Courtney Love called me a retard

Courtney Love called me a retard -- and other unforgettable moments from the press tent at MTV's Video Music Awards.

Published September 11, 1998 6:04PM (EDT)

Truth is, if you watched the MTV Video Music Awards in your living room
Thursday night, you know more about the show than I do -- even though I was
there. I didn't know who any of the winners were until after it was over
and I was handed a press release. I heard, vaguely, that
the Beastie Boys and Wyclef Jean preached peace and politics and that
Marilyn Manson's naked butt cheeks gleamed and that Madonna and Lenny
Kravitz had air sex. But I can't tell you if Ben Stiller was a wacky or
witty host, whether there were any major glitches or if the three-hour
celebrity fest was fun to watch, because, well, I didn't get to watch it.

I sat in a tent several lots away from the Universal Amphitheatre,
with about 200 harried journalists from around the globe. The MTV folks set
us up with soggy Subway sandwiches, bowls of Gummi Bears and licorice
sticks and plenty of bottled water, then sat us in front of two TV sets
that cut to the awards intermittently while we waited for celebrities to
appear so we could ask them penetrating questions like "So, how does it
feel to win this award?" or "Did you expect to win this award?" One
riveting exchange went like this:

Reporter to Natalie Imbruglia: Why is
your award (for best new artist) special?

Imbruglia, looking confused: Why wouldn't it be?

Before the show, the press was shuttled by a sputtering bus to the
arrivals area, where automaton Kurt Loder and Nordic princess Serena
Altschul greeted celebrities from an elevated perch below bleachers filled
with screeching (I downed four Advils in three hours) girl fans, all
panting for the Backstreet Boys and Hanson. I overhead one Lolita say to
another, "Do you think Zach (Hanson) can see my boobs from down there?"

The press was relegated to a roped-off area that was way too small to
accommodate us. Elbows jabbed and cameras whacked against
flesh. A reporter from a women's magazine claimed her toes were broken by a
zealous foreign cameraman straining to get a shot of Mariah Carey's flesh.
Expletives were fired by a contingent of fashion reporters whose view was
blocked by a camera crew struggling to get a shot of Sarah Michelle Gellar
and Alyson Hannigan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame. For three hours, I
stood underneath an unrelenting afternoon sun diluted only slightly by the
pillow of smog above Universal City, with a cluster of entertainment
reporters, many of whom toted along their own cameras for posterity shots.
(Look! Here's a picture of me "working!") Amazingly, many of them seemed
unable to recognize half of the celebrities parading before them. "Who are
they again?" one of them asked me -- about Hanson.

I was standing behind the crew from MTV's "House of Style," and while I
couldn't hear what the celebs had to say about their threads, I was privy
to a good deal of posing and posturing. Straight from my notebook:

Salma Hayek is positively Lilliputian, a size 1, maybe. Jennifer
Love Hewitt, while lovely with her hair in a crown of ringlets, wore base
makeup so thick that it looked like her skin might splinter and crack like
cement after an earthquake. She spent the night with an uncharacteristic
pout on her lips, her arms locked with a dark, handsome escort. Roni Size
is a very small man. Dave Matthews is really normal looking and has an
adorable paunch. Gwen Stefani has small breasts. The face of Tori Amos (who
gets major points for being the only celebrity to flout the MTV-provided
escorts and wade into the crowd to talk to her fans) looked
puffy and white. Sarah McLachlan has luminous skin. Although it's hard to
imagine, Natalie Imbruglia is even more stunning in person than in
pictures, sultry and natural at the same time. Winona Ryder -- another Size
1 Girl -- waded around nearly undetected, looking decidely un-glam in
understated black pants with black thick-soled flip-flops. Everyone in
Aerosmith looks his age except for Steven Tyler. And finally, it's true
what they say about Jennifer Lopez's butt. (When asked by a reporter what
it felt
like to have her body analyzed in the press she said, "I work out a lot and
I don't eat
-- and I still have all this extra.")

Back at the press tent, the stars started trickling in
to take their bows and feed the sea of starving reporters quotes to send
to the home office. (Japanese journalist on the phone with editor back in
Tokyo: "Yes, Marilyn Manson was wearing falsies, yes, I'm sure.")
A relentless reporter from one of the teen fanzines jumped to her feet
every time a celebrity took the podium and lobbed the same
"Newlywed Game"-type question: "Mariah!" (or Puffy or Madonna or
Courtney, she yelped in a sunny Sandy Duncan voice. "What music puts
you in the mood ..." Wink wink. While most said they relied on R&B
to get them going, Tyler answered "Debussy," which caused a flurry
of confusion in the press pit. When Sandy posed her question to Green Day,
one member responded, "Napalm Death!"

Then, in full-on diva mode, Courtney Love touched down in the press tent
like a tornado. Buff and gangly in black leather pants, having just
performed the title song from her new release, "Celebrity Skin," she
breezed onstage with her bandmates from Hole. I stood to ask the first
question, but a male reporter twice my size stood up in front of me.
"Hey!" Courtney scolded him. "I'm a feminist! I want the girl to go first!"
The guy obeyed and I was left facing Miss World. "So Courtney, do you think
the president should be impeached?" "ARE YOU RETARDED?" she screamed at me.
"That is SO RETARDED! The president, impeached for ADULTERY?"

Love then turned her attention to a reporter who once accused Love of
punching her. "She's got a Lithium problem," Love said, referring to the
reporter's mental state. (At this point the reporter exited the room.) "She
says I punched her, that I stole her grandmother's ring ..." Courtney's
take on the reviews of her new album? "You know I read them ALL.
Look, four out of five of them are really good. Except for Entertainment
Weekly, and that's because [reviewer] David Browne had a crush on me and I
had the 'hubris' not to go out with him." Courtney on spiritual matters:
"Well MADDIE's [Madonna] yoga is to make her buff, mine is more for being
crazy." Courtney on her glam-girl look: "Women want to wear nice fucking
clothes. If you had the opportunity to go to the Oscars in a
fabulous gown and be fabulous, you'd do it too."

At the end of The Courtney Show, Love turned to the press and pleaded,
"Don't get me in too much trouble!" She turned and yanked up her hip-huggers, which had fallen down to reveal a swath of beige underwear.

Coming in a distant second to Love in the race for star with the
fiercest attitude: Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, winners of the best
alternative video for their ballad "Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)."
When a nerdy looking foreign journalist asked whether the band was losing
its punk edge, baby-faced Armstrong demanded, "What do you know about punk
rock? C'mon tell me! I'm the king of punk rock! Now sit down!" Asked why he
thought "Time of Your Life" had become such a huge mainstream hit (it was
played at a funeral on an episode of "ER" and in the clip reel that
preceded the last "Seinfeld" episode), Armstrong replied, "Look, all I know
is that I wrote that song about a girlfriend who moved to Ecuador. But then
Princess Di and Jerry Seinfeld and John Elway and Mark McGwire and 'ER'
thought they knew what it meant. Well, YOU'RE ALL WRONG." Then he added,
somewhat sheepishly, "My mom likes the song."

Madonna, MTV darling and big winner of the evening with six awards
including best video of the year for "Ray of Light," was cool and coy,
slowly enunciating every syllable in her affected, incomprehensible
"accent." Decked out in red-hot snakeskin bell bottoms and a sleeveless
capelike top that accentuated her chiseled triceps, she begged the press
(with prompting by her publicist, Liz Rosenberg) to pose questions to her
video director, Jonas Akerlund. Yeah -- like our editors would love it if we
brought back a bunch of quotes from an unknown Swedish director.

"Madonna, you must sing lullabies to your daughter. How 'bout doing a
children's album?"

"Yeah," she deadpanned. "Maybe I'll do one in Sanskrit."

"Madonna, who in Hollywood could benefit from cabala?"

"Everyone could benefit from cabala," she intoned.

Asked about the henna design painted across her forehead, the
Enlightened One explained that it was a "Brahmin symbol of divinity."

"Do you think all these awards, and the fact that your new album is your
bestselling in years, is just desserts for the controversies you've
suffered through?

"Every dog has his day," Madonna replied. Before leaving the stage she
directed what sounded like a Buddhist prayer toward the press.

Reporters looked around frantically and whispered, "What did she

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Courtney Love Marilyn Manson Mtv Music