In the latest instalment of his AnOthermag.com column, Meadham charts the ups and downs of his decades-long love of “beautiful and broken” Courtney Love
Edward Meadham has a remarkable mind, to which his work as a fashion designer attests. His creations are infused with references to his loves, interests and obsessions – “Beautiful things, craft and subculture,” as he once told us. In a new column for AnOthermag.com, Meadham will write about these obsessions, guiding us through the things that inspire him.
If you know one thing about me, I would imagine it’s the fact that I’m obsessed with Courtney Love. In a column dedicated to my obsessions, it would be erroneous to leave her out. She has consistently been – directly and indirectly – a point of reference in everything I have ever done. I have mentioned her in every interview since Meadham Kirchhoff’s inauspicious beginnings in 2003; pilfered elements of artwork from Hole’s records; and even opened the Spring/Summer 2012 show (A Wolf in Lamb’s Clothing) with 14 can-can dancing powderpuff-armed Courtneys dressed in pastel coloured replicas of her 1994 Reading festival dress.
Those who have had even the briefest encounter with me in real life will have heard me drone on and on about her, relating anything and everything to something she has once said, done or worn. My obsession with her is dogmatically absolute, bordering on religious; and her influence on my work, my tastes and every aspect of me and my life has been all-encompassing and omnipresent.
However, at some point around the release of her 2013 single You Know My Name, where the only thing worse than the song was its video (I am still mentally scared by that cheap lampshade which gets as much screen time as Courtney), my love for her began to turn to dismay. I never listened to her follow-up single Miss Narcissist because I just couldn’t face the disappointment. The last straw came earlier this year when, while mindlessly swiping through my Instagram, my feed was intruded by a perfume ad. Ordinarily I would have swiped past as fast as my fingers would allow, but for some reason that day, I let it play. To my deepest horror, I saw Courtney making a short cameo as a waitress – I was so offended by what appeared to be an egregious oversight of self-awareness I nearly lost all faith in the world. My entire belief system began to crumble and disintegrate. It had become impossible to remember why I had always loved her so much, when even she seemed to have forgotten who she once was.
There is a scene in Pretty in Pink where the high school principal says to Molly Ringwald’s character, Andy, “If you send out signals that you don’t want to belong, people will make sure that you don’t.” And indeed this world will do its best to break the will of the brave and the weird. Anyone who does not fit easily and neatly into their allotted box will be faced with many obstacles and be chewed up, rejected or churned through the system of society’s meat mincer, until they emerge crushed into a semblance of tamed assimilation and newly acceptable conformity. It is, perhaps also understandable that Courtney would want to leave behind her past, which was at times terrifying, heart-breaking and unsustainably chaotic. She was born into an environment incapable to suitably equip her with the tools to ever exist as a normal human being. The plot line of her life reads so insanely packed with drugs, abandonment, death, drama, celebrity, squalor and riches, that it’s hard to believe. It is also in part understandable that the value she places on her own work and legacy has been affected by the reductive lens through which the world has viewed her for the last 30 years. She is as disparaging of her own work as society has been of her persona, she dismisses Hole’s first album Pretty on the Inside as unlistenable (I could not disagree more strongly).
More often than not, the crazy soap-opera of her life, combined with her built-in self-destruct mechanism, have over-shadowed her actual achievements. Practically her entire musical career was marred by her marriage; in her audacity in marrying her generation’s sainted boy genius, and not sitting in his shadow mute and attractive, she became the target for all the world’s tabloidy misogyny, the poster child of gold-digging junky slut. It didn’t matter anymore that she had her own band and career, she had over stepped her role and she was punished for being too smart and loud.
So I am writing this as equal parts love letter, eulogy and history lesson. On April 11, 25 years ago, her best recording and one of the best and most underrated and overlooked albums of all time, Hole’s second album Live Through This came out – three days after her husband committed suicide. But to define Courtney by her marriage or her choice of husband, as an icon of messy, drug-addicted hedonism and vulgar celebrity, is a mistake. Although she is all of those things, she is also so much more. More than Celebrity Skin, and certainly more than a prop for fashion houses. Courtney Love was a human atom bomb, the better of all evils and the patron saint of the beautiful and the broken. Courtney Love is the centre of the universe.
Even before her career started Courtney had been in the epicentre of sub- and pop culture, almost since birth. She appears as a toddler on the back cover of the Grateful Dead’s album Aoxomoxoa; worked at the Paramount Pictures wardrobe department and assisted on the set of Mommy Dearest. She moved to Liverpool in 1981 to live in Julian Cope’s squat with Echo and the Bunnymen; sang in an early incarnation of Faith No More; was a punk extra in the video for the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated; lived in Joe Strummer’s basement with whom she co-starred in Straight to Hell; visited Andy Warhol’s Factory and was featured on his MTV show 15 Minutes of Fame, she inspired Bikini Kill’s formation (and though they have tried to erase this fact, the letter that Kathi Wilcox wrote to her is printed in the first Bikini Kill zine). Courtney lived early English new wave, every American punk scene throughout the 80s and 90s, was a teenage stripper and near-homeless junkie, a punk, a model and a Hollywood movie star – she has been all things.
She has been all at once way too much and never enough to fit in anywhere; she is the archetypal outsider, too punk for Hollywood, and too Hollywood for punk, too vulgar for the feminists, too female for conventional rock and roll. The Riot Grrrls rejected her for, well, for not being one of them. She’s too ugly to be pretty, too pretty to be ugly, too undisciplined to be intellectual and too loud to be listened to. But it is the sum of all of these things, all of her stupid mistakes, her fame-hungry vulgarity, all of her blistering intelligence, grace and charm, her pure unfiltered honesty, her impeccable taste, style and courage that makes her so unique. Primarily, she is an artist and a poet, lyrically and visually she has evoked an entire universe, combining feelings of desire and alienation with themes of bloody vanity, lust and motherhood. She created a sound and aesthetic that is uniquely and aggressively female.
As absurd as it seems now, in the early 90s, women were, culturally speaking, still expected to be silent, naive and decorative. It was shocking to see a woman fronting a group of other powerful women, playing guitars and screaming. It was even more shocking to see a woman doing all of this using and subverting the context of the visual language of femininity: the bleached ringleted hair, the lipstick, delicate antique dresses, tiaras, Mary Janes and frilly socks. Courtney conjured a disturbing illusion of infantile prettiness and raw sexual rage. In those early days, Hole and Babes in Toyland were practically peerless; before them, the template for how to be a female rock star generally implied a denouncement of sexuality, to be a Patti Smith and make it easy for the audience to ignore that you were a woman. Courtney amplified her femininity and her glamour, put one foot up on the amp in front of her and literally put ‘it’ in your face, forcing you to confront it. What she created forged a new context for others to thrive in and through which to mend the broken limbs of loss and desire and enable the expression of love, pain and beautiful rage.