As first lines of Author's Notes go, Courtney Love's "I have always said that I would never write a book and I really haven't" certainly puts down a marker. Especially for anyone who's just paid £20 in the belief that she has. False modesty is one charge on which even the most avid detractors of this "groundbreaking rock musician, award-winning actress, fashionista and trendsetter" would be inclined to find her innocent. And it's true: Courtney really hasn't written a book. What she has done is get someone else (her editor Ava Stander) to sellotape together a scrap-book of relics, lyrics, and panegyrics, and present them as a kind of marginally more literate successor to Madonna's Sex.
By the time the reader has recoiled at the grandstanding acknowledgements (a list of people "without whom my life would suck and I'd be dead" which includes such noted philanthropists as Mel Gibson, Chris Rock, David LaChapelle and Cameron Crowe, alongside the inevitable Bono and - note the sisterly inversion - "Trudie and Sting") and gagged at the Oscar-speech sycophancy of Carrie Fisher's introduction, she or he may well be subject to an overwhelming sense of disappointment and frustration.
Imagine if this book was typed. Imagine if it didn't look like an explosion in the Oxford Street branch of Accessorize. Courtney Love's diaries would - and should - have been utterly fascinating. But rather than the grungy lovechild of Rupert Everett and Dorothy Parker which we'd all been hoping for, Dirty Blonde initially feels like the product of a creative collaboration between Bridget Jones and Avril Lavigne. And yetThe Diaries of Courtney Love are more than just a nauseating celebrity suck-fest and a casual exercise in decoupage.
For those with the eyesight to decipher Courtney's terrible handwriting, and the patience to cross-reference each entry with the list of sources at the back, Dirty Blonde quickly starts to become the distinctive and hilarious artefact that its subject's troubled yet spectacular life would seem to demand. The draft missives scrawled on airline notepaper offer poignant snapshots of her fractured family life and peripatetic upbringing. The rejection letter from the Mickey Mouse Club, which Courtney received at the age of 11 (her application had been filed under the superbly stagey name of Coco Rodriguez) testifies to the early genesis of that "blistering desire to make it somehow" she mentions in the Author's Note. The excerpts from the log of one of the reform schools Courtney attended as a teenager - "screaming and swearing... Refused to be reasonable. Became louder and more insistent" - could just as easily be a gig review.
In her late teens, Courtney moves to England and the Liverpool post-punk scene. "Why do I find Ju [Julian Cope] so much more challenging than I do Echo Macalloch?" she wonders. Had Echo and the Bunnymen's lead singer not already had reason enough to feel crushed, his misspelt name is followed by an arrow and the word "bore". "I can make tea now," Courtney applauds herself in a journal entry written at Heathrow at the start of the long journey home. "I can remain enigmatic, pose well and appear feminine."
There's a great moment in Nick Broomfield's film Kurt & Courtney, where one of Love's legion of tragic rock star wannabe ex-boyfriends emerges from the squalid shack he is living in, triumphantly clutching a piece of paper on which she had written the words "become friends with Michael Stipe". Dirty Blonde naturally contains photographic proof of her eventual realisation of this, and other, life goals. Here, she tacitly admits that it's those very unflattering depictions of Courtney's brazenness about which she protests longest and loudest (such as Broomfield's film, or the Vanity Fair interview which resulted in her and Kurt Cobain's daughter being taken briefly into care) that ultimately contribute most to her allure. "I realise now," she writes of the Vanity Fair article, in a supportive email to next generation Hollywood bad-girl Lindsay Lohan, "that as hardcore as it was, it made me a lot more interesting and somehow employable."
As Love's own career moves off the adolescent drawing board and on to the big screen, her ambition somehow retains its freshness and piquancy. A publicity still from Alex Cox's Straight to Hell is garlanded with such invaluable contemporary commentary as "I'm getting nose fixed asap" and "Tim Robbins - a bit pretentious". As Courtney's endless to-do lists progress from "Practise my make-up and my pliets [sic]" and "Be glamorous - get your highlights done every 16 days", to the immortal "Make LP. Achieve LA visibility", the realisation dawns that the traditional critical categories of fulfilment or under-achievement cannot really be applied to her: the to-do lists actually are the finished product.
When it comes to what she eloquently terms "attending to the everyday common conceptual art of celebrity", Love has few peers. At a time when the unchecked narcissism of the blogosphere seems to threaten the validity of the diary form (what price the illicit thrill of gaining access to thoughts not originally intended for public consumption, when the concept of privacy no longer exists?), this volume leaves the reader with a strangely old-fashioned sensation.
"I don't understand this concept of publishing my diaries," Courtney Love scribbles on the corner of p259, "although I didn't mind publishing his [ie her dead husband Kurt Cobain's]. He'd become so fucking objectified I just stopped caring what people thought. Now I do. I wish I could take it back." We all wish she could. The publication of the Nirvana singer's journals was the most gruesome of all the seemingly endless parade of posthumous violations to which his body of work has been subject. But then again, just how precious should one be about a man who committed the ultimate pre-posthumous violation of pulling the trigger that blew his own brains out? And he would have wanted her to have the money.
There's a hand-written note from fashion designer Marc Jacobs on p214 which tells of how touched and moved he was by Courtney's extraordinary personal gift that he promises to keep private and never share with anyone else. "I wonder what that was," the reader thinks, with a slight sense of foreboding. Turning to the back of the book and discovering it was one of Kurt's jumpers, you feel exactly what someone reading someone else's diary ought to feel: slightly ashamed.Reuse content