CAT LOVES COURTNEY: My Amazing (and Overwhelming!) First Evening With My Favorite Antihero Rock Star

You know that Courtney and Jane are friends -- but how did the rock star treat ME, a total stranger, when I invaded her home for our "Occupy Courtney" project this winter? Read on.
Publish date:
February 17, 2012
celebrity, Courtney Love, Occupy Courtney, M

OK, so did you guys understand, exactly, what our "Occupy Courtney" project was? Basically, Courtney gave Jane keys to her amazing rented townhouse -- which, as you read from Jane a few days ago, she's just moved out of -- and said we could move in and document everything about her and her life.

We recorded her; we photographed the place; we photographed her stuff. We set up our laptops in her chanting room and ate her cookies. Sometimes we just listened to her talk; half the time, we chilled at the house when Courtney wasn't even there.

It was incredibly special for me. I've always been a huge Courtney Love fan; I'm obsessed with rock stars in general -- and besides my other favorite, Pete Doherty, and the old ones, like Mick and Keith and Bowie, there are depressingly few antiheros -- the only kind of hero, quite frankly, that I care to have -- left for me to worship.

I had the Grammys on in background Sunday night as I wrote my Whitney piece and I was so bored by it all. Where are the rock stars? No one is crazy enough to interest me at all. And, I mean...Chris Brown? Chris Brown's not an antihero. He's just an asshole!

So what I'm saying not-so-eloquently -- it's 4 am and I am so burned out from Fashion Week that I feel frigging jetlagged -- is that I love Courtney Love, and being in her home and getting to know her this winter was awesome. Straight-up magic for me!

I got to hang out with Courtney a bunch of times, and the first night was totally overwhelming, but rad. Here's how I wrote it all up (gushily -- I warn you, and not particularly artfully; I was too star struck!) when I got home.


On a Friday afternoon in December, I meet Jane on a very typically gorgeous tree-lined street just off a much busier one in the West Village. She is dressed in workout clothes (as she usually is, because she's a Pilates junkie), and I'm in some sort of ratty sundress and tights with a fur coat over the whole mess, juggling two huge tote bags full of beauty products and a New York Post and usual garbage, and I'm carrying a lipstick-smeared "venti" Starbucks cup. Because, well, I'm gross.

We are both frazzled -- Jane has been fighting with another editor about something that I forget about now, two months later; I’ve just pulled the foils out of my own hair and ducked out of a highlights appointment at Cutler Salon in Soho. Because it's my first day that I get to "Occupy Courtney"! I've been dying to go.

Jane leads me through an old-timey iron gate -- no security codes -- and rings for the housekeeper (Courtney has two), who let us in through one door, and then another (later that evening, Courtney's house manager Hershey gives Jane her own set of keys to the townhouse for the purposes of occupation).

And then, there we are: inside Courtney’s world.

It’s everything you would imagine -- unless you are imagining what the tabloids describe sometimes, which is a druggy den full of dirty needles and garbage, which, when you see how she actually, gorgeously lives, is silly -- and then ten thousand times more beautiful.

The first thing that hits me is the absolute peacefulness of the place. It is way Zen and feminine; here, look at our slideshow tour if you missed it the first time.

To the right of the parlor, just off the foot of the stairs, is Courtney’s chanting room: a jewel-box filled with luxurious cushions, seashells, candles, gold and white packs of Marlboro cigs, floral arrangements full of roses and pastel-frosted cakes under glass. Everything is symmetrical and aligned just so (her house managers are killer).

The house smells soo good -- Courtney loves candles by Nest Fragrances -- like expensive candles. Though Courtney smokes in the house, you’d never know it (her housekeepers are all over that, too).

Jane leads me upstairs. A framed “Nevermind” record plaque is propped up in the hallway. We enter the sitting room (where the top photo is taken); where I put down my stuff. My grimy paper coffee cup and beat-up tote bag (Lanvin -- yeah, we name-drop here on xoJane, babes -- but still grimy) stuffed full of newspapers and beauty products looks out of place.

The room looks like it cost a million dollars, and who says it didn't? Decor-wise, it's like an enchanted diorama; for anyone who gave a fuck in the nineties, and most of us did, there is a whole lot in this room to gawk at.

I feel sort of lame and bad while doing so: to start, there are incredible baby photographs of Frances -- Courtney calls her "Franny" -- everywhere (the one of Kurt wearing the tinsel playing with her on the mantle -- omigod).

Then there are the pop culture artifacts that probably are worth a million dollars -- is that Kurt's guitar propped up so carefully by the sofa? And is that a gross and sexist question? Arg, so much to take in.

And once I take in all the OMIGOD-ness of it all, I spy on my favorite thing: books! She has something by Lulu Taylor. She has the Keith Richards autobiography: duh, fellow antiheroes. She has "His Picture in the Papers: A Speculation On Celebrity in America Based on the Life of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.", by Richard Schickel. "Goodwood: Art and Architecture, Sport and Family," by Rosemary Baird. And tons more, but those are all I remember (and don't ask me how I remembered that last one).

On the coffee table are more cakes and paper-thin pink sugar-sprinkled cookies, clean spun-glass Lalique ashtrays, chunks of crystal, tidy stacks of books and the best European magazines. Reading glasses, pens, her scribbly handwriting on things; I bet she obsessively takes notes. More sweets under glass. Courtney loves sugar! More cigarettes, more candles.

Paintings, photographs. The most striking piece sits on her mantle: It’s a spiral of butterflies (a Damien Hirst? I didn’t ask.) Sketches and watercolor paintings (Courtney’s own? [Courtney's own. --Jane]) are piled on the floor. The room is wallpapered and hung with heavy white drapes.

We wait an hour before Courtney comes home. Courtney is many things, the housekeepers tell us, and one of them is "never on time," or "always late." Swag!

At some point, to kill time, Jane and I head two flights downstairs into a beautiful basement kitchen (most townhouses are designed this way) to meet her housekeepers, who come upstairs to join us in the sitting room and talk.

They love Courtney, but she can make a mess: Some days she will empty out her entire closet looking for a belt for a dress, they say (you can tell it was a little painful for them).

They tell us that they don’t like to leave her alone -- she had Thanksgiving alone, and that’s why they are “glad you are here, Jane” -- but they have families and daughters too, and Courtney only needs to be reminded of that and she won’t fight to have them stay with her too late.

"She would never hurt anyone," one of them says at one point, sort of out of nowhere.

Courtney’s house manager Hershey -- who also acts as her assistant and primary helper; I don’t really know what the appropriate “title” is [House Manager. --Jane] -- met Courtney when she was living at the Mercer Hotel in Soho, which is owned by Courtney’s ex-boyfriend (who is still very much in Courtney’s life; more on him later), hotelier André Balazs.

Hershey used to work at the Mercer, but the demands of being at the beck and call of so many people -- “Mr. Jacobs, Mr. Lagerfeld, Mr. Klein” -- all at once was too much.

(Obviously I, eternally the starfucker, am eating up these anecdotes. Jane knows it, too.)

“It’s better now -- the workload,” Hershey says. Though of course Courtney is celebrity and celebrities are glamorous handful: “We went to Milan and it was the most beautiful hotel and all the best food and the best spa treatments for us -- Mr. Cavalli was paying for everything -- but I didn’t have time for any of it."

"My hotel room was next door to Courtney’s, but I couldn’t tell her," continues Hershey. "I love her but I had to sleep! She would have been knocking every minute.”

Finally, there is noise downstairs. “She’s here,” Hershey says

Courtney’s voice -- rat-a-tat, like machine gunfire -- starts immediately with the clicking open of the front door.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of being a person who grew up worshipping that voice (FACT: the first time I was ever published in a magazine, it was a "Letter To The Editor" in Vogue, thanking them for running one of the first wonderful pieces on Courtney in the wake of HirshbergGate), who at one point could probably recite that voice reading a famous suicide note, who still knows every word that voice has ever sung on every record, including the devastatingly excellent Hole MTV Unplugged session (my favorites: "You Know You're Right," "Old Age," "Best Sunday Dress," "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)", less-known tracks like "Beautiful Son" and my all-time favorite Hole song “20 Years in the Dakota,” and her solo masterpieces like “Mono,” “Sunset Strip,” “All The Drugs”) -- it's hard to describe the feeling of hearing that voice, that you've known better than your own for 17 or however long years now, floating up the stairs toward you.

Dude. It's Courtney fucking Love!

While this gorgeous house is totally for a lady, that voice is where the punk rocker (well, the person who dressed like a punk but loved Fleetwood Mac, anyway) still lives.

It is nasal and magnetic and awesome.

And though I can't see her yet, her entrance is just like one that you hear offstage in a play, and here's what she's talking (and talking and talking) about: she has been seeing real estate -- she’s moving out of this house -- there is much to do. Andres is helping her secure the new house. Oh, and Hershey -- she needs a specific copy of the Marianne Faithfull autobiography "Faithfull." Is she chanting tonight? She is chanting tonight. She’ll take her food upstairs in the bedroom. Is Jane here? Jane is here.

And then, she's coming up the stairs...

And: Enter Courtney.

I've seen her 10 times at least in New York before -- in concert last Fashion Week at Hiro, at art openings at the Hole, at the xoJane launch party -- but she's looking at me in her house now, so it's different.

She's dressed like a character in an Ibsen play: think Hedda Gabler, but spectacularly braless. She's wearing an antique-looking, very sheer white ruffled blouse, a high-waisted full-length skirt that swooshes grandly around the room as she paces from one spot to another, and low heels with a Mary Jane buckle.

She has no makeup on. Her hair is baby blonde and her haircut (above-the-shoulder, bangs) is extraordinarily expensive looking and fantastic.

The "grunge goddess," as so many magazines have goofily called her, has not one single split end, and the color is as cool and brass-free as any I have ever seen on any supermodel or movie star (she sees the amazing Keith at Sally Hershberger, remember?).

Courtney looks like a different class of human the way that all truly major life-long celebrities do: It's like the most beautiful kind of mutant, and it's hard to look away. How is she so skinny and tall? Where are her pores?

She has no wrinkles, either. Her eyes are pale blue and bright and alive. She is pale fire, blithe spirit, blythe doll -- I can think of a million little descriptions for you that I am probably subconsciously lifting from magazine cover story heds of the past, but I don't want to get corny (FACT: I already have gotten spectacularly corny approximately ninety million times in this article, and don't think I don't know it).

How else can I describe her? She' a gypsy aristocrat! Serious Gold Dust Woman. One thousand percent -- again -- rock star. Dizzying, charming, enigmatic; and also, I'm about to find out, as pixilated and frenetic as all the journalists always say -- but also totally warm and nice.

She introduces herself to me, looks me straight in the eye, and starts talking talking talking right away. Lamely, I can barely speak -- not that I need to, or could even get a word in otherwise if I wanted to. Why would I want to?

Courtney chatters for two hours straight. She has been to the premiere of "Young Adult" and raves about it -- she is friends with "Diablo" and was delighted with Charlize's character in the film, a "true female...curmudgeon," she calls her. Courtney loves words and uses the very best ones ("apoplectic" stands out in my memory, for some reason).

I'm so agog that I forget to take notes (technically, I am there to be a "reporter," hence this goofy article). At one point she apologizes in advance for her "crazy" in my presence.

"Cat understands better than you think," Jane tells her. (I too have been strapped to a gurney and taken to Bellevue a few years back, though there's no need to mention this). Courtney seems to ignore this; the (mainly one-sided) conversation moves along.

Hershey brings her a tray with cappuccino in a china cup. Courtney sips it as she chatters, absentmindedly wiping the moustache of white foam from her upper lip with each sip. She lights cigarettes that she barely actually brings to her mouth -- and when she does, she barely inhales -- and gesticulates all over the place with them.

She talks about a million things (are you ready?): the lame “Czechoslovakian groupie” that Andres is getting with even though he’s making out with her (“Thank God,” she says, his Chelsea Handler “reign of terror” is over), the syringes a movie star friend had on her when she was famously arrested for that famous (though not that serious) crime that time (though only pills the friend had on her wound up making the papers), the houses she's financed for Kat Bjelland, the serial monogamists like Ed Norton, Kurt and Andres that she always winds up with (“sometimes I’m like, ‘Let’s just have the fucking threeway with the model, you know?!”), an ex who "at least isn't into ketamine and sadomasochism anymore -- I got him out of that," her (brilliant, I think) idea for a line of fragrances and candles made from only poisonous flowers, the mating habits of bees, a book she once bought on how to meet an aristocrat ("embarrassing" in retrospect, she says, shaking her head) and incidentally, Royal Jelly for beauty purposes is pretty special stuff, did we know?

She goes on and on, though she knows we have to leave, and when Jane gently interrupts to tell her she has to go pick up Charlotte, Courtney stops talking reluctantly.

“You’ll be back tomorrow?” she asks us. Jane tells her it’s the weekend, so she isn’t sure -- we might be back tomorrow, or maybe Sunday.

“But is it -- today is Friday?” Courtney asks. She furrows her brow (finally, a wrinkle!). “Am I chanting today? Am I chanting tomorrow?”

Jane tells her that she is chanting tonight; she doesn’t know about tomorrow.

“The schedule will be by my bed,” Courtney says. "Okay." Tacit rock star permission: we can go.

But as we're standing up to leave there's this weird moment; I don't know where it comes from, or what it's about.

We're about to say goodbye when Courtney's face crumbles up, and she brings her hands to her cheeks and seems suddenly crazy for a moment, a little dissociative.

“I have to -- I have to -- I have to get myself out of this pickle!” she cries.

I'm freaked out. I don't even dare look at Jane.

But then she snaps out of it. She takes her hands down from her face and she's smiling right at me -- she's really only been taking to Jane the entire night.

Huh? What? She steps closer to me. “I have to chant, but I really want to curl up and read chick lit and watch ’30 Rock’,” she tells me, and touches my arm. I totally melt. Omigod. I'm so confused. I'm so enthralled. I'm so in love. Courtney!

Cat's on Twitter at @Cat_marnell.