Friday, March 26, 2004

Thank heavens for naughty girls
This past week's Post column...

Will Courtney Love apologize for her misdeeds? Not (bleeping) likely
Monday, March 22, 2004
Aaron Wherry - National Post

Courtney Love is a walking, talking middle finger of a woman, completely free of all remorse. If her late husband's epitaph reads, "All Apologies," hers will most certainly read the opposite (with a few expletives thrown in for good measure). And maybe that's why she seems such an oddity these days.

It was The New Yorker that asked several weeks ago: "And what, exactly, is the appeal of Courtney Love at this late date?" A question she answered herself last week with a three-day Big Apple assault of good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll mayhem, nudity and bloodshed.

But the week actually started with news of some good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll mayhem from lil' Avril Lavigne. Well, sort of.

Around the same time Love was performing her usual stand-up routine in a Beverly Hills courtroom ("You're fired!" she told her lawyer in the middle of proceedings, only to rehire him a minute later), Lavigne was experimenting with rebellion at a Boston radio station. Commenting on the rumoured "feud" between herself and that beacon of teenage virtue Hilary Duff, Lavigne remarked that Duff could "go screw" herself. A photo of Lavigne on the studio wall was the next target of her pint-sized wrath. "I hate that [bleeping] photo," she said, according to the Boston Herald, before tearing it down.

In our Puritanical post-Janet world -- one in which the hunt for Howard Stern has surpassed the search for those mysterious weapons of mass destruction on the list of American priorities -- this is what passes for rock 'n' roll mayhem. Thank whichever higher power we're still allowed to invoke, then, for Love.

Stumbling on to the set of the Late Show with David Letterman, she was a less-than-gentle reminder of when network television used to be considered daring (there was little Love did with Letterman that hadn't already been done by Madonna, Drew Barrymore and Farrah Fawcett).

Afterwards, Courtney was off, barefoot, to Wendy's for some burgers. There she apparently let a stranger pose for a picture while suckling her breast. A couple of stops later she was at a New York club delivering a typically ravaged performance and spearing a concertgoer with a mic stand. That got her an assault charge and a night in jail.

The New York tabloids, which had been desperate for a new witch to burn in the interim between judgment and sentencing for Martha Stewart, revelled in Love's gory glory, the Daily News' account of the evening featuring seven reporters' bylines, the Post's only six.

A night later, Love was back on wonderfully unfinished form at the Bowery Ballroom. "She was brilliant, stumbling through a riveting, chaotic set full of pithy asides and grand, desperate gestures," reported Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times.

With demands that the crowd "Take care of me!" she threw herself to the throng several times -- once, at least, striking a photographer and prompting even further attention from the local police. "This is exactly the sort of exhilarating ritual that seems to sustain her, but she also leaves open the possibility that it's slowly destroying her," Sanneh wrote. "That's the sickening undercurrent of the Courtney Love show: maybe it's our fault, too."

That, actually, is the sickening undercurrent of almost all rock 'n' roll, but something we seem only willing to consider selectively and, most often, after it's too late (see the recently deceased Elliott Smith).

And when we weren't worrying about Love's welfare last week, we were bemoaning the sad case of her daughter, Frances Bean -- the 11-year-old whose father, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide, and is now in the custody of Love's stepfather. No doubt Gloria Allred, having failed in her attempt to get Michael Jackson's children, is, as we speak, working to seize Love's Bean.

But remember that we've been here too before. More than a decade ago, Love's confession (later to be denied) to Vanity Fair of drug use during her pregnancy had resulted in Bean's removal. She was eventually returned and the whole controversy forgotten as we found new villains to decry. A couple of weeks from now we'll probably be too busy debating Janet Jackson's appearance on Saturday Night Live to bother with the likes of Bean.

So it's not that we're thinking of the children. Or that, as one columnist put it, Love is "staring 40 in the face" and needs to settle down. Rather, the hysteria surrounding Love's latest antics likely has more to do with that distinct lack of apology.

Remorse is what we've come to expect, if not demand, of our troubled and powerful -- preferably in the soft focus of a prime-time interview with Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer, preferably with tears.

The modern televised mea culpa may have started with Bill and Hillary Clinton sitting down in 1992 with 60 Minutes, amid Gennifer Flowers' allegations, to discuss Bill's wandering ways. That worked so well that when his successor, George W. Bush, decided to run for president, he sought out Oprah to confess his own youthful indiscretions.

In recent months, many of pop culture's evildoers, including Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Natalie Maines, Pete Rose and Howard Dean have been brought before the public to make amends for their sins. Those who show the most contrition (Maines, for instance) return to our collective favour. Those who don't seem appropriately shamed (Rose, Dean) are shown no such forgiveness. The underlying message is this: Thou must lower thyself to reign.

"Sorry" really is the one word we've always wanted to hear Love say. "Sorry" for not being worthy of Kurt's love. "Sorry" for then killing Kurt, or at least not doing enough to save him. "Sorry" for claiming other people's work as her own (in response to the implicitly sexist idea that most of her best work has been authored by the likes of Billy Corgan and Cobain). "Sorry" for cleaning herself up to take on Hollywood, only to slip back into her old punk rock habits. "Sorry" for daring to conduct herself with the same hedonistic aplomb as her male counterparts ("Ms. Love is not only one of the least respected rock stars working today, but she also has to deal with -- if not embody -- the double standard applied to women who live the rock 'n' roll lifestyle," The New York Times' Neil Strauss wrote recently).

America's queen of domesticity, despite several prime-time appearances, showed a similar refusal to bend to the cultural gatekeepers. Now, she's headed for prison.

In between challenging the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC!" she rasped at one point, pointing to her breasts), Love turned to Letterman and proclaimed, "You're having a really good time and you know it." And she was right. And if, for the moment, it's down to Michael Powell or Courtney Love, the choice seems clear. Because Love, of course, means never having to say you're sorry.

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