"Dirty Blonde" is a tired tale. Exploited, an artist senses total loss of control, and her frail autonomy shatters. She responds with substance abuse, bizarre acts, such as flashing David Letterman (right), and plastic surgery. Her response fuels more exploitation. Her sense of autonomy falls into the negative range. She responds with more substance abuse, plastic surgery and an e-mail exchange with Lindsay Lohan. "Dirty Blonde" is hollow, not even shallow, an act of self-trivialization. John Clarke, Jr., writing for "Variety," decides "It isn't a book -- it's a loose, sloppy, vain ode to self ... little more than lint, lyrics and ticket stubs ... on display." Concludes Clarke, "[Dirty Blonde] commits the terrible sin of being boring -- and who ever thought Courtney Love could be boring?"
Undeserving of review, why choose to write about the book? What's the motivation? Blame the New York "Times."
The "Times," in its "Book Review," for 19 November 2006, included Love in a feature called, "Bad Boys, Mean Girls, X Outlaws, Beautiful Losers and Revolutionaries." Love joins, by ruling, Allan Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Hunter S. Thompson pal Ralph Steadman and a superb piece on literary Manhattan in the 1970s.
Suddenly, her cache zooms. Love's now a literary rebel, alive, but lain long side some of the best. There's still no review of "Dirty Blonde," but the circumstances beg comment.
Has Love earned such esteem? No, not a chance; talented, she's not delivered. Gads of media attention doesn't equal quality product.
Ginsberg earned prominence with "Howl." The first public reading of "Howl," was in 1956, at the West Coast Gallery, in New York City. The reading "turned the 1950s into the 1960s in a single night," writes Kirn. In the blink of a cosmic eye, Ginsberg was the "great cold war climax of human disinhibition ... [a] hang loose, anti-Ike ... the Organization Man unzipped ... [a] vulnerable obverse to the Bomb." He spoke, loudly, when none dared whisper; frankly, when others were timid.
"Howl," in one reading of its 4000 lines, veered US ideology to the left, back toward centre. The prophets of doom, to beg a phrase from Pierre Juneau, lost favour; an angel of "the egalitarianism of looming extinction" won favour. Allen Ginsberg earned his place, delivering on his promise.
Tennessee Williams, the author, had a similar effect among gays. He showed that gay was not an enough, writes John Walters, confirming sex was a part, not the whole, of life. Williams also bridged social classes. He wrote for the upper middle-class, but liked to live in the lower world of street queens and hookers. Candy Darling, an Andy Warhol creation, was his best friend. Williams earned his notoriety with "Baby Doll" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and characters such as "Sissy Goforth," in "Boom."
Ralph Steadman drew what Hunter S. Thompson wrote for "Rolling Stone" magazine. Steadman moans that Thompson "was much more into ideals than personal affection." Thompson said drawings by Steadman had a predatory vigour. Working with Thompson for 35 years working and an evolving body of art earn Steadman rebel credentials, but his recent memoir flops.
There was an artistic revival in New York City, in the 1970s. The Ramones and Patti Smith renewed rock by punking it. Jean-Baptist Basquiat pulled art out of a dark age. Eric Bogosian, think Lenny Bruce meets Bill Hicks and decorum prevails, was the hot ticket. The city had six murders a day and a robbery every 10 seconds. Blackouts, brownouts and demonstrations were routine. The revived art scene, writes Stosuy, echoed the city: high-energy, violence and agitation. As Stosuy confirms, innovation moved the New York City art scene forward.
Jonesing on the new, Ginsberg and others, lunged into the future. Love works a worn-out song and dance. Her "bad girl gone wild" shtick harkens to Jean Harlow, 70 years ago. She adds nothing; a plagiarist recycling the hackneyed, watching the wheels go round.
Love is poor company for Ginsberg and others. We don't think of her as an artist, but as a satire of sexiness. Her lasting image, baby doll dresses and smeared makeup, defines a Yoko for Kurt Cobain, a celebrity.
Daniel Boorstein, the historian and Congressional Librarian, defines celebrity as "some known for their well knownness." In his movie, "Celebrity," Woody Allen casts the title characters as people who are a little to a lot out of focus. Love fits the bill as a celebrity, though she seems capable of more.
At one point, writes Emily Nussbaum, the problems of every young woman seemed solvable by Courtney Love. She was a "foster kid ... with a trust fund ... who bounced between school and juvenile detention halls." Many young women have similar experiences, if only vicariously.
Her career peaks and valleys," writes Tamara Coniff, "are legendary -- from platinum-selling artist and a feted actress in such films as 'The People verses Larry Flint' and 'Man on the Moon' [and 'Beat'], to suffering addict; from having money to burn and not having a penny. ... slowly, she's building her self-esteem and her bank account." Love recently sold 50% of the Kurt Cobain Nirvana catalogue for $50 million. That deals, writes Coniff, gave her the cash flow she needs to get back on her feet (sic).
She's able to sing "with humour and [an] aggression rare among female performers," writes Nussbaum. Her lyrics freely concern "breast-feeding and rape and competition." She's grunge and punk, a garage band Pippi Longstockings.
Always, Love promises. Roles in "The People versus Larry Flint," "Man on the Moon" and "Beat" suggest acting ability. Perhaps, she's the new Marilyn Monroe, talented, but exploited into oblivion.
Long ago, Love succumbed to her tabloid image. As Nussbaum writes, "self indulgent isn't a strong enough word" to describe "Dirty Blonde." There's a rejection letter from the Mickey Mouse Fan Club. You can read e-mails she exchanged with Lindsay Lohan. If living up to cartoonish media images is what you want from your heroes, "Dirty Blonde" is for you.
In April, Love made an impromptu appearance (left). It was for a Gay and Lesbian Community Centre benefit, held at the Henry Fonda Theatre, in Los Angeles. A good cause and good move, but then she promptly was in trouble, again.
After more rehab time, Love claims to be clean, writes Coniff. "She's looking at movie script," and wants to do a play in London and is writing. Linda Perry, who's producing a new Love recording, says "Courtney Love's name should be right up next to Bob Dylan when they say best lyricist of all time."
"Dirty Blonde," Love told Coniff, is "an insight into how I think. Not sure that's a good thing or not. But it's me." Her latest photo set casts Love as the "Nikki" character, of sorts, from the 2004 remake of "Alfie": heavy early-to-mid-sixties make up, hair and cigarette. A cross between Susan George and Sienna Miller is how Love thinks of herself these days or so it seems.
Innovation fueled Ginsberg, Williams and others. Love settles for a Xerox of a Xerox of herself. She doesn't fit along side Ginsberg or the others. "Dirty Blonde" doesn't deserve more attention.
If you're also into self-trivialization and self-exploitation, you might crave this book.
Bill Blythe (2006), "Poison Pen and Ink," in the New York "Times Book Review" for 19 November 2006. P. 12.
Daniel Boorstein (1964), "Celebrity: a guide to pseudo-events in America," published by Anchor.
John Clarke, Jr., (2007), "Dirty Blonde," in "Variety," for 15-21 January. P. 39.
Tamara Coniff (2005) "Lived Through This: the queen of rock wants her throne back," in Billboard Magazine: 28 October, p. 71.
Allen Ginsberg (2006), "Collective Poems 1947-1997," published by HarperCollins.
Walter Kirn (2006), "Howler," in the New York "Times Book Review for 19 November 2006. Pp. 14-15, 25.
Emily Nussbaum (2006), "Pretty on the Inside," in the New York "Times Book Review" for 19 November 2006. P. 13.
Meghan O'Rourke (2006), "Urban Scrawl," in the New York "Times Book Review" for 19 November 2006. P. 22.
Ava Stander, editor (2006), "Dirty Blonde: the diaries of Courtney Love," published by Faber and Faber.
Ralph Steadman (2006), "The Joke's Over: bruised memories: gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and me," published by Harcourt.
Brandon Stosuy, editor (2006), "Up Is Up but So Is Down: New York's downtown literary scene 1974-1992,"published by New York University Press.
John Waters (2007), "Introduction to 'Memoirs,'" by Tennessee Williams, published by New Directions. See also, "The Kindness of Strangers," in the New York "Times Book Review" for 19 November 2006. P. 20-21.
Streeter Click is editor of GrubStreet.ca.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.