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Friday, April 12, 2024

Smells like the Nineties

Live Through This

Twenty years ago, Hole released what would be their definitive record: Live Through This. Live through what, exactly? Well, just about everything you can imagine: being ripped into doll parts, resisting kill me pills, struggling with abandonment, breaking, burning, being walked on, disrespected, taunted, threatened and coping with suicide. Death and life particularly reverberates from every growled syllable on Live Through This.

“If you live through this with me, I swear that I will die for you,” promises frontwoman Courtney Love in the riveting track “Asking For It,” a sacred oath binding the listener and singer together. Love wrote the track after her experience of being physically and psychologically abused by a crowd that ripped her apart after a stage dive. To those who don’t know the story, or perhaps do, the line also resonates as a tongue-in-cheek reversal of the unforgivable, pathetic excuse criminals have utilized to justify assault: “She, or he, was asking for it.”

A punk record with a pop heart, Live Through This is very much a document of survival that managed to pierce through the confines of mainstream radio. The phrase “live through this” is itself a phrase of empowerment for survivors and activists, especially those working to de-stigmatize issues of suicide and rape as social constructs.

Thematically and conceptually, Live Through This is the natural extension of Hole’s first record, Pretty on the Inside. Musically, the band evolved and matured, becoming a taut rock outfit, largely extracting many of the same concepts about objectification, insecurity and subverting gender constructs.

Even with the contemporary ability to incite and promote global discourses as well as the increasing accessibility of resources as a culture, we are predisposed to insecurity about approaching challenging social issues — notably suicide, race, misogyny and rape. Often, efforts at addressing these uncomfortable issues result in silence. Love subverts the cowardice on Live Through This, forcing the listener to swallow these issues whole, but in a way that brilliantly injects them into tight hooks and thrashing drum lines that make you move.

Lyrically antagonistic, vitriolic instrumentally, and yet still managing to extract a curious beauty at the core, Live Through This is one of the most fearless, feminist-surged rock records recorded in the ’90s, up there with PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.

To me personally, one of the most enlightening moments on Live Through This happens right at the end, on “Rock Star.” The music fades and the lyrics slow, then Love says firmly: “No, we’re not done.” Presumably, she’s using that as a cue for her bandmates to continue, but I think this exchange gestures towards just how pivotal Live Through This remains now and will continue to be as long as people are still spurred to thrash on guitars and make noise, inciting cultural change.

So no, Courtney Love won’t shut up, and we won’t shut up — not until misogyny and sexism are firmly dis-entrenched from our society’s collective consciousness. She did it for you, for the kids, for me, as we continue to live through shit, love through this and ultimately live through this.

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