This is My Jam: Hole- “Awful”
by Meridith Carroll on March 25, 2014
Posted in: Music, Pop, Punk, Rock
After my 2013 summer flings with the Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, it makes sense that my foray into 90s rock classics would lead me to Hole’s Celebrity Skin. Released in 1998, many of the songs are collaborations between Courtney Love and Pumpkin’s front man Billy Corgan. Skin is both a contemporary take on the California record and the band’s slickest effort, making it an obvious choice for my 90s pop-loving soul.
It’s a bummer that I am only getting into Hole now. As a teenager, the extent of my knowledge of the band was the lyrics to “Doll Parts” that a girl who went to my high school used to caption her selfies. Other than that, I knew that Courtney Love was crazy from Gawker headlines and she always had bad lipstick. I saw her as a trite, bratty doll and I guess it’d be pretty easy to look at her the same way now, with the addendum of “washed up” as the cherry on top. But, as a primary banner-waver in the “Don’t call Kanye West crazy” parade, I know that writing off an artist’s work based on rants and erratic behavior only limits our empathetic interactions with art and often does more harm than good, so why bother? The “Courtney-Love-is-crazy” narrative runs deep enough without me adding to it. When I finally looked to the music I found the better story anyway. It only takes a few quick google searches to find that Hole wasn’t regarded as some sort of joke, as I had assumed, but rather was seen as pretty brilliant. Like, the opinion of Rolling Stone is a shout in the void, but Hole’s album Live Through This made it into the magazine’s “500 greatest albums of all time” list. Celebrity Skin went platinum and received rave reviews. What a shame that the antics so easily painted over the music for me because, as much as I am loving these albums, I probably would have loved them more when I was 17. I can only imagine tearing into this discography as I read Hamlet for the first time, visions of a grunge Ophelia appearing before my very eyes.
The opening riff of the titular first track TEARS IT UP. Considering Love’s personal rise to celebrity du jour of the time, landing Valentino spreads and the such, I find it all pretty brave. But what really kills me is the second track, “Awful.” The song swirls around the catchiest, jangling riff, repeating simple lyrics of the awful things subject to “girls like you.” I want to write teen movie montages to this song. I want to thrash ’til I die with every other girl in the world to this song. I want to smudge my eyeliner in my ‘99 chevy Malibu, driving too may mph in the summer day after a too-long-summer night to this song. It’s just so good. “I was punk, now I’m just stupid, I’m so awful.” I couldn’t have appreciated that at 17; that’s shot straight at my 21-year-old, Taylor Swift loving, ex-cool kid heart.
I’m currently studying abroad in England and I would have guessed I’d find all of these unheard of bands that I could take back to the states and flaunt as my upped cultural capital. Turns out I was WRONG. In the states, I listen to a lot of what I call “Boy Rock” and, let me tell you, I’m just as excited about the Cloud Nothings album as the next kid, but in a bleated continuation of my Phair-fandom, I’m building something of my own female canon while I’m away. I’ve been tinkering with the bombast of Bonnie Tyler and Lana Del Rey. I’m, slowly but surely, submerging myself in the new Perfect Pussy album. I’m obsessively replaying Waxahachtee tracks. And now I’ve landed at Celebrity Skin.
Two years ago, I took the class “American Modernists,” in which we studied The Great Gatsby. The axiom that framed the professors’ approach to the novel spun out of Nick Carraway’s realization that the tale of Gatsby et al had been, “a story of the west, after all.” As I sit across the pond, reeling in a neo- California album and waxing nostalgic about highways and oceans I’ve never seen, I can’t help but wonder if my journey even farther east than my native Vermont is serving a similar function. I see the sun more in England than I would have if I’d stayed landlocked in New England’s behemoth winter, and I’ve got the seasonal soundtrack to prove it.