How Courtney Love Changed This Beauty Director's Life
Jessica Matlin is like the cool, in-the-know-but-still-super-nice sister you wish you had growing up. You know, the one who listened to all the right bands, let you raid her overflowing, shimmer-filled makeup collection, and was always down to dispel her most valuable advice over pizza and a couple of ice-cold DIet Cokes. Or, at least, that’s how Jenna felt when Jess took her under her wing at Lucky, where Jenna first became a magazine editor. Today, Jess is the beauty director at Harper’s Bazaar and co-founder of award-winning beauty podcast Fat Mascara. So, yeah, she’s still cool and in the know. Her Haystack Story is an ode to Hole’s (absolutely perfect) 1994 album, Live Through This, and touches on all our favorite 1994 things (CDs, My So-Called Life and, yep, pizza).
What’s the star of your Haystack Story?
Hole, Live Through This (1994)
Do you still have it?
The CD is at my parents’ house in New Jersey (complete with busted jewel case), but I still listen to it on Spotify. (Not quite the same. The disc had a heart printed on it.)
Can you describe it?
Oh, yes. I remember sitting alone on the floor of my family room late one night, watching 120 Minutes on MTV (it aired on Sundays at midnight). The video for “Miss World” had come on, and I was transfixed: I’d never seen anyone behave like this before, at least in red lipstick and wearing what looked like Marc Jacobs. (Maybe Anna Sui?) Courtney and her band went from soft to loud, shimmering to snarling, singing about self image, shame, and female competition. The song grabbed me—it played less like a pop song, and more like an anthem—and the words “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” hung at the back of the stage they performed on. The video also lightly parodied the movie “Carrie.” Not only does this band have style, they’re kind of funny, I thought.
In those two minutes and 58 seconds, Hole expressed more about being a girl than I’d read in any of the glossy pink and lavender-covered YA books on my shelf, or in the albums on my black revolving CD rack. After seeing Courtney, I realized they lacked bite. I bought “Live Through This” that week, and peeling off the shrink wrap, I’d discovered there were 11 more tracks that had the same amount of rage, apathy, and satire woven into each. What was brilliant about Hole is that they weren’t about sneering, spitting, safety-pin-through-the-nose rebellion. They were subtler than that. Their aesthetic was soft—the heart-shaped band logo, the babydoll dresses, the Victorian cat stickers on Courtney’s guitar—but their approach was bold: They approached topics that were relevant to me but with a directness I couldn’t dare broach at that age—with anyone, really. On the school bus, in the hallways, and in my bedroom, I listened to Courtney wax on about beauty, body image, and fitting in. Buoyed by her music, I remember adopting some of her mannerisms in class, hoping I could shut cruel boys—and mean girls—down with a look. I went out and bought a bunch of Revlon makeup on sale to try and recreate her neutral vibe on MTV Unplugged. I started writing.
I know Courtney wrote those songs from a different place than from which I listened to them. By then she’d already survived band breakups, married Kurt Cobain in Hawaii, gave birth to Frances Bean, and gone through a child custody battle over her due to allegations of drug abuse. I was in eighth grade, which is its own lonely kind of hell. With “Live Through This,” I felt validated—that storm I felt inside of me? It was normal. Those 12 songs made me feel electric, smarter, and less afraid. I listened to “Live Through This” all throughout high school, and even today—not out of out nostalgia, but because the album still rings true. And the music still sounds great.
Why is it so perfect?
It’s feminine. It’s angry. It’s sarcastic. It’s glittery. It’s modern. It’s tight.
How does it make you feel?
If this item could talk what would it say?
Turn me up!
When did you get it?
Who did you have a crush on back then?
What did your Friday nights look like?
In 8th grade? Probably watching horror or comedies with my friend Melanie, thumbing through fashion magazines, eating pizza.
If someone gave you $20 to spend, what would you have bought?
A new CD, with money left over for drugstore makeup.
What show did you rush home to watch?
My So-Called Life. My heart would literally race in the minutes before it came on, and my heart broke when I heard it was canceled. The show was so ahead of its time.
What was your favorite snack?
How are you the same as you were back then, and how are you different? I’m the same in that I still love a lot of the same things I did back then—I have always been obsessed with certain artists, fashion, beauty, and music, and that’s never left me. I still get chills from my playlists or seeing a band I love or meeting a creator I admire, even at work. How am I different? I’m more reserved than I was when I was younger: I was mouthier and cheekier with my friends, wore crazier makeup and quirkier clothes and accessories—I think adulthood has naturally made me more conservative.