Redemption, deferred: Courtney Love’s elusive Judgment Day

Courtney Love. (Photo by whittlz via flickr.)
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On a sunny weekday afternoon last September, two reporters from a well-known news publication arrived at Soho's Mercer Hotel and told the front desk attendant they were there to see Courtney Love. The attendant called up to the pop star's room to let her know the reporters were there. He told them she'd be down shortly, so they decided to wait at the hotel bar. Reporter 1 ordered a cocktail, which he was still nursing by the time Love emerged about 15 minutes later. He asked if it would be OK if he finished the cocktail in her room. She said she'd rather he didn't—Love is a teetotaler these days.

Reporter 2 and Love went outside to smoke. They made small talk. Love was wearing a black dress, almost like a slip, something she could have worn to sleep, Reporter 2 later recalled. She told him about how she'd met Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, at a screening for Oliver Stone's "South of the Border" a few nights earlier. Chavez was said to have charmed her. "He's a sexy dawg," Love told the Daily News at the time. "He invited me to visit his country and I'd like to go. I'll rock Caracas!"

After finishing their cigarettes, Love and Reporter 2 went back inside the hotel. Reporter 1 finished his drink and the three of them took the elevator up to her room. It was messy—guitars and magazines strewn about, cigarette butts, coffee mugs. There was a large board leaning against the wall next to Love's bed, plastered collage-like with magazine clippings and photographs, including some of Love. It was what you'd call a "mood board." Fashion designers create mood boards to inspire their collections. Teenage girls make mood boards just for fun. Love is perhaps somewhere between the two.

The reporters were there to hear about Love's legal troubles. She wanted to expose the people she said had looted her finances in the years following the death of her husband, Kurt Cobain. Love told them that lawyers on the West Coast had stolen money from the trust fund of her daughter, Frances Bean, and that she was the victim of identity fraud and other shady transactions. Documents were scattered all over the room, and Love shared dozens of these documents with the reporters—property records, financial statements showing money being transferred from Love's account to other people's accounts, payment receipts, signatures she said were forged. The reporters huddled around Love's laptop and viewed a private website that served as a database for all of these documents, which she'd been collecting as evidence. Love would show them a document on paper or online and then say something like: "Isn't it weird that [So and So's] signature is on that?" She did a lot of Googling, too, mostly of names and property addresses listed in the documents. This went on for about three hours. The reporters listened and tried to make sense of it all.

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Love told them all of her efforts were for Frances Bean, not knowing she'd lose custody of and become estranged from her daughter several months later.

 

IF YOU'RE OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER EXACTLY what you were doing on April 8, 1994, when you found out that Cobain had killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head at the age of 27, this will make you feel even older: Last month, on August 18, Frances Bean turned 18.

The following day, Love wrote the younger Cobain a lengthy birthday screed on Twitter. Below are some consolidated snippets from the rant, with added punctuation for clarity, [sic]s all around:

happy 18th. i got you something so bloody awesome, finally. i love you. hard day for me. why are you trying to desperatly to ruin my life and reputation? well i long for your kiss and your sweet head smell.  i ache for you. i die for you every day. my heart breaks for you. sowrong. and youve taken away all motivation to do anything. i couldnt give a fuck. i go where im told, go thru the motions. why do u want to ruin my personal life? why would you leave me and my life in tatters like this and get angrier and angrier to justify it. i feel you missing me, and i miss you too. just come home,. it took a year but i got the sickest townhouse in the village. theres 4 floors. just come home.

The last few lines refer to Love's more than year-long Manhattan real estate hunt, marking her second attempt as a resident of this city. It came to an end in early August, according to the 46-year-old rocker, who revealed on Twitter—her preferred method of communication these days—that she'd struck a deal to lease Milla Jovovich's West Village townhouse: "MILLA I LOVE YOU THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR LEASING ME THE HOUSE WICH I KNOW IM GOING TO BUY, U ARE A GODDESS SUCCESS!YAY!" (A source close to Love's camp confirmed that she recently signed documents for a new apartment.)

The New York Times' Douglas Quenqua recently wrote about another troubled starlet's New York turn: "The promise of reinvention lies at the heart of the allure of New York, a place one can simultaneously get lost and be discovered. Historically, that has attracted not just the unknown in search of fame, but the infamous seeking redemption."

This observation barely needs saying in the case of Love. She's been explicit about her efforts at redemption, and how it ties up with her life in New York. And the press has bitten: Love is news when she's good (surprise!) and news when she's bad (less so); news when she looks good (surprise!) and when she looks bad (less so.) News when she sings well (surprise!) and news when she bombs a performance (less so.) Arguably Love no longer even requires the news; her own Twitter activity is so direct (if sometimes barely literate) as to render most news about her a form of aggregation.

But she cooperates in the narrative of her comeback, and her life in New York.

"I can be in the real world here," she told the Times back in April. "Here I can participate in life."

"I live here. I am a member of your society," she said in a chat with Daily Intel a few months later, after she'd been living in The Mercer on and off for about a year. Here she is maybe dating New York hotelier Andre Balazs; here, flirting with Hugo Chavez at an Oliver Stone premiere. Posing with Marina Abramovic at the MoMa in black sheer-panel strapless Givenchy; cooperating in a 2,200-word profile in Women's Wear Daily for no good reason other than to talk about her three Cristobal Balenciaga gowns and Hermes Birkin bag. ("She insists that in the six months since she's started toting the luxe bag that it's caused her to conduct herself with the utmost decorum.") And not conducting herself with as much decorum in an on-stage rock-star break-down that The Washington Post condescended to label a "train wreck." Or chainsmoking and butchering a Replacements song in a messy hotel room at The Standard, dabbing eye shadow on as she raspily wails "Are you satis-fiiiiiied?"

Alas, the press won't engage Love about the one thing she most desperately wants to talk about.

"OBVIOUSLY the us media would rather discuss what i am wearing rather than look [at what] @cltwitterarmy has dug up, Fraud that a 2nd grader cld decode," she tweeted on July 21.

The two reporters who visited her at the Mercer never wrote their story.

In fact, the only in-depth piece we could find on the topic of her financial-legal turmoil (and this article in itself is not that easy to follow), was published this past May in the online news publication of an Arizona community college.

Why should Love care? Because everything about her redemption seems, reading between the lines of her torrential online output, to be related to it: whether she can put aside charges she squandered her lionized husband's financial and musical legacy; whether she can afford the Birkin bags that will make her important in New York fashion again; and most importantly, whether she can afford to make a home in New York that her daughter will want to stay in. Like some character out of Dickens, this impenetrable legal and financial quagmire is everywhere in her redemption story. Unlike a Dickens character, it's probably a story that won't ever be told or resolved, and if it were, what would that do for her?

 

LAST DECEMBER, LOVE LOST CUSTODY of Frances Bean for the second time, a moot point now that the heiress to one of the greatest rock 'n' legacies in history is of legal age, but one over which Love is clearly still torn up: she wants her daughter back.

In March of 2009, Love became the first celebrity to be slapped with a Twitter defamation suit, a matter that will require her to appear for a court deposition on Sept. 28. There also have been various reports within the past year-and-a-half that Love was broke.

Several sources within Love's professional circle recalled to Capital instances in which she had to borrow money for cab rides. Yet her spending otherwise appears frivolous. One source told Capital Love had initially been paying several thousand dollars a night for her room at the Mercer, which is consistent with the rates listed on the hotel's website. But there are occasional profligacies that make little sense: Another recalled one of Love's first visits to the East Village offices of Crush Management, the company that has engineered her comeback since it began working with the singer last summer.

"This is my Civil War dagger," Love said upon entering the room unannounced, displaying what indeed appeared to be a Civil War dagger, according to the source, who was present at the time. "I paid a thousand dollars for it. You would too."

But the people around Love in official capacities are leaving it to her to make the story of her finances and her legal troubles public. Rogers & Cowan, the public relations firm that represents Love, declined to make her available for this piece. Love's general manager, Jonathan Daniel, founder and co-owner of Crush Management, did not respond to several requests for comment, nor did Love's day-to-day manager, Taylor Mason.

It's hard to piece the details together, but here's the gist of it: Love alleges that people who had been managing Cobain's estate set up bank accounts using the Social Security numbers of Cobain, Frances Bean and herself to buy and sell real estate all over the country. Love also is in litigation with Laird Norton Tyee Trust Company, a Seattle-based wealth management firm that she claims lost millions of dollars worth of Frances Bean's trust fund.

Laird Norton declined to comment. "We really do take client confidentiality seriously and we don't discuss any details of client-specific matters," said a spokeswoman for the company. Love, however, regularly tweets about her legal woes (she even has a "Twitter army" that she's been crowd-sourcing for grass-roots research assistance since June), and of the trust fund issue, she recently told The Daily Mail of her finances: "Sometimes they're at war with me, it's very complicated, and I can't get to it [the money]."

Manhattan, of course, had already witnessed its fair share of Love's ... eccentricity? Back when she lived in a star-packed loft building on Crosby Street she would wander "up and down the cobblestone street, begging for cigarettes and looking into parked car windows," and "fan herself on the windowsill, smoking cigarettes and pitching the butts several stories down into a street filled with gawkers and well-heeled shoppers," according to The New York Observer, which also quoted a former neighbor as saying: "I managed to fall over Courtney Love in the lobby. It was when she was opening her case in the lobby and searching for—she had her underwear all over the lobby—something she desperately needed."

Six years later, Love resides just a few blocks northwest of her former Crosby Street abode (at least until she moves out of the Mercer and into Jovovich's place; "the deal goes thru in december," Love said on Twitter.

"Bad Courtney," as she described herself in that April Times profile, may have been responsible for ruining Love's first Manhattan residency. But culturally speaking, the timing just wasn't right back in the early ‘00s, which gave rise to a gaggle of bands (remember The Strokes? Interpol? The Rapture?) conjuring the ghosts of late '70s/early '80s Manhattan with their skinny ties, post-punk coiffs and Suicide records. Now that CBGB has been converted into a John Varvatos boutique, now that Pitchfork is cataloguing the top 200 songs of the '90s (Hole came in at No. 92 with "Violet") and the city's indie elites are clamoring for nostalgia that reminds them of the decade in which they came of age, Love seems a friendly neighbor.

Not the psychotic Love with childbirth illusions getting dragged off to the local psych ward. And not the tame 12-step Buddhist Love depicted in the Times piece this spring. But somewhere in between.

New York's music and fashion cognoscenti, the press, her publicists and management all seem satisfied with this state of affairs. Only Love and her grown-up daughter aren't.

In the hotel room at the Mercer, Love's voice rose when she talked about the people who had allegedly taken Frances Bean's and her money and she made use of a phrase that's common to her when referring to the music establishment, the press, her former handlers and boyfriends, the Family Court, the police, the world.

"Why should I let them win?" she asked.