Courtney Love: no lover of sax, drugs, and rock ‘n roll? Well 2 out 3 ain’t bad.
When Adolphe Sax created the first saxophone in the 1840s, rock ‘n roll was still more than a century away. Sax could of course not have foreseen what an important influence his newly invented instrument was going to have on the rock landscape.
Just think of all the rock ‘n roll tunes from 1955 until today that used saxophones to generate important riffs and/or solos, and define the song. Can you imagine any of the following Billboard Top 40 hits—spanning five decades of rock ‘n roll—without their saxophonic elements: (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock (Rudy Pompelli); Tequila (Chuck Rio); Loco-Motion (Artie Kaplan); James Brown’s Night Train (J.C. Davis, tenor, Alfred Corley, alto, Al “Brisco” Clark, baritone); Return To Sender (Boots Randolph); Lady Madonna (Ronnie Scott, tenor. Harry Klein, baritone, Bill Povey, tenor, Bill Jackman, baritone); Money (Dick Parry); Young Americans (David Sandorn); Waiting On A Friend (Sonny Rollins); Harden My Heart (Rindy Ross); Our House (Lee “Kix” Thompson); Never Tear Us Apart (Kirk Pengilly); or how about Stay (Leroi Moore).1
Well if you’re anything like Courtney Love, the answer to the above question would be “Yes”, you can definitely imagine these tunes, and hundreds (thousands?) more, sans sax.
Love is not one to be shy about her opinions, and in a video released recently on her YouTube channel, she offered up some comments regarding Bruce Springsteen’s choice to use saxophones in his music. This is what she had to say:
“I like Nebraska,” she said, referring to Springsteen’s 1982 album featuring only himself performing, while shrugging in a, “What do you want me to say?” kind of way. “…
“With Springsteen, I just. . .” she said, pausing to look out a car window. “And I really like him. He’s a nice guy. Cameron Crowe, an old, very dear friend of mine, took me to the Staples Center for a three-night gig, and I could only last an hour and a half in a three-and-a-half hour show with the Boss.”
Her only rationale for why she did not like Springsteen had to do with the instrumentation of the E Street Band, as well as an overarching theory of hers. “My Springsteen problem is just that saxophones don’t belong in rock & roll,” she said. “They just don’t belong.” The video then cuts to a shot of late–E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons with Springsteen as a skronky sax sound is heard in the background.
The video ends with Love shrugging off whatever Springsteen may think of her music. “I don’t think he sits around listening to Hole records, do you?”
Source: Rolling Stone
A day after Love posted the controversial video, it was removed without explanation. (I wish I would have known that before I spent half an hour searching her YouTube channel for it! Although I must admit I did find some interesting, and rather odd stuff there.)
The question is, does anyone really care what Courtney Love thinks or says about saxophones? Well one would think so based on the amount of press her self-produced video received. The question is, why?
Being a rock star doesn’t mean you know your music’s history
Courtney Love is arguably best known for being the widow of Nirvana’s frontman, the late Kurt Cobain. Her band Hole has been around in one form or another since 1989, and is one of the most successful female-fronted rock bands in music history—having sold more than 3 million albums in the US alone.2
Does this however, make her an expert on music, or even on rock ‘n roll? I don’t think so.
If Love knew her music history better, she would know that the music of today, yes, even hers, is an evolution of what came before. Sometimes the change is reactionary, sometimes simply evolutionary, but in the end today’s musicians owe a debt of gratitude to the musicians who came before and paved the way for what is current.
Could today’s music all have happened without rock ‘n roll saxophones? Perhaps, but that’s beside the point.
Saxophones have been a central element in rock ‘n roll music since the beginning, and despite the ebb and flow of their popularity in the genre, saxes can still be heard in some of the most popular songs over the past few years. For some recent examples, check out the following articles: 1, 2, 3, & 4.
You don’t criticize “The Boss” and a great dead man
Obviously the strong, and mostly critical reactions to her comments, are in part a response to her having dissed New Jersey’s favourite son. Throwing The Boss, and the late Clarence Clemons under the bus was not a cool thing to do, and if Love had a good rep, her comments would likely damage it.
However, given her reputation of tweeting stuff that most people wouldn’t think of putting on virtual paper, let alone publishing that stuff for the world to see, Courtney Love’s YouTube comments on saxophones in rock ‘n roll need to be seen through the same lens as the rest of her online commentary. Yes they were inflammatory, but they were true to Courtney Love’s style. We might not agree with her thinking, but she certainly has the right to her opinion.
Oh, here’s a tip though, if you were going to send her an audition recording, I wouldn’t bother. (Since you’re reading my sax blog, I’m assuming you’re a sax player. ) I suspect she’s not interested in hiring any of our kind for any upcoming Hole tours. Hey, I’m just saying…
2Source: Wikipedia page on the band Hole