mardi, septembre 07, 2004

Courtney Love: She's lost that loving feeling

A string of court appearances on drug and assault charges has brought Courtney Love to her lowest ebb yet. Fiona Sturges wonders what's next for the embattled rock diva, film star and widow of Kurt Cobain

07 September 2004

Courtney Love could always be relied upon to look after herself. Never one to back away from a scrap, the singer and actress has a reputation for setting lawyers on anyone who dares cross her. Where they fail, she will happily wade in herself, sleeves rolled up, nails sharpened.

Now, however, Love has not only lost her ability to safeguard her image; it appears that she has lost the plot too. In recent months, her name has been attached to a slew of court trials. Later today, she will appear in court to answer charges of assault and reckless endangerment after reportedly attacking a fan with a microphone. On 30 September, she will have to appear for a hearing on felony charges of illegal possession of prescription painkillers, and that's not forgetting the charge of assault with a deadly weapon that could see her imprisoned for up to four years.

When Love arrived in court at the end of July, she appeared meek and defeated. She was ordered to enrol in an 18-month rehabilitation programme, during which she is required to steer clear of alcohol, submit to random drug tests and attend regular counselling sessions. If Love sticks to the programme laid out by the Los Angeles judge, it's likely that she will avoid a spell in jail.

Getting her career back on track will prove less straightforward, however. Her solo album, the mischievously titled America's Sweetheart, released last February, should have been a triumphant comeback, though her refusal to promote it ensured that it barely troubled the album charts. Meanwhile, her acting career stalled after she starred in the flop thriller Trapped in 2002. There have been mutterings, too, that due to her much-publicised drug problems Love is deemed too much of a risk by film studios. It's a strange reversal of her situation a decade ago.

"Courtney Love's is a genuinely pathetic, tragic story," says Paul Rees, editor of Q magazine. "She's obviously someone who is deeply troubled and deeply out of control. She's certainly the most genuinely unhinged person I've ever dealt with," he says, recalling his abortive attempt to arrange an interview with the singer a couple of Christmases ago.

"We were going to do a cover with her, with lavish photography and a major interview with one of our best journalists. But the whole thing unravelled in such a spectacular fashion we had to demote it. The interview culminated in her setting fire to about £8,000 worth of clothes we had bought for her, and then rolling around naked in front of the photographer. I don't think she's a well women. And she needs help."

Certainly, Love's erratic behaviour would suggest that her grip on reason is becoming increasingly shaky. The latest chapter in her troubled existence began last year when she was arrested at Heathrow airport after an altercation on a Virgin flight. She escaped with a caution. In October, Love lost custody of her daughter, 11-year-old Frances Bean, after police were called to the Love household to deal with an undisclosed "medical emergency".

The following week the singer gave an interview to an American newspaper in which she admitted to taking an overdose of the painkiller OxyContin, but said that it was an accident. Later, she pleaded not guilty to the illegal possession of prescription drugs, a charge that is punishable by up to three years and eight months in jail.

But Love's unruly behaviour had only just got started. In mid-March the singer was arrested in New York for allegedly assaulting a fan with a microphone stand at a gig. Earlier in the evening she had appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman where she repeatedly flashed her breasts and clambered onto the host's desk for a hideous rendition of "Danny Boy". After leaving, she reportedly exposed herself again in a nearby burger bar. In April another warrant for her arrest was issued after claims that Love had attacked a woman at the home of Jim Barber, her former boyfriend and ex-manager, using a bottle and a torch, while allegedly under the influence of illegal drugs.

It would be easy to attribute Love's bizarre adult life to her rootless upbringing. Born Courtney Michelle Harrison, she spent her early years with her father, Hank, a Grateful Dead acolyte who reportedly force-fed his four-year-old daughter LSD and dragged her all over the world, from a sheep station in New Zealand to a hippie commune in San Francisco. At 12, Love was sent off to live with her mother in Portland, Oregon, though by the time she was 16, she had disowned her parents and taken to the road.

After working as a stripper in Japan, Love turned up in Liverpool in the early Eighties where she had a brief relationship with The Teardrop Explodes' singer Julian Cope. In 1986 she moved to Los Angeles where she met the director Alex Cox and lobbied for the part of Spungen in his Sid Vicious biopic Sid and Nancy. She ended up playing Nancy's best friend, Gretchen, though her fascination with the Sid-Nancy relationship continued, apparently forming the template for her marriage to Cobain.

While it's doubtful that Love will go down in history as one of rock's greatest talents, she'll certainly be remembered as one of its most notorious screw-ups. She's easily the most provocative woman to emerge in pop music in the past 20 years. But the debate rages as to whether Love's career credibility can survive intact.

"She's a fascinating personality," says Rees. "And when she was in Hole, and especially with their second album, there was a sense that there was some genuinely good stuff there. But the last album sounded like it had had major surgery, and she's blown her credibility. She's become a caricature of herself. You can't go on being a punk when you've had loads of plastic surgery and waltzed up the red carpet."

However, James Roberts, an editor at Music Week is less convinced that Love is such a spent force. "She is still an iconic figure in music and celebrity. She's legendary, notorious, she can get the publicity, she's good value, and she's entertaining", says Roberts. "Her reputation will allow her to do whatever she wants. She could make another punk record, and it would still be acceptable."

Colin Murray, the Radio One DJ and TV presenter, also argues that Love's celebrity will continue to press the right buttons in the media. "Courtney's never been anything short of fucked up. Where you've got shock factor, you've got record sales," he says simply. "And while Love's music stopped being urgent at least five years ago, she'll carry on."

In fact, as Roberts points out, Love's fall from grace, could be just the thing she needs to kick-start her career. "For all the talk, Love's last album was all right. It didn't hang together, but it wasn't a disaster. Just like anyone, you're only as good as your next work. Maybe, she needs this knock-back to return to what she does best. Just as long as she doesn't sack any more managers."

Undeniably, being the widow of one rock's most venerated legends has garnered Love no end of welcome publicity, and done much to prolong her status as the Queen of Indy. But Love's management of her late husband's estate and her own business affairs has made her some high-profile enemies. Lately, Love's troubled relationship with the surviving members of Nirvana, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, has worsened, erupting into an all-out slanging match with both sides locked in an ongoing battle for control of the band's legacy. After years of silence, Grohl and Novoselic recently spoke out about Love, describing her as "irrational... self-centred, unmanageable, inconsistent and unpredictable" and accusing her of "appropriating" Cobain's work in order to further her own career.

"The connection with Nirvana will never go away," says Murray. "But whether she can physically keep going is another matter."

Of course, Love could pursue her career as an actress, with which she has had considerable success. In 1996 she played the junkie wife of a porn pioneer in Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt, a role that earned her a Golden Globe nomination. She was also praised for her part in Man on the Moon in which she played the wife of the troubled comic Andy Kaufman. But her acting has been fitful, and punctuated by long periods of inactivity. Rumours currently abound that Love has signed up for a starring role in Hello Suckers, about a 1900s showgirl who schemes and manipulates her way to the top. There's even more delicious irony in the reports that she is to play Lady Macbeth opposite Peter Mullan, though we're yet to discover if there's any truth in them. One leading casting director claims that no film producer would employ such a volatile star, because it would be impossible to insure her.

Now, of course, it's hard to see what Cobain saw in Love. As his recently published journals attest, Cobain was repelled by the fame game and tortured himself over the possibility that by becoming famous, he had sold himself and his fans down the river.

With more court hearings and an upcoming custody battle for her daughter looming, plus a derailed career to restore, who knows what the future holds for Love? Earlier this year there were reports that she was scouting around for a publisher for her diaries. Which probably means there'll be a screenplay in the offing, too. For Love it might be an opportunity that's too good to pass up. Should she manage to find her way back onto the straight and narrow, what better way to rescue her career than a starring role in her own biopic?

While Murray suggests Love simply "needs to find Kabbalah" to keep out of trouble, others are less optimistic about Love's future. "I think it's increasingly unlikely that Love can come back from this," says Rees. "She's been the architect of her own downfall. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think this story will have a happy ending."

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved