To celebrate the release of our 103rd 33 1/3 on Live Through This by Anwen Crawford, we bring you the second installment of Hole week. Here is an excerpt from the chapter “Violet.”
And all the stars were just like little fish. Did you know that amethyst is the birthstone for February? And Kurt Cobain was born on February 20. Pisces, Jesus man: the punk- rock messiah crucified upon his own fame. Yeah, yeah. ‘This is for Kurt, and Kristen, and River, and Joe, and Rob and, today, Joni Abbott,’ began Courtney, introducing a performance of ‘Violet’ at the MTV Music Video Awards on September 7, 1995. A litany of the dead. And all the stars were just like little fists, she sang. Fish/fist. Violet/violence. Violet the colour of injuries. Bruise violet.
And one of the eventual B-sides to ‘Violet,’ a cover of The Crystals’ ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss),’ was recorded during Hole’s set for MTV Unplugged on Valentine’s Day, 1995. ‘This is a really sick song,’ Courtney said. ‘It’s one of those Phil Spector songs, and it was written by Carole King, which—you have to think.’ She wore a thigh-length black dress with long, black lace sleeves, her blonde hair unkempt, her skin doll perfect, and I dreamt of looking that fierce, that untouchable.
Violet (or lilac, or pansy, or mauve), the colour of halfmourning. Permitted to a Victorian widow, along with grey, after at least two years dressed in the black of full mourning clothes. In 1865, the English social reformer and journalist Henry Mayhew described a half-mourning gown that caught his eye as ‘a certain delicate robe of the palest violet tint fairly frosted with crystal spots.’ Live through this. And Courtney lived. Born July 9, 1964 (or was it 1965?), named Love Michelle Harrison (or was it Courtney Michelle Harrison?), then Courtney Michelle Rodriguez, then, finally, Courtney Love.
Hole formed in Los Angeles in 1989. ‘The first time I came down here I said it was the ugliest place I’d ever seen and I would never ever fucking live here,’ Courtney told L.A.-based punk zine Flipside in 1990. ‘And now I’m here.’ Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson were the band’s founding members. ‘We’re a real group where everybody affects the band, it’s not just one person,’ said Erlandson during the same interview. Courtney resented him at first for not being a girl, but the patient, stalwart Erlandson—university graduate, practicing Buddhist, son of a college dean—was the ballast Courtney didn’t know she was looking for. He was also the only band member with a driver’s licence, no small qualification in L.A.
In 1990, Hole released ‘Retard Girl’ and ‘Dicknail’ through Sympathy For The Record Industry and the Sub Pop Singles Club, respectively. Jill Emery on bass and Caroline Rue on drums. Pretty on the Inside came in 1991, released on Caroline Records, produced by Don Fleming and Kim Gordon and dedicated to Rob Ritter, guitarist in L.A. punk band Bags (then The Gun Club, then 45 Grave) and dead of a heroin overdose the same year.
(Bags formed when Alice Armendariz and Patricia Morrison met at an audition for Venus and the Razorblades, manager Kim Fowler’s pet project following The Runaways. Courtney Love, in an interview with MOJO in 2010, remembered stealing a copy of The Runaways’ ‘Cherry Bomb’ from a record store in Eugene, Oregon, when she was about 10 years old. ‘I love pop. Sugar pop,’ she said, and, ‘All I know is that Buffalo Springfield was possibly the greatest live band of all time.’ Buffalo Springfield, Fleetwood Mac, The Runaways, X, The Gun Club: the ancestry of Hole was in Los Angeles. Also, Venus and the Razorblades is the perfect name for a band starring Courtney Love in a parallel universe where it’s permanently 1979.)
Pretty on the Inside is relentless. All the instruments wrestle with one another. The influence of early Sonic Youth is very audible: the guitar tones are scouring and metallic. Courtney sings, hollers, whispers, yells, as if she’s constantly running out of breath. It’s not a bad album by any means, and ‘Teenage Whore’ might well be the perfect Hole song: contemptuous, wounded, delivered like a curse. As a statement of intent, Pretty on the Inside is far more singular and committed than Nirvana’s Nevermind, which was released in the same year. I doubt that Courtney Love would agree with me.
‘“Violet” was officially born on Halloween at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, opening for the Laughing Hyenas with 40 people there,’ said Courtney, talking to SPIN in 1995. ‘And I was in the van outside the show during soundcheck, and we had five songs from Nevermind, and I was so jealous of those songs that I had to try and top them. I could not believe that somebody that I knew, from our underground, had written a bunch of songs so fiercely great.’