights if you dont use them well

    • Ah, but who gets to decide whether someone is a good parent or not? A rock star with a drug addiction could be a much better parent than someone who is disinterested in their children. Or bashes them. Or is controlling. Or plays their children off against each other. See where this ends up?

      • I didn’t know you personally knew Francis.

        I suppose – in my opinion (and I don’t know the family obviously) – Francis is old enough to decide where she wants to live and it looks like she has decided. My mother had a difficult time being a mother and I don’t judge her for it. She did her best – her best wasn’t always good enough – but she never intended to hurt us. And I don’t see Courtney as intentionally trying to hurt Francis. All I can see is an addict who is a survivor trying to do what she thinks is best for her child under difficult circumstances. A lot of women aren’t ‘born’ mothers. We never expect men to stand up and be perfect fathers who do no wrong. Yet mothers are always judged. They’re expected to know how to ‘mother’ regardless of what they’re going through, or their past experiences, the way they’ve been treated etc. They’re expected to know exactly how to be ‘the best’ parent to everyone else’s standard and I think that’s entirely unfair.

  9. Ooh I love this post and the comments that followed. I think Courtney deserves far more feminist credibility than she receives.

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