Courtney Love is in a limousine taking her from Los Angeles to Desert Hot Springs on a detox mission. ”I’ve been on a bit of a bender after 9/11,” she admits. ”I’ve got a lot of s— in me. I weigh 147 pounds.” Which is why she’s checking into the We Care colonic spa for five days of fasting. Slumped low in the seat, the 37-year-old actress and lead singer of Hole is wearing baggy faded jeans, a brown pilled sweater, and Birkenstock sandals, her pink toenails twinkling with rhinestones. On her head is a wool knit hat that looks like something she found on the street. Last night she sat for three hours while her auburn hair extensions were unglued and cut out. ”See?” Love says, pulling the cap off. ”I look like a Dr. Seuss character on chemo.” She does. Her hair is short and tufty and sticking out in all directions. It’s a disaster. Love smiles a sad, self-conscious smile and covers up again. Lighting a cigarette, she asks, ”Why are we doing this story? I don’t have a record or a movie to promote. So I guess this is a think piece.” She shakes her head. ”God, what was I thinking?”
The singer/actress/provocateur doesn’t have an album to push or a film to plug or lemonade to sell, but she does have a potentially precedent-setting personal and political cause to promote. Love is suing Universal Music Group to break her contract. A win could add ammunition to an ongoing fight to change the way the music industry conducts business. As it stands now, major labels issue contracts based on the number of albums (usually five or seven) rather than the number of years, essentially owning an artist for most of his or her career. Love’s complaint? Under California’s labor laws, no one except a recording artist can be forced to sign a personal services contract that lasts longer than seven years. ”What that means,” Love says, ”is that every seven years every single artisan in California can redo their contracts except for us.” Record executives placate their most successful stars by renegotiating their contracts for more money.
Love was doing that dance with Interscope Records after she delivered 1994’s platinum CD ”Live Through This” and 1998’s lesser-selling ”Celebrity Skin.” She felt ”Skin” suffered from a lack of marketing support ”and it p—ed me off,” says the singer, who informed the label that she would not record another CD. In January 2000 UMG filed a lawsuit seeking damages for five undelivered albums. Love countersued 13 months later, charging among other things that her contract with UMG label Interscope was invalid because, technically, she had never signed with them. Hole cut a 1992 deal with Geffen Records, known for nurturing mercurial talents like Love’s late husband, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. But through a series of buyouts and megamergers, Geffen was absorbed into UMG, putting Hole under Interscope’s control. ”They f— career artists,” Love claims. ”Doug Morris [UMG’s chairman and CEO] and Jimmy Iovine [Interscope’s head] have always done business one way: Throw it out there and see what sticks. Pop hits that come and go — that’s what they like. The first billing on Interscope Records was Gerardo. ‘Rico Suave’!”
Love feels empowered in her quest to become a free agent by the recent discovery that she has Jewish ancestry, which includes a certain Hollywood legend. Love’s mother, therapist Linda Carroll, was adopted by a wealthy San Francisco family but later learned her birth mother is 78-year-old literary sensation Paula Fox, daughter of ’30s screenwriter Paul Fox and wife Elsie. (Paul Fox was a first cousin of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) ”Looking at the strength of Jewish actors, Jewish entertainers, and Jewish executives, and knowing that my bloodline is part of that, gives me a kind of strength,” she explains. ”Think about their positive contributions in this culture: Unionizing? Jews. Leftyism? Jews. So to be part of that — the Norma Rae of it — gives me confidence. Sitting in a room with Doug Morris and the business-affairs people at [UMG], they’re not looking at me thinking, Crazy goy. They’re thinking, Banzai Jew!”