Tuesday, April 27
“Courtney Love is scary,” is how the first Village Voice piece about Hole and its “genre-defying,” Kim-Gordon-produced triumph Pretty on the Inside began. Published February 1992, this was the month after Nirvana’s epochal Nevermind displaced Michael Jackson’s pervy-eyed funhouse-romper Dangerous on the Billboard charts, but before Love gave birth to Frances Bean or famously lost her husband. Eighteen years and many public catastrophies later, who would dispute this prophecy? Well, everybody at Terminal 5 last night.
For one, at the proper New York live debut of the newly revived Hole, the band went on early, seven minutes before their posted 10:15 set time. Mind-boggling, considering that on the walk from Columbus Circle to West 56th Street, an ambulance went squealing by and I briefly worried it was coming for Courtney Love. (Thankfully, not.) For two, the band played for exactly 50 minutes, including a three-song encore–the actual set was less than 45. This version of Hole went through everything the sold-out cage of a room wanted to hear (“Violet,” “Miss World,” “Celebrity Skin,” “Malibu,” a “song about a little town that won’t give me the keys,” “Doll Parts,” “Samantha,” “Skinny Little Bitch”) and a couple it didn’t (the dreadful “Letter to God,” which yes, still reminds me of Kermit the Frog’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” and a weirdly punk cover of Rolling Stones’ “Playing With Fire”). But even the angry-girl classics didn’t sound quite right: too fast; shouted, not sang; hollow professional hazards. During soundcheck, a friend who was present thought Courtney Love was wearing a wig and sounded like Linda McCartney. Can’t say about the hairpiece rumor–though it does look synthetic on Letterman–but there was a distinctly Weekend at Bernie’s feel to last night’s show, which was defiantly not the case during the two visceral Hole spectacles I saw at SXSW.
Here’s the thing. The Courtney Love we’ve been trained to know is a character fashioned from rejection. Personal rejection, social rejection, physical rejection–Love’s career persona has been obsessed with luxury, looks, and name-dropping popularity since day one. And the way the terminally insecure woman beneath this invention confronted these superficial constraints was simultaneously to rebel against them and to hate herself for being so consumed with them. Over time, this manifested in a cartoony noncomformity and a violent self-destruction, which have led to addiction, isolation, despair, failure, both familial and artistic. Courtney Love the character is not sustainable–hell, even Jay Reatard the character wasn’t–and especially not now for a 45-year-old single mom with a supposedly dwindling bank account who’s entirely reliant on the goodwill of ever-evaporating nostalgia. Hole, the band, and Courtney Love the public figure were both founded on the unrestrained refusal not to bore, or be bored. Yet the only way they can continue to exist, literally and figuratively, is to be boring.
So it’s not that Courtney Love seemed like a corpse, exactly, more that she was behaving like a puppet, or a trained zoo animal. You really got the sense that she’d wisely been sat down and ordered firmly to keep her damn mouth shut–just Monday, her ramblings on Howard Stern caused all sorts of TMZ drama. Today’s story, she must’ve been reminded, was supposed to be how changed the “clean-and-sober” Love appeared on Letterman, not some stupid crap she said onstage later that night. “It’s been an insanely good day,” she noted. Her band wanted to keep it that way: at one point, they pulled the ol’ Oscars acceptance speech trick and started to play just when it looked like she was going to ramble.
“She needs to realize that the reason people are attracted to her is because she’s a hot mess,” said a random girl on the sidewalk outside Terminal 5. “No one wants her to be normal.” Character as tragic flaw is scarier in 2010 than Courtney Love.
Yes, a set list
“Pretty on the Inside” > “Sympathy for the Devil”
“Skinny Little Bitch”
“Letter to God”
“Pacific Coast Highway”
“Someone Else’s Bed”
“Play With Fire” (Rolling Stones cover)