Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stage Names: Courtney Love

Hole: Doll Parts

Sometimes, it is harder to come up with an idea when there are so many choices out there than when the theme is narrow. When you consider the universe of performers who have used stage names, it is a bit overwhelming. Kind of like the cereal aisle at the supermarket.

Instead, I decided to work backwards. I haven’t written about that many women in the just under two years that I’ve been part of the SMM family (roughly 16 of my approximately 100 pieces have included songs with prominent female vocals—sorry, Kath), so, this is an opportunity to rectify that imbalance. Also, I’ve posted a bunch of prog rock, so I wanted to go in a different direction, and although I’ve posted a bunch of new wave and punk, I haven’t really written about anything like this song.

So I decided to write about a woman who was born in 1964 in San Francisco as Courtney Michelle Harrison (although some sources state that her birth name was “Love Michelle Harrison”). As a result of various adoptions, over the years she was also known as "Courtney Michelle Rodriguez" and "Courtney Michelle Menely". And a few years ago, it was widely reported that she wanted to be known as “Courtney Michelle,” but she shot that story down.

Love’s upbringing was unconventional. Her mother was a psychotherapist and her father was a publisher and was briefly the manager of the Grateful Dead. Her parents divorced in 1969, and her father’s custodial rights were withdrawn based on allegations that he had given young Courtney LSD. Even in San Francisco in 1969, that was not a good thing. Her mother moved the family to a commune in Oregon, where Courtney struggled in school and was diagnosed with autism.

After a brief move to New Zealand, she was returned to Oregon to live with her former stepfather and friends. In what may well be one of the great “what ifs” of all time, Courtney auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club when she was 12, but her choice of audition piece, the poem “Daddy,” by Sylvia Plath, somehow didn’t get her the gig. A couple of years later, she was sent to juvie for shoplifting, then bounced in and out of foster homes before becoming emancipated at 16. She spent the next few years doing various jobs, including DJ, stripper and actress, while also taking college classes in Portland, San Francisco and at Trinity College in Ireland.

Starting in the 1980’s Courtney began performing, first with bands that she formed, then briefly in Faith No More, before leaving that band to form other bands and playing bass with Babes in Toyland. She taught herself to play guitar and moved to L.A., where she placed an ad looking to start a band—her stated influences were “Big Black, Sonic Youth and Fleetwood Mac.” That band became Hole.

“Doll Parts” was released on Hole’s second album, Live Through This, and was written about Love’s insecurity about her then new relationship with Kurt Cobain. The song’s rawness and simplicity masks its complex musings on beauty, love, fear and pain, much as Love’s unpredictable (to be charitable) behavior has often overshadowed her obvious intelligence and talent. The song starts with just Love’s gritty vocals and a guitar, and builds slowly to a climax, before ending with a pained vocal, cracking with emotion. It is a song that truly lets you into Love’s heart, and makes obvious her pain, her insecurity and her fear.

It is a damn good song, and was a big success for the band. While Love and Hole put out some more excellent music, to my mind, this album, and this song, was the best work she ever did.

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