Tag Archives: Courtney Love

Hole’s “Live Through This” Helped Me Live Through This (by Amy Berkowitz)

hole tape

Some people drink a cup of chamomile tea to fall asleep. Some count sheep. Others rely on a boring book or the soothing sounds of a white noise machine. But me? The summer before I turned 13, there was only one thing that calmed my mind at night: listening to Hole’s Live Through This on my Walkman.

On more than a few occasions, I fell asleep wearing headphones, listening to Courtney Love’s aggressive guitar and angry lyrics. I needed to hear someone else screaming about the same injustices that made me want to scream. If Hole could rage against sexism and conformity and the ludicrous claims that culture makes on women’s bodies, then I could take a break from it, at least long enough to sleep.

Just relax, just relax, just go to sleep. That’s a line from “Jennifer’s Body,” and sung soft and low, it’s the closest the album comes to a lullaby – if only it weren’t couched between hoarsely screamed verses and the machine-gun drumming and cymbal crashes that end the song. Live Through This is known for its “loud-quiet-loud” dynamic, and it plays with tempo in a similar way (“slow-fast-slow”). These sudden changes in volume and speed are among the many reasons why it’s a strange album to fall asleep to.

But then again, summer camp was a strange place. I lived in a cabin with nine other girls, and in those close quarters, anxiety and shame about our bodies hung in the air like bug spray. “You’re lucky,” my bunkmates would say, “you’re so skinny.” I didn’t think of myself as skinny or fat. I mostly thought of my body in terms of what it did, not how it was looked at.

Some of the meanest girls at camp were thin, and some of the nice girls were bigger. And of course, the mean girls would give the fat girls shit about their weight. Although I wasn’t heavy, I got shit, too: I was weird – I daydreamed all the time, didn’t have crushes on the popular guys, wasn’t in any hurry to start shaving my legs.

Live Through This was jarring and abrasive, sure – but it was also familiar. I’d listened to it countless times, and the intimacy was comforting. The cassette had been a birthday present from my friend Sara, the autumn before I brought it to camp with me. She knew I’d be happy to have my own copy, because we’d already spent hours listening to the tape in her room. After school, we practiced maximizing its cathartic potential, sitting on the floor by the stereo and rewinding over and over and over to the part in “I Think That I Would Die” when Love screams FUCK! YOU! 

FUCK! YOU!

FUCK! YOU! 

FUCK! YOU!

It felt good.

We didn’t know what the song was supposed to mean, but the lyrics were clearly about asserting ownership, then lashing out when that ownership is threatened. You can tell that without even hearing the words – just from the shattering violence of the clash between the moments of silence and the wonderful scream that follows.

It’s… [quiet guitar] Not… [same quiet guitar] Yours… [same quiet guitar] and then the FUCK! YOU!

Sometime between 1994 and now, I learned that Love temporarily lost custody of her daughter when she was two weeks old, and it makes sense that “I Think That I Would Die” was written about that traumatic experience.

But that didn’t matter to me and Sara. As we sat in her room, rewinding and rewinding and relishing the abandon of our favorite part of the tape, we were learning how to scream “fuck you.”

All 12-year-old girls have to learn how to scream “fuck you.”

Sara got her period before I did. I remember the package of Always pads that appeared next to her dollhouse one day. I remember she didn’t like to talk about it much. I remember boys making fun of her when they saw the pale green plastic of a pad wrapper sticking out of her back pocket. This was a signal. This was starting. Our bodies were not going to be our own anymore. They were becoming public; they could be commented upon, judged, held to sick standards; they could signify sex and whatever else, whether or not we wanted them to.

One of the main themes of Live Through This is the objectification of the female body: I am doll parts / Bad skin, doll hearts. 

Something the girls at camp understood better than I did was that women are required to be thin. No matter how many YM articles I read about “Skirts for Every Body Type!” where “pear-shaped” readers were perkily assured that there were “options” to “camouflage” their hips and thighs, I maintained some amount of immunity to the poison of this body shaming.

But even though the angst I had about my own body was minimal, I felt an overwhelming sense of outrage at the injustice of this requirement. How it made my best friend at camp anorexic, how it made the other girls in our cabin waste time worrying about the calories in pizza, how it made someone (we never found out who) vomit into Diet Pepsi bottles and hide them on the dusty shelves above our cubbies.

Nobody talked about the Diet Pepsi bottles. Nobody talked about eating disorders. Nobody questioned how damaging these standards of “beauty” were. Well, nobody except for Courtney Love, who knew just how fucked up it was: They say I’m plump, but I throw up all the time (“Plump”). Be a model or just look like one (“Asking for It”). Anorexic magazines / It smells like girl, it smells like girl (“She Walks on Me”).

The cover of Live Through This shows a beauty queen in a tiara, caught in the camera flash, clutching a bouquet of flowers. Contrast this with the image in the cassette insert: a picture of a young girl in a flannel shirt, standing barefoot on a gravel road (a family photo of Love at age 8).

courtney as child

The first time I opened the cassette and saw that photo, I was startled to see myself there: messy hair, sleeves too long, not quite smiling.

What is the “this” in Live Through This? For me, it was adolescence. How to understand a world that rewards women with crowns and flowers for being dumb and fake and smiling just right, when it makes more sense to hang out in a flannel and no shoes and do whatever you feel like.

If you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you / And if you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you. When I heard Love sing those lines in “Asking for It,” they felt like a promise. She understood my pain, because it was her own. She was like an older sister who had been to hell and back, and was there to tell me about it: Someday, you will ache like I ache (“Doll Parts”).

So, I did live through this. And I still am. That summer was the last one I spent at camp, and I haven’t needed to listen to Live Through This to fall asleep since.

Still, I return to the album again and again. It’s part of me. It played a tremendous role in the formation of my feminist identity. It taught me how to be angry. And even after nearly 20 years of listening, its cathartic powers haven’t dulled. There are some days when the only thing I want to do after work is blast Live Through This on my headphones and aggressively wash a sink full of dishes. Run the water hot, turn the volume up, and FUCK! YOU!

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What I Listened to in 2012: Part 3 (by Claire)

The Replacements: A rediscovered love

Here it is: the final page from my musical scrapbook this year. These are the songs I was obsessed with as the seasons changed, as I flew across the world and back, and as I criss crossed the country for the holidays. For the full lists for each month, click on the month/song title below.

September: “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” by Talking Heads

We rented an apartment in Melbourne, from a man who left his dirty t-shirts in the hamper and a scummy bar of soap on the shower ledge. My boyfriend worked all day and I worked all night; we met somewhere in the middle to cook kangaroo steaks and drink bottles of clear skin wine for an hour. The rented apartment was mine—I spent my days there, alone, I stayed up all night working at it’s dining room table, sipping endless espressos and battling the WiFi. I shared it, but not really with my boyfriend, who only came home to sleep and make steaks. And I ignored the owner’s visual claims on the place; his half empty chutneys in the fridge and unopened mail only meant it wouldn’t be mine later, which I knew.

I shared it with Talking Heads 77. I played “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” at 2:00am to wake myself up, sharpen my focus. I played it when I got out of bed, usually far too early, and I played it when I got ready to go out. It was a friend when I was alone, a fun and thoughtful companion for long walks and long nights and a trip that felt….well, long in every way it could. When I listen to it now, I feel like I’m in that little living room in Melbourne, and everything is going to be okay, even if it isn’t.

*Featured in “Top 5 Intros”

October: “Violet” by Hole

I returned from a six week “trip” to Melbourne on October 1st. Very few things went right when I was there; the exciting adventure I embarked on in August soured almost immediately. I arrived in San Francisco with the feeling that I wasted a lot of time and money and health that I couldn’t get back.  I was jet lagged, I was exhausted, but more than anything, I was angry.

I’ve always had a hard time with anger. Anxiety, depression, general nervousness—that whole host of unpleasant emotions I can deal with and accept. But anger is terrifying, strange and unacceptable. It morphs into a million things and it’s rare that I just sit down and deal with it.  “Violet” helped me get in touch with my anger—-it helped me stomp and cry and get it out. Most importantly, it helped me feel better, and not so poisoned by the cloud of frustration that I brought home as a souvenir. Courtney Love became my anger coach and spirit animal. If you ever want to have a beer and a weirdly long talk about her music and food habits, call me.

*Featured in “Album of the Week: Live Through This”

November: “Swingin Party” by The Replacements

Every time I listen to this song, I wonder how I would have interacted with it if I were still in high school.  “Bring your own lampshade/Somewhere there’s a party” would’ve surely been scribbled on the white trim of my knock-off Converses.  “If being strong’s your kind/ then I need help here with this feather/ If being afraid is a crime/ We hang side by side” would’ve appeared in margin doodles, or maybe I would’ve written it in exaggerated script and hung it on my door. And what heartbreak or angst couldn’t have been summer up in an away message with a quick “At the swingin’ party down the line”?

Rediscovering Tim gave me such a visceral, adolescent pleasure that I missed those ways of obsessing over music. There’s a cut off where it stops making sense to pull out a Sharpie and scrawl the lyrics that make up your burgeoning personality on every surface you can find. I passed that cut-off long ago, so I did the grown up thing: I listened to this album a million times. I let the lyrics run through my head. I wondered if I could pull off a lampshade tattoo, and doodled it in the margins of my very polished, grownup person notes.

*Featured in “Album of the Week: Tim”

December:  “Don’t Save Me” by Haim

“You know how people want pop in the summer and dark slow stuff in the winter? I’m the opposite. I’m already happy in the summer—and who wants to be sadder in the winter?” – Zoe M., my wise sister

Here’s a sentiment that made no sense to me until this year.  It was winter in Melbourne when I was there. I came home exhausted and slid straight into working on the election. By the time November 2nd rolled around, there were new huge projects at work and two trips to the East Coast to plan. San Francisco decided it wanted to dress up as Seattle for a few months, so every day was grey and wet with looming rain. I didn’t want to huddle up and listen to something dark or thoughtful. When my serotonin dropped this year, my need for fluffy pop music grew. Enter Haim: a bright burst of straight-forward pop, complete with catchy choruses and a quasi 80s sound. “Don’t Save Me” is particularly great because of the video, which features adorable synchronized dance moments and some very 90s stylings (little twisty buns right on top of the head, come back to me).

When are girl groups going to be a thing again? Boy bands had a renaissance this year; fingers crossed that 2013 brings back the finger snapping, synchronized dancing, matching outfits awesomeness of girl groups.

Honorary Mention: “Young and Cold” by The Raveonettes

Do you disagree completely with everything I said about light-hearted poppy winter music? Then this is the song for you. “Young and Cold” is a classic, dark and foggy song for walking around in cold weather and watching the sun nod off at the crack of 4:00pm. And the chorus is particularly applicable to the winter—“I don’t want to be young and cold.” Agreed, dears.

Click here for “What I Listened to in 2012: Part 1″

Click here for “What I Listened to in 2012: Part 2″

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Top 5 Song Intros (by Claire)

My attention span is something I’ve always been proud of; unfortunately, it’s atrophying.  Years of clicking and flicking through pages of information have made me a skimmer of books, a terrible TV watching companion (the kind that makes you yell “Can you PLEASE stop changing the damn channel?”), and, worst of all, a half-song listener. I listen to a lot of intros. I don’t always get through the whole song. I’m taking Joshua’s challenge though and trying to listen all the way through, all the time, before I move on to the next track. Here are songs with intros strong enough to battle my overly rapid listening habits—these intros are so engaging, it’s impossible to turn your attention to anything else.

“First Week/ Last Week…Carefee” by the Talking Heads

This barely counts as an intro, and I think that’s my favorite kind. I like intros where you tumble into the thick of the song. This is a theme in my life too—I’m terrible at writing introductions, I hate that early part of friendships where it’s still small talk and over-niceness, I always want to jump in to things and figure them out in an honest way from the get-go.  David Byrne and some percussive instrument I can’t identify (you know my obsessive mind is running circles on this, so if you know what it is, please tell me) slide you straight into “First Week/Last Week…Carefree.” You are mid –song and enthralled within three seconds—it’s practically a magic trick, and one you’ll want to repeat by replaying the intro a few times over. “Going Through the Motions” by Aimee Mann and “The Way Young Lovers Do” by Van Morrison have similarly magical non-intro song intros.


“Tramp” by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas

Dialogue in songs is tricky. Favored by country singers and mid-90s pop stars, this particular musical device can easily become cheesy or melodramatic. When Otis Redding and Carol Thomas banter in the beginning of Tramp though, it never touches cheesy drama territory. It’s funny and delightful. For about 30 seconds it’s just Carol Thomas telling off Otis Redding with a fat drum beat in the background. The line “You don’t wear continental clothes or a Stetson hat” always makes me smile.


“Sinnerman” by Nina Simone

I can’t stop listening to this song. Most songs have a shelf-life when it comes to obsessive replaying—I can get about 20 listens out of something before I need to retire it, and when I return to it, we resume a healthy musical relationship. I’ll revive a replayed song for mixtapes or a listen here and there, but never for another bout of frantic replaying.

I’ve been on a ‘Sinnerman” relistening kick for a month now. The introduction with the piano, swiftly layered with drums, is arresting. I’ll rewind it and relisten to 30 second bits again and again, transfixed. The way it builds, the wild adrenaline of it, and then Nina Simone’s voice—the whole experience of this song is profound, and trying to explain it seems futile. It’s sublime, from start to finish. It’s a song that allows you to use words like unbelievable and awesome without hyperbole, with proper awe and disbelief.


“The Seed 2.0″ by The Roots

How did you fall in love with The Roots (and if you haven’t yet, you’re missing out)? I fell in love during the splashy, funky intro to “The Seed 2.0,” lousy with cymbal and a guitar line that ran through my head like a racing thought for weeks. This was the first intro I thought of when Joshua pitched the idea for song structure month, because it’s a capital letters INTRO.  It does everything an intro should do, and it does it so well—it’s instantly engaging, impossible to turn off, and makes the listener feel instantly compelled to track down as many Roots songs as she possibly can.


“Rock Star” by Hole

“Rock Star” kicks off with a classic Courtney Love transition from sweetness into unbridled rock. There’s a pretty lilting guitar rift, and Love’s voice is girlish and bumbling. She pauses and appears to mess up the lyrics, chasing it with a sarcastic giggle, restarting three times over and lulling the listener into a sense of security, before she follows up those now familiar words “Well I went to school in Olympia” with a raw wail of “What do you do with a REVOLUTION?” The song rapidly picks up speed and becomes something totally unexpected based on those first 30 seconds: a raw, aggressive rock song. It’s great, and it’s a bait and switch that’s used deftly throughout Live Through This.

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Claire’s Album of the Week: Live Through This

I have a mega-soft spot in my heart for Courtney Love. I think she’s awesome. I play “Violet” at an unholy volume at least once a week. There are few musical moments I enjoy more than the sarcastic giggle at the beginning of “Rock Star.”

People have all sorts of unfortunate things to say about Ms. Courtney Love, and I’ll say this: I adore her. She may have buckets of issues, but she’s also made exciting rock and roll, written beautiful and deeply quotable lyrics, and told incredible stories through music with a female perspective that can be pretty rare. If you haven’t listened to Live Through This in a while, I really recommend changing that, ASAP. I hadn’t heard this full album probably ever until about a month ago, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since.

Also here’s an excerpt from her food diary, which I quote a lot, because I think it’s fascinating. She keeps a fresh cake in her house at all times (“I want to be the girl/ With the most cake”…she literally is) And then there’s this:

“I hate chocolate. Fuck chocolate. Kurt hated chocolate, too — that was one of the things we had in common. Chocolate makes it all too easy. Oooh. Woww. Chocolate. Oooh. Yum. Fuck that. It’s sorta like how I don’t love the Ramones. It’s a flaw. Or, I love Mr. Springsteen as a person, I’m just not a superfan. Everyone lovvves the Boss, but that’s chocolate for me. It’s just, like … no.”

And here’s a really old Hole poster I found on Wikipedia:

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Top 5 Songs About Places (by Claire)

Do you keep running lists of songs? It’s a theme here…well, always, but especially with me this week since a recovered running list was the inspiration for my So Hot Right Now post. I’ve been keeping a running list of songs about places—first it was cities, then states, then it was Talking Heads and dirty old towns and a hodgepodge of all of the above. This was my long winded way of not starting this with a cheesy line about music taking you places, and being about places (because we know it does, and we know sometimes it is).

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” by the Talking Heads

It’s hard not to fall in love with this song. Granted David Byrne could make me fall in love with most things, but “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is on an even higher level of infectious charm. The consistency of the guitar and bass, juxtaposed with the jaunty stylings of the keyboard, is playful and comforting. It’s the musical equivalent of being small and running through a sprinkler, knowing you could run too fast in the slippery mud because some watchful adult was on the sidelines, ready to make everything better if you fell on your face. At times in my life when I very much required an elusive figure to pat my head and tell me everything would be just fine, David Byrne became my makeshift parent through sheer overplaying of this song. If you’re feeling all at sea, or if you want to reimagine a life where David Byrne is your musical guardian angel, I recommend drinking black coffee late at night and listening to this on repeat. Say hi to David Byrne from me.

“Minneapolis,” by That Dog

I love straight forward story songs. You can’t listen to them all day—it’s a little hard to daydream to “Punk Rock Girl” or “Tom’s Diner,” and once you hear about Anna and Ollie roasting a Tofu Pup, you want to stick around for the end of “Oh Anna” by The Microphones (and if you do, you’ll find it’s not really one of these songs at all, only for a minute at the beginning.)

“Minneapolis” is a brief story about a girl who has a crush on a guy she sees at the Jabberjaw. She finds out he lives in Minneapolis. They strike up a friendship/maybe romance, which is cut short when she has to go on tour. The chorus is “Minneapolis,” repeated a few times over. Every time I listen to it, I want to go to this mythical place where cool boys at shows and the rockstar girls who love them live. They should use this song as tourist bait in ads aimed at the easily influenced. I’ve been to Minneapolis probably 20 times and none of my memories of the city matter. That Dog has performed a musical magic trick, and now I’m convinced that the city is full of little clubs and power pop and flannel. Is it?

“Dirty Old Town,” by David Byrne

“Dirty Old Town” sounds so splashy and upbeat that if you don’t listen to the lyrics and get your ear caught on the line “Remember the days of rent control/Grandpa remembers rock and roll” (and you can, easily, it’s a great line), you could confuse this for a starry-eyed daydream about urban living. Really, the song is much darker—it’s a lyrics vs. music game that Byrne plays throughout Rei Momo, and one that a lifetime love of funny woeful folk types (oh hello Loudon Wainwright) has primed me to enjoy. You come to the dirty old town because it’s a “…World of Opportunities, a Land of Possibilities” and soon enough you’re building it up, it’s tearing you down. You could turn this up loud and roll the windows down, you could drive fast with this in the background, you could dance and be in love. You would walk away from those experiences thinking the Dirty Old Town is where you want to be. Sit down and listen to this in a quiet room. Remember that it’s not.

File:Hole-album-celebrityskin.jpg

“Malibu,” by Hole

Courtney Love jokes write themselves (actually, she writes them herself, go read her tweets), but remember Hole? How awesome was Hole? And if your first reaction is Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory nonsense, or a turned up nose and a jab at her antics, go listen to the first couple Hole albums and get back to me. People can be deeply messed up and enormously talented (See: Amy Winehouse). I wonder what the emotional algorithm is that makes us accept that in certain musicians and not others. If you made a list for each and compared, I bet gender would pop up as the main difference.

Malibu is another story song, this time about Kurt Cobain’s stay at a rehab center in Malibu, shortly before he committed suicide. It’s a dreamy, crashing song—angry and pretty, brimming with a complicated tangle of hurt that makes sense, given the context and Love’s relationship with Cobain. Simple, lovely images pop here: “Oceans of angels/oceans of stars,” “And the sun goes down/ I watch you slip away/And the sun goes down/I walk into the waves.”

“Phoenix,” by Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann hits the road, abandoning Phoenix and a lover who loves her like a dollar bill, rolls her up and trades her in. A few months ago we did a post on songs for the different stages of a breakup, based on the stages of grief. I think the creating physical distance part of a breakup might be the mysterious sixth stage, so crucial but usually impossible, especially as we get older and there aren’t colleges to go to or new post graduation cities to run to. I dated someone in college for two years and had the good fortune to already live 45 minutes away. I haven’t seen him since, and in those early days of soft sad hearts and too much wine, the distance was a great balm, one that made the moving on process faster, cleaner. I did have to drive back to my town after we broke up in his, and the image of Mann driving with Kleenex was spot on. “Driving with Kleenex” might be the right name for that stage. For another take on this, listen to “Jackson” by Lucinda Williams.

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