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Courtney Love Doesn't Want to Be a Grandma 

Wednesday, Mar 9 2016
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When Vanity Fair dispatched Kevin Sessums to profile Courtney Love in the '90s, longtime editor Graydon Carter gave him some advice: "Say 'fuck' a lot and act like that's what you want to do to her."

It worked well enough for the journalist to get close enough to his quarry for the resulting June 1995 cover story, and well enough for Love and Sessums to hold a copy of it on stage at the Curran Theatre during their conversation with playwright Todd Almond Monday evening.

Love co-starred with Almond in his Kansas City Choir Boy during the play's runs in New York, L.A., and in Cambridge, Mass. It's an operatic, mostly dialogue-less chronicle of a composer whose great love vanishes into New York City. Years earlier, Almond had listened to Love's band Hole as a goody-two-shoes teenager plotting his escape from Alliance, Neb., and cast her based on her resemblance to the goddess Athena. Their appearance, part of the Curran: Under Construction's "Groundbreakers" series, showed how a rather unlikely pairing yielded an enduring artistic and personal bond. Jointly or solo, the pair performed four musical numbers, frequently maintaining fierce eye contact.

Almond is soft-spoken, a native of the western Nebraska town best known for Jim Reinders' site-specific sculpture Carhenge. Love, who was born to hippies in San Francisco in 1964 and spent much of her youth here, remains brash and uncensored. She also comes from a more privileged background than you might think: Her adoptive grandmother took her to Gump's, and by her own admission, Love had a small trust fund that allowed her to do "a lot of drugs and start a lot of imaginary bands" during her teenage years. (The whispers that she was an heiress to the Bausch & Lomb fortune were untrue, "a bullshit myth I started for myself.")

Her wild, vice-fueled days are long behind her, Love says. Monday was her 67th day of not smoking, making her a "viable houseguest" in spite of her penchant for watching reruns of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. ("I'm friendly with them. I live in L.A.! They're not going anywhere.") But she's lost none of the intensity that made Hole's album Live Through This an icon of feminist grunge. Years of smoking have deepened her vocals, and when Sessums compared her voice to Marianne Faithfull's, he wasn't wrong. That she wore pearls and a diamond bracelet, and later donned black-and-white reading glasses to brush up on some PJ Harvey lyrics only made Courtney Love that much more bewitching.

There was plenty of amiable talk of where her budding theatrical career might go from here. In what direction does a 51-year-old punk chart her course? Sessums floated the possibility of her playing Blanche Dubois, with Lili Taylor as Stella, in A Streetcar Named Desire. (Or possibly Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) Either way, Love delighted in learning that she'd once freaked out Jessica Lange — who played Dubois in a TV movie — with her youthful antics.

But it always came back to rock 'n' roll, and not merely because Love confessed that, yes, diehard Hole fans sometimes appear at her theatrical performances on the chance she'll stage dive. While Almond cast her with the Greek goddess of war and wisdom in mind, Love's take on their on-stage charisma comes straight from the rock canon: Fleetwood Mac's 1982 Mirage tour. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's mix of love and loathing for one another kept that band going through its most cocaine-addled period, and Love wanted to mirror that energy with Almond on stage. That's not to say their interactions are always so high-voltage; off-stage, they're confidantes who chat over coffee. And when Almond told a story about a performance in which a patron emptied her bladder in the front row, Love was practically squirming in her seat, forcing herself not to finish the anecdote for him.

She brought up Nirvana only once, by way of her pre-Choir Boy theatrical C.V. —noting that she'd tried putting its music to "a non-jazz-hands musical, which is really hard" — but the only direct mention of Kurt Cobain came toward the end of the evening. He and Love had seen PJ Harvey in San Francisco once, at Slim's. She declined to disclose anything about her current significant other except to playfully chastise Sessums for bringing up a short-lived "domestic partnered" status on Facebook.

Sessums asked about Frances Bean, Love's daughter with Cobain, whose relationship with her mother has often been reported as strained. Love had none of that, airily noting that her newly married daughter sometimes calls her Joan — presumably a reference to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest — and sometimes calls her Mother, but "when she's mad at me, she calls me Courtney." Love also refused to entertain the notion that she might become a grandmother sooner or later, repeating the word "no" at least half a dozen times.

She's matured a great deal, but Courtney Love is not ready to grow old. At one point, Sessums observed that all the divas he'd ever interviewed shared one similarity: They acted out of fear to a surprising degree. Did Love have any idea why?

"'Don't let me lose the lights!'" she said, overdramatically ventriloquizing some queen of the stage. "Don't let me lose the lights!"

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

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Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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