Hit So Hard – The Life and Near Death of Patty Schemel

Schemel on stage with Hole (Photo by Erica Echenberg)

There aren’t many female drummers in rock and roll. Ask most people and they’ll be hard pressed to name five. Moe Tucker, Sheila E and Meg White are a few that come to mind and if you were a fan of grunge then you’ll have heard of Patty Schemel. Hit So Hard is a documentary that I have wanted to see ever since I heard about it months ago and it chronicles Schemel’s experience as drummer of Hole, her descent into drug addiction and her life post-music.

Patty is an intriguing subject. She’s a female musician playing a male dominated instrument, a gay woman who was one of the first to come out in the hard rock scene, a class clown with a great sense of humour and deadpan delivery, and an addict who struggled with drugs and alcohol ever since she took her first drink as a child.

Most of the footage is home video that Schemel took on the road with Hole as she wanted to document her life on the road, the places they played and the gigs. There’s backstage footage of the band, scenes of Kurt Cobain playing with Frances and Courtney, live performances, and scenes of the band goofing off in hotel rooms and waiting for transport, all of which gives an authentic look at life with a rock band at the height of their fame. This is interspersed with interviews with the band members, Patty’s family, colleagues, peers and friends, such as Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt, Gina Schock from the Go Gos, Kate Schellenbach from Luscious Jackson, Phranc, Alice de Buhr and Debbi Petersen from The Bangles.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Courtney Love and in the documentary Nina Gordon articulates her feelings on Courtney which are the same as my own. Courtney put herself forward as a feminist, a powerful woman who challenged the media’s preconceived aesthetics and notions of how a woman should behave. However she contradicted her own feminism a lot of the time, becoming focussed on her looks rather than her talent and constantly criticising other women. Love certainly does not come across well in the documentary. She is self-involved, crass, obnoxious, and constantly refers to ‘my band’. During one of the interviews she describes being on the phone and hearing the news that Kristen Pfaff (bass player of Hole) died. Her reaction? “I’ve gotta go, my bass player just died.” Charming. And Courtney isn’t one for the sisterhood either. When the time came to sell Patty out to Michael Beinhorn during the making of Celebrity Skin, Courtney didn’t hesitate.

Back to Patty. Trying to stay sober when on the road is a tough job for anyone and Patty struggled with her addiction to heroin and alcohol. When Celebrity Skin was released Patty left the band and relapsed badly, spending the settlement she received from the band on drugs and then eventually becoming homeless and turning to stealing and prostitution to buy crack. Being a gay woman, prostitution to straight men had the strange element of allowing her to to disassociate even though she was disgusted by it. She didn’t work at all and didn’t play drums, at one point in the film saying that she was so into her life on the street that she literally forgot she was a drummer.

After her eleventh attempt at rehab Patty became stable and sober and her life here, married and with her own business, is where the documentary ends. Given what this amazing, intelligent, funny and talented woman has been through it was heart warming to see her in a good place. For anyone interested in grunge and the 90s music scene this is an unmissable film.

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