This week Courtney Love joins Shirley in the studio to talk about what’s behind the song Boys on the Radio, what it’s like to have to tend to such an important legacy and what goes into the making of a great record.
Shirley: It's necessary for other people coming behind you to see what you've done. You know, you have changed the landscape-
Courtney: To keep your legacy, for sure.
Courtney: Because no one's going to guard your shit for you.
Shirley: Yeah. No, they aren't. I mean, you're a trailblazer. You've changed the map for Women.
Shirley: So, when I first met Courtney love back in December 1995 backstage at a club in Boston, she quite unexpectedly but accurately called me out as a misanthrope to my face, and has held my rapt attention ever since.
Shirley: Polarizing, controversial, wildly intelligent and unapologetic, Courtney set the barometer against which all punk rock gods and goddesses will forever be judged. There's an authenticity in her delivery that few are able to touch, a rawness and a power that is so far removed from the studied and produced voices you hear on the radio today, love her or loathe her, there's no denying that Courtney is a rare creature, and it was an absolute thrill for me to be able to sit down and talk to her. Not about her movie career or fashion or popular culture, but about what she does best, which is making music.
Shirley: The Jump is a podcast where I Shirley Ann Manson sit down with musicians and talk about the one song that changed everything.
Shirley: So listen.
Shirley: Here we are. Courtney: Oh, thanks for having me.
Shirley: I am delighted to have you Courtney Love.
Courtney: Thanks Shirley Manson.
Shirley: I woke up this morning, and because I follow you on Instagram, as you probably know, I saw that it was the 25th anniversary today of Live Through This.
Courtney: I saw that too.
Shirley: And I want to talk about music.
Shirley: And I feel like when you're a woman in music, talking from my own experience, it's so rarely happens that we get to be musicians-
Courtney: Musicians, for sure.
Shirley: Like, what was your first musical memory of where music really ignited you Inside?
Courtney: I think, you know, it's pretty early. Like we would drive down, my mother and my stepfather, we would drive from Eugene, Oregon, which is a big deadhead town, and we would drive into San Francisco, and there was a station, like what would now be called a classic rock station, but was then called an FM station. Courtney: And it seemed to always perpetually, I've grown into them now, but I didn't like them then, play The Doors and I thought it was real rape man, spooky music. I didn't like Jim Morrison's dark charisma. Now I'm okay with it. I wasn't a fan of it then, but it would always be like Riders on the Storm and like spooky man music.
Courtney: Also, when I was growing up, Elton John, it was super like I was going to marry him and-
Shirley: Good luck with that.
Courtney: Yeah, right? But I wanted to be that archetype. Especially like Tiny Dancer. I saw his last ever show in LA.
Shirley: He's incredible still.
Courtney: Incredible, and he's now my husband.
Shirley: But you liked pop songs, by the sound of it.
Courtney: I really did. You know, I loved ABBA's Waterloo. I think that's such a great song. I still think that's the best ABBA song possible.
Shirley: Winner of the Univision song contest.
Courtney: Waterloo, for sure.
Courtney: And then my stepfather would let me listen to Dr. Demento, which is like all the novelty songs, and it would be Sunday night, and it was such a treat to get to listen to, because they would play a little new wave and a little punk as the years got closer to 1980. 1979, 1976 and then also, you know, I'm 54, so I got to hear some more new wave stuff. Shirley: What was the first record you ever bought with your own money?
Courtney: A novelty song about Jaws. Yeah, like a shark novelty song. You know, if I'm honest. Also ELO Evil Woman.
Shirley: Oh yeah.
Courtney: And then I got into The Runaways, and I heard Cherry Bomb, and it changed my fucking life man. It really did.
Shirley: I mean that makes sense. And so then how did you get to become a musician? I don't really understand, because you know I read all the stories and there's a lot of mythology around it. But I'm just curious if I actual little Courtney, how she-
Courtney: I wasn't cool first. I wasn't cool.
Shirley: Well, nobody's cool.
Courtney: But I get to the cool part of my mythology really fast.
Shirley: But I like the nerdy stuff. Give me the nerdy stuff.
Courtney: Yeah, yeah. Well, I did the nerdy stuff for longer than I put on, which is kind of lame. Like I put on that I-
Shirley: Were you in school choir and orchestra?
Courtney: No, none of that. No.
Shirley: Did you play any instruments growing up? Courtney: No. No, no. I mean sometimes when I went to New Zealand after my mother had moved there, someone got me a big fat guitar, but it had horrible action, big strings. I could probably play in now.
Shirley: Your wee hands, yeah.
Courtney: Little hands, and learning like Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley, right? Can't play it. I remember that big fucking guitar with those huge nylon strings.
Shirley: But did you want to be able to play it?
Courtney: Yes, very much.
Shirley: So, you had to desire to play.
Courtney: I definitely had a big desire to play that damn song.
Shirley: And then when did you finally pick up a guitar to seriously learn it? At what Age?
Courtney: Like years later. Nine, ten, eleven, and then I'm back in Portland at 11, and I'm trying to learn more of a better acoustic that my stepfather had. And then I go back to Eugene, Oregon at 12 again, and then I start getting in horrible trouble. Like juvie and shit.
Shirley: And you're still playing all this time?
Courtney: No, no. The Runaways, like they had an influence on my lifestyle, but not my Life.
Shirley: Right, but you were always around musicians. You were always, it seemed- Courtney: No, I was around whores.
Shirley: Is there any difference?
Courtney: Yeah. Cause this was like lifestyle, drugs, prostitutes, you know, that kind of juvie lifestyle, and then I kind of married my lifestyle to musicians. That for a few years I was just around prostitutes. Was not one, thankfully, because I have enough trauma, but then I came down to LA.
Shirley: And you became a professional musician, which was more or less the same Thing.
Courtney: Same as a hooker, for sure.
Shirley: So, this is a show about the moments in your music career where you find something specific that felt authentic to you.
Shirley: And you picked Boys on the Radio.
Courtney: I did.
Shirley: From Celebrity Skin.
Courtney: I did, yeah.
* MUSIC - BOYS ON THE RADIO (HOLE) *
Shirley: What's different about this song, I guess, to the rest of the album? There must've been a reason why you specifically picked this one?
Courtney: It deals with death. The other songs do, too. You know, I just think this song is like, it pays its way, you know what I mean? It's like it's not-
Shirley: It's not filler.
Courtney: It sure isn't. You know, none of the songs on that record are.
Shirley: Did you have a specific idea in mind or was this just sort of like free fall?
Courtney: I was just, I'm a huge Cheap Trick fan. I'm a huge Stones fan, but they're very different things. Like, Cheap Trick is kind of like going on a Beatles model, and the Stones is like going on a blues model. So, I really wanted that album, Celebrity Skin, to be like hooky. But you know, this song did have a lot of hooks in it and-
Shirley: It's incredibly melodic.
Courtney: Yeah, it is.
Shirley: And kind of celestial sounding to me.
Courtney: Yeah, I agree.
Shirley: Like you come in like an avenging angel to me and sing this-
Courtney: Oh, that's nice. Thanks, Shirley.
Shirley: No, but you know what I mean? That's what it feels like to me. MUSIC - BOYS ON THE RADIO (HOLE)
Shirley: You know, being that this is the 25th anniversary-
Shirley: And then, this was the next record we heard from you.
Shirley: Did you gain more confidence as a musician on your own terms between these two records?
Courtney: I could play guitar much better.
Shirley: And sing better?
Courtney: Uh, yeah. Yeah, and I knew what effects I wanted more.
Shirley: Were you more confident because of the outrageous success you'd enjoyed? I mean, I can't imagine-
Courtney: Yeah, and I liked my body better. I ate much more healthy.
Shirley: And your life changed so much.
Courtney: Right, in four years.
Shirley: I mean in unfathomable ways. Courtney: Yeah.
Shirley: I mean, you were absolutely one of the most famous women in the world at this time.
Courtney: Yes. A lot happens. For instance, I get real bougie. I star in a real big movie, The People Versus Larry Flint, and I started dating Edward Norton from The People Versus Larry Flint, and he's like really sweet to me, and from Yale and stuff, and it's a whole other world he comes from. I mean, it was-
Shirley: So, your record company though, I'm assuming, try and pull you into the studio.
Courtney: No, no. I wanted to go.
Shirley: You wanted to go.
Courtney: No, there's no like-
Shirley: You make it in LA, right?
Courtney: Yeah, Conway, and it was really expensive.
Shirley: It was at the height of the '90s though, literally. I mean, where people were spending, spending, and records were selling.
Shirley: Can you remember where you wrote it? Courtney: I know that I wrote a lot of it because ... Oh, we were in a car going to some gala or something, and there had been a run of songs that were really about me on karaoke by men and like not all of them were people I had dated. They weren't date songs, they were like nasty some of them. And Edward was like, "All those songs can't be about you." I'm like, "They are."
Shirley: So you-
Courtney: So I wrote this song, and it kind of returned.
* MUSIC - BOYS ON THE RADIO (HOLE) *
Shirley: And you have a very specific vision, I'm assuming, when you go into the studio, Correct?
Courtney: I do.
Shirley: Are Your vocals always the last to go on?
Courtney: No. In this case of Celebrity Skin I did a lot of vocals, but the weird part of that is we only use my guide vocals in the end anyway, and I knew the guide vocals were right. It was the one thing I knew and I was 100% confident in was those guides were like heaven sent, they were great. It's like In Utero with Steve Albini, with Kurt, like all the guide vocals were what were used, but Albini actually didn't make Kurt do them twice.
Shirley: Does singing stress you out at all? Like do you get performance anxiety?
Courtney: No. Shirley: Never?
Courtney: Yeah, sometimes a little.
Shirley: Because I think as a singer it can be really intimidating when you know that people are listening, and you know that it's your chance to get things right.
Shirley: It takes me a while sometimes to warm up. Do you change words when you're in ... Like if you're-
Courtney: A bit. A bit. Not much. I didn't change the concept of the words, I just changed ashes to ashes, and shit like that. But yeah. No, I didn't change the structure.
Shirley: Depending on how they sound to you when you're in the room.
Courtney: Yeah. And also, the release in the moment, that's what I do the best I think. And the things that I do best are things that I guess I'm supposed to enjoy, that God gave me or Buddha gave me, and yeah, I'm going to enjoy them, because these are the things that I have that are my gifts.
Shirley: Knowing you, that they're clearly your words, you know?
Shirley: Do you mind reading some of the lyrics?
Courtney: Yeah, let's see. Let's see what we have.
Courtney: Do what you want, because I'll do anything, and I'll take the blame. What's mine is yours. You can have it all and I'll learn to play. MUSIC - BOYS ON THE RADIO (HOLE)
Courtney: Oh, the boys on the radio, they crash and burn. You know, this is obviously some Kurt stuff too. They fold and fade so slow in your endless summer night. I'll be on the other side. When you're beautiful and dying, all the world that you've denied. When the water is too deep, you can close your eyes and really sleep tonight.
Shirley: Yeah. I think a beautiful lyrics, no?
Courtney: They're pretty good. Yeah.
Shirley: Do you still feel good about them now?
Courtney: Yeah. I think this is nice on the page.
* MUSIC - BOYS ON THE RADIO (HOLE) *
Shirley: What are you trying to do when you sing?
Courtney: Release my shit, I guess. Not my shit. Release my tension, release my hurt, release my pain. I mean, I guess that's the reason that I am good at them.
Shirley: And you enjoy it.
Courtney: I try to, because I can't understand why they're there otherwise. It's simple. You know, I'm a simple girl. I like potatoes, and hamburger. Shirley: Why do you like to write? I mean, do you get a specific pleasure out of actually writing words?
Courtney: You know, in the last few years I've wondered if I have anything to say anymore, and that's a really gnarly place to be. You know, I'm 54. Do I have anything to say? And then I'm listening to Nina Simone and like, well, she had something to say.
Shirley: She sure did.
Courtney: You know? I start to feel like I have something to say for my community.
Shirley: When I listened to it last night, because I know that record inside out.
Courtney: Oh yeah?
Shirley: But I haven't listened to it in awhile, and I was listening to it and I got the ... I'm getting the goosebumps now, actually talking about it.
Courtney: Aw, that's so sweet.
Shirley: I'm not trying to be sweet. I'm not particularly sweet. I'm being sincere, but it felt powerful, and incredibly vulnerable at the same time.
Courtney: Oh wow. Shirley: Which is how you strike me anyway. Every time I see you feel all that to me.
Courtney: Oh, that's so nice.
Shirley: Which I think is what some people don't understand about you, is this incredible, fragility's the wrong word, because you're not fragile. But there's a vulnerability about you, I think, and this fierce ... I see you scrunching your wee nose up, but there's something in that song that I feel is very ... How you seem to stride through life.
Courtney: You know, kind of going back to what you asked me about, which is how did it begin for me as a musician. That early formative beginning with the juvie and the hookers and you know, it's like I really swim through a lot of mud to get to a guitar. You know, I fight through a lot of really horrible shit.
Shirley: How do you think you've changed?
Courtney: I think I'm less tough. I think I'm more delicate in a way now. I think that I'm letting people close to me see that. I'm less like, "Let's go beat him up," you know? And more like, "I need to sleep as long as I possibly can."
Shirley: What's the ambition with music?
Courtney: Just keep making it, and they'll keep showing up. That's as much as we can do in this lifetime.
Shirley: Amen to that.
Courtney: Amen, Shirley Manson. Shirley: Thank you so much. I love you.
Courtney: I love you too, baby. Thank you.
Shirley: Thank you so much for doing that.
* MUSIC - BOYS ON THE RADIO (HOLE) *
Shirley: Next week on The Jump, Karen O.
Karen O: People think like, oh yeah it's ballsy to perform like a punk rock song and be like Raw Raw Raw.
Shirley: No, it's not.
Karen O: It's not at all. It's like what's ballsy is like the vulnerability, you know?
Shirley: The Jump is an original series from MailChimp, and I'm your host, Shirley Manson. It's produced in partnership with Little Everywhere, executive produced by Dann Gallucci, Jane Marie and Hrishikesh Hirway. Original music composed by Hrishikesh Hirway.
Shirley: Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts.
Introducing The Jump, a new podcast from Mailchimp. Available wherever you get your podcasts.
Perfume Genius discusses his song Learning.
Big Boi discusses his song Git Up, Git Out.
Esperanza Spalding discusses her song I Want It Now.
Courtney Love discusses her song Boys on the Radio.
Karen O discusses her song Maps.
Dave 1 of Chromeo discusses the song 100%
Neko Case discusses the song The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.