Beauty and the Beast

Courtney Love is getting shock treatment. Not the Frances Farmer-mental-institution-head-frying kind of shock treatment, but the type caused by friction on a brand new carpet. She's onstage for her soundcheck, but all she can sing is "Ouch." It's two hours until showtime on the opening night of the Marilyn Manson/Hole "Beautiful Monsters" tour and the carpet is just one of the many kinks that still needs to be worked out. Props are missing and Hole's stage backdrop is still stuck in Canada. But most of these glitches are easily resolved. The carpet problem, for one, disappears when a production assistant is sent to find Static-Guard. By the time the curtain opens, the only sparks Ms. Love will be giving off will be self-generated.It is exactly because of particulars like these that the "Beautiful Monsters" tour is starting in Spokane, a city of 350,000 set five hours east of Seattle. When Love finishes her soundcheck and sits down to chat, she inquires: "Just what is it with the kids around here?," as if some kind of biological phenomenon can explain their un-hipness. "I mean, they are still into flannel here. Can you believe that?"Equally incredulous are the other members of Hole who are sitting around the dressing room, their appearance setting them off as Californians. Guitarist Eric Erlandson is wearing a Def Leppard T-shirt, circa 1984. New drummer Samantha Maloney is sporting a Motley Crue shirt. Bassist Melissa Auf der Maur -- who is from Montreal, Quebec but, like the rest of the band, now lives in L.A. -- is resplendent in hip-hugger jeans. Even Love appears Hollywood-ized as her hair gets curled into a movie star 'do. "Beauty magazine covers are great," the singer explains, "because then you get to look pretty. And you can show your daughter and say, 'Look, this is what I do.'"One thing Love won't be showing Frances Bean Cobain is the Marilyn Manson portion of this tour. She's decided it's too adult and she's certainly correct about that. A better name for this tour might be "Beauty and the Beast," because while Hole are inside their dressing room prettying up, down the hall the members of Marilyn Manson are doing their best to out-grotesque the nearest freak show. Though this is the first North American date of the three-month tour, the two bands warmed up in Australia for two weeks. "The truth is," Love says of the Manson band, "they are absolutely a gas in limited doses. They drink, they make funny jokes, they play funny pranks.... We don't hang out with them too much after-hours, though.""Our curfew is midnight," adds Auf der Maur, only half-joking. "If they are out after that, we don't want to be there.""And who wants to do that these days?" chimes in Love, sounding surprisingly Victorian. The contrast between the two acts boils down to a battle of mythic proportions, argues Love. "This is Goth versus Romanticism," she announces, making it sound like the title of a Nietzsche book. Pretty on the InsideA lot has been said over the years about Courtney Love, and more than once she's been described as "a force of nature." But to that cannon of verse add a new phrase, one straight out of Raymond Chandler: "She's the type of dame who could get Marilyn Manson to say the Lord's prayer." In a series of long interviews that stretch over several days and cities, this is perhaps the most shocking revelation of the many to come from her mouth: While in Australia, the members of Hole convinced Manson (real name Brian Warner) to join them in a pre-show huddle of the Lord's Prayer. Love had brought her yoga teacher on the Australian tour with the following results: "She had them [Manson] doing yoga. Then we got Brian, and Jonathan from Korn, to do the Lord's Prayer with us. And Brian, more than once."Aghast, I make sure I heard correctly: "You got Marilyn Manson to do the Lord's Prayer?" "Yeah, he really did it," Love confirms. "It was Marilyn Manson, but it's also Brian [in the same person]. He had a really good time."Love knows this is a great soundbite because she hits my leg as she tells the story. But then a conversation with Love is always full of great soundbites. An audience with her means a fascinating, rolling trip that might stop briefly on other bands ("OK Computer is a betrayal"), jump around to name-dropping Hollywood ("Sarah Michelle Gellar says, 'Here's the band I get my strength from'"), and then immediately go to a dissection of power pop (the Nuggets box set is "simply too good"). She knows more about rock history and music than most critics (and she knows more about critics than anyone). But what most of the profiles of her in beauty magazines fail to capture is her self-reverential humor. When I remind her the last time she was in Eastern Washington four years ago, was for the start of the Lollapalooza tour, she leans back and shadowboxes, displaying a monstrous right hook. It is a reference to her slugging Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, a punch that resulted in a judge ordering Love to attend anger management classes.At 33, this appears to be a kinder, gentler Courtney, who -- at least compared to Manson -- comes off as the model of restraint. "We're like Oprah on this tour," she jokes. "We're the temperate ones." She's successfully established herself as an actress and says that she turned down a part in a movie to go out on this tour. What drives her now is the joy of having a record that's on Top 40 radio ("I grew up listening to Casey Kasem") and a critically acclaimed album that she can tour behind. The new album, Celebrity Skin, has done a lot to establish the band's credibility. Most of the headlines have begun to focus on Hole and not simply Love. "It's begun to pay off," says Auf der Maur, "because people now think of us as a band. As Hole."Auf der Maur makes a great foil onstage to Love, and she did double duty this tour as the designer of Hole's set. Drummer Maloney is only 23, but she brings youthful enthusiasm to the group. Guitarist Erlandson, who co-founded the band with Love in 1989, has been long-suffering, watching the majority of the press focus on Love when, truth be told, he is responsible for much of Hole's sound. "Eric's a national treasure," Love says. "Does he have to play with guys for that to come out?"Love proceeds to tell a hilarious story about how the Gallagher brothers, of Oasis, tried to steal Erlandson away. She imitates every voice so well her impressions would get her a slot on "The Tonight Show." The Gallaghers invited Erlandson to a party and he began to play the guitar. "They came up to him," Love says, "and said, 'That's great. But give it to us. Don't give it to heeerrrrr!'" This last word is stretched out for 10 seconds with an English soccer-boy sneer. Erlandson throws in the real punch line to the story. "It wasn't even my song!" he says. "It was a Beatles song I was playing!"MalibuThough the Beatles are clearly an influence on Erlandson, and many of the new album's songs are obviously about Love's last few years of tragedy in the Northwest, Celebrity Skin is obsessed with California. Erlandson says when the band moved back to L.A. in 1995, it was the Byrds that he was listening to, the start of "the California thing." This is also an album about Love's past, which made it particularly hard for her to put it out. Though Celebrity Skin was finished more than six months ago, she's still wishing she could re-craft the recording. The live versions of some of the songs are more to her liking than the album, particularly the ballad "Northern Star."Onstage in Spokane, Love goes out into the audience to play "Northern Star" and she does it with only Erlandson accompanying her on acoustic guitar. By the end of the song she is, strangely, bare-breasted. "It's about vulnerability," she explains later. "I did it first in Brisbane [Australia] when my zipper broke...."She introduces "Northern Star" as a song "about a boy from Aberdeen. I met him, fell in love and married him." By the end of the tune she is weeping and a bodyguard pulls her out of the crowd. When I ask her later if the tears are because of something that happened in the audience, she is dumb-founded. "Well, why do you think?" she answers quickly. "I'm back in the Northwest."Love openly answers every question that is posed to her, even the difficult ones. Celebrity Skin, she says, "is a kind of response to what happened with Kurt's death and with heroin and with Seattle." On her past, she says, "I must be carrying a burden through my genes. There's defined karma and the only way to deal with it is to work through it." On her stalkers and the conspiracy theorists she sums up, "They are working their own shit through my iconography." She admits she does the same with her songs. "The music is really juicy and interesting. I think it's more juicy, for want of a better term, than a lot of the stuff [people] want to gossip about."While Love has attempted to craft a career that frees her from her dead husband's shadow, Cobain is still a ghost in the material on Celebrity Skin. "I never once sat and said, 'I'm going to pour out a response to Kurt's death in this record,'" she explains, though, of course, that's exactly what she did on "Northern Star." "That is an obnoxious concept to me. And yet, it was the first time in my life when I had something that really did happen in my private, human, real, none-of-your-business life where creatively I hadn't put out a lot of things into the public. I had to censor and not be candid about some of it."Reasons to Be Beautiful"Northern Star" ends Hole's set in Spokane, and Love and the band retreat to their dressing room only to emerge a short time later to watch Manson. Love is now wearing pink designer silk pajamas that look like something Jackie Onasis might have worn on some Sunday morning in the early spring. She bounds around the backstage area, looking like she belongs in the cast of South Pacific. It's not surprising that Love had told me she'd auditioned for a musical recently -- another part turned down for the joy of riding in tour buses all night. Earlier Love had dished a telling story of how Manson had been at a Goth club and had seen a woman who was extensively scarred, with burns over three-quarters of her body. He was disgusted by her lack of shame over her deformity. But Love argued that it was exactly the embracing of her differentness that gave the woman power. "It was perfect," Love recalled. "She had found a subculture where she could be accepted. Where she's dyeing what's left of her hair black, and she's part of something."And it's true: Love both understands and embraces the concept of "outcastness" more than Manson ever could. Her statement of "You don't have to just be the girl that is burned" is far more socially dangerous than anything Manson will do onstage. Yet she's still an enthusiastic fan of his show, climbing up onto the rigging on the right-hand side of the stage and bopping her head back and forth. Later she will put on her rock critic cap and come up with the perfect description of Manson's show: "It's Dionysian. It's Bacchus turning into Dionysus and the children eating his flesh at harvest."It's hard to find anything romantic in what Manson was doing earlier: He had pulled his pants down to show off his ass. It was by no means sexual, and he looked more like a 5-year-old who had pooped his pants and was now too concerned with the shame over the surprise to remember to pull up his drawers. What was truly disgusting, though, was when Manson took a whip and rubbed it deep into his butt crack. He also walked over to the right hand side of the stage and rubbed his butt crack against the metal railing.Love, however, had been in her dressing room during most of this performance, and, by happenstance, she picks the railing on the right hand side of the stage to lean against. It's about 8 feet long, and she grabs it at one point and hangs from it. She's a stronger gymnast than you might imagine and she hangs upside down from her legs for a moment, then rights herself in one magnificent move.I watch in horror as her movements carry her up and over the black metal bar, precariously close to where Manson was doing his butt-wiping. Feeling it is necessary to warn her but not knowing how I could possibly express this in a way that she'd understand (maybe yelling, "Get your pink pajamas the hell off that rail, there might be Marilyn Manson's poop on it!"), I am silent. Thankfully, she scurries all over the railing but never touches the part Manson has used as a scratching post.Celebrity SkinAfter Manson's set, Love sits in the hallway chatting with Twiggy Ramirez, Manson's bass player. Her PJs are in remarkable contrast to Twiggy's black leather "Butcher of Cherbourg" ensemble. His dead-Laura-Palmer make-up has now smeared and his face is the color of a fish's belly. I remember that Manson had claimed in his autobiography that Twiggy had been romantically involved with Love on a previous tour, but, in Manson's words, "Twiggy wasn't famous enough at the time for Courtney to admit that she was having sex with him." Ramirez sits on the floor slumped over and sickly. Love's approach to him is anything but amorous: She looks instead like a mother caring for a wounded child. It is the perfect painting of the contrast that Love spoke of earlier, "Romanticism versus Goth." It is beauty and the beast. The other three members of Hole are also gathered around Twiggy, facing him with their backs to the rest of the hallway. At the moment, Love is working out a conflict about how long Hole had played. "Don't worry," she says. "We'll have our manager talk to your manager, and we'll work it all out."Down the hallway emerges a ghostly apparition, lumbering so slowly that I hardly imagine it is moving. It is a man being held up by two bodyguards, one under each arm, while a third bodyguard trails behind carrying a huge green canister of oxygen. The figure has a clear plastic hospital mask strapped to his face -- it looks like something an astronaut would wear. It could be a stage prop, but then the concert has been over for 10 minutes.The figure is Marilyn Manson. He is completely naked except for some fishnet tights that, like everything else he wore this night, have been pulled down so they cover only half his ass. He is showing entirely too much celebrity skin. He is a tall man, so his feet are literally dragging on the floor as the bodyguards move him down the hall. For some reason, he reminds me of Cruella DeVille at the end of 101 Dalmatians, when even her inherent evilness has been robbed of her. For the first time in the night he looks neither dangerous nor evil. He looks like he has found himself in a world without faith when only faith will save him. For a moment, I think he's dead. But then as the leaden mass comes slowly past, his head moves slightly to the left, and his eyes flash at me. The image of this tall, long-haired man being carried by two other men is so Christ-like it's spooky, the last thing I would have ever imagined from the man who champions himself as the "Antichrist Superstar." I wonder what the burned Goth woman would think of him now: Would she be disgusted by what he looks like or would she find acceptance?What Manson doesn't notice is that to his right sits his bass player, encircled by all the members of Hole. They are laughing and giggling and completely impervious to him passing in the hallway. None of them can see him except Twiggy, and he doesn't raise his eyes, as if this sort of thing happens every night.Yet as the hulk moves down the hall, I notice that the oxygen container comes so close to Love's head that it brushes against one of her blonde curls. At that precise moment, Courtney and Twiggy are talking about the bass player's health. "Did you really vomit onstage?" she asks. Love's question reminds me that earlier she'd told me that the things she dreaded most about this tour were, in order, "the vomiting, the sadness and the drugs.""I mean," she repeats, "you did really vomit, didn't you?""Yeah," Twiggy says matter-of-factly. "Twice.""Wow," Love responds, suddenly for the first time in the day at a complete loss for words. "Wow," she repeats. "Wow." Charles R. Cross is Editor of The Rocket based in Seattle, Washington

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