“I can’t get into somebody else’s mind and decide what their problem is.” Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna was close friends with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, but she still doesn't know why Courtney Love hated her so much

Kathleen Hanna, Courtney Love
(Image credit: Jason Frank Rothenberg | Dave Benett/Getty Images)

On July 4, 1995 Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna attended the opening date of that summer's Lollapalooza festival at The Gorge in Washington state, as a guest of Kim Gordon, bassist/vocalist for Sonic Youth, who were headlining the fifth annual staging of the 'alternative music festival' on a bill which also featured Hole, Cypress Hill, Pavement, Sinéad O'Connor, Beck, The Jesus Lizard and more. The previous year, Hanna had guested in Sonic Youth's video for Bull In The Heather, and had remained friends with Gordon and her then-husband and bandmate Thurston Moore.

When Bikini Kill's vocalist popped in to Sonic Youth's dressing room to thank Gordon for the backstage passes she'd arranged, Gordon took her aside and warned her that she should be on her guard around Hole's Courtney Love, who Gordon feared might seek out a confrontation with Hanna. Gordon had produced Hole's first album, Pretty On The Inside, and had been good friends with Love's late husband Kurt Cobain, but had grown wary of Love. In her memoir Girl In A Band, she described Hole's leader as "manipulative" and wrote, "knowing she could turn on me at any moment, I always kept her at arm's length."

Although Hanna and Love had never met, the two musicians also had a history, of sorts. Five years earlier, at the end of a drunken day/night out with Nirvana's frontman, Hanna had written the words 'Kurt smells like Teen Spirit' on his bedroom wall, inadvertently inspiring the title of what would become one of the most iconic rock songs of the decade. She was also a huge fan of Hole's debut single, Retard Girl, and Love had once offered to help Bikini Kill secure a major label record deal, but that relationship soured after the riot grrrl band politely declined the offer, stating that it was their intention to remain with independent record labels.

"After that she made it clear in the press that she hated our band," Hanna recalls in her memoir Rebel Girl, "so I wasn't exactly excited to run into her."

Unfortunately for Hanna, as she stood at the side of the main stage watching Sonic Youth, Courtney Love approached her, and not in a friendly manner.

"She was flanked by two large dudes, and she seemed WASTED," the singer wrote in her memoir. "My instincts told me not to make eye contact with her. Courtney got in my face and started hissing like a cat and reaching out like she was going to claw me... She held her lit cigarette up to my face and traced my features with it, like she was going to put it out on my face." 

Accounts vary as to exactly what unfolded next, but it's Hanna's recollection that Love "coldcocked" her in the face, knocking her to the ground, and drawing blood. Love has always denied this. "Whatever the truth was," Thurston Moore wrote in his memoir Sonic Life, "Courtney's physical response had won her almost limitless attention."

In a new interview in The Times newspaper, Hanna maintains that she still has no idea why the clash happen.

“I can’t get into somebody else’s mind and decide what their problem is,” she says. “It’s sort of like if you have a stalker or someone mugs you on the street, are you going to try to figure out why they did it? Like, who cares - they hurt you for no fucking reason.”

Talking about the riot grrrl movement, Hanna recalls “a lot of jealousy and backbiting and meanness”, but adds, “I do still think it was a very important movement. Things can be really flawed and still have a huge impact.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.