As the late Kurt Cobain was to Nirvana, his widow, Courtney Love, is to the rock group Hole, although many critics tend to focus more on her flamboyant personality than on her musicianship. Love, the band’s lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist, is truly the image of the “bad girl of rock.” Every interview with her seems to be pockmarked with profanity, though it is profanity eloquently stated. In spite of her outspoken nature, exhibitionist behavior, outrageous appearance, and alleged drug use, she comes off as articulate, intelligent, utterly entertained by the culture she is enmeshed in—and very angry at it, too. With Love as its driving force, Hole has emerged as a provocative mainstay on the rock scene. As Billy Corgan—Smashing Pumpkins singer and Love’s former boyfriend—put it in Entertainment Weekly, “No girl rock band has come close to [Hole’s] fury.”
Hole reportedly takes its name from two sources: Love’s mother’s maxim “You can’t walk around with a big hole inside yourself” and the line “There’s a hole that pierces right through me,” from Greek dramatist Euripides’s
Members include Melissa Auf Der Maur (born March 17, 1972, in Montreal, Canada; joined group 1994), bass; Jill Emery (bandmember 1989-93), bass; Eric Erlandson (founding member; born January 9, 1963, in Los Angeles, CA) guitar; Courtney Love (founding member; born July 9, 1964, in San Francisco, CA; raised in Eugene, OR; daughter of Linda Carroll [a therapist] and Hank Harrison [an author and publisher]; married James Moreland [a musician], 1989 [divorced 1990]; married Kurt Cobain [a musician], 1992 [died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, April 5, 1994]; children: [with Cobain] Frances Bean), vocals, guitar; Kristen Pfaff (joined group 1993; born in 1967; died of a heroin overdose, June 1994), bass; Caroline Rue (bandmember 1989-92) drums; Patty Schemel (born April 24, 1967, in Seattle, WA; joined group mid-1992), drums.
Love formed band with Erlandson, Emery, and Rue in Los Angeles in 1989; relocated to Seattle, WA; released Pretty on the Inside on independent label, Caroline, 1991; band re-formed; released Live Through This, DGC, 1994.
Awards: Gold record for Live Through This, 1994.
tragedy Medea. The group was formed in Los Angeles in late 1989 after Love sought bandmembers through an ad in the Recycler, an L.A. weekly featuring free ads. She, guitarist Eric Erlandson, bass player Jill Emery, and drummer Caroline Rue went on to record Hole’s debut album, Pretty on the Inside, which was released by independent label Caroline in 1991. While Entertainment Weekly contributor David Browne found Pretty on the Inside “mostly an excuse for Love to throw a musical temper tantrum,” David Fricke, writing in Rolling Stone, deemed the album “a classic of sex-mad self-laceration, hypershred guitars and full-moon brawling.”
After Pretty on the Inside, Hole re-formed, adding drummer Patty Schemel and bass player Kristen Pfaff to original members Love and Erlandson. (Pfaff would die of a heroine overdose in June of 1994.) The band’s second full-length effort, Live Through This, came out in April of 1994, just days after a stunned rock world learned of Cobain’s suicide. Only a few months after its release, the album had sold four times as many copies as Pretty on the Inside, according to Entertainment Weekly
A few critics missed the rawness of Pretty on the Inside when confronted with the more conventional accomplishments of Live Through This. Melody Maker’s Everett True mourned—even while he appreciated—the change. “Hole 1993 are (whisper it) a polished, accomplished rock band, brimming with carefully fashioned hooks and choruses,” he wrote ruefully. Fricke, however, saw progress and noted that Live Through This is “prettier on the outside, with a greater emphasis on crushed-velvet guitar distortions and liquid poppish strumming…. Love and Hole [have] managed to harness the ugliness that drove Pretty on the Inside to a more controlled but still cutting extreme.”
Love seems to spend considerable time honing her image and defending herself against that image. Her self-proclaimed “Kinder-whore look”—”white skin, red lips, blond hair with black roots,” and “either ripped dresses from the thirties or one-size-too-small velvet dresses from the sixties,” as described by Vanity Fair’s Lynn Hirschberg—has proven to be a big hit on the West Coast. In fact, the singer’s unusual style and wild exploits have been sparking frenzied media coverage since the early 1990s. But Love’s background as a stripper, rumors of her alleged heroin use while pregnant with her daughter, coverage of her sometimes stormy marriage to Cobain and their well-publicized trips to detoxification facilities, and finally Cobain’s suicide have all detracted from Hole as a group.
Indeed, with the press so sharply focused on Love, Hole has had a hard time establishing its own identity as a musical unit. Appreciation for the band’s dynamics notwithstanding, it is Love who continues to draw the most attention—for her unabashed sexuality, her distinctive sound, and her reputation as a creative powerhouse. Entertainment Weekly’s Browne characterized Love’s voice as “a thick, reedy instrument that makes her sound like the younger, brattier sister of Johnny Rotten,” and added, “She has charisma and attitude to burn.” Fricke commented: “The sheer force of Love’s corrosive, lunatic wail—not to mention the guitar-drum wrath unleashed in its wake—is impressive stuff.”
Love’s complex personality comes through in her lyrics. Her aspirations are far from casual: the singer-songwriter told Kim Neely of Rolling Stone that she aims “to have some sort of emotional impact that transcends time.” Love has been praised by a number of critics for her honest, insightful, and intelligent lyrics—many autobiographical, and nearly all astute commentary. On “Asking for It” from Live Through This, for instance, she comments on the place of women in today’s culture, stating: “Every time that I sell myself to you / I feel a little bit cheaper than I need to.” Charles Aaron noted in Spin that Love “constantly plays patty-cake with the idea that she deserves everything she gets, good or bad.”
For Fricke and many others, Courtney Love serves as the notorious queen of the perilous world of rock, representing both strength and anger alongside vulnerability. She claims that the influences of female rock pioneers Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde “saved my life,” according to an article by Lorraine Ali in Entertainment Weekly. Fricke stated that even before gaining fame via Cobain, “Love was the scarred beauty … of underground-rock society, a fearless confessor and feedback addict,… part ravaged baby doll, part avenging kamikaze angel. “Newsweek’s Karen Schoemer, however, wrote that Love is “no feminist,” adding, “her rabid quest for attention in any form fulfills too many archaic female stereotypes.”
Schoemer also noted, “There’s only one band that can be credited with turning around the listless course of rock music in the ’90s, and it’s not Hole—it’s Nirvana.” Still, Hole is getting plenty of MTV airplay and Live Through This has gone gold. Furthermore, Spin’s Craig Marks mentioned thatthe band is talking about performing at the 1995 version of the annual alternative rockfest Lollapalooza. To attest to the group’s popularity, Marks also reported on the variety of celebrities that showed up at Hole’s sold-out gig at the Hollywood Palladium, including actress Juliette Lewis and former Beatle Rin-go Starr.
Courtney Love’s still-young biography is disturbingly typical in the world of rock. Her story will forever be written with Kurt Cobain’s. In response to suggestions that she thrives on music-world publicity, Love rhetorically asked Tom Sheehan of Melody Maker, “I saw something I wanted, and I got it…. What is so f—ing bad about getting what you want?” One suspects that she—and Hole, if they can hold on—will continue to get what they want.
Rat Bastard (EP), Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1990.
“Dicknail” (single), Sub Pop, 1991.
Pretty on the Inside, Caroline, 1991.
“Beautiful Son” (single), City Slang, 1993.
Live Through This, DGC, 1994.
Boston Phoenix, April 8, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, April 15, 1994; July 8, 1994; August 12, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1994.
Melody Maker, April 3, 1993; July 24, 1993; December 4, 1993; January 29, 1994; February 19, 1994.
Metro Times (Detroit), April 4, 1994.
Newsweek, April 11, 1994; February 6, 1995.
People, May 2, 1994; May 23, 1994; July 4, 1994.
Request, May 1994.
Rolling Stone, December 23, 1993-January 6, 1994; April 21, 1994; June 2, 1994; August 11, 1994; November 3, 1994; November 17, 1994; December 15, 1994.
Spin, May 1994; February 1995.
Vanity Fair, September 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from David Geffen Company publicity materials, 1994.
Members: Melisssa Auf Der Maur, bass (born Montreal, 17 March 1972); Eric Erlandson, guitar (born Los Angeles, California, 9 January 1963); Courtney Love, vocals, guitar (Love Michelle Harrison, born San Francisco, California, 9 July 1965); Samantha Maloney, drums (born New York, 11 December 1975). Former members: Jill Emery, bass (born Covina, California, late 1960s); Kristen Pfaff, bass (born Amherst, New York, 26 May 1967; died 16 June 1994); Caroline Rue, drums (born San Pedro, California, late 1960s); Patty Schemel, drums (born Seattle, Washington, 28 April 1967).
Best-selling album since 1990: Live through This (1994)
Hit songs since 1990: "Doll Parts," "Violet," "Malibu"
Hole, the alternative punk rock band, was largely the vehicle of its lead singer and principal songwriter Courtney Love, one of the most difficult and troubled popular musicians to emerge in the 1990s. Hole gained success with their angry but melodic rock music and with lyrics that vacillated between feminist manifesto and self-destructive melodrama. The band grabbed the spotlight a few weeks after the suicide of Love's husband, Kurt Cobain, the enigmatic lead singer of Nirvana, in April 1994.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1989, Hole's signature sound revolves around Eric Erlandson's distinct raucous guitar playing style, tight rhythms, and Love's emotionally charged singing. By the time of their debut on Caroline Records, Pretty on the Inside (1991), produced by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Hole had developed a following in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. They also gained attention internationally as a riot grrl band known for wedding punk rock's do-it-yourself ethos with the polemics and power of political feminism. Hole, however, did not really make their mark until their major label debut on Geffen Records, mere weeks after Cobain's death.
Hole gained platinum sales with Live through This (1994). In this album Love's lyrics are often aggressive, shouted, and hollered rather than sung. She confronts controversial topics like rape in "Asking for It." She presents a swaggering disturbed bravado in "Miss World," in which she sings "I'm Miss World / Somebody kill me." Another single, "Violet," adapts the sonic structure popularized by Nirvana, with quieter and tension-filled verses building to a furiously loud paroxysm in the chorus. Through her no-holds-barred vocal style, Love did much to legitimize the expression of female anger. Live through This struck a chord with frustrated youth and female fans who empathized with Love's complexity and saw her as a real personality unapologetically capable of expressing the range of female experience.
In between Live through This and their follow-up, Hole toured. Love managed to undergo a Hollywood makeover and appeared in the movie The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). In 1998, the band released the eagerly awaited Celebrity Skin, a mainstream, slickly produced album of pop tune craft that is markedly less depressing and confrontational than their previous recordings. Despite the polished sheen, or perhaps because of it, Celebrity Skin sold more than 1 million copies and it eventually went platinum. Through their short tenure as a band, Hole endured more than their fair share of drug problems and personality clashes. The band went through several personnel changes, and lost bassist Kristen Pfaff to a heroin overdose in 1996. After Celebrity Skin 's release, their replacement bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur departed to join grunge band Smashing Pumpkins.
When Love and Erlandson mutually agreed to dissolve Hole in 2002, they were the sole remaining original members, mostly because Love dictated the terms of the band's creativity and direction, and Erlandson was agreeable to her whims. In early 2001 Love filed a lawsuit against her label, Universal Music Group, seeking for release from what she termed an unfair recording contract. From 2001 to 2002, Love spent a good portion of her time in court, in a legal wrangling with former Nirvana members over rights to unreleased Nirvana material.
Hole made their mark as an outlet for Love's powerful demons. By promoting unabashed, aggressive guitar playing, the group created a new paradigm for female bands, but not without leaving a succession of lawsuits, controversy, and notoriety behind them.
Spot Light: "Doll Parts"
The hard-rocking, aggression of Live through This (1994) includes a song with which Courtney Love and the riot grrl phenomena came to be associated. Her lyrics are usually straightforward and leave little to the imagination, and in "Doll Parts" Love clearly plays with the ideas of femininity. It is up for debate whether or not she is being ironic when she declares that she is made of doll parts—in essence, that she is not real. Or perhaps she is pointing the finger of blame at a pop culture that focuses so exclusively and reverentially on women's body parts through repeated exposure on television, in films, and in music videos. Either way, "Doll Parts" offers a window into Love's tortured soul. The song marked a turning point; Love sings, "I want to be the girl with the most cake / I love him so much it just turns to hate / I fake it so real I am beyond fake / And someday you will ache like I ache," repeating the lyrics several times until they build to a scream. The song depicts a woman torn between what she wants to be, who she is, and what society expects from her.
Pretty on the Inside (Caroline, 1991); Live through This (Geffen, 1994); Celebrity Skin (Geffen, 1998).
P. Z. Brite, Courtney Love: The Real Story (New York, 1997).
hole / hōl/ • n. 1. a hollow place in a solid body or surface: he dug out a small hole in the snow. ∎ an animal's burrow. ∎ an aperture passing through something: he had a hole in his sock. ∎ a cavity or receptacle on a golf course, typically one of eighteen or nine, into which the ball must be hit. ∎ a cavity of this type as representing a division of a golf course or of play in golf: Stephen lost the first three holes to Eric. ∎ Physics a position from which an electron is absent, esp. one regarded as a mobile carrier of positive charge in a semiconductor. ∎ [in place names] a valley: Jackson Hole. 2. inf. a small or unpleasant place: she had wasted a whole lifetime in this hole of a town. ∎ inf. an awkward situation: get yourself out of a hole. • v. [tr.] 1. make a hole or holes in: a fuel tank was holed by the attack and a fire started. 2. Golf hit (the ball) so that it falls into a hole: alternate shots from each partner until the ball is holed | [intr.] he holed in one at the third. PHRASES: blow a hole in ruin the effectiveness of (something): the amendment could blow a hole in the legislation. in the hole inf. in debt: we're still three thousand dollars in the hole. in holes worn so much that holes have formed: my clothes are in holes. make a hole in use a large amount of: holidays can make a big hole in your savings. need something like a hole in the head inf. used to emphasize that someone has absolutely no need or desire for something. a square peg in a round hole see peg.PHRASAL VERBS: hole out Golf send the ball into a hole. hole up inf. hide oneself: I holed up for two days in a tiny cottage in Pennsylvania.DERIVATIVES: hol·ey / ˈhōlē/ adj.
See also an ace in the hole, dig oneself into a hole, a square peg in a round hole.