Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death of Hole Drummer, Patty Schemel

“Something’s going to be popular. Someone is going to gonna be on television. Isn’t it better that she’s Courtney Love than some completely vapid, talentless bimbo who has never had a thought or written a song. Who has nothing to say. Nothing to question. Nothing to ask?” -Sarah Vowell

Hit So Hard is a documentary film that follows the life and near death of Hole’s drummer Patty Schemel. The film focuses on Patty’s struggles with alcoholism and drugs, feminism, lesbianism, and politics. Hit So Hard showed us what it was like to be a lesbian, heroine addict and alcoholic drummer in the early 90s. As asked in the film, “Are you documenting your own misery?” Patty, I am glad you did. Friend, P. David Ebersole, directed and edited the project with footage filmed by Patty herself, behind-the-scenes on tour. Patty Schemel learned how to play the drums in her early teens and had been playing the drums for a few local groups since high school. She formed her first band with brother Larry. Her band Doll Squad became an indie success and played shows alongside Nirvana. In 1992, Courtney Love asked Patty to join her band, Hole. Patty moved in with Courtney and Kurt and Hole became a success. As well as Nirvana. The focus is solely kept on Patty and her struggles. Her brother and mother tell sentimental stories and bring you to full circle on what it’s like to come out as a gay teenager in the 90s.

Third-wave feminism hit hard in the early 90s after the second-wave feminism movement failed to ameliorate diddly. This time around, women in punk rock banded together to address critical issues such as racism, sexuality, rape, physical violence, and female empowerment. The term “Riot Grrrl” came from Bikini Kill’s song “Rebel Grrrl.” The punk scene was male-dominated and the riot grrrl’s wanted a piece of the action. They wanted their spot in the mosh pit. Some of these bands even asked that the men move to the side or the back of the crowd so that the women could be at the front of the stage and enjoy the show. This would result in a lot of booing and “Get off the stage cunt!” Girls don’t want to be grabbed or molested while enjoying a show from their favorite bands. This is NOT a man’s world and molestation against someone’s will is unnecessary. This movement is far from over with. In September of last year, SlutWalks was introduced in Toronto in response to a police officer’s remark that “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Hole was associated with the third-wave feminism movement, along with several other bands from that time like Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, Bratmobile, and Bikini Kill. I remember an episode of Roseanne where Roseanne and Jackie pick up a hitch-hiking girl that was in a band and she informs the two older women about the movement and “riot grrrs.” Roseanne refers to the movement as a loud wake-up call.  L7 proved this by throwing a fucking tampon into the audience when the audience began throwing mud at the musicians after the equipment wasn’t working properly. The lead singer has been very unapologetic about this incident, as she should be. Yes, throwing a tampon into the crowd is down right disgusting but throwing mud at musicians on stage when they’re on their period, you’re pretty much asking for it.

“To me the grunge movement was all about fashion and you know where the grunge movement took their fashion from… From the lesbians. “ -Phranc

I’m betting the majority of music fans out there cannot even name five female drummers, let alone at least three from the early 90s. These women need to be remembered. Along with Patty Schemel of Hole. in the 90s we had Lori Barbero from Babes in Toyland, who is an amazingly talented artist. There was Tobi Vail, who played the drums for Bikini Kill and Demetra Plakas played the drums for L7.

The late 90s brought us an even angrier group of gals, Kittie, with Mercedes Lander on the drums. If you have not heard the song Charlotte, stop what you’re doing now and listen to the opening drums on this heavy tune. She’s also really really hot.

There were a few female drummers before this time. Sandy West being my favorite for The Runaways in the 70s. There’s Roxy Petrucci for the glam metal band Vixen. She also performed for Madam X. Have you heard the drums for Vixen’s “Edge of a Broken Heart?” If not, listen again. There’s Debbi Peterson of The Bangles. Peterson was also a singer and left The Bangles in 1990 for her failed solo career (sorry Debbi.)

No one ever focuses on the drummer, or the bass player, or the lead guitarist. It’s not only the lead singers job to carry a tune but to have a stage presence as well. Maybe that isn’t the case in all bands. A lot of times, the lead guitarist stands out and creates havoc. In the Sex Pistol’s case, the bass player. It’s rare that I actually hear about a drummer standing out. Maybe not for Def Leppard because their drummer lost an arm and still learned how to play with one arm. In girl world, Patty Schemel was a force to be reckoned with. She played harder and faster than the rest of the girls.  This woman was a machine.

The documentary featured interviews with Nina Gordon from Veruc Salt, Kate Schellenbach from Luscious Jackson, Gina Schock from The Go-Go’s, Debbi Peterson from The Bangles, and Roddy Bottum from Faith No More. These are voices that are rarely caught on camera and there’s Courtney Love – Looking like a clown with all that red lipstick. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Courtney. I cannot get enough of her. I will defend her until the day I die but you need to learn how to put on lip stick dear…. Or not put it on when you’re not sober. Patty’s mother is also in the documentary and tells a heartfelt story of Patty coming out when she was 17. It’s amazing just how alone she felt. Most homosexuals, especially younger homosexuals, feel alone.

I would also like to point out that this documentary features rare clips of Kurt Cobain and Kristen Pfaff, who was the bass player for Hole. She overdosed just a couple of months after Kurt committed suicide. This was tragic for the band and especially had an impact on Patty. Kristen proved to be an essential part of the band and her death was overshadowed by Kurt’s. It’s a shame, not many people who either weren’t paying attention or were too young, will understand or even know about this. All you hear is Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain. I haven’t heard a single thing about Kristen until this documentary. May they both rest in pieces.

The album “Live Through This” went Platinum and raced the charts all over the world. I spent a lot of time listening to this record in my adolescence. It had such a profound impact on me and my life. What I was doing, where I was going, what I was forced to deal with… Live Through This and the album Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails became my way out from my own personal hell and struggles at home. The song Violet especially spoke to me. Hard core Nirvana fans like to argue that Cobain wrote Live Through This and that it’s obvious. This is something I have been arguing over for years. Live Through This was not written by Cobain. Even the song Violet had been performed by Hole for years before being added onto the album. The song was about Courtney Love’s relationship with Smashing Pumpkins front-man Billy Corgan in 1990. Patty actually talks about this album quite a bit in the documentary and I’d like to request that all naysayers watch the documentary to further educate themselves. At one point, Patty even admits to smoking meth while some of the song writing was taking place. Nowhere in this documentary does it say Kurt Cobain wrote any of the lyrics. Conspiracy theorists piss me off. Live Through This released four days after Kurt’s death.

Patty now runs an animal car service in Los Angeles with her wife. She continues to work on numerous projects and I cannot wait to see what she’s made of next. She’s an inspiration and I have a feeling this documentary will hit some of the viewers hard and prove to be influential on their lives and music.

  • JamesD

    I have been dying to hear the Sugar Babydoll demos. They did three songs before splitting up. That was Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland, Courtney and Jennifer Finch of L7. I am a huge fan of Live Through this and also this documentary. I think music needs personalities like Courtney Love to keep people guessing how far can they go, or is this an act. Great Review Reb. God has it been that long since Pretty on the Inside? Geez….