In the way that Yoko Ono can never be mentioned without the thought of John Lennon, Courtney Love will be forever tied to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. Yet Love's confrontational stage presence with her band Hole, as well as her gut-wrenching vocals and powerful punk-pop songcraft, have made her an alternative-rock star in her own right.
Love's father, an early, minor Grateful Dead associate, and mother, a therapist, divorced when she was five. As a child, she lived on a commune in New Zealand with her mother. When she was 12, she did time at an Oregon reformatory after she got caught shoplifting. Dropping in and out of college, and living off a trust fund, Love moved from place to place, working as a stripper in Japan, Alaska, and California, and hanging out with mope-rockers in Liverpool, England. Back in L.A., she became friendly with director Alex Cox and scored small roles in a couple of his films, including Sid & Nancy.
By the time Love formed Hole with Eric Erlandson in 1989, she had already appeared as a vocalist in an early incarnation of San Francisco's Faith No More and in the Minneapolis all-girl band, Sugar Baby Doll, with Babes in Toyland's Kat Bjelland and L7's Jennifer Finch.
Hole began garnering the attention of the U.S. underground via the band's incendiary live performances and two early singles, "Dicknail" and "Retard Girl." Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Gumball's Don Fleming coproduced the acerbic debut album, Pretty on the Inside. These recordings and English tours made Hole the darlings of the U.K. music press. Hole was seemingly put on hold, however, during Love's courtship with and eventual marriage to Cobain (on February 24, 1992). The band, which had been courted by several major labels, signed a lucrative contract with Nirvana's [see entry] label Geffen.
After giving birth to a daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, Love and her husband became involved in a battle with children's services over custody of the baby, due to charges in the press that Love had done heroin during her pregnancy; the couple won the right to keep their baby.
In 1993 Hole began recording Live Through This with Erlandson, Patty Schemel, and Kristen Pfaff. One week before its release, Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Amid the tragedy, the album won rave reviews. Tragedy struck again on June 16, 1994, when bassist Pfaff overdosed on heroin. Vowing to keep Hole alive, Love enlisted Canadian bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and the band embarked on a tour, first opening for the Lemonheads, then for Nine Inch Nails. Live Through This (#52, 1994) made steady progress in the charts, yielding the singles "Miss World," which got modern-rock radio airplay, and "Doll Parts" (#65, 1994). The album went platinum in 1995, the year Hole toured with the fifth Lollapalooza. My Body, the Hand Grenade (1997) was a compilation made by Erlandson of rare and unreleased early material.
In the mid-1990s Love underwent a metamorphosis that made her even more controversial. The baby-doll dresses were replaced with Versace threads, and she began appearing on fashion-magazine covers. Music took a backseat in 1996 and '97, when Love concentrated on her acting career, including a role as a drug addict in Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flint that earned her a Golden Globe nomination. In 1997 Love fought a high-profile battle against the independent film Kurt and Courtney, which suggested she was responsible for Cobain's death, and succeeded in having it banned from that year's Sundance Film Festival. Hole's next album, the Southern California–drenched Celebrity Skin (#9, 1998), went platinum and was nominated for three Grammys. Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan co-wrote five of the songs. A single, the lavish ballad "Malibu," reached #81.
Melissa Auf der Maur left the band in early 2000 and joined Smashing Pumpkins. About the same time, Hole ended its relationship with its record label and began distributing MP3s, videos, and updates through its Web site. Love has become an outspoken defender of Napster and an advocate of artists' rights. In September 2000 Love signed a contract with a publisher for a book of poetry, a lyric book, and an insider's guide to the music business. A few months later she announced she would be recording a punk-rock album with a new band for the independent label Epitaph. Dubbed Bastard, the band was comprised of Hole drummer, Schemel, bassist Gina Crosley, and Veruca Salt guitarist Louise Post. In 2001 Love also began recording the soundtrack to her forthcoming film, Hello Suckers, which featured her singing 1920s-era standards, backed by a ragtime band.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).