Feb 8th, 2024, 02:00 PM

30 Years of Living Through This

By Lea Abi Saad
Image credit: flickr/dan10things
Looking back at Hole's "Live Through This" and its lasting influence

At one end of the girlhood spectrum is Barbie, the Eras Tour, and all things soft and pink. At the other end is Courtney Love’s blood-curdling scream. Armed with nothing but red lipstick and pure vitriol, she clawed her way into the '90s grunge music scene even as its gatekeepers—boys armed with guitars and superiority complexes—were kicking her out. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

This April marks three decades since Hole released Live Through This, a collection of raw, furious songs, scathing yet vulnerable lyrics belted out over quick, ragged drums and guitar. It inspired more ruthless castigation than rave reviews, dismissed as a tacky endeavor, as a talentless hack trying too hard, as a little girl throwing a temper tantrum. In 1994, the public did not say much about the album itself so much as they mocked where it came from. 

The absolute chaos surrounding Courtney Love at the time certainly didn’t help. She seemed to be fighting with everyone: a Vanity Fair feature had painted her as a heroin addict so unstable it pushed her into legal battles for custody of her daughter. Other women in grunge rock despised her and she despised them right back. Nirvana fans wailed that she had killed their idol, her husband Kurt Cobain who died of an overdose just days before the album came out. Fans and critics alike were viciously suspicious of this highly volatile woman in ripped baby doll dresses for daring to open her mouth.  

But doesn’t Courtney—and by extension Live Through This—have the right to be angry? Doesn’t she have the right to smash guitars on stage and scream her throat raw about losing her innocence, just like many of her male peers do? What’s wrong with a song that hexes a lousy boyfriend to go bald, as she claimed to do on "Violet," or about shaking her fists in the face of a world that is out to get her (“I made my bed I’ll lie in it / I made my bed I’ll die in it”), like she does on "Miss World?" Why was Hole dismissed as desperate attention-seeking by a hysterical woman and Nirvana was hailed as a genre-altering phenomenon, when these bands were really two sides of the same coin? 

No one wanted girls in rock music. Even worse, no one wanted Courtney, a front-woman who had no shame about her despair or her fury. Hole was telling it like it is—what else to expect from a band named after a line from Euripides’ Medea  (“there’s a hole that burns right through me”), a Greek tragedy about a woman who murders her children to get revenge against her husband? This is a band who sardonically sings “was she asking for it / was she asking nice,” turning sexual violence into a sort of punch line. Even today, “she was asking for it” is often held over the heads of girls everywhere, turning them from victims to vixens. Hole embraced this ugly truth and reclaimed it. By poking fun at their hurt, maybe it would hurt less.

It is not just this brutal anguish that makes them so enduring. Hole sounds good: reviews begrudgingly ask listeners to look over the singer’s reputation to understand that “the sheer force of Love’s corrosive, lunatic wail — not to mention the guitar-drum wrath unleashed in its wake — is impressive stuff, a scorched-earth blast of righteous indignation.”

By the early 2000s, Hole—much like their contemporaries such as Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill—quietly burned out, without ever gaining much acclaim besides some magazines retroactively praising them years after they had lambasted them. It seemed like the era of the grunge rockstar was over. Those that came after, like Alanis Morrissette and Fiona Apple, somewhat filed off the more jagged edges of their rage. These musicians are furious, yes, but very rarely does anyone come close to the raw, visceral ache Hole sings about on "Doll Parts." That’s not for lack of trying: although it’s unlikely you’ll hear them on the radio, there are plenty of women channeling their rage and turning it into rock music. 


Although they disbanded in 2016, Slutever deserves an honorary spot on this list because of their shamelessness that is so eerily similar to Hole’s. With unpolished but nevertheless stunning guitar riffs and slightly-ugly lyrics performed with a touch of a wail, songs like "Teen Mom" or "Maggot" sound like they could have easily been lifted off of Live Through This. One half of this duo, Rachel Gagliardi, even went on to perform with the band Upset alongside Hole drummer Patty Schemel. 

The Pretty Reckless

A little more whiskey rock, this band shares one crucial thing with Hole: a feral frontwoman with a nasty reputation. Taylor Momsen is known for her role in Gossip Girl and how it mirrored her drastic real-life transformation from the sweet girl in a plaid skirt to the reckless rockstar with more eyeliner than necessary. Like Courtney, she is all too familiar with the world feeling like she owes them something and rebelling against it, a sentiment that echoes over heavy guitar in her vulnerable, bite-me lyrics.   

Be Your Own Pet

After forming their band in a Nashville high school and opening for Sonic Youth (a band that Courtney listed as one of her influences), Be Your Own Pet disbanded in 2008. They returned in 2023 with the album Mommy, full of arresting instrumentals and lyrics that are snarky and chilling in equal measure, just like Hole’s. An older track titled "The Kelly Affair" sounds like a re-imagined "Rock Star," with Be Your Own Pet mocking the shallowness of Los Angeles celebrity culture just like Hole had poked fun at what she perceived as the unimaginative, riot-grrrl movement of the 90s.  

The Oozes

Imagine Hole if they were whinier, a little bit faster on the guitar, and sometimes dressed in clown costumes during live performances. The Oozes are playful with their anger, and they often forgo lyrics for the much less sophisticated but incredibly cathartic scream. They’re perfect for when life drives you so insane the only thing you feel like doing is wailing "why" over and over again, the way they do on the song "Blah Blah Blah". 

And if none of these are quite your speed, you could just play Live Through This on repeat. As always, there’s nothing quite like the original.