Courtney Love and Kim Gordon are two undisputed queens of alternative rock. Kim Gordon made her name as the frontwoman of pioneers Sonic Youth, without whom the vast majority of the most crucial guitar bands of the past thirty years would not exist.
One of those guitar band’s was Nirvana, who changed the face of alternative music forever. Other disciples of the New York noise-rockers are The Cribs, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine. Furthermore, it was actually Sonic Youth who suggested that Nirvana take the plunge and sign to Geffen’s DCG, a highly significant move as it gave Kurt Cobain and the band the financial muscle they needed to make the 1991 album Nevermind, spearheading the alternative tidal wave of the ’90s in the process.
It turns out that Sonic Youth, and Kim Gordon in particular, had a massive influence on someone else who would become a major player in the Generation X guitar scene; Courtney Love. In 1989, Love formed her band Hole with guitarist Eric Erlandson in L.A. and, by early 1991, they were looking to record their debut album.
In January 1991, Love sent a letter to her hero Kim Gordon asking her to produce Hole’s debut. With the letter also came a Hello Kitty barrette and copies of the band’s early singles. In the letter, Love, on behalf of the band, said they would “prefer working with a woman” and that they enjoyed the “production of the SST record”. The latter has been taken to mean Sonic Youth’s albums EVOL or Sister, the 1986 and ’87 album’s released on Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s independent label SST.
Love finished the love-heart covered letter by saying, “We all admire your body of work quite hugingly & slenchingly”. Yes, the provenance of these words thirty years later is still a mystery. Eventually, Gordon agreed to produce Hole’s debut, Pretty on the Inside, on the one condition that her friend, Gumball frontman Don Fleming, assisted her efforts.
Music history is full of these surprising and significant convergences between icons. Hole’s debut is a cult classic and set them on their path to ’90s stardom. However, it would also start off the most prominent power couple of the ’90s aside from Posh and Becks, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
At one point during the recording sessions, which took place over four days, Love admitted to Gordon that she thought Kurt Cobain “was hot”, which Gordon has since said: “Made me cringe inside and hope the two of them would never meet”. Gordon has also said that some part of her felt that Love had only asked her to produce the record because she “wanted my name associated with the record.” Either way, Gordon thought Love had something great going on, and carried on producing the record regardless.
Regarding Love’s fancy for the Nirvana frontman, she revealed: “We all said to ourselves, ‘Uh-oh, train wreck coming.'” In recalling this period, Gordon also said that Love “asked for advice about her secret affair” with Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins.” She then gave her stinging opinion, “I thought, Ew, at the mention of Billy Corgan, whom nobody liked because he was such a crybaby. Smashing Pumpkins took themselves way too seriously and were in no way punk rock.”
As they say, the rest is history. Before too long, Cobain and Love would be the “it” couple of alternative music, they would marry in February 1992, which would be followed by the birth of their daughter Francis Bean, born in August 1992. However, in April 1994, Cobain would take his own life.
Remembering the time, Gordon recalled that not long after Francis Bean’s birth, the newlyweds came to a Sonic Youth show in Seattle. She claims that after the show, Cobain seemed somewhat desperate, claiming that he didn’t know what to do because “Courtney thinks Frances likes me more than her.”
On the face of it, it may seem like a trivial, fatigue-induced tribulation of parenthood; however, Gordon claimed: “I remember that conversation vividly. I can’t imagine what life was like in the chaos of their drug-fuelled life, and it’s hard for me to remember that they were together for only a couple of years. It takes so little time to forge a life, or in this case, a brand.”
For many reasons, Love and Gordon’s relationship would fracture, and since those fast-moving, momentous times, the pair have fired shots at each other in the media. Gordon remembers a couple of significant occasions that complicated her and Love’s relationship.
The first came the night after the Nirvana mastermind’s tragic passing. At the vigil, she remembers a recording of Love reading Cobain’s suicide note being played, as Love proceeded to hand out some of his clothes to fans: “It was as if she were stepping out into her destiny – a platform of celebrity and infamy,” she commented.
However cynically, Gordon added: “A week after Kurt died, Hole released their major-label debut, Live Through This, which elevated Courtney to a new kind of perverse stardom. The timing couldn’t have been better.”
The ex-Sonic Youth frontwoman also pinpoints another occasion when people moved away from Hole’s leading lady. She remembers Lollapalooza 1995 when Love punched Bikini Kill’s frontwoman Kathleen Hanna in the face, who was “watching our set, minding her own business.” Gordon also contends: “Courtney and Kathleen had never met before. It set the tone for the rest of the tour, with Courtney being someone to avoid and ignore.”
In her 2015 autobiography, Girl in a Band, Gordon left the most scathing account of Love: “No one ever questions the disorder behind her tarantula LA glamour – sociopathy, narcissism – because it’s good rock and roll, good entertainment! I have a low tolerance for manipulative, egomaniacal behaviour, and usually have to remind myself that the person might be mentally ill.”
Whatever your thoughts, Kim Gordon certainly profoundly affected Courtney Love’s career, sonically and personally. Furthermore, the love that the Hole frontwoman once had for Gordon has clearly never been reciprocated. It was such a fast-paced and tumultuous time that it sucked everyone in and spat them out. Many of the remains of the scene today are trading blows via the media and hanging out dirty laundry. Maybe that is the only way to “keep the scene alive”.