Are you Courtney or Kim?

No, not these two, I'm not just a bad speller.

Rather, Courtney Love or Kim Gordon. Agatz Pyzik reviews Gordon's memoir Girl in a Band and Anwen Crawford's Hole's Live Through This (33 1/3), about the making of Hole's Live Through This, and uses the two books as an opportunity to contrast two styles of feminism.

The differences of perception between Courtney Love and Kim Gordon were, and remain, profoundly a matter of taste, which is to say of class. Courtney Love never said that she came from a working class or poor background, and stressed a few times that she didn’t. (Love’s mother was a psychotherapist and her father was the first manager of the Grateful Dead.) But she was kitschy, exhibitionistic, shameless, and at the same time vulnerable and ready to show it. Love came from a “complicated” family background. She grew up without much attention, and was passed from relative to relative, and traveled as a teenager to the UK to follow around Liverpool bands Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. In the ’80s she worked as a jobbing actress and a stripper. Side by side, Gordon and Love represent mirror images of the Nineties—of music, femininity, feminism, and politics. If Gordon was tastefully highbrow, Love was lowbrow, “distasteful”: the disgraced widow, widely regarded as someone who was, if not directly responsible for her husband’s death, then at least insufficiently “helpful,” who was too mad, too freakish, too much of a selfish junkie careerist to look after her suffering husband. But that’s not how her fans saw her.
In her book on Live Through This, Crawford gives Love’s fans room to say what she meant to them. (“A long-standing bugbear of mine is the way in which teenage girls are never taken seriously as an audience,” Anwen told an interviewer when describing her research and writing process for the book. “They are the easiest demographic to patronize. Hole were huge with girls and young women, so of course they and their audience can be dismissed as silly and trivial.”) While Love may not have been poor, many of the fans described in Crawford’s book on Hole were, and they found something inspiring in those features which others found most problematic about Love. These fans were mostly Australian and New Zealander women or gay men whose lives were changed by the music. Hole dragged them out of depression, out of being closeted or harassed, and helped them do something positive with their lives. They’re now music journalists, writers, or work in radio. They started groups, often riot grrrl/punk in style, though the relationship between Hole and the riot grrrl scene was far from simple. They courted different scenes, different behaviors.
The feeling that recurs among them is that Hole, and Love in particular, gave them “permission” in their lives. “Hole gave me this permission to feel like it’s OK to want to be heard,” says Dominican-American radio DJ Mariel Reyes. Another interviewee, Nicole Solomon, disputes the notion that Courtney was a terrible role model: “No, she’s not. She’s a great role model! She’s telling you not to be ashamed of yourself and to express yourself, including the parts of yourself that society may deem ugly and inappropriate. Especially in her lyrics, she was so visceral, the amount of times the vomit comes up, or bleeding, ripping your guts out. And to have that made cool?” Around the world, and especially in its less-privileged parts, Love’s version of “visceral,” vulgar feminism resonated because it was all about the lack of shame, about giving yourself permission to be the way you want, no matter what society tells you. Even Gordon admits that Hole’s music had something in it, that it was positively messy. Messy, visceral, distasteful but thrilling—things that were the opposite of Sonic Youth.

I grew up listening to Sonic Youth, and a friend at a label invited me backstage to meet the band in happier times for them years back at the Wiltern in Los Angeles. What this article gave me was a greater appreciation for Courtney Love.