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January 18th, 2006 Karla Starr | Featured Stories
 

Linda Carroll, Unplugged

Courtney Love's mother, the daughter of esteemed novelist Paula Fox, tells WW all about her non-tell-all memoir.

     
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On a frost-sprinkled afternoon in the small college town of Corvallis, the smell of fireplaces and the clatter of passing school buses surround Linda Carroll's house. In her driveway is a pair of black sedans; on the door, a sign kindly requesting that visitors remove their shoes. A Siamese cat lies motionless in the windowsill.

It's beautiful and serene; it's exactly the kind of place Carroll's daughter, Courtney Love, would hate.

After years of dodging the press, Carroll has just published Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew and of My Daughter, Courtney Love. As the WW photographer pulls out his camera, she thinks back to the last time the media were in her living room, in 1993.

"Hard Copy came here. They were going through the drawers in the office," she says. The reason for Hard Copy's visit wasn't what you'd expect: Carroll, a therapist, had been treating Katherine Ann Power for depression when the patient—who'd spent years on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List—decided to turn herself in. Hard Copy came calling soon afterwards.

It was the first inkling that Carroll—estranged from her famous rock daughter since Love was emancipated in 1980 at the age of 16—is more than the sum of her subtitle.

Her Mother's Daughter does tell all—about the author. It's an account of her incredibly rich life, beginning with her childhood, spent with her adoptive parents in San Francisco in the '60s. While the memoir vividly recounts scenes from both her and her notorious daughter's colorful early years, it glosses over recent details of Carroll's relationship with Love and 13-year-old granddaughter Frances Bean. The book's emphasis on youth comes at the expense of examining how Love's fame affected Carroll personally—and leaves little dirt for Kurt and Courtney fans. It's a tradeoff she's willing to accept.

"People had always asked me to write the story, but no one had ever asked me to write my story," she explains. "They wanted me to write Courtney's story."

And Carroll has quite a story of her own: The first time she took LSD was with Love's biological father, Hank Harrison, and a couple of Harrison's friends—Phil Lesh and Jerry Garcia. She attended the Beatles' last concert. The search for Carroll's biological mother ended with the name "Paula Fox"—that's Paula Fox, the Newbery Award-winning writer whose many books include Borrowed Finery, a memoir in which Fox discusses giving Linda up for adoption and later meeting her adult daughter for the first time. Her Mother's Daughter reveals how Carroll's lifelong interest in how people become who they are, beginning with childhood fantasies about her birth mother, developed into her current career as a therapist working with the parents of challenging children.

"How can I talk to people when I have a child...who's probably one of the most public screw-ups in the world?" she says. "I know some things about how to live with the pain of a child who is self-destructing, and accepting that it may never change."

Carroll's latest exchange with her daughter underscores that dynamic. During her granddaughter' latest custody hearings in 2004, Carroll wrote a letter to the judge suggesting that Love maintain custody—as long as she passed regular drug tests. She has not talked to Love since the incident (and no, this isn't in the book). What else she leaves out is curious: Despite her daughter's marriage to Kurt Cobain, he is mentioned only briefly. Carroll's insistence that the book tell her own story (and omit personal details, sensational or not) can come across as a lack of interest in Love's life—and the lives of her three other children.

But Carroll, whose Corvallis home is packed with more photos of Frances than Love, sees it as a way to protect that family.

"I wrote my story with a picture of my granddaughter right here, the whole time," she says. "And I asked myself, 'Is this something she could read one day that would keep her dignity and keep her love for her mother?'" Carroll admits her writing technique softened a few passages—but it hasn't stopped the attacks. Love's manager has already called Her Mother's Daughter "a work of vicious and greedy fiction." Despite her hesitance to examine her family thoroughly, it's impossible to protect them all—especially her granddaughter, who lives with Love.

"[Frances and I] were getting pedicures one day.... They had the television on, and somebody said, 'What famous celebrity is running down the halls naked?' And I just grabbed her and said, 'We have to go, we have to go,' because I didn't want her to see her mother—I just had a realization it was Courtney," she remembers. "When we got in the car—wet feet and everything—we got in the car, and she said, 'Grandma, I know, I know it was my mom, you don't have to do that."


Linda Carroll reads from, Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew and of My Daughter, Courtney Love, Thursday, Jan. 19, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm. Free.
 
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