SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 15, 2011
Director: P. David Ebersole
Writers: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes
Featuring: Patty Schemel, Melissa Auf Der Maur, Eric Erlandson, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Sarah Vowell, Gina Schock, Nina Gordon, Kate Schellenbach, Phranc
Some of you might be asking the same question I asked myself when I first received the press release for Hit So Hard: The Life & Near‐Death Story of Drummer Patty Schemel — why would I want to watch a documentary about the drummer of Hole? Nothing personal about Schemel, but she is not the first person who comes to mind when I think of Hole. Knowing absolutely nothing about Schemel, I figured that it would not hurt anything for me to give Hit So Hard a chance.
Full Disclosure: I am not a fan of Hole (I am more of an early Nirvana — Bleach and Nevermind — man myself), so I am probably coming from a completely different perspective than most of this documentary’s audience.
Hailing from Marysville, a farm town outside of Seattle, Schemel formed her first band (at age 15), Sybil (later known as Kill Sybil), with her brother Larry. Schemel was 20 years old when she joined Doll Squad — an all-female punk rock band from Seattle who was active from 1987 to 1989. Then when Chad Channing left Nirvana in 1990, Schemel was considered to be Kurt Cobain’s leading candidate for Nirvana’s new drummer…that is until Dave Grohl’s audition. Nevertheless, Schemel developed a close friendship with Cobain; so when Hole’s original drummer (Caroline Rue) left the band in 1992, Schemel was Courtney Love’s first choice to become Hole’s new drummer.
Schemel played drums on Hole’s sophomore album, Live Through This (1994), and while touring, performed high profile shows at the Reading Festival, Big Day Out and Lollapalooza. (In 1995, Schemel became the first woman ever to appear on the cover of Drum World magazine.) Hole entered the studio in 1997 to record their third album, Celebrity Skin, but Schemel left the band before any tracks were laid down. Schemel had worked on the writing of the album’s material and contributed to the demos, so her name and photo were still included on the album sleeve. (The album’s drum tracks were performed by a male session drummer; eventually Samantha Maloney became Hole’s third drummer.) Love claims that Schemel’s drug habit was to blame, but Schemel insisted she left Hole due to personal and musical differences between her and Celebrity Skin producer, Michael Beinhorn.
In 2001, Schemel joined Courtney Love’s short-lived band, Bastard, along with Louise Post (Veruca Salt) and Gina Crosley (Rockit Girl). Schemel also played drums on Juliette Lewis’ Juliette and the Licks’ debut EP, …Like a Bolt of Lightning. Schemel performed on Courtney Love’s solo album, America’s Sweetheart and toured with Imperial Teen. In early 2010, Schemel formed the band, Green Eyes.
That said — music takes a back seat in P. David Ebersole’s documentary; Hit So Hard is more about drug and alcohol addiction. Schemel is a member of the “Unlucky 13th Generation”, a group of people who have been mired by a plethora of pain, hardship and death; especially in the Grunge scene, it seemed as though everyone was overdosing and/or dying…like a strange gypsy curse, they usually died at the ripe young age of 27. As someone who seemed pre-destined to fall prey to that curse, Schemel developed a heroin addiction in the early 1990s. (She notoriously refused to be part of Kurt Cobain’s drug intervention in March 1994, claiming that doing so would be hypocrisy.) Eventually, she found herself unable to stay in any bands. Schemel was forced to sell all of her possessions (in order to support her drug habit) and began living in a parking lot near the corner of Temple and Alvarado.
Many have hypothesised that the Grunge movement and prolific drug use in the 1990s was reverbial feedback from the very same twenty-somethings who suffered through the conservatism of the Reagan-Bush era during their teenage years. Like the various Punk movements that came before and after Grunge, the angst from feeling disenfranchised for so long came through in their music and fashion; but their rebelliousness did not dull the pain, so they turned to alcohol and drugs for their proverbial ostrich hole.
Also important: Schemel is openly lesbian — as she told Rolling Stone, “it’s good for other people who live somewhere else in some small town who feel freaky about being gay to know that there’s other people who are and that it’s OK.” If you ask me, Schemel’s drug habits during the pinnacle of her fame made her a far from perfect role model for rural lesbians; but I am happy that she was/is loud and proud nonetheless. On a related side note… Congratulations are in order: Schemel’s wife, Christina Soletti, gave birth to their first child in 2010.
Hit So Hard features recent and archival talking head interviews with Schemel, as well as her friends, family and colleagues; but what everyone will be talking about is Ebersole’s use of the never before seen Hi-8 footage shot with Schemel’s camera during various tours and while she was living with Love and Cobain just prior to his suicide.