This one’s for the gallbladder,” Courtney Love says as she slams an acupuncture needle into my leg.
“Um, shouldn’t this be done by a licensed professional?”
“I’ve been doing this since I was young,” she replies, “but you’re the first person I’ve done it to in a while.” She wiggles the needle around. “Tell me when you feel it.” There. An electric shock to the leg. OK. Enough.
Love walks back to her unmade bed and collapses on top of the sheets. Boogie Nights plays on a small television at the foot of the bed. “I could never shoot myself up,” she says with a sigh. “The one time I tried, I still have bumps on my arm from it.” She rolls up a sleeve of her pink cotton shirt to show the damage. “Here’s my imitation of my heroin addiction,” she says as she sits upright. She raps on the wall and yells, “Kurt? Kurt? Are you in there?”
Then, in a gruff voice, she answers for him, “Get some hot water.”
She slaps her arm to imitate the injection, then speaks to his imaginary presence: “I didn’t feel anything.”
She slumps back against her pillows. “He hardly gave me anything: just [the residue from] the cotton,” she sighs. “Prick! That was the extent of my heroin addiction.”
Our interview was supposed to only be a single controlled hour at the offices of Love’s record label, Virgin, but instead it has grown legs and metamorphosed into a three-day slumber party at her loft near Chinatown in Manhattan. Almost the entire time is spent watching a DVD of Boogie Nights: the movie, the director’s commentary, the cast commentary, the outtakes, the commentary on the outtakes.
Dressed down in a T-shirt and sweat pants, she is holed up here in hiding: from the paparazzi, from her manager, from the government, from the bank, from a man, from herself. She does not answer her phone, in case someone calls her “with some bullshit news about some fucking thing.” One more turn of events for the worse, it seems, would push our thirty-nine-year-old protagonist over the edge.
“I have all the leading indicators for suicide,” she says as she drops a cigarette butt into a bottle of Stewart’s root beer. “Loss of child, loss of spouse, public humiliation, civil arrest, financial collapse, displacement from home.”
After the scene in Boogie Nights in which William H. Macy shoots himself comes on the screen, Love turns and comments, “That’s the first time I watched that scene without closing my eyes. After what happened, you can’t really watch a scene like that. Sorry to . . .” She pauses, then begins again: “After ten years, it gets easier.”
The Boogie Nights scene that really affects Love these days is when Julianne Moore loses custody of her child. When she sees it, her face flushes red and tears drip from her eyes, as they do every time anything comes up that reminds her of her eleven-year-old daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. One fateful night in October, Love was arrested outside the home of her ex-boyfriend for disorderly conduct and being under the influence of a controlled substance; later that night she called a hospital because she was worried she had overdosed on the prescription painkiller OxyContin. As a result, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services came to her house the following week and took her daughter away. Love is currently renting a furnished apartment in L.A. that she despises, while Frances lives at home with Love’s stepfather, Frank Rodriguez. Love is allowed to visit her daughter but not spend the night with her.
“Listen,” she says. “I can’t live through this. I can’t.” The allusion to the Hole CD Live Through This seems accidental.
Then her face reddens again, and she flaps her arms about, trying to hold back the tears. “But I don’t have the option to not live. I have a responsibility to somebody. So I’ll be the most miserable person in the world and service a child.” The tears begin to escape now. “I’ve been waiting for her to get to this age, because that’s when I’m best. That’s when I’m best with her. I put her into school a little late. I had to tell her about when her dad died — I had to give her the visual — a year earlier than I wanted, because I didn’t want someone else to tell her first.”
She pauses, and her face is drenched now. “I’ll kill them,” she sobs. “I’ll kill them, Neil!”
She stands up and walks around the room until the tears ebb and she regains her composure. “We have to stop talking and watch this movie,” she says firmly and backs Boogie Nights up a chapter.
Yet as soon as the movie starts, her mouth is moving again. The only time there aren’t at least a dozen different things spinning around in her mind seems to be the few minutes between the time she wakes up and has her first cup of coffee. “I’m like new Coke,” continues one of the most quotable women since Marie Antoinette. “I have a ten percent chance of survival.”
The last six months have been particularly brutal, even by Love’s standards of high drama. From every side, the walls seem to be closing in on her. Financially, she has been fleeced so badly that she’s facing foreclosure on her homes in New York and Los Angeles, she barely has enough money to eat and her car has been repossessed. She says she recently spent a weekend in her loft sorting through eighty boxes of financial records. Love claims her accounts have been drained; in addition, she says she never saw a penny of the advance that Virgin paid for her new album.
Love hands me paper after paper as evidence, including a tiny white scrap which shows that $2 million has been withdrawn from a deposit account and applied as a reduction to a loan she says she never took out. She is so bad off that she actually has to ask me for $100 to buy some books on fraud-busting (not to mention another $20 when she runs out to get dessert and another $20 to cover some takeout — she asks if all these costs will be covered by Rolling Stone as story expenses).
One of her creditors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the situation: “She has not lost her mind about any of this [financial] stuff. What I’m seeing are things that make me upset personally.”
“They’re about to repossess the house of his mom,” Love continues, referring to Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, “and some of his ashes are there. The rest are in the bank vault. Any person will tell you, this is fucking bad. I’ve got no place to put him. I may put him in the wind, but people need to have someplace to go to see him. Now that they’re all over him after fucking ten years, you’d think someone would do something.”
Beyond all this, there are her legal troubles: In addition to the October charges and the battle for custody of her daughter, there is a third-degree-assault charge from when she allegedly hit a clubgoer in the head with a microphone stand at a secret show in New York in March. And in the court of public opinion, there is a perception that she has gone off the deep end.
She reaches over, unbuttons my shirt and thrusts two acupuncture needles into my chest for my heart. “I need to be saved,” she tells me. “I need to be fucking saved.”
But I haven’t asked or volunteered to save her. All I can do is offer a snapshot of the woman I see in front of me. And it is, as far as I can tell, the same Courtney Love whom I’ve heard about for years: a human vortex of brains, boldness, talent, gossip and hysteria. The main difference is that she has never been backed so ferociously into a corner and seems to be developing what one of her friends calls “seeing-black-helicopters paranoia.”
“It’s the same fucking picture,” Love says at least half a dozen times in our three days together, meaning she’s the same person she’s always been. “It’s just that the picture’s skewed. It needs to be fixed.”
So how do you fix it? I finally ask.
“You fix it,” she snaps. “I can’t fix it. You fix it. You gotta name things. You just gotta call it some different type of stuff. I’m as sane as it gets. I have a psychiatrist, and I took the MMPI [psychiatric test] just because I wanted to. Other than answering yes to the question ‘Do people stare at you in the supermarket?’ I’m as sane as anybody.”
Theoretically, this should be a time to celebrate. After a six-year hiatus that included disbanding her longtime group Hole, Love has released a new CD, America’s Sweetheart, an assault of overblown guitars and screaming lyrics that is as raw and open as her personality. But on this front, too, Love is upset. “People say, ‘You made a great record,’ “she says. “No, I made a good five songs. I had twelve songs, but they’re not on the album. I had no creative control.”
She says that the label released the CD before she was finished, selected the cover art without her and didn’t get her approval on some of the final mixes or sequencing. In response, Randy Miller, Virgin’s executive vice president for marketing, says, “In all the years I have been in the music industry, I have not seen a label so committed to an artist and an album as Virgin Records is to Courtney Love and America’s Sweetheart.”
She has spent much of the past week at Virgin Records, on the phone with radio programmers, trying to get them to add her second single, a ballad called “Hold On to Me.” And, though her CD hasn’t performed well on the Billboard charts, she has evidently done a great job of damage control, with the song becoming the most-added single to alternative-rock radio that week.
She rubs patchouli oil around the acupuncture needles in my feet, legs and chest, and, after offering to stick a needle in my skull (declined), pauses Boogie Nights again. “We’re going to put out a press release saying that if Virgin doesn’t give me enough money [to promote the CD], I’m going to quit.”
Right now, Virgin is all she really has. She recently parted with her manager and business lawyer. If she pisses Virgin off, I tell her, she’ll have nothing.
“Fuck it!” she leaps to her feet and yells. “Let the thermometer drop and the mercury roll to the floor. If this is God’s lesson, then I’m ready to fucking learn it. They say God doesn’t throw anything at you that you can’t handle. So if I need to hit bottom, so be it.” She pauses, then adds, “But just give me my daughter back.”
As we talk, Love stomps across the loft with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She grabs a suitcase and drags it doggedly to the center of the room. She turns to me and barks, “Go through my lyrics. They’re great. I’m the best writer of this generation. And if you don’t believe me, fine. But I dare you to find a bad one in there.”
She pries the acupuncture needles out of my flesh, massaging the skin around each one. Freed, I walk over to a large suitcase packed with computer printouts, scribblings on yellow legal pads and scraps of paper. I take one and begin reading: “Soon age will take my beauty/And sin has left its scars/And time has ravaged my body/I live in the house with the red light always on.”
“You’re the first person I’ve ever shown these to,” Love says abruptly. “I have ten more suitcases of these at home.”
I continue digging and come across a letter written posthumously to Kurt Cobain, catching him up on what’s been happening on planet Earth. It is a beautiful, sad letter. “I miss you, man,” she writes, before mentioning their daughter. “You should see her. You’d be so fucking happy.” She then adds, “Dave [Grohl] started a band called the Foo Fighters. It’s insane. He tries so hard.”
Currently, Love is without a boyfriend, though she has fallen for a video director who has been playing hot and cold with her. She says that he’s making a big mistake. “I have a magic pussy,” she announces. “If you fuck me, you become a king. I’m a kingmaker.”
“Jack White, you’re worthy of my pussy,” she declares later. “He’s a classicist, he’s confident, he carries himself well. If we passed each other in an airport, he’s the kind of guy who could just grab me and make out with me without saying a word.”
I finish with the suitcase and grab a root beer from the refrigerator, on which there’s a picture of Love with Hillary Clinton. Love has drawn a halo over her head, devil horns over Clinton’s and a heart between them. Love cues up the DVD commentary, discusses a decadent weekend she lined up for the director Paul Thomas Anderson and then announces that she’s going out for air and Rice Krispies treats. She slips out of her pink shirt to put on something more fetching in case she gets “paparazzi’d,” as she puts it. While changing clothes, she hovers over me topless, showing me a plastic-surgery scar underneath her left mammary. She used to have saline implants, she says, but removed them after she ruptured one while smashing a tambourine against it onstage. “Do you know how much a shot of my tits is worth? Nine thousand dollars.”
“Then your problems are solved,” I say. “
That won’t even get me in the door at the lawyer’s office,” she fires back. She slips into a black-and-white baby-doll dress, very reminiscent of the style she helped pioneer in the early Nineties. “It’s old-school,” she says of the look. As she waits in her loft for the elevator, she turns and adds, “I still don’t have that picture.”
“You know, the one they’re going to use of me when I die. With Kurt, they always use that eyeliner picture. He’d hate that one.”
With Love gone and silence in the room, there is time to think. She is certainly not the out-of-control madwoman that the tabloids have portrayed. As for drugs, she shows me prescription bottles for painkillers labeled with her name. “I’m not a drug addict,” she had said earlier, though she admitted to having a brief cocaine phase in the past. “I must take Xanax. I have anxiety. There isn’t a doctor alive who wouldn’t prescribe it to me.” (A week later she shows me the results — negative — of her latest urine test.)
Her flaws, then, are as follows: She is extremely reactive, responding in an excessive way to every new situation or thought that arises; she is a megalomaniac, making claims that no one with a healthy sense of modesty would make in front of a journalist (as when she dismisses comparisons to alternative rockers of the moment and insists, “I’m a catalog artist: I compete with Bob Dylan”); she is obsessed with detail, micromanaging her affairs and sometimes failing to see the bigger picture; and she has become consumed by her supposed enemies and believes that all of the bad things that are happening to her are the result of a coordinated financial, legal and personal smear campaign.
When asked about the reason for her current financial situation, one of her creditors said, “Another possibility is that she told a major investment institution that they suck, and they got pissed off.”
So when Love returns, I ask her if she thinks that she played a part in bringing any of her current problems on herself. She wrestles with an answer for five minutes: “There’s an arrest that happened the other night,” she begins, referring to the mike-stand incident. “Did I bring it on myself? I had just gone on Letterman talking about how great the NYPD was. . . . The last thing I want to say is ‘I’m a victim,’ but I am. I believe it’s a trickledown from Bush. . . . I should have done an audit. I should have done face time with people. That is true. But did I bring it on myself? I don’t think so.”
The phone rings and it is Rodriguez, who is with Love’s daughter. After warning him to keep Frances away from newsstands, because the face of her father is staring out of so many magazines, she speaks to her daughter.
“I was in jail, do you know that?” she asks. “Some guy says he got hurt with a microphone stand. Yeah, though, my show was OK. I lost my voice, so it should have been better.”
She speaks gently, trying not to cry. “Stay away from the tabloids,” she tells her. “The things they’re writing are the worst. Are people saying anything to you at school? No. There’s no whispering or bad vibe there? No? Good, good.”
Though I’ve tried to leave her apartment several times before, on each occasion Love has pleaded, “Noooo, I don’t want to be alone.” But today I have a flight to catch, so I bid her farewell. “I thank you for your strength and your presence and being somewhat healing and helping me not jump out the window, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to think about it in the next forty-eight hours,” she says. “That doesn’t mean something horrible isn’t going to happen. My reality is fucking hell. My emotional skin can only take so much more.”
She pauses and gathers the acupuncture needles on her bed, plunging one into her temple to calm herself. “These things will stop,” she says, “but somebody has to show the karma [I have].”
Of course, I’m not allowed to leave just yet: We still have the deleted John C. Reilly scenes from Boogie Nights to watch.