I think it would be fair to say that only a small percentage of the general public would know who Patty Schemel is. As she is primarily known as the drummer for the band Hole – which is fronted by the contentious Courtney Love – many may dismiss Schemel’s memoir as a celebrity-filled kiss-and-tell.
And, yes, admittedly, the memoir does mention Schemel’s former bandmate, boss, tabloid fodder and all-round force of nature, Love.
Hole’s volatile relationship with Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan; and Schemel’s friendship with the late Kurt Cobain, Love’s husband and Nirvana’s lead singer who committed suicide in 1994, aged just 27, is discussed.
However, Hit So Hard (named after a Hole song) is essentially Schemel’s story. And her story is one of addiction.
Live Through This
Schemel remembers her childhood being full of addicts. Her alcoholic parents hosted AA meetings in their living room, and were invested in the 12 step programme. Schemel believes their divorce triggered her first forays into drinking at age 12.
That is a very young age for a child to be drinking, but in the Schemel household it seemed normal. Schemel, her older brother and younger sister were drinking, smoking and taking a variety of drugs in front of their distracted parents at ridiculously early ages.
It was during puberty that Schemel discovered her love for punk rock. This therefore awakened her talent for playing the drums and which triggered her life’s ambition of wanting to be in a band.
In addition, Schemel discovered as a teenager that she preferred (and was even sexually attracted to) girls. Her struggle with her sexuality consequently propelled her to play the drums with different local punk bands in the Marysville, Washington, area.
Playing to a drunken single-digit audience in a bar or to a three-person crowd in a larger venue only fuelled Schemel’s desire to be part of a proper band – one whose members were committed to making and playing music as a full-time occupation.
Asking For It
By the late 1980s Schemel had focused her confusion over her sexuality and her anger over people’s attitude towards her sexuality into her drive to be a well-known drummer with well-regarded bands in Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia in Washington.
It was at a concert in Seattle that she met and befriended a pre-Nirvana Cobain, who told her to go after her dreams. Through Cobain, Schemel met Love and became part of Hole.
While the author devotes a considerable amount of her memoir to Hole, she does not dwell much on the bright side of celebrity. Instead, she chronicles her various addictions (smoking, drinking, snorting drugs and sleeping with groupies) while her band was being feted by fans and critics the world over.
Right before Hole’s major label debut album in 1994, Cobain committed suicide. Furthermore, two months later, Hole’s bassist, Kristen Pfaff died of a drug overdose, aged 27. Schemel very candidly writes that the way for her to cope with the deaths of two close friends was to “sink into oblivion – be it getting drunk or high, usually both” and have sex with random strangers.
By her own admission, the numerous stints in rehab did not cure the author of her addictions. She writes that the drugs and drinking made her feel better rather than feel different. And by 1998, she found herself jobless (Schemel left Hole under a black cloud) and homeless.
Gold Dust Woman
Hitting rock bottom did not magically turn Schemel away from her addictions. Instead, it made her crave the chemical substances even more. It is at this juncture that Schemel poses a question. “What if we looked at addiction as something that a person is born predisposed to?”
Schemel believes that her addiction is, in some way, hereditary. Yet she is also aware that it is nothing as simple as saying that addicts are created because their parents happen to be addicts. Kudos to her for not trying to decipher this riddle or for blaming anyone for her battle with addiction; Schemel simply admits she has an addiction.
Written after more than a decade of sobriety, Hit So Hard is full of surprising candour, Gothic humour, and straightforward language (Schemel did not litter her memoir with 12-step/therapy lingo, thank goodness) that makes for a compelling read. It is less about a rock star and more about a woman trying to understand and overcome the disease of addiction that engulfed a large portion of her life.
Well worth a read.
Hit So Hard
Author: Patty Schemel
Publisher: Da Capo Press, music memoir