Friday, February 10, 2012

“When Did I Become the Junkie Auntie Mame?”

Courtney Love tells her tangled tale in a new e-book.

Maer Roshan, author of Courtney Comes Clean: The High Life and Dark Depths of Music’s Most Controversial Icon, logged a dozen “exhilarating and exhausting” sessions with the widow of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain over the course of a year, pulling together a definitive look at Love’s drug addictions and other demons. Roshan taped countless hours of interviews, and received additional written material from the “Tolstoy of texting,” as Love refers to herself. The book is highly readable, almost, one is tempted to say, addictively so. Sure, it’s tabloid stuff—let he or she who has never peeked at Gawker or Jezebel cast the first stone.

Roshan, who has performed editorial duties at Radar, New York, Talk, and Interview, does his best to shape the former rock star’s rambling tales into a coherent narrative. (Disclosure: I have contributed articles and blog posts to Roshan’s online addiction and recovery magazine, The Fix.) But coherence is an uphill struggle with Love, who is clearly a highly intelligent, strong-willed woman; an addict who suffers from comorbid mental disorders, including such possibilities as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Her brief acting career and string of dramatic financial ups and downs, in the grand tradition of Hollywood stars and superstar musicians dragged down by fame, fate, and drugs, has led to her current “florid obsessions” with financial conspiracies against her, Roshan writes. 

At times she has installed a “sobriety minder” in her New York townhouse; at other times she has tried to bash a Vanity Fair reporter over the head with an Oscar snatched from Quentin Tarantino.  None of this would be of anything but passing interest except for the Keith Richards-style Queen of Drugs role that she has either assumed or has had thrust up on her. As she told Roshan: “Kim Stewart called me up screaming, ‘Courtney, what are we going to do? Kelly [Osbourne] is passed out and is blue on the floor!’ She wasn’t doing too okay back then. For some reason, Kim also called me when Paris Hilton got pulled over for her last DUI. And Lindsay Lohan called me after she was arrested…. And then Lindsay’s father called me for advice every day for weeks. It was weird. I mean, I’m not even friendly with these girls. When did I become the junkie Auntie Mame?”

So, is she a sober or an addicted Auntie Mame? Is she the go-to girl for straight talk on drugs and sobriety, or just another enabler? She has been through formal rehab perhaps a dozen times now. At one point in the book, she crows about the fact that all the drugs she’s currently taking are “entirely legal,” then flies to a posh London Hotel, using a personal physician and a 24-hour nursing staff to kick her addiction to Adderall—prescription speed. Love appears to have the “chronic relapsing” part of addiction down pat.

Roshan notes that, “like many addicts, she has found herself increasingly isolated and withdrawn in recent years.”

 I asked Maer Roshan a few questions about the book, to which he kindly responded:

Q. Has this woman every really been clean and sober for an extended period, or is she just conning everybody about her recovery?

Maer Roshan: She's certainly not sober in any way that would pass muster at A.A., but she's come a long way from the demons that plagued her past… She admits to using prescription pills. (She makes a point to note that they're all legally prescribed.) She also enjoys a few drinks now and again. But she's nothing like the addict she was five years ago, when she was shooting smack five times a day or holed up in her house in L.A, watching for police cars and smoking kilos of crack. For someone like Courtney, that's real progress. In light of all the damage that drugs have inflicted on her life and her family, I think she is serious about sobriety. She's seen first-hand the damage that drugs can do. After all, they killed her husband and ruined her relationship with her daughter. But ultimately sobriety means different things to different people. As they say in A.A., it’s about progress rather than perfection, so even though she's far from a teetotaler, her progress is impressive.

Q. Lindsay and Paris and all the young drug people make pilgrimages to her for advice. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Roshan: I think it's neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Obviously, Lindsay or Paris would probably get better advice from a person more grounded in sobriety, or from a therapist or doctor. But, as she notes in the interview, being famous does strange things to people's heads, especially famous women, so in a way it's understandable that younger girls in the same position would relate to her. Believe it or not, Courtney's actually pretty shrill on the subject of drugs. She’s been known to reach out to those women, even if they don't reach out to her.

Q. Courtney seems obviously co-morbid. Has she ever sought psychiatric help?

Roshan: Obviously I'm not qualified to diagnose her. I know she's seen a fair share of psychiatrists throughout her life. In my book, her mother notes that Courtney was agitated and anxious from the time she was a toddler. Her parents built her a special hut attached to their main house in New Zealand, in part to keep her from attacking her brothers and sisters. She was prescribed Valium from the time she was seven. Like most crazy people, she has the capacity to be brilliant and funny and extremely entertaining. But she's also filed with bitterness and unbelievable rage, and you never quite know which Courtney you're gonna get. She's a blast to hang out with, but as I can attest from personal experience, it's kind of scary when her rage is directed at you.

So what to make of her? “Most people think I dry out at these really posh places,” she told Roshan, “but I’ve landed in some pretty gnarly spots.” And that’s when I began to feel some sympathy for Love, seeing her falsehoods and contradictions and obsessions in the light of her addictions, known that there must have been plenty of horrifying nights, and equally agonizing mornings, and self-loathing, and a lot of time surrounded by people, but always alone. What to make of her? I don’t think we know yet. I hope she gets better, stronger, wiser, and ends up making a fool out of me.

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