Special guest Candace Opper tells Mike and Sarah how a grunge star became the protagonist in one of America's most persistent conspiracy theories. Digressions include Neil Young, protest songs and the coolest baby of the 1990s. Mike continues to mine his public school education for anatomically impossible rumors.
This episode contains detailed descriptions of suicide.
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Sarah: But the point is that you're supposed to ignore all that and be like, this man was behaving normally and Courtney Love assaulted him with her monstrous period.
Mike: Welcome to You're Wrong About, the podcast that makes over your historical understandings.
Sarah: Makes over. Is that a reference?
Mike: That's the only Hole song I know. “Oh, make me over…”
Sarah: Oooh, see I don't know that one.
Mike: See, when you have to explain it, it's very good.
Sarah: Because I’m extremely basic, the only Hole song I really know is the truly amazing cover they did of It's All Over Now Baby Blue, but that's still a Bob Dylan song.
Candace: Wow, Sarah.
Sarah: I know.
Mike: I'm Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
Sarah: I am Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the Satanic Panic.
Mike: And if you want to support the show, there are lots of ways you can do that in the description and, I am rushing through this part because I want to get to our delightful special guest, Candace Opper.
Sarah: A returning guest.
Mike: Yes. Welcome back, Candace.
Candace: Hi guys. Thank you so much for having me back.
Mike: Candace is one of our favorite writers and one of our longstanding friends of the show. And she is working on a book called Certain And impossible Events, that comes out this fall. And she says that she struggles to have an elevator pitch about it, which in my experience is the sign of a good book.
Sarah: This is a podcast pitch, which means you can talk for 45 minutes if you want to.
Candace: Broadly speaking, it's about suicide. But it's more specifically about my experience losing a friend to suicide in the early nineties, actually right after Kurt Cobain. And that was what we recorded our original You’re Wrong About, about a couple of years ago.
Mike: Yes. As Candice mentioned, she was our guest a year ago, year and a half ago.
Sarah: When we were a little seedling growing in a little cup.
Mike: If you haven't scrolled down that far, that was an episode about Kurt Cobain and the phenomenon of copycat suicide. Since then, one of our actually most requested people is Courtney Love, like people really want us to talk about Courtney Love. And so we thought we would ask Candice to come back and do an entire episode talking about Courtney. So here we are.
Candace: Here we are. I was definitely, I'm so excited to be here. I was definitely intimidated when you guys asked. Because it feels like such a huge task to do her right.
Mike: That's true.
Sarah: Yeah. Well, and I think like the longer someone is out kind of weathering as an oversimplified public figure, like the more restoration work you have to do, you know, to figure out what has been lost and then express it in a way that manages to jump over these little hurdles people have put between themselves and empathy.
Mike: Right. I also, I've been looking forward to this one because, Candace, you will I'm sure correct me, but it seems like Courtney Love is one of those figures who is maligned, but also kind of genuinely problematic in some ways, and like difficult to like, in many public appearances. And it's important to talk about historical figures and public figures in that way, because pulling these people back from being overly maligned is not the same as lifting them up into these like perfect angelic figures.
Candace: I agree. She is a problematic figure and I had lots of feelings digging into to this research where I was feeling like, I'm not sure if I like this person or if I, and honestly, just reading about her and trying to get a sense of her personality over watching several interviews, she reminds me of many women I’ve known in my life where I felt like I don't really want to be this person's friend, but I’m scared of what will happen if I'm not. Like, it's safer to be their friend than not be their friend.
Sarah: Is it like the kind of person is like really important in a way that's initially fun. And then after a while you're like, I'm tired all the time.
Candace: Sort of, I think so. I get that sense from, from her friends that have been interviewed about her.
Mike: Okay. What's your relationship with Courtney Love, Sarah?
Sarah: Oh, I mean, I'll tell you actually I have sinned against Courtney Love. So let me tell you about that. When I was 16 or 17, I wrote for a high school, like talent night, a parody song of Phil Ochs’ Love Me I'm a Liberal, a protest song from the sixties, that like no other teenager who I knew had heard before, except for the ones who went to like folk music camp. So my parody song was called, Love Me I'm a Portlander. And I included the line, “I cried when Courtney killed Kurt.”
Mike: Oh, wow.
Sarah: And I guess it was like, I need a rhyme. I don't believe it happened, but it's like a reference to something people believe and like, whatever I need this line for my parody song. So I sang that line and I feel kind of mortified about that now. And I think I'm going to feel increasingly mortified about it in the next hour.
Mike: I like to think that that's how people wrote jokes for Jay Leno for decades of like, I don't believe this, but like, I need a joke.
Sarah: I gotta finish this parody song. Totally.
Candace: And you'll wonder how these things get perpetuated.
Mike: Exactly. But this is such a good transition into how we're going to do this. Cause Candace, you said you wanted to start by talking about like the main rumors and like debunkable factoids about Courtney.
Candace: I would say the bulk of those debunkable rumors sort of take place over her relationship with Kurt Cobain.
Mike: Yeah. The main rumor about Courtney Love is that she killed Kurt, right?
Candace: Yeah. I don't know if it's the most detrimental to her, but it's probably the most hurtful. So to give you a little, little context. So around the time Kurt Cobain, those last few months of his life, they had been married for two years. They have their daughter Francis Bean who's about a year and a half, I think at that point, Nirvana's probably the most famous band in the world, I would say. I'm sure that fluctuates, but you know, at the time they were, and Kurt had been suffering from heroin addiction for probably 12 to 18 months at that point, like really serious heroin addiction.
Sarah: And it also feels like something that is by definition, counter-cultural, getting that huge would just be, I don't know. I think it's like why blame Courtney Love when you can blame fame and it's right there. That's my question.
Candace: Yeah. And I just have to say right now as a disclaimer, it's really important to me when we're talking about this, that I like focus on Courtney, but I think it's impossible to talk about her without talking about Kurt Cobain because their lives were so intertwined, and they were so famous and they both had such an impact on each other and things that were happening to him because of his career directly impacted her and vice versa. So it's like, yeah. You know, as I was thinking about this, I kept thinking like, there's one funny interview with them, is there's this good documentary that came out a few years ago called the montage of heck. And there's a home video of them where they're just sort of like bickering about something in a lighthearted way. And she's like, “Why are you always the good one, and I'm always the bad one?” And it's clearly like something they understood about their relationship, but it's also just like immediately the roles they fell into in the world and how they were perceived.
Mike: That is true. I mean, the ways in which like male rock stars get to be messes in public is very different that the way that female rock stars get to be messes.
Sarah: Okay. And how Jim Morrison is like this angel of rock still. Right.
Candace: And I mean, Kurt and Courtney, both did a lot of drugs, both were in and out of rehab, but I think we collectively tend to forgive Kurt for that a lot more than we forgive her for that.
Mike: Yeah. So the run-up to his suicide is all of this kind of getting worse?
Candace: So he, he was using pretty frequently for, you know, I would say a year or 18 months. And then that just snowballed. I mean, like that, that just got worse and worse. And at the beginning of 1994, the band had kind of, Nirvana as in Nirvana, they weren't doing a whole lot. They weren't actually, like their album had come out the previous fall, they had started to tour a couple of times, but Kurt canceled the tours because he was struggling. But, you know, Kurt Cobain was a person who grew up really poor, classic kind of broken family, parents divorced when he was young. He never got over that. He was an unwanted child that was passed between parents and step-parents, he grew up in the middle of nowhere, Washington.
He got really famous, really fast, and I think he loved that and hated that. But besides that, he couldn't really emotionally deal with it. And I think part of it is that there was such a price on authenticity in that community, that music community they were in. And so he was so obsessed with being authentic and he also could not take ridicule and he obsessively read bad reviews of his music or interviews where his words would be taken out of context. And he, I don't want to use the term, he's a textbook suicide because I think maybe that's meaningless on its own, but if you take into account everything that happened over the course of his life, leading up to his fame, but then also him not being able to deal with fame, him being on drugs, he collected guns. I mean, it's like, it's just a bad cocktail.
Sarah: Right. And I also, I mean, this is kind of, it's a little tangential for him, but one of the things I find really interesting about your research, and you talk about this in your book, is that one of the major risk factors for suicidality in the United States is to be a white male in a large square state with a lot of guns in it.
Candace: That is very true.
Sarah: And Kurt is from Washington.
Mike: Just square with a little squiggly on it.
Sarah: Squares with squiggles.
Candace: Yeah. No, that's absolutely true. And unfortunately has gotten much more true over the last 20 years. So leading up to his death, the band is not doing great. He's not doing great. He can barely go a day without heroin, at this point. Their family is kind of falling apart because Courtney has to spend a lot of time taking care of him physically, because he's so strung out all the time. He has expressed suicidal ideation multiple times. And so they keep getting into these huge fights and she'll often call the cops as like a domestic abuse report just to get him arrested or just to get them to take the guns away because she's worried that he's going to kill himself.
Sarah: So like, did they take him in for like a day or do they like take the guns away? And then he gets them back a day later?
Candace: They take the guns away and then they're like, guns are given back, or he buys more guns. Six weeks or a month before his death there in Rome. Nirvana's playing a show and she's promoting Hole, and he has a suicide attempt, like a pretty severe suicide attempt where he has to be taken to the hospital, an overdose of pills. And they don't want the media to know that, so they just say that he, OD’d. But there was a suicide note. And so I think this is when it really peaked. And so they come back to the States and she decides she wants to plan an intervention, like a formal intervention with band members and close friends and his manager and things like that. And it just really does not go well.
Sarah: Okay. What do we know about what happened?
Candace: Well, yeah, I mean, it just seems really tragic. I mean, he rejects everything. Like his mom is there, sister is there, obviously Courtney is there. I think it was during this intervention or at some point in that last month he was really high and allegedly dropped the baby on her head and didn't remember doing it. And the baby was fine, but Courtney brought it up as this, you know, she was like, I need to play this card to try to get through to him. And later on, she cited that as a reason that she thought that she pushed him too much over the edge by saying that.
She also goes back and cites the intervention as like, she thinks the intervention as a whole pushed him over the edge. And this was deep in her mourning period where she's trying to make sense of this. And I wonder sometimes if those are things that fans see and they're like, well, she said it, it's her fault. You know? And here's this woman like grieving her husband's death, trying to make sense of the suicide. And of course it's very natural for people close to a suicide to blame themselves.
Mike: Right. And she's also talking about what she was doing specifically to prevent the suicide. Right. It's like, it's clear that it was like an emergency. So it wasn't like, LOL, he might kill himself. Like this is something she was taking extremely.
Candace: Yeah, absolutely. But he just rejected it and rejected it. And eventually they did get him to go to rehab. They live in Seattle, but they go down to Los Angeles and he checks into this rehabilitation facility called Exodus. He’s there for a few days. He seems to be doing a little bit better, but then he escapes. He just walks out, jumps the fence, and buys a plane ticket back to Seattle. So this is the point where it gets murky because there's a few days where he is missing. And these are the last three days of his life.
Sarah: And is this a big news item? Like is a call put out to the public or anything like that, or do they try and keep it quiet?
Candace: I think that was kept quiet at the time. So Courtney finds out that he's missing, and she calls a private investigator to help her find him. She doesn't want to leave Los Angeles because she's working. I mean, like, this is something that we also need to talk about is that like she's a musician, she has a band, she has an album coming out.
Sarah: She’s a working rock star.
Candace: She's trying to promote herself and have a career. And she's been on top of that and taking care of a child, has been taking care of her husband.
Mike: She's leaning in.
Candace: Yes. It's so easy to look back and be like, why didn't she do something? You know, why didn't she go up there? Why didn't she do all this?
Sarah: If I were Courtney Love I would simply cure my husband of his heroin addiction and suicidal ideations.
Mike: You love that move, Sarah. That's like becoming your catch phrase.
Sarah: I think the fact that we are so intent on imagining that people can control the well-being of the people they love is based largely on our unwillingness to accept that, like we can't do either.
Candace: And also, I mean, we have to think about the fact that this was not just like a one month troubled period. This has been going on for several months. And honestly doing that while taking care of a freaking toddler. Like, I have a three-year-old. Sometimes just having a child that small, it's just like having a bee buzzing in your ear all day. It's difficult to do anything. And of course they had a nanny, whatever. Like I think people are like, “Oh, she had a nanny, she didn’t have to do anything.” It's like, no, she's still a mother.
Sarah: She has a child, you're still going, “I have a child!”
Candace: And I don't know a whole lot about this, but I have read in different accounts that when you're taking care of someone who's an addict, there is a burnout that comes along with that. I'm sure that there's moments where she's just like, I don't want to deal with Kurt right now.
Mike: Right. There's also this thing where we project the rising action moving toward the suicide. That in hindsight, we're like, well, all of this was obviously built up to suicide, but if you're in one of these very chaotic relationships with these huge ups and downs, it's like, well, Kurt escaped from rehab again. Or like, Kurt overdosed again. I mean, these are the kinds of things that are extreme to anybody else. But if you're in one of those relationships, it's like, she's probably been through things as fucked up as this.
Sarah: Right. And until something on thinkable happens, you don't think of everything as moving toward the unthinkable thing. It's only after.
Candace: Yeah. I mean, and it's very easy, like after a suicide to, to look at things and find those pieces and put them together, I think in some suicides, it seems much more obvious than others. Like, Kurt's a perfect example of that, but she just opened the- it's funny how often the yellow pages comes into these accounts, because the yellow pages just like don't matter anymore. So it's kind of funny to see her searching for a private investigator in the yellow pages.
But she finds some guy randomly who's willing to help, his name is Tom Grant. He's in Los Angeles, but he has some people he works with in Seattle, so they start digging into it. They're interviewing his friends. They're trying to find, I guess Kurt often stayed at like seedy motels when he didn't want to go home. So they're trying to find motels. They're trying to find his dealer. In those days there are some accounts of him coming and going from home. There were people house sitting for them while they were gone. And these people were also really messed up on drugs, so like their accounts are sort of murky.
So it turns out what happened was that Kurt found one of his guns that hadn’t been taken away, and he shot and killed himself in the room above their garage, which was like a separate building from their house. So no one thinks to go out there and the person that eventually finds him as an electrician who is just going to their house to do some work. And he happens to go up there because no one answers the front door.
So I think a lot of the rumors begin from this investigator, Tom Grant, who at some point in the next several months comes out and says, “I don't think Kurt Cobain killed himself. I think Courtney had him murdered.”
Mike: What? This private eye says this?
Candace: Yes, he comes out publicly and says this. And he records all of his conversations. So he has tapes and tapes of like phone calls that he had with Courtney.
Mike: Oh, I smell a book deal. Did this guy try to cash in?
Candace: This guy is really interesting. I gotta be honest, as I was researching I was trying really hard not to dig so deep into the conspiracy theories, because I just don't want to give them as much credence as we give to the things that seem more legitimate about a person. But it is a rabbit hole for sure. And he has a website, you know, I'll let you guys know, but I don't think we should link to it. I mean, people can find it. People can find it themselves. It looks appropriately geo-cities.
Sarah: I can see it in my head. It is like, it's a black background with green, like lime green words. Right?
Candace: With weird multiple side menus. And like weird, like flashy gifs of text.
Sarah: Yeah. And 80% of the links are dead. And it's like, at this point it's very charming and historic, but it's not trustworthy.
Candace: And I'm just sort of like, if you want people to take you seriously, can't you take your website seriously?
Sarah: But that is them taking their website seriously. So I think that answers the question. They're like, “This looks boss.” And this theory makes sense.
Candace: I feel like whenever there's a conspiracy that comes from some sort of seed of something shady going on. There are weird, shady things around his death, like the fact that he had been missing for several days. But I honestly think a lot of it is that all of these people were on lots of drugs and their accounts of what happens are not going to be absent of holes. That's not an excuse and it's not, I don't know. It's honestly just like, a lot of these people are on drugs and they just don't remember what happened.
Sarah: Well, and even people who weren't on drugs don't remember what happened. Whenever a conspiracy theory is based on, like, there was this tiny inconsistency between what someone said then versus now. It's like, of course there was like, no one remembers anything. We remember our childhoods and we remember Steven Spielberg movies, and that is kind of it.
Mike: What are the other inconsistencies, Candace?
Candace: Okay. So there's a very sensational documentary that came out a few years ago called, Soaked in Bleach, specifically about how Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain. And one of the theories in this is that his suicide note was faked.
The bulk of his suicide note is about wow he can't get joy out of playing music anymore. Most of it is about his fans and him as a musician. And then at the very end, there's like a message to Courtney and Frances Bean. The theory is that he was actually writing a letter to his fans to quit music. And then Courtney faked the last portion by copying his handwriting and turned it into a suicide note.
Sarah: So that's the kind of thing that's just based on a whole, I mean, that's because there's so many conspiracy theories that are just like fanfiction, I'm sure that Courtney had some phone calls with this guy and told him some mixed information. It seems true, like, right. He has these tapes. You can hear some of these tapes where she's saying things to him and she doesn't entirely know what's going on. She's on some drugs also. And she seems like she's changing her story a little bit. But that totally jives with Courtney Love. Longtime friends will be like, “Oh yeah, half of what Courtney says is not true.” And so because I feel like that's just how she is and how she engages with people, like it doesn't, to me, that's not evidence that she had him murdered.
Mike: Right. So the inconsistency is actually more evidence that her version of events is true because it's congruent with her personality. So yeah. Can we rewind to sort of Kurt and Courtney, like how, how did they meet and stuff?
Candace: Sure. So I have this spreadsheet that I made, like a timeline spreadsheet of Courtney Love’s life. Sarah is going to makes fun of me because she knows that spreadsheets are such a Virgo thing to do.
Sarah: I'm just so happy to have your spreadsheet at our table with us today. I never make spreadsheets. I make Google Docs. Mike, do you ever do spreadsheets?
Mike: Are you kidding me? Extremely.
Candace: I love it.
Sarah: Oh, I'm the only one who's not making spreadsheets, then. I'm in the minority.
Candace: So just a little background on Courtney. So Courtney is born in 1964 in San Francisco. Her name is not really Courtney Love.
Candace: She didn't actually have the last name Love.
Mike: What was Courtney Love's real name? What's her birth certificate name?
Candace: Oh my God. It's not on my spreadsheet. I have it written somewhere else somewhere.
Mike: Wow. Betraying Virgos everywhere.
Candace: I know it's awful. Her original name was Courtney Michelle Harrison. That was her, Harrison is her dad's last name, her mom's full name is Linda Carol.
Mike: I can see why she changed it. Courtney Love is a doper name.
Sarah: So I think of Courtney Love as a Portlander.
Candace: She kind of is, but she was born in San Francisco.
Sarah: I feel like she's one of ours. I’ll put it that way.
Candace: I would say yes. Cause she talks a lot of shit about Portland and Eugene.
Sarah: That's what Portlanders do. We talk a lot of shit about Portland.
Candace: So she's born in San Francisco. She's the first, the oldest child. Her father is like a Grateful Dead roadie. So he's really involved in the Dead. And Courtney, as a kid, appears in a photograph on the back of a Grateful Dead album.
Sarah: Of course she does. That's lovely.
Candace: But her parents get divorced when she's really young. And then they move up to Oregon in, I think when she's like five or six.
Mike: With her mom or her dad?
Candace: Just with her mom. She barely, barely knows her dad. Side note, her dad eventually came out and got on fucking Tom Grant's side.
Sarah: Oh no. Oh no.
Mike: Oh, that's dark dude. My daughter killed her husband. That's bad.
Sarah: That's a very unchill thing to do Mr. Dead Roadie.
Candace: Very unchill.
Mike: So what's her childhood like in Oregon?
Candace: So she moves to Oregon with her mom, who goes to the University of Oregon in Eugene to become a psychotherapist. And she is kind of a troubled child. Her mom gets remarried, and she suddenly has like, I think three step siblings. And she's still the oldest. She actually has a really good relationship with her stepdad, who sounds like he was a pretty nice guy.
Sarah: A nice stepdad is a nice little bar of cherries in the slot machine of life.
Candace: So she eventually gets sent to reform school because I think she stole like a Kiss t-shirt from a Walgreens or something like that.
Mike: Very on brand.
Candace: This is another story that has changed. Like there are so many different accounts of it, but in one interview she describes it in detail that she got busted for stealing a Kiss t-shirt, but it was after she went to a Kiss show and talked her way backstage to meet the band. And you know, but anyway, she gets busted for stealing a t-shirt, and her mom, I think doesn't know what to do with her and sends it to reform school. And then her mom moves to New Zealand without her. Her family moves to New Zealand and just like leaves her in boarding school.
Sarah: Oh my God. New Zealand is so far away.
Mike: Like the farthest away you can get.
Sarah: Did they discuss this in advance, or were they just like, “Quick, Courtney's in reform school, let’s go live with the Hobbits”?
Candace: Yeah. Who knows? I mean, like I said, there's so many like mixed accounts of her childhood, but it seems like reform school is a thing that happened and that her mom definitely moved to New Zealand.
So anyhow, she's in reform school for a couple of years. And she's released at 16 and legally emancipated from her parents. I don't know how that works. And her grandparents, who I think were really wealthy, had set up a trust fund for her. So at this time she's just literally on her own with maybe a $500 a month trust fund.
Mike: Was not expecting her to be a trust fund kid.
Candace: Yeah. Weird. Huh. So she starts to earn some extra money stripping underage in Oregon.
Sarah: And Candace, did she go to our Alma mater Portland State at some point?
Candace: She did. I was just going to get to this.
Sarah: I'm very proud of this.
Candace: She spent a couple semesters at Portland State, where Sarah and I met.
Mike: And also Portland is most famous for it's donuts and it's strip bars. Was she stripping to get through college? Because that's actually like a pretty lucrative college job.
Sarah: At this stake in the game, I don't know what other job you're going to get that is going to help you pay for college if it's not like day trading.
Candace: Yes. Likely. Because it sounds like based on a couple accounts, all she had was this like $500 trust fund. So I'm sure that stripping was paying towards college, but that wasn't really working out. So she moves to Dublin.
Candace: Yes. And she does a couple more semesters at Trinity. And then she's kind of just hopping around Europe for a while and still stripping kind of on and off. This is when she starts to get really into the music scene.
Sarah: Has she talked about that time in her life? Like, did she have sort of generally positive or generally negative feelings about it or anything like that?
Candace: She kind of talks about it the way that she talks about everything else, which is just like, yeah, this is a thing I did for a while. This is the interesting thing about Courtney Love, and I think this is one of the reasons why she's unlikable to a lot of people. She doesn't do the thing that celebrities do when they're past, their messed up years, where they show some like extreme growth as a person, or as growing up, you know.
Sarah: They're like, now I'm a mom.
Candace: It's kind of like, yeah, I was kind of fucked up for a while. Or like, yeah, I lived in Liverpool on the street, or, yeah, I stripped.
Sarah: It's the classic affectlessness of a grunger.
Candace: So she's between 16 and 18. She's hopping around Europe doing some strip in, listening to some music. She goes back to Portland for a while. Does some more stripping, that doesn't work out. She ends up in Japan stripping for a minute.
Sarah: I'm impressed by how she's like, she's seeing the world, you know.
Candace: So she starts playing music with some other women who are actually women who end up in other big bands, like Kat Bjelland, who was eventually in Babes in Toyland, which was another big grunge band. And Jennifer Finch, who was eventually an L7, which was like another big grunge band.
Mike: I remember L7.
Sarah: I think of L7 whenever I remove a tampon.
Candace: She also is the front person for Faith No More, before Faith No More was famous.
Mike: No way.
Candace: For like six months or something. But she claims they didn't know how to work with women. And so that, you know, she quits that band.
Mike: Wow. What a cameo.
Candace: I think around like 1985 or 86, she decides to settle in LA because she wants to pursue an acting career. And her first role, she was a very minor role in Sid and Nancy, which was 1986 directed by Alex Cox. She went out for the part of Nancy but didn't get it. She got the part of like one of their friends. So that's her first kind of visible acting role. And then she does his next movie. She had the lead role in his next movie called Straight to Hell.
Sarah: I love Straight to Hell.
Mike: Tell me if I'm wrong here, but is there also some foreshadowing of the malignery of Courtney love? Because she's demonstrating some level of ambition. She wants to be an actress, but that didn't work out. So she switched to music. Like I can just imagine all of these things being used as ammunition against her later.
Candace: Yeah. I mean, she's a very ambitious person and people rail against her for it. Because if a man is ambitious, that's the beginning and end of it. But if a woman is that means she just like destroys everyone in her path to get what she wants.
Sarah: And also that she dared to want to have a career and to be, I don't know, I mean, the idea of conventional beauty is like so weird and poisonous in itself because it really means marketable beauty. But like, you know, she had a normal body. She didn't have like a perfect symmetrical face. She didn't have perfect teeth. And also like grunge and sort of like Alex Cox movies mean that like you just look really greasy all the time. Men can do that in a way that women can't.
Candace: The thing of beauty comes up a lot with her in a lot of interviews as she starts to get famous. Because she seems to be struggling between like, fuck you, I'm going to look however I want to fucking look. And also like she got a nose job, and like when she got a nose job before she was famous, because she felt like if I don't, nothing will ever happen for me.
Sarah: I've had that thought, now I work in podcasts.
Candace: Well and she constantly, in a lot of interviews once she is famous, she's always referring to this time when she was fat. I mean, she was just like a little heavier than she is when she's really famous. It's really funny. Like, you can tell that she's trying to push against that by talking about it in the first place. She's always talking about her zits. She's always talking about how she used to be fat. She talked openly about getting a nose job. And so I think it was starting to bring to light the fact that this is what women have to do.
Sarah: Yeah. I think women who talk about having plastic surgery openly are also punished.
Mike: Oh totally, yeah. I mean, this is part of the whole grunge aesthetic and the limitations of the grunge aesthetic in that, by talking about her fat period and her zits and stuff, she's sort of couching it as a critique of conventional beauty standards. Like I wasn't always this quote unquote beautiful, but she's also talking about it in like a stigmatizing way.
Sarah: Well, it feels like her personal insecurity is guiding her contribution to the discourse, which is the worst sentence I've said all month.
Candace: Or the most academic sentences you’ve said all month maybe. But if you think of it in the, I mean, yes, like we can definitely slap that assessment on it now. But 30 years ago she's coming up against Madonna and Paula Abdul. It's a different world that she's entering. Right?
So we had talked about her little mini acting career, but then that wasn't really going anywhere. So she decides, oh, well, I'm going to go back to playing music. And so she moves to LA, she puts an ad in a newspaper to recruit band members, and that's how she meets Eric Erlandson, who was like long time Hole guitarist.
Sarah: That's how Joan Jett found the Blackhearts.
Candace: I think they date for a while. She's briefly married to someone named James Morland, who was in a band called The Leaving Trains. Never heard of them. She had her marriage annulled. There's not a whole lot about that out in the world. The band starts to get a little more popular. She's still stripping at a place, I think she's stripping at a place called Jumbo's Clown Room, which is kind of a notorious place in Los Angeles. And it just sounds horrible.
Sarah: Wow. Yeah. Yeah, no.
Candace: it just sounds horrifying.
Sarah: Doesn’t put me in the right mood for what it's selling.
Candace: So Hole starts to play a lot more. They're doing some touring. They get kind of, they get noticed out in England, is like where they start to have a following, but they're also kind of coming up in the grunge scene, which is starting to come about in the late eighties, early, very early nineties. And this is when she first meets Kurt.
So there's mixed accounts of when they're first meeting was. There's one that has the meeting in 1989 at a club. There's one that has a meeting in January 1990 in Portland. They run into each other at an L7 show in Los Angeles in 91. It's just kind of all over the place. But the one that I think is the most lasting, so I think they've met a couple of times. She sort of starts to develop a crush on him and she starts to send him letters and he just is like ignoring her. But one of the things that she sends him is a heart shaped box, which eventually becomes a very famous Nirvana song. According to one account that I've read that they have a couple like long phone calls. So they definitely like, kind of know each other, but nothing was really happening with them.
And in 91, this is when she's dating Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, who are also just kind of starting to get famous. And she flies out to Chicago to see Billy and she gets to his place and there's another girl there and there's a big fight, which seems to just happen with Courtney Love, often. And they split up in a very dramatic fashion. And then she's just kind of wandering around Chicago and sees that Nirvana is playing at the Metro. And so she shows up at the show and she goes home with Kurt. And that's the beginning of their relationship.
Mike: So he's like a revenge fuck. Because like we've all been in that mood, like I'm going out, and the first person I see.
Sarah: I feel like Kurt Cobain reminds me of like there's footage that I love of Neil Young, performing on the BBC when he was like 25 or something, and he's like totally shy, not making eye contact with anyone or anything. And he's like, “Here's a song about a person on a ranch”, and then he like plays Old Man and he like is Neil Young. IsKurt Cobain like that? You know, that sort of man, that's like, Oh, I don't, I don't even know why I'm on this stupid stage. And then they like start doing their act and you're like, there it is.
Candace: Sort of, I mean, Kurt just seems like he had a personality that was very contradictory. Like he was really ambitious, but sort of presented himself as someone who didn't give a fuck.
Sarah: Right. It seemed like he gave every fuck.
Mike: There's also this like built in weird dichotomy in like grunge fame, because the whole thing with grunge is we don't care, we're authentic, we're greasy. But then also like you're then represented by like the same major record labels that are representing Brittany Spears and Jessica Simpson, and there's this entire machine. But you have to pretend the whole time that you don't want that and that you're doing that reluctantly. And it's like a really fine line because this was the time when, like the worst thing that an artist could be was a sellout.
Sarah: This is why I like Instagram influencers, because like everyone knows it's fake. Like no one thinks these women are like cutting up eight kinds of food and putting it all on a rainbow platter, you know, every morning to feed their four children, just a rainbow of fruit. We're just like, thank you for making this useless picture for me.
Candace: Yeah. It's interesting that you bring up like Britney Spears and stuff, because I think what the era that they were, they were coming into was like a mix between Britney Spears, type people like Paula Abdul and Debbie Gibson who were big at that time. But also eighties hair metal, which was huge, like Guns and Roses was the hugest band pre Nirvana. And there's a really, there's a big feud between Kurt and Courtney and Axl Rose, which we'll get to. The world that Nirvana was coming into was very much ruled by these like really misogynistic metal rock bands were like, all it was about was like getting wasted and fucking supermodels.
Sarah: I feel like, because I grew up watching VH1 in the late nineties, and I feel like most of the VH1 at that point. Because I watched the Motley Crue Behind The Music like six times, I had never heard a Motley Crue song, but like I knew all about how Nikki Sixx was like injecting Jack Daniels into his veins. And you hear about the groupies, the legions of groupies, and you're like, well, that's what rock is, I guess. And I'm eleven.
Candace: Yeah. And Kurt, he was like an outspoken feminist in a typical like early nineties way, but like what other people weren't doing at the time.
Mike: And the hair metal bands definitely weren't doing that. So do Kurt and Courtney get really serious, like immediately after Kurt’s show in Chicago?
Candace: Yes. They get immediately serious. So this is October of 1991 and they're married in February of 1992.
Mike: Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Like for three, four months.
Candace: So they get really serious really quickly. And heroin comes into their relationship very early.
Mike: So neither one of them were using before?
Candace: No, they were. Both of them separately. Courtney had already had a problem with heroin at some point and had gone through rehab and had cleaned up. Kurt had tried heroin, I would say probably like eight to ten times or something like that at that point. But what's really interesting is that he had written in his journals that he wanted to become a junkie. And this is really, let me get this passage up, if you guys don't mind, I know you like reading passages sometimes.
So this is from this book called Heavier than Heaven, which is a beautiful biography of Kurt Cobain. This passage is about right after they met. “They reunite at a pro-choice benefit in Los Angeles. Backstage they seem very much together and many remarked how they made the perfect rock and roll couple. Yet later in the evening behind closed doors, their relationship took a more destructive bent. For the first time Kurt brought up the idea of doing heroin. Courtney paused for a moment, but then agreed. The scored dope, went to his hotel, The Beverly Garland, prepared the drugs, and he injected her. Courtney couldn't stand to handle the needle herself, so Kurt, the former needle phobe, handled things for himself and for her. After getting high, they went out walking and came upon a dead bird. Kurt pulled three feathers off the animal and passed one to Courtney, holding the two others in his hand. ‘This is for you. This is for me’, he said, and then holding the third feather in his hand, he added, ’And this is for our baby we're going to have’. She laughed and later remembered this as the point when she first fell in love with him”.
And then it goes on to talk about how, at that point, heroin was no longer just kind of a recreational thing. Like he had already kind of gotten it in his head. And I think part of it is that it helped his stomach problems. And let me read this as well. So this is from Kurt's journal. “When I got back from our second European tour with Sonic Youth, I decided to use heroin on a daily basis because of an ongoing stomach ailment that I had been suffering from for the past five years. And that had literally taken me to the point of wanting to kill myself. For five years, every single day of my life, every time I swallowed a piece of food, I would experience an excruciating burning nauseous pain in the upper part of my stomach lining. The pain became even more severe on tour due to lack of proper and regimented eating schedule and diet. Since the beginning of this disorder, I've had 10 upper and lower gastrointestinal procedures, which found an inflamed irritation in the same place. I consulted 15 different doctors and tried about 50 different types of ulcer medication. The only thing I found that worked were heavy opiates. There were many times that I found myself literally incapacitated in bed for weeks vomiting and starving. So I decided if I feel like a junkie as it is, I may as well be one.”
Mike: Holy shit.
Sarah: It's interesting that we just, we don't think of this as a chronic pain story at all.
Candace: Yeah. Well, emotional disorders are a chronic pain as well, and we don't necessarily think of that either.
They end up getting married in February of 1992, but before that, Courtney learns that she's pregnant. And because they had been doing drugs, they're both worried about the baby. And Courtney is more like, “Oh, I'm fine”. I mean, she thinks of herself as this huge, sturdy, like Herculean figure like she kind of is. I mean, she's kind of like an Amazon woman. She talks about herself that way a lot. So she thinks of herself as really resilient and didn't seem worried about it at all, but they go to see a doctor. They both go through detox. She goes to multiple doctors who say, it's fine, don't worry about it, just stop from now on. Kurt does not stay clean during her pregnancy, but she does the rest of her pregnancy. So this is throughout 1992.
So they get married in February 1992 in Hawaii. This year, Nirvana is recording a new album, Courtney's pregnant, and the big thing that happens is that she gets interviewed by Vanity Fair. This is a huge deal for her because she thinks this is going to help her career and she's really trying to support her band and get the word out about them. But she also knows the image of her and Kurt at the time. And they make jokes constantly about how they're John and Yoko, like they're totally aware that they're that trope. It comes out variously in interviews with them. And they're also really aware of the Sid and Nancy thing, and this thing that people are constantly like, oh, are they the next John and Yoko, or are they the next Sid and Nancy? You know.
Sarah: Well, what I learned from the Hundred Most Shocking Moments in Rock, Sid and Nancy had a tumultuous relationship. This is Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, and Sid apparently had a blackout during which he stabbed Nancy to death. And shortly thereafter, he killed himself and it was this terrible punk rock, murder suicide. So like, if it's like the John and the Yoko or the Sid and the Nancy, I feel like it's the natural conclusion to a relationship is that only one of us will make it out alive.
Candace: So this is kind of knowing that people are starting to know who Courtney Love is. And to have a cover story in Vanity Fair is a pretty big deal. And Courtney is just historically obsessed with celebrity. She wants to be famous and she's not secretive about that, but their daughter is born on August 18th and the profile comes out shortly before that. And the Vanity Fair thing is really pivotal for them because basically this article paints her like a junkie who was doing drugs the entire time she was pregnant. But I have to say, it's like, I read it like three or four times when I was doing this research, and it's a really well-written article that seems to get Courtney Love, like really well. But at the same time, it includes a ton of quotes from anonymous people who are saying things about Courtney Love and her drug use.
Sarah: Well, so what gets included, can we hear some excerpts?
Candace: Yeah, so. “In the circle she travels in, Kurt Cobain is regarded as a Holy man. Courtney meanwhile is viewed by many as a charismatic opportunist. There have been rampant reports about the couple’s drug problems, and many believe she introduced Kurt to heroin. They're expecting a baby this month and even the most tolerant industry insiders fear for the health of the child. It is appalling to think that she would be taking drugs when she knew she was pregnant, says one close friend. We're all worried about that baby. Twenty different sources throughout the record industry maintain that the Cobain's have been heavily into heroin. Earlier this year, Kurt told Rolling Stone that he was not taking heroin, but Courtney presents another extremely disturbing picture. We went on a binge. She says referring to a period last January when Nirvana was in New York to appear on Saturday Night Live.” So this would be the January before they got married. “We did a lot of drugs. We got pills. Then we went down to Alphabet City and Kurt wore a hat, I wore a hat, and we copped some dope. Then we got high and went to SNL. After that, I did heroin for a couple of months.”
It's murky because it would have been right around the time that she was like about to get pregnant. But no one knows exactly when she found out she got pregnant. We do know that she found out she got pregnant. She knew after that, that she had done drugs when she was pregnant, before she realized she was pregnant, and then got off. It's, it's complicated. And like, like we said, at the very beginning, like she is a complicated person who has done some bad things, you know? And like, it's easy to say like, Oh God, if you knew that there was a chance you might be pregnant, if you were having unprotected sex, you shouldn't have been doing drugs. You know, I think it's really easy to say those things. And it's not a responsible thing for someone to do drugs when they're possibly pregnant. But I think the levels to which this was bad for them get so severe.
So firstly, Kurt, who is someone who is so worried about his reputation and what the world thinks of him, and now his family, is devastated by this article. And Courtney is just like, whatever, blow it off. And he is just so angry. And Courtney, a number of times, cites this as the beginning of like the end for him, the Vanity Fair article. Because she just thinks it's a sign that he can't handle what the media is going to do to him and them as a family. Part of that is that Kurt and Courtney, typical Gen X-ers, grew up in broken families like children of, or divorces, latchkey kids. And that was just a really heartbreaking thing for Kurt. And I think they really wanted to have some kind of normal family. And I'm laughing when I say that because I'm like, what kind of normal family just has two parents that are like on drugs all the time. But they really did love their child so much and were so tender with her and so tender with each other. And I think that he really wanted to break that cycle of like, them having such bad childhoods with their parents and wanted to have a good childhood. And before she even has the baby, this article comes out.
Mike: There's also the thing. I mean, there's so much shame associated with addiction to, most people that are addicted to substances are not like super wild about it. They’re not like, “I'm an addict and it's awesome”. Most of them like go through the cycle of telling themselves that they're never going to do it again and then giving into their cravings. And especially with heroin where the cravings are so bad, and the withdrawal is so bad. I mean, seeing yourself and your wife depicted as heroin addicts and having the country like debating your heroin habit, which is probably something you're really ashamed of, is just like triply upsetting.
Candace: Yeah. Shortly after this comes out, they have the baby. And a representative from the Los Angeles Department of Family Services, Family and Child Services, comes to the hospital with a copy of Vanity Fair and says, “We have to investigate this”.
Sarah: Oh my God. Oh, wow.
Mike: So do the authorities take Francis Bean away?
Candace: Yes. They aren't allowed to take her home. And I think a week later, there's a court hearing and it's ruled that they have to have supervised visits with Frances Bean for six months.
Mike: Is there any evidence other than the Vanity Fair article?
Candace: Not that I'm aware of, but possibly.
Sarah: Wow. That's really heartbreaking.
Mike: Because on some level you would think like, well, yes, like this is why we have service agencies like this, is to protect children from really, really dangerous home situations. But on the other hand, it's weird to sort of focus that on celebrities. And it's weird to focus that on a case where the only evidence is a journalistic account.
Sarah: It's a case where celebrity journalism is suddenly being held to the same standards as actionable information given to social workers, when we know that one of the hallmarks of tabloid celebrity journalism. In tabloid journalism, if someone said it, you can print it. And I don't know if Vanity Fair is on a completely different and higher scale of ethics than that in this moment, they might not be.
Candace: This kind of, yeah, like that was a really bad, bad monent for them.
Mike: It also feeds the cycle of resentment of the media, resentment of the cops. Like this kind of sense of like, it's me and you against the world.
Candace: Yes. Which is a kind of Sid and Nancy thing. Yeah. But I mean, what I find really charming. So, you know, they always joke about the John and Yoko and the Sid and Nancy, but the guy who directed the documentary Montage of Heck and an interview, he said he likes to describe them as the Lucy and Ricky on heroin, because they loved each other so much.
Sarah: Yeah. And like, what are the good parts of the relationship like? Can we talk about that a little bit?
Candace: It's really sweet. They send each other love faxes. Which was the most charming, like nineties thing ever. Like sometimes x-rated.
Mike: The only thing I can think of more nineties than that would be if they fed each other's Tamagotchis.
Candace: But yeah, I mean, it's, it seems really sweet. You know, they both come from the same place, kind of poor backgrounds from the Northwest, broken families. Like they really understood each other in that way. And they're both really ambitious. At the same this is all going on, you know, she has Hole. And Hole’s first album came out in 91, Pretty on the Inside, and they're working on their second album while they're in this relationship. This is a good time to bring up another rumor, which is that Kurt Cobain wrote all of Courtney Love’s music.
Sarah: And it's a belief that women aren't biologically able to rock.
Candace: I mean, okay. So as someone who's in a relationship with another creative person, you know, my husband and I are both writers. We talk about our writing all the time. We share ideas all the time. That's just part of the process. And if we're getting down to the nitty gritty, like yeah, he probably did come up with like a riff or two on the album, but also she helped him write Heart Shaped Box. Like, you know what I mean? And not just because she sent them a heart-shaped box, like literally, like there's, there's a journal entry of him talking about how they wrote it.
Sarah: That's what people in relationships do. It's interesting that this is a theory that takes something that is really like romantic and turns it into something sinister.
Mike: It turns it into something one way, right. That it's like, she’s this fraud because she's taking his ideas and putting her name on them. Whereas he, of course the genius of the relationship, is just like spouting these ideas everywhere and is 100% responsible for his own creations and like 50% responsible for hers, like there's no cross mixing.
Candace: Yeah. Yes. I mean, it's such a simple rumor too, because it's just like she had a career before she met him. She had an album, she wrote songs, there's a book, it's called Dirty Blonde, and it's the diaries of Courtney Love. And it's just all these like scraps of paper, you know, from her childhood and adolescence. And there's just like, you can see the through line of like Hole's lyrics in her writings, through her adolescence, and her twenties, as you can, with most musicians, as you can with Kurt, if you look at, you know, if you look into people's diaries and journals, like you're going to see that stuff. And I just want to read something in, you know, that little 33 and a third book series about albums.
So I read the one about Live through this, which is really good. It's written by a female music critic named Anne Crawford. Courtney's talking about when they got their first major record contract. So for their first album, they were on like a small indie label. And then once she starts to get more famous, she's starting to get all these, these deals offered to her. And so when she's in a meeting with Geffen, which is also Nirvana's major record label, she says, “I made them pull out Nirvana's contract and everything on there, I wanted more, said Courtney about Hole’s deal with DGC records. “I'm up to half a million for my publishing rights, and I'm still walking. If those sexist assholes want to think that me and Kurt writes songs together, they can come forward with a little more.” And so she just was like, “Fine. If you think that he writes my music, then you got to give me this big record deal.”
Mike: Yeah. Pay me Kurt money. Yeah.
Candace: And she got it.
Mike: Also, I was like too young for any of the grunge stuff. I like, despite growing up in Seattle, like slept through the entire grunge thing. Cause I was like 13 and really into Pink Floyd. But Hole was like one of the better fans of the grunge wave too, right? Like it's not like they were some B list thing. Like my understanding is that Hole's albums have held up very well.
Candace: Absolutely. Live Through This a really freaking good album, and it won album of the year from Rolling Stone in 94 when it came out. And I mean, the tragic thing, is that Live Through This came out four days after Kurt's body was found.
Mike: Oh, is that true? I didn't know that. Wow.
Candace: And so that's another thing that's like rolled into the conspiracy theory was that, Oh, she just like wanted to marry him to make a successful album and like, Oh, isn't that convenient that he died, like right before the album came out.
Sarah: So the theory is that she like decided to become a grunge musician, found a successful grunge musician to seduce, got him to write songs for her, and then when he had written all the songs she wanted, she murdered him.
Candace: Essentially, yes.
Sarah: It's just like, it's not human behavior.
Mike: Can I share the rumor about Courtney Love that I heard in high school? So tell me if you've heard this. I do not know where this comes from, but apparently Courtney Love was playing a show. Some guy in the crowd was like trying to grope her, like grab her legs or her thighs or something. And so she had her period, all over his hand. This was like the story in my high school.
Candace: Sarah, you want to take this one or?
Sarah: Okay. I truly want to know what you know about how menstruation works. Like what is your understanding of the way the blood exits the body.
Candace: By force!
Mike: This story is really about the lack of sex ed in our public schools. I remember people repeating that story to me, like into my twenties.
Sarah: Wow. It's just, yeah, I don't buy it. Candace?
Mike: We now go to Candace.
Sarah: Have you heard this one before?
Candace: I have not. I've not heard this rumor. Maybe this was specific to the Pacific Northwest, or that it was just one of those things that guys didn't tell girls. But I don't think you can shoot it out with force.
Mike: This has been ‘anatomy corner’ with Mike.
Candace: Yeah. Thanks Mike.
Mike: I did actually know this. But it's funny to me that I didn't know that at like 14 or something when I definitely would have heard this story. And then it's one of those stories, you know, those stories that you hear them when you're young and then you find yourself like retelling them 10 years later. And halfway through telling them, you're like, Oh, this is a fucking lie.
Sarah: Yes. And you're like, I'm realizing that I once had to believe a lot of other things to be true in order for this thing to be true.
Mike: Should we go to the Axl Rose feud now? Where should we go?
Candace: Yeah, so I think the Axl Rose feud happened shortly after this. And Axl might've been angry because they really liked Nirvana and Nirvana continued to refuse to go on tour with them or play any shows with them because Kurt thought he was such a dick.
Mike: Oh, that's interesting.
Candace: But Axl made some comments about Courtney being a junkie mom. After that article came out, they’re backstage at the MTV music awards with Frances Bean, by the way, coolest baby of the 90s. Axl walks by with Stephanie Seymour, who I think it was a model.
Mike: Yes, supermodel. She was in the November Rain video, which I have seen 40,000 times.
Candace: So, you know, Axl's walking by and Courtney just goes, “Hey Axl, will you be the godfather of our child?” Just to start a fight, just cause that's Courtney Love. So Axl ignores her and turns to Kurt and says, “You shut your bitch up or I'm taking you down to the pavement.”
Mike: No way, Axl.
Candace: So Kurt just smiles and laughs. So aware of the fact that like Courtney is just so big and like, so like unflappable.
Sarah: Right, right. And so used to conflict, maybe.
Candace: He just turns to her and he goes, “Okay, bitch, shut up.” Everyone starts kind of laughing. And Axl gets kind of pissed and looks at Courtney and he goes, “Are you a model?” with Stephanie standing next to him. And Courtney goes, “No, are you a brain surgeon?”
Sarah: It's like 14 year old kids about to just like have a fight with each other.
Candace: So I think that was like the crux of the feud.
Mike: And I feel the worst for Stephanie Seymour. She's like, Axl, go ahead and leave me on out of this.
Candace: But anyway, I mean, like just to kind of wind back up to the death. So they have like a rough relationship from the start, a lot of love, but a lot of drugs. There was one really sad thing I read about how she just got so good at dealing with him overdosing that she would like put needles in his balls to wake him up, just so she didn't have to call the Police. Like they know it's just the sad story of how normalized drugs get in a family. And I think for a long time, she wanted to believe that they could just deal with it and not have to do rehab and everything. And he had overdosed six to eight times or something in the last year that he was alive. I mean, it was just very commonplace for them.
Mike: And so he's like unraveling basically.
Candace: Yeah. He's totally unraveling. And a lot of that wasn't seen in the media, despite him being portrayed as kind of a junkie. Like no one really knew the extent of that.
Mike: It's also interesting how, sort of the way that we know how to process that is by boiling it down to this binary of like, did Courtney Love kill him or not? That's not really the right question. And like, it doesn't mean that we're like Courtney Love acted perfectly in all scenarios. Right? It's not that like, she's the good guy of the story, but she's not the bad guy either. Like they're just kind of are no good guys and bad guys, in this.
Sarah: Or are there like two people who would really like to have a good relationship with each other, but you know, have some of the skills and the capacities, but lack others and just, yeah. Like an illustration of how really dire circumstances can become part of daily life.
Candace: Yeah. What seems so sad to me is that I think they so badly wanted to have a kind of happy little household, with their family and they loved their daughter so much. I don't know. Kurt just couldn't reconcile like his life and his stomach pains and his psychic troubles and just everything. You know, we should talk, we should talk for a minute about what happened after he died.
So Kurt’s body is found on a Friday, and the news breaks and goes big really quickly. Two days later, there's a vigil l held in Seattle, 7,000 people show up. Band members speak, there's people from suicide prevention organizations that come and speak. And the purpose of the vigil is not really about Kurt, but about like, let's talk about suicide and why suicide is messed up and why you shouldn't do this. Because there was such a fear immediately that teenagers all across the world were going to start dying by suicide because they idolized Kurt so much. And so it was just kind of like this big public dose of suicide prevention and a huge part of that was that Courtney decided that she wanted to read his suicide note to people. And I don't think she did it with suicide prevention in her mind, but it turned out to be what people in the suicidology community consider to be like a really effective method. And it's something that no one had really done before in such a public way for a celebrity.
And she recorded it in advance, and it was played for the people at the vigil. And it's really sad to hear her read it. And it's just kind of interspersed with her talking about how messed up it is and how it's not better to burn out than fade away. And don't think you should do this. And, you know, it's just raw. It just feels very much like her reading this and her in her grief and her in this moment, just like putting this out there for people because she knows how much his fans care about his music and that are going to be completely lost in not knowing what to do.
And then she shows up there later in the day, she shows up at the vigil and it's like talking to fans and giving away his stuff. And like, just telling people, like, I don't know what this means, but something good can come of it. And she's so disheveled and she's like, clearly hasn't slept in days. And she's like, kind of in a slip. And like, her hair is like up in these messed up pigtails. And like, she just looks like a total mess, which makes complete sense. But when you think of that image of a widow next to like, what people had in their mind of a public widow, which is like the Jackie O, you know, it's a complete 180 from that. And so I think it's easy to look at those images now, 30, almost 30 years later and, and be like, yeah, that's Courtney Love or, yeah, that was the nineties or whatever. But at the time it was kind of revolutionary.
Mike: And then, I mean, what happened to like Hole and stuff? I mean, the next time I became aware of Courtney Love was when she was in The People vs Larry Flint.
Candace: Live Through This comes out four days after Kurt's body is found. She's obviously taking a pause from promoting the album. And I think she takes like three months off or something before they go on tour to promote the album. But during that time, her bassist, her name was Kristen Pfaff, and she has a heroin overdose two months after Kurt. So this is a bad year for Courtney. But she gets a new bassist, they go on tour, and they promote the album and the album does really well. I think they're touring for a while.
Then she has these couple acting gigs in the People versus Larry Flint and Man on the Moon. Hole’s next album, Celebrity Skin, comes out in 1998. So that's four years later and you know, it's good, but it's definitely like pop-ier And I think that disappointed a lot of people who really liked how raw and grungy Lived Through This, and then they kind of fall off. Yeah. She becomes, after that point, I think she just becomes kind of more of a celebrity than a musician or an actor. She's just like a personality.
Mike: This was also, I mean, I remember after those movies came out, Courtney Love becoming this figure that I always kind of cringed when I saw her. Just because it was clear that she was quite erratic, and she oftentimes seemed like she was sort of like high or something and she's just become like more sort of difficult to see around. Right. Or at least, for me.
Candace: No, for me too, definitely. And I think that just having, you know, in the last like six weeks, like rewatched or watched for the first time, many interviews with her, I've been thinking a lot about like, do I actually like Courtney Love, like, do I, and there's a difference between liking someone and like supporting the work that they do, you know? But like, I just like, like I love Hole, I love Live Through This. I love that Courtney kind of set the bar for many women after her to get into rock music and how she was inspiring for people. And I think that's huge even though like, she's definitely one of those people who identifies as a feminist, but hates the feminist infighting. And like in the nineties, she very much didn't openly identify as a feminist because it was such a taboo thing back then, I feel like. Especially as a woman and to get into a traditionally a men's field. She was afraid, I think that identifying as a feminist would mean that no one would take her seriously or would stereotype her that way.
Mike: Right. Which is a very interesting trajectory of that word since then, too, because I remember that too, that nobody identified publicly as a feminist.
Candace: Oh yeah. There was actually, so there's sort of a notorious interview that she did with Barbara Walters not long after Kurt died. It's really kind of cringe-worthy, I think partly because it was Barbara Walters and that's kinda how I feel about many of her interviews. She goes on there and Barbara Walters is like, “Courtney, I'm going to ask you all the questions that I know people are going to ask.” And, and this was, she's a grieving widow.
Sarah: This is Barbara Walters’ excuse for you saying whatever has popped into her head.
Mike: “Courtney, did you have your period on somebody who tried to grope you, yes or no?”
Sarah: “Courtney, are you able to shoot menstrual blood out of your vagina?”
Candace: She asks her what are the worst perceptions people have of you, or the most mistaken perceptions people have of you? She says, “That I'm not smart and that I'm not clean.” And Barbara goes, “Clean off drugs, or physically clean?” And Courtney goes, both. You know, then Barbara starts to talk about Courtney’s struggles with drugs. And she says, “Are you on drugs right now?” And Courtney says, “No.” And she says, “Are you on heroin?”
Sarah: Let's clarify what kind of drug you’re not on.
Candace: For a second you see Courtney kind of break character and like, go like, no. Then, oh my God, it gets so much better. Then she goes, “Are you on Prozac?” As though Prozac is on the same level as heroin.
Sarah: Yeah, Prozac and heroine, the two hot drugs of the 90s.
Candace: Yeah. And then Courtney is like, “No, the Prozac didn't work.” Oh, it's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for both of them.
Sarah: It's embarrassing for the viewer, too.
Mike: Also that little comment, “No, the Prozac didn't work”, is like kind of insightful and she's kind of trolling Barbara Walters and like daring Barbara Walters to go in deeper.
Sarah: And ask a real question.
Mike: This is what I mean by like, she's so smart and it's clear that she understands in layers, what exactly is happening, but it expresses itself in like these little phrases and you're like, Courtney, let's unpack that. Like just, I want to know more.
Candace: Yeah. And I think that she has had enough bad experiences with journalists that she doesn't trust them. There's an interview she does with Howard Stern in 98 that feels very sincere. And I think that maybe Howard Stern does a good job of getting that out of people. But I think she just feels like, here's a person who's not trying to throw me under the bus who just like, wants to talk to me. And even though he makes like dumb, you know, boob jokes the whole time, he actually is asking her good questions and she seems to be acting herself. She is really intelligent and does have a lot to say. She has had quite an extraordinary life and yet no one seems to really know about it.
Mike: Well, that's the thing from like, abandoned child to like 16 year old stripper to aspiring eighties actress to rock star, to lingering celebrity. It's like she's had like six different lives.
Candace: And someone in the last few years had been writing, she sold a biography, like someone was writing a biography about her. And it was supposed to come out because she was on several talk shows talking about it. And then she pulled it. She got into some, I think there was some fight that she got into with a writer over some of the content or something and she pulled it. But it's so hard to pin down who she is because for someone who seems to be telling you everything and, and, you know, forcefully having her period all over people, she's very, maybe private.
Sarah: I think having sort of an intense, public persona often is a way of maintaining privacy.
Mike: Totally. And also, I think there's a lot of people that hide behind the sort of the overshare. That's like a personality type, of like deflecting through over intimacy is actually a way of like, not letting people in because they're sort of pushing people away by telling them too much.
Candace: Yes. Yeah. And at the risk of sounding really like basic and simplistic, she had a fucked up childhood. Her parents divorced, her dad clearly as a terrible person who tried to like call her a murderer. Like without ever even knowing her, I can understand if she doesn't trust adults.
I think there's something very Gen X about thinking the whole world is adults. And like, you need to protect yourself from that. I mean, like I, I'm going to be 40 years old this year and I still think of myself as like a 15 year old kid, and the rest of the people are adults who don't get me, who don't trust me or like, and I don't trust that, you know? I mean, it's such a Gen X thing.
Mike: I knew you were going to bring it back to Candace. I knew that you'd take us back, back to gen X. I also, I mean, another thing with Courtney Love is also like she has the right to be fucking weird, right? It's like she's a Rockstar, her husband killed himself. She's been accused of insane conspiracy theories.
Sarah: You can be unlikable and not a murderer.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. And like, if anybody is allowed to be weird in public, it's Courtney Love. And like, she's not a person I necessarily want to have at my like dinner party or whatever. But like I have no interest in like throwing anything more onto her than she's already had.
Sarah: Just the idea that people are going to end up in public while they're working through some really difficult stuff is inevitable. And we, as the public, can work on relating to that in meaningful ways.
Mike: Yeah. And we don't have to necessarily like celebrate those people, but we don't have to denigrate them either.
Sarah: There's a space in the middle. I mean, what do we want to call that?
Mike: Like a media demilitarized zone, like a weird, like truce space of just like, we're just going to let them do their thing, it’s fine.
Candace: Yes. I just keep coming back to the fact that these are just like two people who loved each other. And now this one person has to live the rest of her life with the world thinking that she killed her husband. When it's so obvious that it was a suicide.
Sarah: And that she gets put into the box of villain, because she was there and maybe because she couldn't save him and do the impossible, you know, the thing that one person can't do for another person. And that, I don’t know, like maybe, to me the lesson is that like, we shouldn't take out our grievances on how relationships work on their survivors.
Mike: Ooh, Sarah, you found it. That's the zone.
Sarah: So it's the, we shouldn't blame the way relationships work on their survivors, autonomous zone.
Mike: Boom. Yes. So thank you for coming on Candace.
Candace: This is great guys. This was awesome.
Mike: So follow Candace on the internet and pre-order her book, we'll leave a link in the description and next time somebody grabs your leg.
Sarah: Have your period on them.
Mike: Have it all over them.
Sarah: You just, you know, I guess shoot some kind of a liquid at them. No, that's no, I think that's bad advice, don't do that.