© Phoebe Reilly of Spin, October 2005 Issue
It's been 11 years since Live Through This came out. Are you still bitter about rumors that you didn't write a lot of the songs? I don't give a shit anymore. My number one thing to work on is not being reactive - but appropriateness doesn't come easily to me sometimes. One of the reasons I hate Dave [Grohl] so much is he went on Howard Stern and said "I like 'Teenage Whore' because I know she wrote it." That stupid motherfucker. He knows exactly what I wrote, he knows exactly the input I had on [Nirvana's] third album. Kurt came [by the studio] to play with [Hole] more than he did with Nirvana because he liked us better. But, hey, it wouldn't be Spin if I wasn't slagging anybody.
When was the last time you listened to Live Through This? I haven't. It was so easy to make that I get surprised by the effect it had on people. But, you know, all good rock is easy. The riffs just came, and they were fresh from chords that I'd learned from [Billy] Corgan and Kurt. I wrote "Doll Parts" in five minutes.
Do you think that it still resonates with people? I can't even go to a club without running into a 19-year-old who's really, really affected by it. It pisses me off - it would piss off anyone to have their one record [that affects people] be ten years old. What about America's Sweetheart? It's not exactly whitechocolatespaceegg, fuckers.
Spin gave it an A-. Well, it had some problems. I was trying to be an international junkie making Exile on Main St., and I didn't make Exile on Main St. I had people following me around, giving me all sorts of drugs all over the world, and I thought, "Oh! The blues will come out." And they just sort of didn't.
You say you learned a lot about music from Billy and Kurt, but with the exception of Eric Erlandson, you chose to play with women - was that a feminist decision? I'll always prefer to play with women and hang out with women, and I'll always be a feminist. But let me tell you something. Gloria Steinem never helped me out; Larry Flynt did.
You used to have a lot of animosity for the riot grrrl movement. You even wrote a song, "Rock Star," making fun of it. What provoked that? Look, you've got these highly intelligent imperious girls, but who told them it was their undeniable American right not to be offended? Being offended is part of being in the real world. I'm offended every time I see George Bush on TV! And, frankly, it wasn't very good music.
So we can assume you haven't put aside your differences with former Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna? I still don't like her. She bugs me. Kathleen Hanna runs that ship [her relationship with Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz] in a way that is far more Yoko than I would be. I envision her being in a decked-out loft with a little corner for a desk that look like it belongs in a poor person's East Village apartment, with her battered-women's stuff and her Ms. magazines and all her communication with leading feminists. I really liked [drummer] Tobi [Vail] and Kathleen in the beginning, and then I just thought they were hypocrites.
Was Celebrity Skin your attempt to distance yourself from punk music? I wanted to prove that I had poppier chops. I did not want to make the widow record. I still haven't made the widow record.
Isn't Live Through This the widow record? It's possible. I don't think if I had been [Belly frontwoman] Tanya Donnelly and put out Live Through This anybody would've cared. Kurt had this dumb suicidal ideation - that's what I called it. I thought if we could live through this, we could live through anything.
Does that mean his suicide came as a shock to you? Well, after that incident in Rome [where Cobain overdosed in March 1994] - thank God nobody ever got ahold of this - but he left me a nasty note. I tried to have sex with him in the hospital afterwards - why am I telling you this? Anyway, he was just gone. Gone. I know it's ten years and you're supposed to get over shit. But it seems like some days it gets worse.
How could things have gone differently? There's this great Pete Townshend quote, and it goes something like "Rock'n'roll is a fire that is set by young bodies, and one day you wake up and you smell your own flesh burning." You know, for instance, not being protected by people, to the point that I got taken off to Bellevue [Hospital] on a fucking gurney.
Yeah, what happened? First of all, I just need you to know that Marilyn Manson told me drummer that that was obviously staged. And I thought about it, and I'm like, "Well, I did put on a Donna Karen slip dress. And there was definitely lip gloss." As the pictures were being taken, I knew they were disgusting, but I thought, in 20 years this is going to be an iconoclastic, hysterical moment in rock. I get taken off to Bellevue on a gurney? Come on, Lydia Lunch didn't even get that.
Do you think the media have misrepresented you? Something went wrong with my context last year - I think it might have been the um, crack.
[Laughs] I'm not sure I should be laughing. No, it's kind of funny. The word is so funny. Crack! I quit that, it was a bad phase. My problem was, you think they're talking about you on TV? Well, they were talking about me on TV. You think you're being followed? I was being followed. You think your phone's being tapped? My phone was being tapped. It was like crack-plus.
How is Frances Bean doing? The good news is that she's really popular. She's not depressive and she's superhappy. She wrote down different bands whose albums she wanted, and it was, like, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Nirvana. I was like, "Frances!" She's a freak.
You predicted that she would be tortured. Hasn't happened yet. She's fucking normal. She was preverbal when her dad died. You know, I believe in my heart of hearts if Kurt had stuck around six more months, the shit would have faded, and she would've been verbal. And you just can't off yourself when your kid talks.
What's it like to know you will always be associated with him? The Kurt thing has burdened me so much. In a lot of ways I wish I just had a baby with him and didn't marry him - I could've gone my own way. The biggest thing to get through with me, whether we're doing a movie or an interview or hanging out - the first baptism is we're listening to the radio and a Nirvana song comes on and people always want to know: Do they turn it off? Do they pretend it's not happening? I just start singing and get it over with. I like those songs. I like the song about my vagina; I like "Heart Shaped Box."
In some ways, you're actively involved in Kurt's legacy. You got a lot of shit for the way you handled the Nirvana box set. People are always saying, "How dare she? How dare she?" Because he was my husband. Because [the other] guys want to rewrite history. Because they didn't even like him. I can't deal with it. They wanted to call the box set Sappy!
Now that Nirvana and a lot of the bands that defined the early '90s are no longer around, where does that leave alternative music? Ten years ago it was a pretty even playing field in terms of rock'n'roll. But now Weezer, Velvet Revolver, me - we're like a niche market compared to what's on the charts, and what's on the charts is all black bought by all white. It freaks me out. I've been asked to write with the Neptunes. I've been asked to write with Andre 3000. I could write with Eve right now. But what would I do? Teach them the three punk chords? I mean, I really like Eve. She kept putting out my cigarettes and making sure my bra wasn't showing at the Barbershop 2 premiere. If I was black and a rapper, I'd be Eve. I'm a bigger badass than 50 Cent - and the only gun I've ever held in my hand was the one my husband shot himself with.
So what do you listen to these days? The only thing that's really riled me up in the last ten years has been the White Stripes. That's the one band that's gotten me competitive, and that's good. That's where I go, "Oh, fuck you! I'm going to make mincemeat out of you and hand you your ass." I told [music journalist] Neil Strauss, "I have a magical pussy, and it's only for Jack," which was a stupid thing to do, because I had to go to Japan with him in first class and sit there for 18 hours turning green while he shunned me. I like this new music. I don't think Snow Patrol is going to sell jillions, but I don't give a shit. I can turn on the radio right now and be inspired. We went through ten years of the Limp Bizkit thing, and I didn't know what to do. I have to be part of a community. I don't care if they're young or old, as long as they can wear crazy makeup and show their tits onstage. I'm 41, I can't show my tits onstage anymore. Me on David Letterman's desk? That's the last titty you get. The guy at Wendy's? That was the end of me and my tits.
But exhibitionism has always been part of your appeal. Sexual power was important to me then. It's not as important to me now.
Why is that? Because I'm not slutty and I don't need to prove myself so much. After Kurt died, for about five years, I would fuck anybody that was A-list just to say I did. I care about myself a little bit more now.
Do you have any regrets? I think I would've been happier if I'd married Edward [Norton]. I'll regret that to my dying day.
Would you say that you've embraced celebrity? I love to hang out with the fucking A-listers - it's fun. You gotta be able to change worlds. The rockers have been a little meaner to me in the last year, and the A-listers haven't been mean to me at all. I get invited to every party. You know, I am cool. I just am. I have to get back to believing that and not have voices in my head - and I'm doing that sober, which is a little rough. But I want the toys. I like free gowns. I like going to Elton John's house. I'm pretty conflicted.
You've had a career as both an actress and a musician. What's the difference? Being a rock star is like being a cult leader - you really have to be in your own religion. Movie stars are supposed to be healthy. They're kept happy and nutritionally together. In rock stardom there's an absolute economic upside to self-destruction. What makes the most money for this business? Dead rock stars.
You published Kurt's journals. Do you have any other plans to preserve his legacy? No one will take Kurt's ashes, because they don't want crowds. I was up in Seattle recently and drove by our old house on Lake Washington Boulevard. It's crazy. It looks like [Paris cemetery] Pere-Lachaise; it looks like [Jim] Morrison's grave. Syringes, bottles, tree carvings. That's what kids do. But I don't want Kurt in a bank vault somewhere. I want to be able to say: "I've laid you out somewhere, and people can come."