I first met Courtney Love in 1995 when I had been assigned to write a cover story about her for Vanity Fair. I flew out to Seattle, where she then lived on Lake Washington. She kept me waiting for an hour down in her living room while I busied myself inspecting a Buddhist altar.
Almost twenty years later, I am now featuring her in a magazine of which I am editor in chief. I flew to New York, where she was staying at the Bowery Hotel. She kept me waiting for an hour down in the lobby.
“Got to keep up the rock star image,” she said, as a way of apologetically explaining her tardiness when she finally came sauntering up to buss me on both cheeks after having taken the time to do her morning Buddhist chanting up in her room.
Some things never change. But Courtney Love, for all her late rock star entrances, certainly has in these intervening two decades. Maybe it’s the dharma of her religious practice that has made her less of a preening diva and more of a benevolent presence herself. Maybe it’s because she just turned fifty and is slowly letting go of some of the fear that she has for so long camouflaged with her bluster, which could be misinterpreted as belligerence. Maybe by mothering her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, for the last twenty-two years through the ups and downs that the press chronicled along with the courts, she has learned to mother herself. Maybe that fear—inchoate before it was caterwauling—is being replaced with forgiveness toward herself as well as others. Maybe it is just time to curate some calm in her life, as if calmness itself is an art form. Responsible is a better description of her now rather than erratic. She is quieter. She is ready for her close-up.
That is not to say she can’t still rock out, as she did on tour in Australia at the end of the summer. While touring, I sent her some questions by e-mail. Here are her responses.
Kevin Sessums: What do you think your reputation once was?
Courtney Love: At times, wildly inaccurate to the point that it astonished me. And it still does. But there are parts of it that are and were applicable. I do think for myself. I am, I suppose, a provocateur. It’s a painful thing, however, to be classified as entirely mad and bad and even dangerous to know when you’re actually rather boring and maternal and empathetic. But the fact that I didn’t use my sexuality foremost or my looks in my music career and instead let my rage be my calling card forged my reputation early on.
KS: What is your reputation now?
CL: Much more mellow. I can still shoot straight if I need to, though. I just can’t suffer fools. I can’t. But I’ve won the big boys over by being a very good girl for as long as possible. I run from any controversy at all. If I even smell it, I’m gone. I want no piece of that anymore.
KS: What do you want your reputation to be in the future?
CL: A hell of an actress and a great rock-and-roll front man/woman. And to keep it simple. I also love fashion. I can’t wait to design, and I hope that my designs speak to people. I also paint and draw. I love doing that. It’s not a dilettante thing with me. I’d love to be known as an artist with great conviction. So to put it simply, I want to be accountable, and I want to excel.
KS: Do you even worry about such a concept as “a reputation”?
CL: Oh, terribly. Not everyone knows I’ve been off any hard drugs since 2003. I’m not really a person who repeats my mistakes too many times once I’ve learned my lesson. It’s crucial—especially as an actor going back to acting—that my reputation as a nice person and reliable actress follows me. I have a lot more I could say on the matter, but if you have wealth and a controversial reputation, you’re screwed. So I keep on the safe side of the road these days. I stick with the winners and the people who have survived and thrived from having been through an unreliable reputation of their own and fixed that notion, as I have done. And I continue to do.
KS: What was the most important thing to you when I first met you twenty years ago?
CL: World domination. And raising my beautiful daughter.
KS: What is the most important thing to you now?
CL: Being an excellent artist. Being a rock for my beautiful, well-raised daughter.
KS: How would you have mothered your younger self?
CL: I would have been a total stage mother! I had the worst luck. I had the opposite.
KS: Anything you want to get off your chest?
CL: I just want to create value in all I do based on love. And as I’ve said, be accountable. I don’t want to take anything personally anymore. I want to show my Buddha nature. My Buddhist practice plays a huge part in my life.
This article originally appeared in Issue 3.