America gave the world the concept of celebrity, the idea of stars who inhabit a rarified world that’s entirely separate to your own, one that you can watch on TV and dream about one day being a part of. In recent years, the whole idea of stardom has been undermined somewhat by the advent of reality TV, with its Warholian promises of fame for being entirely ordinary, but still, there’s a class of people who seem to dwell in a parallel universe of VIP areas and paparazzi. Stepping into that world, even for half an hour, is a strange experience.
So it is when I find myself sitting backstage at a Chelsea TV studio with Courtney Love, interviewing her for Jmag and Inpress. What’s she like? Well, she’s as you’d expect, really. She’s larger than life in every respect – a good 6’2″, brash, extroverted, referring to Lou [Reed] and Rick [Rubin] and Michael [Stipe] by their first names, full of outlandish anecdotes, punctuating them with sudden uproarious laughter. It’s hard to know what to make of someone like this, about who you’ve heard and read so much over so many years. It’s hard to separate the person from the persona. But my immediate and surprisingly strong reaction is that I like her.
Which is interesting, because people hate her. HATE her. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE her. I’ve never really understood it. Sure, I’ve never been a massive Hole fan, but the degree of personal antipathy people feel for someone they’ve never met always bewilders me. The amount of (generally anonymous) abuse poured on celebrities over the internet is amazing; the flipside of people’s fascination with celebrity is their eagerness to judge those celebrities flaws – in a hilariously self-righteous and hypocritical fashion, if you ask me.
But even so, Courtney Love seems to cop more than her fair share. There’s something about this woman (and the fact that she’s a woman is surely something to do with it) that truly rubs people the wrong way.
Today, she’s eminently likeable, although I do get the feeling that I’ve got her on a good day, and I’m glad that’s the case. She thrives on being the centre of attention, the force of her personality taking centre stage. As you’d expect. This isn’t a derogatory observation, just a statement of fact. I don’t thin you get as famous as Courtney Love without somehow, somewhere, craving that fame. Call it narcissism or a simple refusal to be ignored, but there are some people who crave the spotlight, both on stage and off.
But she’s also polite, funny and quite charming. She dominates the conversation, as you’d expect – I ask a couple of questions and watch her go, chain-smoking and leaping from one topic to another so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up, let alone get a word in edgeways. Crucially, though, it seems to me that she’s real. Charging across the room to exhort me to Google something on the computer, going off on tangent after tangent, razor sharp beneath the ditziness: this is how she is. And I get to thinking, maybe that’s why people don’t like Courtney Love. Not because they think she killed Kurt, or that her fame outweighs her talent, or that she doesn’t get along with Dave Grohl, or that she’s a narcissist and shameless self-publicist. Because she’s imperfect and thus an easy target for our vicarious vitriol.
We like our celebrities super-human, and we like to tear them down when they can’t live up to our ideals. Courtney Love has always been all too human, all too ready to reveal her flaws in public. There’s none of the militant image control of, say, Madonna. When Courtney fucks up, we know about it. And she does. She fucks around, she fucks up and she comes back for more.
Back at the studio, the publicist calls time on the interview, which is probably a good idea or I’d most likely still be there. I slip out the back door of the TV station, which doubles as the delivery entrance, past the garbage cans, and emerge back onto 26th Street. Back into the world.
I don’t envy people like Courtney Love. I’m glad I don’t need the spotlight, don’t crave attention like she does. But I find people like her interesting. And it’s certainly an experience to share their space for a while.