I wanted to be laid-back and laugh a lot and not take things too seriously and not be awkward or loud or overly opinionated. Courtney was the opposite of all that. If I embraced Courtney, I would have to embrace everything I was afraid of about myself.
It pains me to think about now, but as a teenager, despite my budding feminist sensibilities, I was hung up on being a “cool girl.” Instead of wanting to be the girl with the most cake, I wanted to be the girl who demanded the least; the easygoing girl, the girl with all the guy friends, the girl who laughed at sexist jokes (even if it was through gritted teeth). Trying to be “one of the guys” never quite worked for me; once, in an attempt to prove that I could rough-house with the best of them, I shoved my eighth grade boyfriend’s best friend down a flight of stairs. By the time we graduated high school, he had not yet forgiven me.
Still, in my nascent understanding of feminism, I kept trying to demonstrate my equality with guys by being as much like them as possible. I didn’t wear pink, though deep in my secret femme-goth soul I yearned for it. I was into things guys were into, like horror movies and loud rock sung by angsty white men. Anything “girly” was anathema. The only way I could see to avoid being trapped in an inferior feminine role was to denounce femininity, as often and as loudly as possible.
A particular point of pride was my love of “good” music—good, of course, as defined by my male friends and boyfriends. It went without saying that most good music was by men. I did love Sleater-Kinney, but they weren’t “girly”; they rocked hard and men respected them, aside from a few snide comments about their “political” lyrics. But in eighth grade, my favorite band of all time was Nirvana.
Loud yet sensitive, tragic yet relatable, grungy yet appealing, Kurt Cobain was the only socially acceptable celebrity crush, even though he had been dead for 10 years. My best friend and I used to fantasize about how we could have saved his life, how we would have listened and understood and soothed his pain, how he just needed someone to share his burdens in the way Courtney Love never could.
Like so many die-hard Nirvana lovers, we blamed Courtney for Kurt’s death. We weren’t conspiracy nuts; we didn’t think she killed him, but wasn’t it sort of her fault regardless? If she had made him happy, he never would have killed himself. And there was a laundry list of other reasons to dislike her: She was a bad mother because she used drugs, she wasn’t that pretty, and her music wasn’t even good. Plus, she probably didn’t write her own songs; Kurt Cobain wrote them for her and then, later, Billy Corgan.
I didn’t so much reach these conclusions on my own as absorb them from the air around me. It was correct. It was self-evident. You couldn’t be into Courtney Love and expect people—especially guys—to take you seriously.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to detect all the flaws in the anti-Courtney logic. For one thing, if Hole sucked, then how could their songs be too good for Courtney to have written them? If one worshiped Kurt Cobain and believed he wrote the tracks for Live Through This, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Live Through This is awesome? To say nothing of the fact that assuming a female rock star doesn’t write her own music is inherently misogynistic and ridiculous. Kurt Cobain did not write Live Through This. Billy Corgan did not write Celebrity Skin. Courtney Love wrote them, and they are amazing. Kurt Cobain himself, an ardent feminist, would be disappointed if he heard the sexism being directed at his wife under the guise of loving his work.
Is Courtney Love by all accounts a flawed, complicated, and often difficult person? Hell yes. Would she get even a quarter of half of the shit she gets if she were exactly the same, only male? No fucking way in this world, friends.
Kurt Cobain’s drug addiction was a tragedy; Courtney Love’s was an indictment of her character. I’m not saying she’s never done anything questionable, but in a world where male celebrities who have beaten and raped people can still be widely beloved, it seems like we could have a little forgiveness for an abrasive but incredibly talented female musician.
When I finally came to my senses later in life and started listening to Hole, I realized that Live Through This and Courtney’s unapologetic feminism are exactly what I needed in my adolescence, exactly the kind of take-no-prisoners, make-no-excuses woman-powered rock that would have made my 14-year-old heart pound with recognition. I needed “Miss World” to cry to when everything felt too immense to handle. I needed “Jennifer’s Body” when I was driving way too fast with the windows down. I needed Courtney Love, fashion icon, brilliant songwriter, difficult woman, feminist.
I’ve found her now, and it’s amazing, but I regret all the years I missed. I’m no longer capable of forming the kind of emotional bond with a band or musician as I could in my teens. Courtney will never occupy the place in my heart that she would have if I’d come across her years ago, if instead of shunning her because she wasn’t cool, I had embraced her un-coolness as well as my own.
Teenage girls need role models like Courtney Love, women who demonstrate the urgency of being complicated and messy and sometimes unlikeable and loud and demanding and refusing to back down. Courtney was emblematic of The Other Girls, as in “I’m not like those other girls.” I wanted to be laid-back and laugh a lot and not take things too seriously and not be awkward or loud or overly opinionated. Courtney was the opposite of all that. If I embraced Courtney, I would have to embrace everything I was afraid of about myself.
As an adult, I finally understand the importance of being the girl with the most cake. I’m tired of trying to pass for a Cool Girl who doesn’t care if everyone else gets served first. I’m way past caring whether I can hang out with the guys, and I’ve finally reached a point where I care more about what I like than about who likes me.
So this is an apology to both my adolescent self and to Courtney Love: I’m sorry I didn’t give either of you the chance you deserved.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. Her first book will be published by Plume in early 2016.