FDL Movie Night: Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel
Patty Schemel was the drummer in Hole during one of the most gripping periods in modern music. As she was also one of the few women drummers to ever receive any amount of success and an out lesbian–though one who admittedly wasn’t
waving the pink flag
Schemel inspired fans while holding down the chaos of Hole’s live shows.
Numerous musicians and writers as well as Patty’s own band mates discuss her strength, feel, style, and grace as a drummer, as well as her importance as a cultural vanguard in Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel. Tonight’s guests, director/producer/writer P. David Ebersole and writer/producer Todd Hughes, combined interviews with video footage Schemel shot and rediscovered to create a portrait of strength, talent and vulnerability, plus an inside look at the personal lives of some of the most influential cultural figures of 1990s.
Schemel documented her interactions with Hole on tour and with the late Kurt Cobain; his wife Courtney Love, Hole’s lead singer; and their child, Frances Bean Cobain, showing a side of Cobain seldom seen. But those happy days disappear with Kurt’s suicide which is quickly followed by the release of Hole’s highly anticipated and heavily promoted release of Live Through This and the decision to tour is made, solidifying Hole has a major force and Courtney as a cultural icon. But Patty’s closest friend in Hole, bassist Kristen Pfaff quits the band and dies of a heroin overdose. She is replaced by Melissa Auf der Maur, who brings
to what is quickly becoming a very dark situation. During the first phase of their touring together, Patty and Melissa form a close bond which gradually begins to shrivel–Patty gets involved with a woman who is touring with the band, and the couple soon get strung out on hard drugs. During one of her own sober periods, Courtney Love tries to get Patty clean, which works for a brief while, but Love’s acting career takes off sidelining the band, and Patty is left to her own devices going through a series of kicks and rehabs.
But with a new record in the pipeline, the band begins rehearsing, with Patty writing all her drum parts. Things look positive until the producer, Michael Beinhorn has a different agenda–he plans to use a hired gun to record the drums and spends weeks wearing Patty down, playing back her weakest versions for Courtney, and ignoring Patty’s strong pieces. This manipulation works, Courtney and her guitarist decide to have a stand-in drummer record the drum parts Patty wrote (And Melissa, herself a hired hand, can’t really speak out about the unfairness of it; she doesn’t have a vote in Hole), while using Patty in press materials. Disgusted, Patty turns again to drugs. In an especially creepy move to keep the machine rolling, Love’s management hires a Patty look-alike for video shoots. Feeling betrayed and hurt, Patty angrily quits the band.
Patty quickly spirals out of control, blowing through her payout from Hole, and ends up living on the street smoking crack. Finally, she calls her father and enters her eleventh rehab — which takes. Gradually she has the realization that playing music alone won’t fix her, that she needs something else. That something else becomes several things: working as a dog handler at a doggie daycare, and mentoring girl drummers at band camp. Now several years sober, Schemel is self-aware and more at peace then when she was with Hole.
Interviews with her mother and brother give insight into Patty’s beginning drug use and her painful coming out to her mom, while Schemel frankly discusses the difficulties of being a teen lesbian. Both Schemel and Roddy Bottum from Faith No More discuss being gay teens and rock stars.
What makes Hits So Hard stand out from the usual rock redemption story is Schemel: she’s honest, funny, smart, and doesn’t pull punches on herself (though she is very discreet about discussing her bandmates’ substance abuse), and is truly one of the great drummers of the 1990s. That she’s a girl shouldn’t be an issue, but girl drummers are rare, and Schemel’s talent is standout. She and her brother Larry currently play together in the band Green Eyes.