I’ve spent most of this long weekend catching up on movies and documentaries that slipped by me over the past few years. For future reference, Oblivion and RIPD are terrible films, yet the piece that wins the audience award of my personal Labour Day film festival is 2011’s Hit So Hard.
The documentary chronicles the life of out lesbian and former Hole drummer Patty Schemel. Although a former diehard Hole fan, I wasn’t aware Schemel was a member of the LGBT community. Apparently, the Washington State native came out in a Rolling Stone (RS) interview in 1995. (I was still a pre-teen then and hadn’t graduated from Entertainment Weekly up to RS and Spin yet.)
Directed by P David Ebersole, Hit So Hard explores Schemel’s feelings about her sexuality, from hitting on straight girls in high school to her recent wedding, but the most gripping aspects of Hit So Hard are the struggle of addiction and the backstage footage of Schemel and her band mates.
There is candid tape of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love playing around with their daughter, tales of crystal meth use during the Live Through This recording sessions and Canadian Melissa Auf der Maur philosophizing about turning straight girls gay.
Each former Hole member offers interviews along with several other lesbian drummers.
Additionally, Schemel details honestly how the deaths of Cobain and bassist Kristen Pfaff affected her and everyone associated with the band.
Although substance abuse plagued her for most of her life, Schemel’s breaking point came during the Celebrity Skin sessions, when, even though she wrote percussion parts on the album and appears on its cover, tyrannical producer Michael Beinhorn would ask the drummer to perform songs repeatedly, saying he was never satisfied. One source who was in the production booth says Beinhorn wouldn’t even listen to Schemel’s work. Ultimately, Beinhorn replaced her with session drummer Deen Castronovo.
This led to a nervous breakdown, and although the band asked her to come on tour to support the album, Schemel refused, retreating into addiction and living on the streets.
Some of the most unsettling information Schemel divulges is that she used her body to get her next fix. She speaks about how, as a gay woman, prostitution was both easy and repulsive.
But Schemel fought her demons and won. She now runs a dog-care business in addition to teaching drums. She’s also recently played with a few big-name acts, including Juliette and the Licks.
For any gay music nerd or fan of the grunge movement, Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel is a must-see. With a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most embattled bands in history and its honest depiction of addiction, this documentary is a compelling lesson on “how to be an unsuccessful musician."