Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel

P. David Ebersole’s documentary about Hole’s erstwhile drummer Patty Schemel evokes the kind of raw emotion experienced in music documentaries of the painfully candid variety. Hit So Hard is a kick in the gut, a call to arms and a cri de coeur – and underpinned by Patty’s sharp narrative wit – it’s feel good film about survival, without the mawkish sentimentality, one bathed in a warm, fuzzy, inspirational glow, but one rooted in the conflicting emotions of love and hate.

The film champions the percussive underdog and chronicles the life and crimes of one of the most defining bands of my generation, Hole, who were, at the height of their career, pretty much the biggest guitar band on the planet. ‘Live Through This’, is for me, and many of my friends, a historic document of personal and collective teenage angst, an album we turned to when we hated our parents, hated our friends, hated our boyfriends, hated our girlfriends and hated ourselves. It’s scathing, feral, ear-splitting, ugly beautiful, but also, all of the aforementioned feelings in reverse; a  life-affirming battle cry. My CD – now bruised and battered – is still rolled out on occasion, last time during a 3am rum fuelled party of sweaty catharsis, chain smoking and jumping on sofas.

Patty Schemel was a reinforced tank of unrelenting percussive muscle, a hard, punk drummer – with insane stamina – and the anchor in a band whose reliance on her extended to the personal. Patty was their rock – on stage and behind the scenes, as we learn in the film – but as addiction took its toll, the cracks started to show, and she began to spiral out of control; heart-wrenching, never-before-seen footage and vignettes hammer this home. Her world was torn asunder by Kurt and Kirsten’s deaths and things were never going to be the same again; Patty’s drug taking escalated to crack, as she was forced into prostitution to sustain her addiction, and everything started to fall apart.

Hit So Hard revisits the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide and then, two months later, Hole drummer Kirsten Pfaff’s. It looks at how these tragedies hit Patty and her close-knit group of friends and family, the wider grunge community, and the fans. But it also captures a moment just prior to the heartache when Kurt, Courtney and baby Frances Bean lived in a remote, ramshackle, tree-aligned haven where Patty would come and go, spending time at the house immersed in productive, loving, bohemian, solitude, a time of baby baths and songwriting.

Hole went on to record the glossy, big sounding pop of ‘Celebrity Skin’, with a megalomaniac dictatorial producer who stifled the band’s artistic control and who eventually pushed Patty off the record in place of some dickhead metal guy who had drummed with Whitesnake or something. This was one of the most illuminating but also anger inducing parts of the film;  you wonder how Courtney and co had the gall to abandon their friend and comrade so callously but it just highlights the blatant sexism rife within the music industry at the time and also the ‘disposable’ nature of the drummer. I guess it was a lot more complicated then we care to imagine and at the Q & A afterwards Patty appeared to have forgiven them for their crime, although she says she doesn’t own a copy of the album…

Patty has been clean for six years and is now a married, dog loving drum mentor. She’s a survivor.

One of the best things about the film is that it brings together some legendary female drummers – including the Go-Go’s Schock, the Bangles’ Debbi Peterson, and Fanny’s Alice de Buhr but throws up the eternal question; why are there so few female ‘famous’ drummers? It’s a great list, but a threadbare one. It seems like the solution to this problem is in the hands of our generation to deliver…

Hit So Hard is on at the ICA until Tuesday November 27th – go and watch it!!

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