Musician Patty Schemel’s slow climb to sobriety and wellness serves as the gripping backbone of the documentary Hit So Hard, to the point that it is difficult to believe that someone thumped so severely lived to tell her story.
Hit So Hard – The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel. Directed by David P Ebersole. Now available on Netflix Instant.
By Kathleen Burke.
“Patty really had a genius sense of humor about being a crack head” isn’t a particularly strange statement to come from the lipstick spackled mouth of Courtney Love. The surprise here is the widely unknown story of Love’s longtime band mate and drummer Patty Schemel, who overcame the perils of instant fame, drug addiction, homophobia, and homelessness to once again become a sober and successful musician and activist. Patty and many other well-known folks from the 1990’s rock scene tell her inspiring story through home movies and interviews in the new documentary Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel. The film is packed with unreleased footage of Hole, as well as home movies of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love performing unreleased material in their home.
Patty was raised in a painfully small-minded town in Washington state by (from what we gather from subtle hints during interviews) alcoholic parents. She and her brother formed a deep bond playing music together while being treated as outcasts in their tiny community. Small towns tend to foster the grouping of marginal types, and the Schemel children found solace in a small but burgeoning group of local musicians and artists. Patty describes when, as a teenager, she realized that she is a lesbian: her first instinct was to binge drink in order to cope with the revelation. During a night of boozing, she proclaimed her feelings of attraction to a friend and was mightily rejected.
Schemel’s touching, at times self deprecating tone and demeanor about these and other experiences make her an irresistible heroine. Patty could be anyone’s best friend, someone who would drink bottles of cheap rum with you all night, make sure you get home ok, and call the next morning to check up on your condition. Her brash sense of humor only makes her more endearing. We discover her darker sides however, as the film progresses.
In 1992, Schemel made the life-altering decision to join the band Hole after playing drums in a string of low-level rock and punk bands in the Washington area. She moves in with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in their Hollywood home, forming a tight friendship with the pair and their young daughter, Frances. Director David P. Ebersole unfolds the developing chaos and despair of this relationship, juxtaposing interview footage of each member of Hole as well as others involved in the scene (including members of Faith No More, Veruca Salt, The Go Go’s, The Bangles, writer Sarah Vowell, and many others) with Patty’s own home video camera footage. The story is told via “Rockumentary” style, but the well-worn approach does not come off as stale, generally because of the yarn’s vibrant characters.
After the suicide of Cobain, Hole embarked on an international tour (riddled with drug use) for the album Live Through This, which had been released just days after Cobain’s death. The surreal aftermath of his death—bewildering waves of grief and depression amid world-wide musical success and critical acclaim—is captured in Patty’s raw footage and the video documentation of scenes on- and offstage. The traumatic days of dealing with the loss of Cobain, and then of Hole bassist Kristin Pfaff just two months later, eventually unhinged the band. Patty spirals into a heroin addiction so severe she is stripped of everything and eventually ends up as a junkie living in a park in Washington. Her slow climb to sobriety and wellness serves as the gripping backbone of Hit So Hard, to the point that it is difficult to believe that someone thumped so severely lived to tell her story.