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Tucson Weekly Love's Life

This Rock Biography Is An Extreme Teen Queen Degradation Tale

By James DiGiovanna

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:  POPPY Z. BRITE, America's worst-dressed young author (her latest jacket photo shows her in another of her gothic-geek outfits, looking like a reject from an old Cure video audition) brings us this hagiography of America's worst girlfriend, wife and mother, Courtney Love (née Love Michelle Harrison, believe it or not.)

In spite of the cutesy-teen elements that creep into the prose, ("Courtney Love has always been surrounded by chaos, triumph, pain, and glamour") this book winds up being a compelling--if somewhat embarrassing--page-turner, mostly because of the life being presented.

If half of what Brite says about Love is true (a reasonable estimate), then young Courtney had one of the most fucked-up hippie-parented childhoods on record. Young Charles Manson Jr. probably had a more fulfilling youth than K/Cur(d)t Cobain's future burden.

According to the text, Love was diagnosed as mildly autistic when she was 3 years old because she reacted negatively to affection and had a variety of inappropriate affects, including sudden fits of screaming, which would, of course, become a valuable asset in her future endeavors. Compounding her difficulties, her pot-head father, a confidante of the Grateful Dead, gave her a healthy dose of LSD when she was 4 years old. Soon after this, her mother moved on to other men, and Courtney's name was changed repeatedly over the years, always a good move when a child has an identity disorder like autism.

Oddly, Courtney became a difficult young adolescent. In response to poor Courtney's troubles, her mother kicked her out of the house when she was 12. This led to a series of jobs stripping at extremely seedy nightclubs, arrests for violence and drugs, several years in juvenile detention, and then some really unsavory stuff.

According to Poppy Z., Courtney got a job offer from a Japanese "business" interest when she was 16. This entailed flying to Tokyo to live and work in a strip club. Here, Courtney learned about sushi, bad makeup and white slavery, from which she barely escaped by getting herself confined at the U.S. embassy, and then deported back to the States.

Of course, this is all good practice for a budding rock star, but what was lacking was the extreme groupie lifestyle that young women seeking to go into the music business are always advised to cultivate. To that end, teenaged Courtney took some money that her extremely wealthy, if rather distant and irresponsible, mother had given her and moved to Liverpool to live with Julian Cope, frontman for early '80s pop sensation The Teardrop Explodes. Somehow, through all this, Courtney claims to have maintained her heterosexual virginity, finally losing it with another Julian Cope groupie, a young man who decided that if he couldn't have the gaunt, black-haired, neo-sixties rocker, then his pudgy, bleached blonde groupie was the next best thing. At least that's what Courtney now claims: The man in question denies the incident ever happened.

This is one of the more amusing and creditable aspects of Brite's book: She frequently notes where Love's story doesn't match that of other witnesses and participants. Sometimes it seems Love has lied to make herself appear more hard-edged, but usually the lies are pointless, simply rearranging facts for no particular reason. Who cares if she fucked a groupie or never fucked the rock star she lived with?

It's this kind of disregard for reality that makes Courtney an interesting subject...she not only doesn't care about the truth, she seems not to care about a lot of things that we assume are basic human values, like security, personal safety and hygiene (when she was young her classmates named her 'Pee Girl' because of her persistent odor).

Lives on the edge are the stuff of good rock bios, and true rock lifestyle experimentalists like GG Allin, Sid Vicious and Courtney are interesting for more than just the sleazy, cheap thrills they lived. There's something about someone who lives without regard, or in a way largely alien to our sensibilities, that's compelling. It offers an alternative to assumptions that we generally take for granted, and would never much think to recognize, much less challenge. Not that I'm making Courtney out to be a role model, nor is this book a philosophical treatise on the outsider's life in the style of Hesse or Kierkegaard; but in the waning days of summer, it's a guilty pleasure that offers something you won't find in the latest John Grisham thriller.

Whether that something has real value is up to the reader, but even on the level of cheap beach reading, this book's graphic recounting of drugs, degradation and a teen girl's quests for meaning is quite a kick.

On the other hand, the life of the adult Courtney is "filled with triumph," and the dirt and scandal devolves to the level of "which rock star did Courtney fuck next?" While this would normally be just the stuff to make a good, sleazy celebrity bio, it pales by comparison to the tales of her youth. Those stories, the most extreme of which I haven't recounted here, make this the perfect gift for your 12-year-old daughter, niece or little sister who's just getting started in the world of teen-angst shock rebellion.

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