“The rock star in the ’90s is self-obsessed, concerned, ego, appearance, all those things and now it’s totally the other side of that,” declares Patty Schemel, former drummer for Hole, when asked about her daughter during an interview about her riveting behind-the-scenes documentary Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel.
It’s exactly eighteen years after Live Through This came out.
In 1994, when Hole’s multi-platinum sophomore album was released four days after the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (and a few months before the death of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff), no album title was ever so perfect and heartbreaking as Live Through This.
Kurt Cobain was the husband to Hole frontwoman, Courtney Love, and good friends with Schemel. In interviews, Cobain would mention Schemel with the sort of loving tone reserved for a sister; in the picture above, Cobain and Schemel rest next to his infant daughter Frances Bean Cobain.
The relationships between the two bands were iconic; the image of the two very similar members from each band next to the innocent infant has extra resonance now that Schemel has truly “lived through this.” The drummer has a baby daughter named Beatrice, nicknamed Bea Bea, with her wife Christina.
Beyond the music and the mutual love for one another, Cobain and Schemel shared another powerful, life-changing pastime: their use and abuse of chemicals. Although Cobain’s life ended tragically early, Schemel’s near dissent into the same grim outcome was diverted.
Volunteering at Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Los Angeles and owning a dog-walking company called Dog Rocker, Schemel’s self-destructive past has morphed into a way of life intent on giving back. It has also inspired a piece of art that can speak to generations of Hole lovers, those recovering from similar circumstances; Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel.
Using archival footage from a Hi-8 camera that Schemel was given right before Hole’s Live Through This tour and interviews with bandmates such as Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, and Melissa Auf der Maur, Schemel said the idea came from her friend P. David Ebersole who ended up directing the documentary.
“What it is is a collection of archival footage,” Schemel explains. “Hole fans really like to see the behind-the-scenes stuff and the pre-show stuff and the on-the-stage.”
“Being a fan of other documentaries, I always like to see stuff like Robert Plant hanging out with a towel on after a show,” continues Schemel with a laugh. “The story is from my perspective of growing up, being a drummer, and discovering I’m gay. Also, being an alcoholic and being a part of that whole crazy Seattle grunge scene when it came out.”
As a volunteer at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, Schemel says that her young students don’t necessarily know who Hole was—they just know her as “Patty the drum teacher.” It’s the parents who come up and talk to her.
Schemel also joked how weird it is to hear people say that they were listening to Hole in “eighth grade.”
“I’d be like, ‘What? Eighth grade!’ The age difference is incredible,” exclaims Schemel. “For a lot of people, Live Through This was a big part of their lives. Which I’m discovering now.”
After responses from screenings of Hit So Hard, Schemel’s documentary may hit home for people with a similar life trajectory as Schemel—minus the bout of rock stardom.
“What the film speaks to is my coming out story–which was a difficult struggle,” explains Schemel. “It speaks to those people who I talk to after the film. People in recovery. I just spoke to an amazing woman who came up after a screening saying she was three days clean and sober, you know, we just sat and talked–it opens up the dialogue. It’s the gay community; the recovery community; its Hole fans. And then it’s the dog community too at the end. “
The drummer’s tiny list of societal minorities juxtaposes rather interestingly with Schemel’s current career choice: dog mistress. Schemel said that she chose that path because the women at her sober living house were getting jobs and she knew she needed a “Get Well Job,” something to “go to everyday and be accountable and have some structure.”
Schemel is living a new life as well. When asked why she decided to stop using, Schemel replies that she had to “surrender to the fact that the drugs stopped working.”
“They did,” Schemel reiterates. “For all the reasons I was putting them into my body, they were just creating more fear and insecurity and all the things that I originally started using drugs for, it just became more of those things.”
“Somewhere inside of me I wanted to live again,” continues Schemel. “And then whatever else from that decision, you know, staying close to people that have the same things that I do as drugs go, staying close to my recovery community–whatever else comes along is just icing on the cake.”
“Being able to play drums again, create the movie, have a family; those things were all, I say, gifts of sobriety.”
Schemel still plays music in a band that she met at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp For Girls called the Cold and the Lovely. The band features Meghan Toohey from The Weepies and Nicole Fiorentino from The Smashing Pumpkins and Veruca Salt.
Despite her admiration of the women behind Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls who “put together a climate for younger girls to be empowered,” when Schemel was asked about women in rock music today and the mainstream lack of outlets for “female angst” that Hole so perfectly encapsulated, Schemel replies hesitantly, “I don’t see anyone really pushing any boundaries. I hate to sound like that.”
Trying to be more positive, Schemel continues. “Maybe it’s just because the climate of everything right now. Maybe in the underground there is something bubbling somewhere, something that’s about to explode. A simmering, boiling pot of water and I don’t know what it is, but it’s coming. It has to be.”
I drew the artistic parallels between Schemel’s documentary and Eric Erlandson’s book, Letters to Kurt, speculating that all the “cosmic energy was moving in the right direction.”
“It was interesting because I went to his reading at Skylight Books and I was listening to him talking about his journey and what he was doing and I was like, ‘Oh. That’s so much like mine,’” replies Schemel. “I had that same thought in my mind, ‘What is it about right now?’ I felt that it’s a point in my life where I feel comfortable where I’m at and in my soul.”
Maybe it’s also because it’s a “generation” later, Schemel speculates. And it’s been a generation or so since Schemel, Erlandson, and Auf der Maur have “been in a room with instruments since Celebrity Skin.”
But the three of them were about to do just that on Easter Sunday at Auf der Maur’s Basilica Hudson in New York City.
The inevitable had to be asked: “Does Courtney know?”
“Yeah, I think so,” said Schemel. “I think she knows. I don’t know what her thoughts are on it. She’s always welcome to join but I don’t know as far as what she’s feeling.”
“We extended the invitation to her,” Schemel elaborated, “but she’s not interested. I think she thinks more in the future tense of what she’s creating from this point on versus what she’s already done. She’s always been interested in doing brand new things. She’s always looking forward.”
The drummer hints at some “surprises” in the future, but when I retort asking if Schemel, Auf der Maur, Erlandson are going to get back together and start a band, she laughs coyly.
“No, I don’t know. Could be, but no.”
Hit So Hard screens in the United States on the following dates:
NEW YORK CITY
April 13th 2012
April 27th 2012
May 4th 2012
DENVER FILM CENTER
May 25th 2012
NORTHWEST FILM FORUM