This week the only thing blasting in my tiny earbud headphones is Hole’s “Live Through This.” The album was released in 1993 when I was just about to turn four years old. I of course didn’t experience the album until much later when I was in junior high. The album is often regarded as Hole’s magnum opus and in my opinion it is their best. In my opinion, it has to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Whatever you (or I) think about Courtney Love, her portrayal in the media, her drug use, her relationship with Kurt Cobain, this album is a must-listen. When I say listen, I mean listen, don’t play it in the background like some Ke$ha song. It’s an album worth thinking about.
The album from start to finish describes the female experience in a way that most singers wouldn’t dare address. It recounts the modern oppression of women in a sonically visceral way that is still unmatched for me all these years later. Why is Courtney so angry? Because she should be. If you listen closely you’ll be angry too. Not in the way Taylor Swift may sing a song about a guy being a jerk to her. It’s much more nuanced than that. The album is about how women are tortured in society; psychologically, physically and emotionally. It deals with the over-sexualization of women, body image, rape and degradation.
It was the first time I had heard anyone talk about how hard it was to be a chick without turning it into an after-school special or belittling the issue. Of course there are awesome things about being a girl, but the female experience is a tad more specifically morbid in our culture. It’s like, when guys go through puberty their dads don’t start acting weird around them because they have boobs. Guys don’t have to decipher the hidden message of “you can’t wear makeup” meaning “boys will want to sleep with you/may take advantage of you/you might want to sleep with them – and that’s a bad thing.” Guys don’t really ever have to be ashamed of what they wear because somebody else decided to be a jerk and holler at them on the street. Hearing the album was an affirmation that all the weird things you notice about growing up with a girl body is real.
To me the album addresses the question of why do women feel ashamed over someone else’s actions and how people treat them, when they have done nothing but be themselves? That was a powerful thing for me to hear when I was growing up in a very religious and very sexist community.
Doll Parts Lyrics
“I am doll eyes
Doll mouth, doll legs
I am doll arms, big veins, dog bait
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, they really do
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, but I do too
I want to be the girl with the most cake
I love him so much it just turns to hate
I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache
Someday, you will ache like I ache”
Culturally, dolls are metaphors for perfect humans. They’re always angelic looking and sexless. Women are often compared to dolls because culturally we expect women to be perfect, pure and virginal. The song speaks to the weight and angst that comes with trying to embody those qualities when no one really does. While “Doll Parts” is an acoustic song, Courtney’s raspy vocals up the grunge (I’ll always be a sucker for the raspy-grunge thing.) Unlike Hole’s debut album “Pretty On The Inside” the album isn’t a full-on grunge record. It uses conventional pop melody and structure, ovary-busting guitar riffs and catchy lyrics. It’s the juxtaposition between pop and grunge that makes the album so special. Hole’s followup album “Celebrity Skin” is a total pop-rock album (I’m not into it with the exception of the title track). For me, “Live Through This” is the perfect balance of the musical elements from the too-grunge “Pretty On The Inside” and the too-pop “Celebrity Skin.”
Courtney Love also helped to inspire the “Kinderwhore” fashion movement. You know, that bad ass ’90s style of wearing slip dresses with combat boots and torn up stockings.