So you're an art school student out at a club in Montreal watching this band the Smashing Pumpkins play, there are maybe 20 other people there. It’s 1991. Your friend thinks the singer’s a bit too into himself and throws a bottle at the stage. You, however, are falling in love with this band, and decide to take that long walk to the side of the stage after the show to tell the singer as much and apologize for the whole bottle thing. You and the singer, Billy Corgan, hit it off and begin a correspondence by mail that feels like a cosmic connection, until one day he moves and your letters to him start coming back to you unread.
Meanwhile, this band has changed you. You’ve always loved music, played music (trumpet, choir), but their style of music—romantic, heavy rock—leads you to pick up the bass. You’re a quick study and soon form your own band in Montreal, Tinker. Now the Smashing Pumpkins are surging, everyone knows who they are. After a couple of Tinker shows you figure you’re ready to open up for them next time they come through town, if only you could reach Billy again. So you send a letter to a P.O. box address that you find on the back of the Siamese Dream CD. Somehow, because the universe often makes no sense and complete sense at the same time, the letter finds him and he agrees that yes, that’s a fine idea.
The night arrives: November 30, 1993, the Métropolis in Montreal. As you’re playing through your set, you notice he’s watching from the side of the stage, receiving your music as you once received his. At the end of the night, after the Pumpkins have seduced a packed house, he tells you, “Someday you’re gonna play bass in my band.” He’s right. But first, his friend Courtney needs you. Over the first half of 1994 she’s lost her husband, Kurt Cobain, to suicide and her bass player, Kristen Pfaff, to a drug overdose. The new Hole album, Live Through This, is out and the tour starts in less than a month, can you join? Not interested, you say. It’s just too dark a proposal, standing in for a ghost. Plus there’s still that photo degree to finish at Concordia University. Courtney tells you it’s okay to say no, but you have to say it to her face. Come to Seattle, and bring your bass.
As you descend the escalator at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, four women are looking up at you: Courtney Love; her daughter, Frances Bean; her drummer, Patty Schemel; and Frances’ nanny Stacy. Even from the top of the steps you can see the pain in their eyes—and the hope. “These women need me,” you think. In that moment you become the bass player for Hole. Two weeks later, at the Reading Festival in the U.K., you play to 65,000 people. It’s your seventh time ever on stage.
This is Melissa Auf der Maur’s story, it’s all true. Soon she will put out a book—loaded with photos, of which she’s taken tens of thousands—that gives every detail of the remark- able ride she took from 1991 to 2001. In the meantime, it’s an early-September afternoon at her upstate New York office near the Basilica Hudson, a nonprofit arts center she cofounded in 2010 with her husband, filmmaker Tony Stone. Auf der Maur has pulled down stacks of vintage puffy albums from the shelves, some of her “works of art from the road.” What follows is just a glimpse, in her own words, of what happened over those 10 years, when she joined the ranks of two of the defining rock bands of the 1990s.
“Courtney used to call us the Breakfast Club. I was Molly Ringwald, Patty Schemel was the jock, Eric Erlandson was the nerd, and Courtney was the combo of Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson. I would always debate, ‘But I’m not a prissy, sushi-eating rich girl. I’m from bohemian hippie Montreal.’ And she’d say, ‘Yeah, but you’re beautiful.’ And I’d say, ‘Okay, I’ll take it.’ She perceived me as a princess, which I certainly didn’t see myself as. I think it was a dynamic she wanted to play up, the good Canadian girl on bass and then the tough, wild woman singer. She was always the most badass person—man or woman—on any stage. Just fearless.”
“This picture’s from my first Hole show ever, and it’s the day I met Drew Barrymore. She and I were the same age, Pisces, hippie magical, talking about ghosts and past lives. She was dating our guitar player Eric at the time and was with us for most of the Live Through This tour. It was like having a little soul sister with me on the road. I was basically a tourist in my own life at this point, taking photos of everyone.”
“I love this photo and this moment with Courtney. We had just finished the Reading Festival in the U.K., and then we flew from London to Cleveland to be sandwiched between Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. It was called the Self Destruct Tour, do you understand? I joined a band with a widow and a group of drug addicts, replacing a bass player who had died of an overdose, and I’m on a tour called the Self Destruct Tour. It’s like, what the fuck is going on here? This is in a giant backstage arena where the Nine Inch Nails road crew traveled with bikes under the bus so they could exercise while on tour. So Courtney was mingling, trying to get to know the Nine Inch Nails road crew, and it was such a forced and cute social moment. I kind of loved that tour because we were the only women in the entire building and the road crew was like, ‘Why are these girls here?’ They had a lot of girls backstage doing very different things. So me and Courtney were fearlessly making friends with everyone on tour and saying, ‘Hey, welcome to 1994. Women are on stage and women are in the band.’ And that was part of my destiny: changing the way men saw women.”
“Here I’m telling the story of two things: life on the road, and my obsession with the idea of a frame within a frame. Early Hole tours were still in vans, and they’d have this magnifying-glass thing, a psychedelic window on the road, that I thought looked so cool. I’d been fascinated by the idea of a frame within a frame since art school, when I started having a lot of spiritual interventions in my dreams where the universe was telling me to make rock music my life. And it would be a dream within a dream, within a dream, in a loop— which is your subconscious punching you as hard as it can, telling you to listen to the message. So this reflects that recurring photo-art theme and my obsession with the subconscious.”
“I had only been in Hole for about three months when we played Memphis and I went to Elvis’ grave. I arrived in my Cinderella- story overnight-famous band situation and began for the first time to look at the legacy of fame in America. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Montreal, but Elvis meant nothing to me at the time. This is more about me reflecting on my new life as a part of pop culture. Kurt had not even been dead a year, and I was connecting Kurt to Elvis. He was our generation’s Elvis. A moment of silence for those who lost themselves to drugs and music.”
“This is Patty—our drummer, and my best friend in Hole. We are both redheads, and in this photo we’re on the road, we’re roommates, and we love each other.
She was my rock on tour, personally and musically, until she relapsed and disappeared on us. I reunited with her 15 years later. The redhead thing is no small matter. When you grow up a redhead and you find another redhead, it’s a very special thing. She was my redhead sister, my rhythm sister. There’s nothing to not love in Patty.”
“This is after Courtney and Hole’s first concert in Los Angeles since Kurt’s death, and it was star-studded. And this was the only person I took a picture of that night, because I was like, ‘Danny DeVito is at our show?!’ That was the kind of stuff I got a real kick out of, people from my ’80s childhood, wholesome fun, compared to the weird, dark ’90s. The thing I was doing that nobody else was doing was taking my own picture. Back then it was called a ‘self- portrait.’ I had literally gone to art school for selfies.”
“This was Hole’s second pass through America that year. We were playing in Chicago and, strangely enough, the Smashing Pumpkins weren’t on tour, so [guitarist] James Iha came to our show in his hometown. Billy didn’t come because he and Courtney had an on-again/off-again relationship. James and I instantly hit it off because he’s just a super cool guy, so when I joined the Pumpkins five years later I already had a friend in James.”
“Oh! This is Saturday Night Live backstage. I can tell from the outfits and how Patty and I are all made up. I’ll share an amazing SNL story: Earlier that week me and Courtney went on a double date with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley that the producers of the show set up. We went to SoHo for dinner and then out to an empty dance club. I was standing against the wall with Adam Sandler talking about Canadian comedy while Courtney and Chris Farley were going nuts on the dance floor. They were like a house on fire, super cute.”
“This has always been my favorite Hole fan photo. The day I first developed it I thought, ‘I love these people. This is why I joined the band’—the young girls of the world waiting for us, and needing us, and glowing for us. And feeling confident that we were their big sisters, their mothers, their heroes. The dynamic exchange between a performer and a fan is the power of music. The joy of me wanting to remember them by taking a photo of them is also why they’re glowing. They’re witness to me loving them. Meeting your heroes can be...whatever. As a fan, I never wanted to be a disappointment to another fan.”
“That year Lollapalooza was Sonic Youth and Hole co-headlining, with an amazing rest of the bill: Beck, Cypress Hill, Moby, Pavement, and much more. It was an incredible lineup, the coolest bands ever. The ’90s never happened again like that, and Lollapalooza went downhill after 1995. The girl on the left is Frances’ babysitter, who was a Drew Barrymore look-alike. And Drew Barrymore was also on tour with us because of Eric. So we had two Drews on our tour. This is the usual scene before the show, us waiting for Courtney. In fact, every single day of our lives was waiting for Courtney to either be ready to leave the hotel, or go to the airport, or start soundcheck—which we eventually gave up on doing with her—or start the show. We were notoriously late to start shows. But her lipstick was always on.”
“Here we are at the dress rehearsal for the VMAs at Radio City Music Hall. I remember when I took this that TLC were running through their song ‘Waterfalls’ for the show. Frances was always with us, and there was just something sweet and surreal about her watching these pop girls up on stage from the lap of her controversial punk mom. I never grew up watching awards shows, so I was just running around all day taking pictures of me sitting in other people’s weird chairs with their names on them. I sat in Janet Jackson’s chair, I sat in Tony Bennett’s chair, I was just having fun. Later in the night, in a memorable moment on live TV, Courtney threw her shoes and lipstick at Madonna while she was talking to MTV’s Kurt Loder on the red carpet, interrupting and crashing their interview. But this is a moment where we’re all at our most presentable, this dysfunctional family playing the part alongside the other famous people who are waiting their turn to do run- throughs.”
“This is us at our fucking peak, man, this was major. We were the biggest we had ever been anywhere, and our live show was so good at this point. Courtney was the most sober, the most sharp, in the best shape she’d ever been. Singing, playing guitar, remembering her lyrics, not being late—professional as fuck. The film industry had really pushed her to step up. This was when I realized, ‘Holy shit, we’re a great band. We have so arrived.’ But when we were at the top of our game, she was waiting to find out about movie gigs. So we couldn’t book the big tours waiting for us. It was very frustrating. We made it across Canada headlining another huge summer festival, then I faxed her my resignation letter and that was that.”
“I had just left Hole when the ‘stars aligned’ and Billy asked me to play bass for the Smashing Pumpkins’ farewell tour. It was really a full-circle moment, since he basically discovered me. Do you know how successful a goodbye tour is? That’s why I said yes, because I knew it was a finite thing and we would play all over the world to the biggest audiences. This picture’s from one of our last Pumpkins shows. I think Billy could see the writing on the wall with the ’90s, that the scene was over. All of the stages and airwaves were filled with bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn, and it was like, what happened to our music scene? So what you’re seeing here is the end of a show, the end of the 1990s version of the Smashing Pumpkins, and in my mind the end of my journey in the ’90s. And we’d play three- to five-hour shows a night! Billy was exhausted.”
“Proudly Canadian, looking dorky with my first love, Dave Grohl. Our bands toured together across Canada that summer, with the Smashing Pumpkins headlining the festival and Foo Fighters on the bill. Dave and I had a very similar story, spirit, and destiny.We were both plucked from scenes that had great integrity—the alternative and punk scenes in Montreal and D.C.—and were thrown into the insanity of being in these huge bands. We had both experienced the same trauma of addiction, darkness, and major-label fame that destroyed Hole and Nirvana. So when we found each other at the end of the ’90s, we held on for dear life. I was just finishing up with the Smashing Pumpkins farewell tour and the Foo Fighters were on the rise. Dave and I were both at a crossroads. He had the option to either stay small and be this kind of indie guy, or, because he had been in the most famous band on the planet, go bigger. I was ready to return to my roots and move on to a ‘normal’ city and life, maybe start a cool music-and-arts venue. I said to Dave, ‘We don’t have to live like this anymore. Let’s you and me start over and have an amazing life of love and art together.’ But he wanted to go bigger, and I just wanted to go home. We broke up, but in the end, we both got what we wanted.”