Rock and roll has been a man’s world. Take a look at the most popular rock bands and hardly any of the members are women. And if they are, them being a woman and playing rock music is probably the first thing that comes up in their biographies. It shouldn’t matter but this scarcity of women in rock creates extra scrutiny for the ones who are there.
Hole and Live Through This ought to be known in its own right. It shouldn’t be referred to as “Kurt Cobain’s wife’s band or album” but due to the unfortunate and tragic circumstances surrounding Love and Cobain’s life (in addition to women regrettably often being defined by the men in their lives), it’s how most people come to the band or music. It’s certainly how I came to it.
The key theme in Live Through This is resilience. There’s resilience in the title and there’s steely grit in Love’s voice as she sings lines like “Just you try to hold me down/Come on, try to shut me up”. Through a wide range of subject matter which includes heartbreak, rape, child abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and custody battles, Love offers a glance into her life with a refreshing female lens.
When this album came out, ’90s alt rock bands, Nirvana had already released In Utero and Stone Temple Pilots had released Core. Both records including a song around sexual assault and both failed where Hole succeeded. To be fair, the intent behind the songs differed from what Hole presented but it’s intriguing the way in which the subject matter is represented. In “Rape Me”, we get a sardonic narrator who tauntingly encourages the listener – it’s disturbing and it’s also a harsh way of presenting a sensitive topic. Core’s “Sex Type Thing” isn’t much different – an ironic way of presenting rape which often comes across differently than the intended message.
Hole differs in its approach – in songs like “Asking For It” and “Jennifer’s Body”, you can feel the emotions of the victim. There’s no caustic, bitter ranting here, it’s a weariness and frustration that originates from a deep place. A place where things lay to rest because they have been brushed aside too often when voiced. Love gets it, whether or not, she’s been in that position (men rockers: take note). And the songs aren’t just about sexual assault or domestic abuse, they address the larger issue of men’s dominance throughout history and the toxic masculinity that perpetuates.
The ’90s was a good time for women in rock – they filled a void for those female fans who didn’t just want to hear about issues pertaining to them through the male lens, like myself, but wanted someone they could relate to talking about issues they could have gone through. Live Through This succeeds on all fronts – the music is as tough and grungy as any of the main Seattle bands but the message is even more meaningful. No man could have done it better.