Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love
by Courtney Love
Picador £20, pp292
Wild child, stripper, traveller, groupie, punk poet, gifted actress, rock wife, infamous widow, junkie, self-publicist, controversy-addict and, by her own admission, 'shoplifter ... activist ... and asshole' -
Courtney Love is no ordinary gal.
No surprise, then, that Dirty Blonde is no workaday memoir. It's a hugely pictorial collection of personal artefacts - school reports, scribbled notes, bits of actual diary, letters, photographs (many of them featuring Courtney in various stages of casual disrobement), song lyrics and tons of other ephemera - that she has, apparently, stuffed into what must be a particularly roomy handbag.
What this upturned waste paper bin amounts to is a striking, occasionally beautiful, record of 42 years lived at full tilt and, thanks to her own ferocious resolve, in the full glare of public scrutiny. What it doesn't do, however, is much further illuminate a life and character already the subject of lavish research and speculation.
Indeed, there are gaps in the chronology. In the brief and moving introduction, Love apologises that there is little to illustrate her most recent narcotics-hell black hole: 'I was on drugs and nothing I wrote made any sense.'
No explanation, though, is offered for the relative, and sad, paucity of evidence of her 1978 UK sojourn, when she befriended the leading figures of the Liverpool post-punk scene, though a few words scrawled, years later, on a photograph of Echo and the Bunnymen's deceased drummer Pete DeFreitas, betray a tenderness seldom advertised by her growling music and rumbustious public persona. And her final word on this country? 'I learned to make tea.'
The strengths and weaknesses of this confession-by-scrapbook approach are most clearly illustrated in the coverage of her marriage to Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, the birth of their daughter Frances Bean and Kurt's suicide. The sheaves of love letters, apology notes (usually done on hotel notepads) and family snapshots allow a feeling of access, intimacy even, that would be beyond all but the most masterful prose. Equally though, the Polaroids and Post-Its can't capture what she felt. There are places where the language, spoken or written, cannot convey what we feel. That's why we have musicians.
In the end, Dirty Blonde is like Love herself and her other work: determinedly provocative, captivatingly visual, aggressively honest and ludicrously self-absorbed. Meanwhile, the lack of revelatory insight means it will struggle to appeal beyond her fan base. Which is a shame, because, for all its idiosyncrasies, it is more absorbing than the po-faced fact-parading of most rock biographies.