Monday, November 20, 2006

I love him so much it just turns to hate*

I can't help it: I'm completely obsessed with Courtney Love. I want her new book. I thumbed through it at BookPeople the other day, and it's almost nothing but pictures we've all seen a thousand times, and some incoherent ramblings about wanting to be famous and some random song lyrics. But I love looking at her. I could stare at pictures of Courtney all day. I'm especially fond, of course, of her early, dirty, grunged-out (strung out), slutty pictures. The pictures where she seemed desperately to be trying to say something and be relevant. (I think she's pretty much given up being relevant these days). But I really like the "glam" stage, too, when she was cleaned-up, surgeried, maked-up, with perfect highlights and perky boobs. Both eras hold their appeal to me for very different reasons.

My relationship with Courtney Love is like that really great first relationship you have when you're young, when you're still doscovering yourself, and they're basically a very bad influence on you, and eventually you realize that, and distance yourself, but for the rest of your life, you never forget about how that person made you feel, and what you learned about yourself from them. And the hand they had in shaping who you ultimately became, and of which you're proud (for the most part). We were inseperable. I loved her anger, her passion, her desperation to belong and to be respected, and yet her willingness to give the finger to anyone and everyone who didn't respect her or take her seriously when she just was who she was. Today I question what she really was, or what her ultimate goals were, and if pressed, she probably couldn't provide an honest answer, either, but that misses the point.

As pathetic as it might sound, as a sheltered, God-fearing, church-going, completely repressed homosexual growing up in the reddest and most conservative area of one of the reddest and most conservative states in the country, Courtney Love introduced me to Rebellion and punk rock. And it was the freshest, deepest breath I'd ever taken in my life. Struggling with my sexuality (which was getting harder and harder to ignore), and recognizing that I was starting to actually have real feelings for the boys around me, and being completely freaked out about that, one night seeing the video for "Doll Parts" on 120 Minutes literally changed my life. It was the first time I can ever remember hearing a song that I felt like I could 100% relate to, without having to switch the gender of the lyrics or the gender of the singer. I know Courtney was referring to something else in those lyrics, but hearing "they really want you, they really want you, they really do, but I do too," I immediately applied them to my life and my increasing feelings of despair and loneliness. In this awkward, sad, angry, ugly, misfit woman, I had found my hero. I was totally indifferent to Nirvana, and Morrissey had never uttered a single lyric that meant anything to me (at least not yet!), but here, this was it. As cliched as it is, this woman spoke to me.

I got Live Through This for Christmas that year, and it didn't leave my CD player for weeks at a time. Even today, I still love that record, and can't pop it in without wanting to listen to the whole thing all the way through. My mother, I think, sort of regrettably asked me what I heard in that music that I liked (and don't think she wasn't noticing my drastic shifts in behavior, such as starting to skip church and dumping my old friends for new ones who were, let's say, less clean) but how on earth could I explain it to her? I don't think I could explain it to her now, and that was 12 years ago!

Courtney Love was also the first woman who ever got me thinking about feminism, patriarchy, and the role of the underdog (women) in society, and the importance of honing your intellectual skills for fighting and rebellion. She laid the groundwork for my proceeding love of Bikini Kill, and Kathleen Hanna, who, for the first time, got me to thinking about the link between women's sexuality and homosexuality. How the way that society looks at homosexuality is indicitive of the way it views the feminine in general, and women's sexuality and gay men's sexuality have everything in common in terms of being maligned, repressed and feared by the straight, white, bigoted male patriarchy. This was an absolutely novel fucking concept to me when I was 19, and changed the way I looked at, and thought about, everything. The in-your-face, no-holds-barred sexuality of both Courtney Love and Bikini Kill (though with BK, it was a bit more theatrical and overtly political than in Courtney's case, who, I think, was just kind of a slut) that made so many straight men I know dislike them, served an absolute purpose to me: it gave me the strength to put my own sexuality in the forefront of who I was, and fucking own it.

Oddly enough, I never really got into too many "queercore" bands, per se, like Pansy Division, because I think I viewed them as being too cutesy, or, ironically, too gay. I now very much appreciate their glorification of, and bluntness about, things like kissing other boys and anal sex, but at the time, I didn't need some other gay man to tell me that it was okay to enjoy getting fucked up the ass; I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to make it political, to put my rage in people's faces (not my orgasmic joy), and that, in fact, the personal was the political, and how you lived your life mattered in the bigger picture. This was so empowering to someone who felt so ashamed of who they were (me), and whose internalized rage, resentment and homophobia was already threatening to destroy them at the ripe old age of 18.

Eventually, of course, I got through this stage, and while I can still enjoy Bikini Kill for their nostalgic value, and Courtney for her entertainment value, I've mostly moved beyond these feelings, or had them mature into a more enduring and healthy expression of love, activism and education. But it was such a necessary exorcism of my early demons (as I suspect punk rock is to most kids who get into it at a young age), and a crucial step to go through to figure out how my anger affects me, and how I can use that anger to a righteous and productive cause. It's something I'm still working on, but I think I'm almost there, and besides, the journey never really stops. Live through this with me, and I swear that I will die for you.

*still one of my all-time favorite song lyrics

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This great post, even though I realize it is 6 years old, deserves applause and should have about a thousand comments by now.

"Live Through This" is without a fucking doubt one of the greatest punk rock albums of all time, right up there with "Never Mind the Bollocks", the Ramones' "Rocket to Russia", the Clash's first album, X-Ray Spex "Germ-Free Adolescents" and Iggy Pop's "New Values". In that album, Courtney Love produced something that was so much better than what Kurt Cobain could ever write or play on guitar, that I think the greatness of Courtney's music at that time in comparison to his was one of the things that caused Cobain to off himself in despair. If I remember correctly, he committed suicide just as this amazing album was being released, simultaneously destroying Courtney Love's and his baby daughter's lives and Courtney's career in the process. As much as I liked his music and attitude, I'll never forgive Kurt Cobain for that selfish, chickenshit exit and its timing.

Mark Donaghey
Chicago, IL