The Worst '90s Relic: Booing Courtney Love

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- For a brief moment, Nirvana's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had me rethinking my reluctance to attend the ceremony in Brooklyn.

Dave Grohl thanked every drummer who ever played in Nirvana, paid tribute to his heroes (including most of The Melvins), thanked his cool parents and implored young musicians to keep at it -- with help from a lot of F bombs in between. Krist Novocelic thanked all Nirvana's fans and turned the focus back to Kurt Cobain and those who got the band started. Cobain's mother, Wendy O'Connor, said little, but had her words land hardest of all. Acknowledging that the Kurt she knew might have taken a more aloof approach to the Hall of Fame than everyone on stage, she drove the greater point of her presence home succinctly: "I just miss him so much. He was such an angel."

It could have ended there. For the angrier, least realist onlookers it probably did. But Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, was given the opportunity to speak. Greeted initially with cheers, Love couldn't get to the "This is my family I'm looking at right now, all of you" portion of her speech without the room disintegrating into a back-and-forth of supportive shouts and droning boos.


Yes, the hug of Dave Grohl after years of fighting over Nirvana's rights and legacy looked awkward, but none of us have sat in on conversations between the two of them in recent years. The fact is, she kept it short, she turned the attention back to Cobain and she noted that 20 years ago Cobain may not have loved the idea of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he would have loved having Michael Stipe introduce him and being with his band and family.

For this, she was booed. She's received a lot worse.

Courtney Love has been a polarizing figure for reasons I've never entirely reconciled. She's been blamed for introducing Cobain to heroin, but his own diary entries admit that he began using it to self-medicate his chronic pain from Crohn's Disease. She's been portrayed as a careerist and opportunist after ascending to fame shortly after Cobain's suicide, but Spin Magazine's oral history of her band Hole's 1994 album Live Through This reminds us that the album was completed before Cobain died -- and despite his unsolicited input -- and that the band also had to cope with the death of bassist Kristen Pfaff just months after it was released.

She was viewed as unfeeling for jumping right into a film career and an acclaimed role in 1995's The People vs. Larry Flynt, though that was around the same time that Love -- who admits she was coping by using any number of drugs at her disposal -- punched Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna at Lollapalooza. It's the drugs that most folks latch on to: From Vanity Fair outright accusing her of being on heroin during her pregnancy with daughter Frances Bean Cobain (which Love has repeatedly denied) to their role in her suicide attempt in July of 2004, 10 years after Cobain's death. She's been forced into rehab and has been clean by her own account -- and largely quiet -- since 2007.

But with the 20th anniversary of Cobain's death and the reunion of the post-Live Though This lineup of Hole this year, Love's merry little band of armchair critics have dusted off their flannel and come out of the woodwork once again. Some of them are truthers who just can't seem to believe that Cobain wasn't murdered, some just wait for any new wrinkle in Cobain's suicide to appear so they can pin the blame on Love, some just hate the fact that she was still alive dealing with drug problems and fame while Cobain was dead. Some just got off on declaring her an unfit mother, never thinking about what that meant for their idol Kurt Cobain by comparison.

Then there are the idiots who make with the Yoko Ono comparisons, though Love herself addressed that particular topic 21 years ago in NME:

...this woman put up with racial inequality from Fleet Street, she put up with being accused of breaking up the best band in the world [The Beatles], she put up with people's idea that she castrated this man and then, worst of all, she had her best friend, her husband, the person she lived for, die in her arms in front of a fortress that she'd hidden herself in for twenty years. And I just feel that the world media should apologize to her because she handled it with so much dignity.

The world seems reluctant to give Love any kind of similar apology and, at worst, brands her a murderer despite the fact that all evidence has and continues to point to Kurt Cobain ending his own life. Dave Grohl has repeatedly talked about the importance of getting out from underneath the pain of Cobain's death and moving on. Novocelic purposefully avoided the spotlight for many years to reach that same end. Forget an apology, Courtney Love has never been afforded the same opportunity despite spending every bit as much time in the public eye as Grohl -- and she gets nothing but jeers for handling anything Cobain-related in any way other than the most self-destructive option possible.

A couple of days after seeing love's speech at the Hall of Fame induction, I revisited her 1999 film 200 Cigarettes. She'd been working with The People Vs. Larry Flynt director Milos Forman on the Jim Carrey-led Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon and he'd continued to insist on absolute sobriety from her during shooting. This had some great residual benefits for the ensemble comedy 200 Cigarettes, where Love was one of the film's few bright spots as a love interest for Paul Rudd's recently dumped male lead. Overloaded with an I Love The '90s cast including Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, Dave Chappelle, Kate Hudson, the Affleck brothers and Jay Mohr, 200 Cigarettes miscast Love as the rebound girl for a guy dumped by Janeane Garofalo, but Love turned in one of the decade's few earnest comedic performances and provided some of the only onscreen energy that didn't involve Elvis Costello popping into the frame for a few seconds.

It, like Live Thorough This and The People Vs. Larry Flynt, showed just how good Love could be when she was at her best. It's just a shame that, 20 years later, detractors still want her to be a mess because of some perceived crime against them, Nirvana and humanity in general.

Courtney Love isn't without her problems, but at least she attempts to move on from them every so often. Courtney Love's critics have only gotten uglier since the '90s. That they still have time in their lives to go down to the Barclay Center to boo and curse her says less about Love than it does about those she's attempted to avoid.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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