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Courtney Love: 10 highs and lows from the grunge diva's illustrious career

Categories: Music


Courtney Love arrives for the premiere of the film Man on the Moon in 1999. (Rose Prouser/Reuters)

She's baaack! It turns out one of the internet rumours that has been swirling around Courtney Love in the past year really is true. Not only has the erratic grunge goddess reformed her band, Hole, but she's got the album to prove it. Years in the making, Nobody's Daughter hits stores this week, arriving with already-strong buzz from those who heard Hole perform a recent set at SXSW.

During her ongoing media blitz to promote Nobody's Daughter, the notoriously unfiltered rock diva recently told NME magazine "Courtney Love is dead." To some, the comment is further proof of the trainwreck rumours that have dogged the combative musician for the better part of a decade. To her fans, the remark is vintage Love.

Though she can play a mean guitar and shriek louder than any banshee, Love's greatest art is her ability to shape-shift and self-mythologize. During her 20-year career, she's cast herself in the role of juvenile delinquent, stripper, pioneering riot grrrl, the reviled Yoko to Kurt Cobain's John, grieving widow, Versace model, celebrated Hollywood actress, drug addict, monstrous mother and, most recently, author of many unhinged social media rants.

The one constant in Love's varied body of work is her knack for survival - not for nothing was her most acclaimed Hole album called Live Through This. Now, with her hotly anticipated new release, Love is poised to pull herself from the ashes once more. In honour of her rock rebirth, we offer you 10 of the most famous (and infamous) moments from her illustrious career:

1. Straight to Hell (1987)

Though she failed to win her dream role in Sid & Nancy (1986), a young Love displayed enough charisma that director Alex Cox wrote a substantial part for her in his next film, the culty punk-rock spaghetti western Straight to Hell (1987). Onscreen, Love honed the whiny Nancy Spungen voice that would become essential to her persona; offscreen, co-star Joe Strummer mocked her guitar playing until she vowed to one day rock harder than any guy.

2. Pretty on the Inside (1991)

After brief stints in female-fronted bands (including Babes in Toyland), Love set out on her own, eventually forming Hole. With its crushing guitars and vitriolic lyrics about "slut-kiss girls", the band's debut, Pretty on the Inside, was a hint of what was to come. In her early live performances, Love was already displaying the aggressive guitar playing and kinderwhore fashion sense that would become an essential part of the '90s riot grrrl movement.

3. Love reads Kurt Cobain's suicide note (April 10, 1994)

During her brief, drug-fuelled marriage to alt-rock legend Kurt Cobain, Love was surely fulfilling some kind of destiny, finally becoming Nancy to Seattle's modern-day Sid. The tumultuous relationship ended with Cobain's suicide in April 1994, an event that left both Love and thousands of grunge fans reeling at a vigil for the late rocker. In one of the most confessional moments in a career marked by oversharing, Love read Cobain's suicide note to fans, using one aside to puncture the old rock adage "it's better to burn out than to fade away."

4. Miss World (1994)

With the first single from Hole's platinum-selling Live Through This, Love cemented her fame, and perfected the ripped-from-the-guts style that continues to be her trademark. Snarling her way through lyrics about a perfect girl who is ugly on the inside, Love hinted at her self-destructive tendencies ("Somebody kill me/Kill me pills"), while the video posits the idea of two Courtneys: the vulnerable prom queen on the sidelines, and the aggressive, empowered monster shown diving from the stage.

5. Barbara Walters 10 Most Fascinating People (1995)

Following her notoriously raw stage shows in support of Live Through This, Love found herself in the limelight she'd always craved, though she probably never envisioned fame would mean having to appear on Barbara Walters' square 10 Most Fascinating People of 1995 special. Sipping tea and looking downright polished in a cream suit, the rocker was entirely convincing as a bad girl reformed. Well, almost. Watch part 1 of the interview to see Love's priceless reaction shot when Walters asks her about her drug use.

6. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

On the heels of her engaging small performances in Basquiat and Feeling Minnesota, famed director Milos Forman determined Love was finally ready for her close-up. While the role of drug-addicted stripper Althea Leasure Flynt didn't sound like a stretch, Love wowed critics with her subdued, tender-hearted portrayal of the love of Larry Flynt's life, earning a Golden Globe nomination and a New York Film Critics prize for the role.

7. Celebrity Skin (1998)

Never one to resist biting the hand that feeds, the newly A-list Courtney aired her thoughts on all things Hollywood in the poppy new Hole album, Celebrity Skin. Depicting La-la-land as a town of wilted starlets and phony industry types in the album's witty title track, Love ended the song (and possibly her budding movie career) with the fierce declaration: "You want a part of me/Well, I'm not selling cheap."

8. Kurt & Courtney (1998)

In spite of her stardom throughout the '90s, the pall of Cobain's suicide hung over Love's career. When documentarian Nick Broomfield set out to investigate the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the musician's death, Love bared her claws: refusing to speak on camera or license any Nirvana songs for the film. Worth renting, if only for the ironic moment that shows Broomfield squaring off with the grunge diva at an ACLU gala.

9. David Letterman appearance (March 17, 2004)

The 2000s were not kind to Courtney. First there was the unfortunate plastic surgery. Then the failed solo album, America's Sweetheart. Relapses, arrests and a stint at Bellevue soon followed. Through it all, an often-inebriated Love still managed to display flashes of wit (and skin), particularly during a spaced-out, off-the-rails appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. (Diehard fans can view grainy footage of the entire segment in all its trainwreck glory here.)

10. Skinny Little Bitch (2010)

If there's one thing Love's demonstrated in her fascinating career, it's that she's never been one to go quietly. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that shortly after her most disastrous decade yet, she's picked herself up, dried herself out and announced Hole is coming back for one more kick at rock stardom. (Ever true to her survivor narrative, she's named one new single Never Go Hungry in a nod to Scarlett O' Hara's ability to soldier on.) Will she pull off the comeback, or sabatoge herself once more? Judging from a rousing recent performance at SXSW, something tells me the ever-enterprising Ms. Love's got a few lives in her yet.

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