It sounded simple enough. A well timed, if somewhat out of place, gig during the Sundance Film Festival; a chance to play songs she loved that never became hits; an opportunity to debut her upcoming fashion line.
But nothing involving Courtney Love is simple. The woman is a bonafide, badass rock star, a sun around which a solar system of crazy revolves, and by the end of the night, Love would be pantsless, threatening a restraining order against a screaming woman who called her the cruelest person on earth.
* * *
Love's Jan. 21 show in Park City, Utah, was announced 12 hours before she went on stage. It was her first official solo performance since her 2010 tour with Hole, the band she formerly fronted.
It was also the first concert at the refurbished Star Bar, a rock 'n roll dive on Park City's Main Street that re-opened under new management one week ago. Its walls are lined with old-timey portraits of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and, right above the steps heading down to the entrance, Love's former husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. But on Monday night, the bathroom doors still smelled like cedar, and the bar's hard plastic glasses were unscratched. It was a rock bar through which few had rolled.
Love's management said she had five minutes to do an interview before a sound check with her band at 5:45 p.m. At 5:40, she wasn't there. Word on the street (literally – this came from a man on the sidewalk, and was later verified by a publicist) was that Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer who debuted the documentary "Sound City" at Sundance, would be next door at the bar Cisero's during Love's performance. Grohl is, by Love's own account, her enemy. The two have been embroiled in legal battles over rights to Nirvana royalties for years, and last year Love accused Grohl of hitting on her 19-year-old daughter, Frances-Bean Cobain. (Grohl's publicist and Cobain denied Love's claims, and Love later apologized.)
Outside the Star Bar, owner Bill Johnson wondered if Love and Grohl would cross paths and brawl. "That would be great press for me, huh?" he laughed.
With or without Love, soundcheck had to start. Micko Larkin, Love's guitar player, screamed into the mic: "Check. CHECK. ARRRAAAUUUGH." To the left of the stage, a man wearing a wool coat and beanie slept, face up, on a couch. A woman named Caroline Egan introduced herself as Love's "friend, one of the few she has left," and paced the length of the bar, calling and texting Love and her manager, Rob Hoffman. She suggested talking to Love's sister -- really, her half-sister, but more on that later -- Nicole Jon Carroll, who was texting on a sofa a few feet from the stage, seemingly impervious to the guttural screams.
Carroll is the founder of Stand for Courage, a charity that works with celebrities to publicly recognize young people who do good things. She said she was really excited to see Love perform. I asked her what else Love was working on. "Oh, you know, Courtney is always doing a lot of things," she said.
Egan returned to say Love and Hoffman were two minutes away. It was 6 p.m. She pulled me to the door. "When you talk to Courtney, don't mention Stand for Courage," she said. "She doesn't want Nicole using her to get publicity."
Egan handed me off to Johnson, who would show me to the dressing room where Love would do the interview. As we walked to the back of the bar, Johnson whispered, "How did you get involved in all this?" I explained that I asked Love's publicist if I could do an interview and he put me in touch with her manager. "So where does that one come in?" he asked, gesturing to Egan.
Me: "She said she's Courtney's friend and she's finding her and Rob."
Johnson: "Well, she's crazy. Stay away from her." Then he pointed his finger to his head like a gun.
First, Johnson opened the door to the liquor closet. "Well, there's this," he said. I asked if this was where Love was going to get ready. "Of course not!" he laughed. The liquor closet was quieter than the dressing room. If I wanted to interview Love in a cave of Jack Daniels and Grey Goose, that was ostensibly a possibility.
The dressing room was next to the stage. A tiny, dingy space, it had a leather loveseat and two smaller armchairs. A moving blanket was duct taped over the single window in place of a curtain. But the room's pièce de résistance was the bodegalike stock of food and vegetables laid out over two folding tables and, because those didn't have enough room, the floor. Sundries included Thomas' bagels, Cool Ranch Doritos, Kettle Cooked Lays, Arnold's sliced bread (two varieties), Agave sweetener, a tower of individually wrapped candies, a juicer, and a cooler of kale.
But there was no coffee, and that was about to be a major issue.
* * *
When I first saw Love, she was on stage, at the mic her guitarist had so heartily been screaming into. Her voice, softer than his, draped the bar with a chilling beauty. She wore a long green cardigan, torn jeans and a handful of necklaces. Her fingers played host to an assortment of crystal-studded flower rings. Her hair was uncombed.
After one song, her manager, a slim, stylish man in leather pants and studded black boots, ushered her back to her dressing room for the interview. She wasn't happy.
"There's someone in my eyeline that's really f**king me," she said to Hoffman. "It creeps me out, alright?" Hoffman tried to calm her down but Love was adamant that the creepy people not watch her soundcheck: "Tell them I have a terrible case of stage fright. The worst. I hate people watching soundchecks." She turned to me: "I don't actually have stage fright." No one on earth thought she did.
There was a bigger problem. "I need some coffee really, really badly," Love wailed. After going to rehab for a "very gnarly drug problem" in the early '00s, Love has insisted she's been sober since 2007, and her substance of choice is now caffeine. "What the f**k with the coffee? This is a nightmare. Everywhere I go in the world, and I don't even drink, there's no coffee, please. …"
Hoffman: "Courtney, we just walked in, do the interview, I'll get you your coffee, please --"
Love: "You'll get me the coffee right now."
Hoffman left, shutting the door behind him. Love slumped onto the couch. I had been told to ask Love about her book. Her appearance at Sundance didn't make a lot of sense -- she wasn't promoting a movie or looking to buy one. But, according to her publicist, her book was her latest project. What was it about?
"Well, what do you think it's about?" she shot back.
The door opened and in came Johnson, the Star Bar manager. Love cooed, "Baby, I need some coffee like I'm going to die, like I'm getting my head chopped off. How is there no coffee in here, Billy?" Johnson promised to get her coffee. "See?" she turned to me. "I like him better than my own family members."
Johnson smiled, clearly happy with his status in the book of Love, and sat back in one of the armchairs. Love snapped: "You can't sit in, you've got to go. It's a f**king interview. I just do interviews privately." Johnson protested -- "What? Are you gonna talk s**t about me?" -- but Love didn't budge. He shrugged, got up and left. As he walked out, Love demurred, "It's just a space thing."
Back to the book. It's about her life. She had thought about writing fiction for The New Yorker, a short story called "Blanche Dubois' Lover," in which "A Streetcar Named Desire's" Southern belle "moved to Greenwich Village and hung out with Anne Sexton and would do reefer. It was a pretty good trope and kind of New Yorker-ish."
But Love said she didn't get the story done on time. So she's writing about herself. She's also developing a clothing line, Never the Bride, photos of which appeared on Twitter last year.
That led to a conversation about Yves Saint Laurent, which Love had chosen to wear for the first part of her show, and Gwen Stefani, who wears a Saint Laurent jacket Love covets on the January cover of Vogue.
"Funny thing, you know, I would've never really bet on Gwen," she said. "Not back in the day." Love attributed Stefani's success -- her "f**king empire" of a clothing line, L.A.M.B. -- to her husband Gavin Rossdale, whom Love said she dated before he got together with Stefani.
"His band never did that well but he is very, very smart," she said. "He runs the Gwen show, that's him. He runs the clothing line, he f**king built that up, he has nothing else to do."
She smiled, shuffling through her purse for a lighter, remembering her relationship with Rossdale. "He was so good looking, but I kind of envisioned that me and Gavin Rossdale would end up on the French Riviera, like, taking tennis lessons and f**king our respective polo teachers."
Hoffman arrived with a 16 ounce cup of coffee, deposited it on a folding table, and left. Love started smoking and pacing the room. Talking about Stefani and Rossdale got her thinking about music. Bush, Rossdale's band, is back together and she wants to tour with them. She has a new single coming out next month, "This Means War," and though "it rocks so hard," she refused to play it at the Star Bar because "then it'll leak. I mean that's sort of self-evident."
"What I'm sort of playing tonight is a set of songs that I think really, really should've been hits and just weren't for marketing reasons," she said, like "Mono," the first single she released as a solo artist in 2004.
I asked if she knew Dave Grohl would be next door during her gig.
Me: "No, I heard he's checking out a band."
Love: "What band?"
Me: "I don't know … I could find out."
Love: "That's awesome. I love that. Dave, next door, within f**king … however many feet of me throwing a very, very sharp razor blade at his neck."
Love's beef with Grohl has been well documented. She believes he is hoarding Nirvana's royalties and not splitting the profits fairly. She hired Egan, whom she described as her banker, to figure out what she's owed. "The point is, it's about a very large sum of money that they have taken and it's incredibly sophisticated," she said. "So the problem with me and Dave is, he is mindlessly rich just from the Foo Fighters. My question is, why does he need all the Nirvana money?"
Love was worked up now. One hand -- and her hands are quite large -- was on the handle of the dressing room door. The other balanced a cigarette, gesticulating wildly as she explained the Nirvana financials. I thought it would be a good idea to change the topic -- what else was she working on?
"I've been doing," Love paused to exhale, "a lot of fine art lately. I have a really good art dealer. I have a show called 'And She's Not Even Pretty.' Look it up on Vogue.com."
Hoffman came in, asked if we're done, and Love started freaking out because she told me the name of the art dealer and she didn't want his name published. I assured her it wouldn't be. I asked if we could take a picture together. I left.
* * *
The show's official start time was 10 p.m., but it was a given that Love wouldn't be on until at least 11:30. Her warm up acts fell flat. The chorus of one song went, "I'd like to barbecue you lady all night long." Two hundred or so people milled about the bar, ordering beers and vodka sodas from servers wearing name tags.
Near midnight, Love sauntered onstage, groomed and glamorous in a three-piece suit and red lips. Camera phones came to life, the crowd roared. She rocked like others cannot, un-self conscious, without pomp and circumstance. For the first half of the show, besides the lyrics she sang, the only words she said to the crowd were "hi" and, in response to a fan, "You don't know me, how can you love me?"
It felt like the crowd was waiting for something. These were not diehard fans, they were people who happened to be in or near Park City on the day her show was announced, a handful who knew her music well and the rest hoping for a spectacle that could make them YouTube or Instagram famous. (One concert-goer nudged me and whispered with glee, "Just think -- she could OD tonight. This could be the last time anyone ever sees Courtney Love!")
But there was no meltdown. She dropped jaws with a cover of Jay-Z's "99 Problems," a genius rendition that evoked Johnny Cash covering Depeche Mode. She came out for multiple encores, and during one, said, "You can't be a rock star unless you have a f**ked up family. Some of mine are here tonight, and I was told to say hello. So, my f**king family members, hello."
I waited to return to Love's dressing room for a post-show interview. Next to me, by the door that led backstage, stood Pauly Shore. A girl in a backless velvet dress kept trying to sneak through the door but got rebuffed by a very large bouncer. It was after 1 a.m. and unclear when Love would leave the stage.
She packed it in after three encores. Hoffman emerged to pull me back to the kale and coffee abyss. Love stood in the middle of her dressing room wearing a large grey t-shirt and no pants. I told her how much I liked her "Jay-Z" cover. She hugged me. She sat down in an armchair in a pile of what appeared to be sawdust and lit a cigarette. Hoffman rumaged through her bags, asking her to put on pants.
More men came in: the members of Love's band, guitar player Larkin, Shawn Dailey, Scott Lipps, and an unaffiliated curly haired guy named Bob. Johnson and a buddy of his appeared. Love and I were talking about and trying to find the Never the Bride dress she wore for the encore when there was a banging at the door. One of the guys opened it.
It was Egan, and the drama that the camera phone holders craved was about to commence. "Courtney -- you have to come back here," she yelled. Love told her manager to get rid of Egan. The door slammed in Egan's face. Love started pacing, talking about what a "psychopath" Egan was. She raised her voice. She was upset Egan brought Carroll and that Carroll was introducing herself to people as Love's sister. "She's not my sister," Love said, "she's my half-sister. I didn't see her from when I was seven to when I became a rock star."
The banging began again. Hoffman opened the door. Egan started shrieking, Love started screaming, and everyone ducked for cover, trying to avoid the confrontation as best as possible in a room that was crowded with couches, clothes, and a cooler formerly filled with kale.
Red-faced and enraged, Egan admonished Love as "the cruellest, worst person in the world" for not saying hi to her sister. Love told Egan she never wanted to see her again. Hoffman said they'd get a restraining order. He stormed out the door and announced moments later that Egan had been kicked out of the Star Bar. He smiled. Love looked unamused.
If this kind of episode was anything out of the ordinary, Love didn't show it. She still couldn't find the dress. She said it was time to go home. She wanted someone to guard her as she walked out so that Egan couldn't ambush her. Hoffman and the band guys gathered Love's things and assured her they'd be able to make a clean getaway through the back of the Star Bar. A white van awaited their arrival.
Love shrugged on a fur coat and slipped into flats. She smiled, said goodbye, and walked out the back door into the below-freezing night, triumphant, kale-fed and caffeinated.
Whatever happened to Egan? Did Love really fire her? I emailed her publicist to find out.
"I have no idea," he wrote back. "Can we just leave that out?"