Hole's new album, Celebrity Skin, could easily be seen as the musical equivalent
of a cheap souvenir shop.
And, if you are willing to accept that comparison, then bandleader Courtney Love could
easily be the proprietor.
Consider the recently released recording's Southern California motif and all the drama
and glitz that has dominated Love's life in the four years since the release of her
hard-rocking band's previous album, Live Through This. She has gone from
being the Seattle-based first lady of grunge -- as the wife of late Nirvana singer Kurt
Cobain -- to being recognized as a legitimate Hollywood actress, based on her
acclaimed performance in the Milos Forman film "The People vs. Larry Flynt."
But, as the grunger-turned-glamour-girl says in the song "Celebrity Skin," she's not
I was walking along the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard the other day with my head
down, mindlessly following the progression of bronze stars on the Walk of Fame.
Spacing out and staring at the ground is the best way to deal with that street, so as to
avoid the disappointed faces of the tourists who have journeyed here only to realize that
the image is an illusion.
So there I was, spacing out, until something brought me to a halt.
Coming at me from both sides was the song "Celebrity Skin," Hole's Hollywood-inspired
quasi-anthem of funny metal riffs and Go-Go's-like girl-group vocals. On my left, it blasted
from one of the many tacky souvenir shops that have become that tired heart of
Tinseltown. On my right, it surged out of a white convertible that was stopped in traffic;
two prototypical, blonde L.A. girls sang along in the front seat.
It was a strange moment, being caught up by a song about the Hollywood dream gone
awry -- and the perils of a "hooker/waitress/model/actress" -- just as I was standing on the
street that has become known as the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. But it got even
As I looked over at the window of the souvenir shop, I saw a picture of Courtney Love,
sandwiched between shots of would-be actresses Pamela Anderson and Cindy
Crawford. (Just about every one of those shops features glossy shots of sex symbols, as
some type of statement of authenticity.) The photo was, of course, one of the glamorous
Love, taken at the 1997 Academy Awards, when she was all decked out in that white
Versace gown and that '40s-inspired platinum-blonde bob, on hand to celebrate the
nominations which "The People vs. Larry Flynt" had received.
But the funny thing was, someone had taken a magazine photo of Love during her
walking-time-bomb days -- those days of smeared lipstick, bruises and trashy clothes --
and taped it right over the photo below the one of Love at the Oscars -- apparently for
While the other photos were posted from inside the store, the magazine shot was taped
to the outside of the window, obviously put there by a passerby of some sort. God knows
it wasn't the kind of "ideal Hollywood" image the store would have chosen to display.
Clearly, there was a point to be made by the contrast, though you'd have to be visually
impaired or hallucinating to see much of a resemblance between the two Loves.
In some respects, these are the images that Celebrity Skin -- which begins
with the line "make me over" -- tries to reconcile. Hole has moved on
by redefining all things California, from the sound of L.A. rock to the desert mirages to
the hedonism and hysteria of Hollywood. Love knows we've seen her in all those fancy
dresses and she's unafraid. This is an album that accepts that Hole can't be
"grunge" anymore -- Love's had too much plastic surgery.
"If you had the opportunity to go to the Oscars and be fabulous, you would too," Love
said Thursday night at the MTV Video Music Awards held at the Universal Amphitheatre
in Los Angeles. "Any woman would."
Celebrity Skin -- one of my favorite albums this year -- has the potential to be a
cheesy souvenir shop, but it isn't.
As blunt as Love has been in the past, nothing on Celebrity Skin is too blunt,
except for maybe the line on "Reasons to be Beautiful" that goes, "It's better to rise than
fade away." It's a telling restatement of the Neil Young lyric, "It's better to burn out than to
fade away," with which her late husband Cobain ended his suicide note four years ago,
when Hollywood was not so much a part of Love and her lifestyle.
Speaking about the album in a recent interview, Love said, "What was I consciously
trying to do? Write good lyrics. What was I not trying to do? Tell you everything there is to
tell you ... It's none of anyone's business."
With its intrinsic allure and its vague references to the pursuit and effects of fame,
Celebrity Skin skims the surface of many things, leading you in a million different
directions and yet revealing little that you can truly hold onto.
Instead, it inspires your own illusions, dreams and fantasies.
In other words, it's classic Hollywood.