Following the release of the 2011 documentary Hit So Hard, Patty Schemel felt like her story had been fully told. The critically acclaimed film, which traced her career from her days playing drums with Courtney Love in Hole, through her struggles with heroin and crack addiction, to her recovery and life today as a happy, successful — and sober — drummer, teacher, wife and mother, seemingly left no stone unturned. So when she was approached by a publisher to turn her life story into a memoir, she was reluctant at first.
"I said, 'I'm not a writer,'" Schemel recalls, speaking by phone from her home in Los Angeles. But after being paired with author and literary agent Erin Hosier, Schemel found that there was more to her story that she wanted to tell.
"Erin and I would go over a situation and it would just sort of unravel," Schemel says of the writing process that led to her new memoir, also called Hit So Hard and out this week through Da Capo Press. Though she never kept a journal, Schemel found she was able to recall, sometimes in agonizing detail, even those most painful parts of her life, when her addictions left her homeless and struggling to survive.
“During the difficult parts of the book, it was hard to go there and be there again and revisit those rooms, or that moment with that person," she says. "And then just close the laptop and go to lunch, and carry around that heaviness of revisiting."
Though Hit So Hard is ultimately a deeply personal story, it's also the story of one of the most successful bands of the '90s: Hole, the group Schemel joined in 1992, just as the success of Nirvana was thrusting the entire Seattle grunge scene — but especially Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and his girlfriend, Courtney Love — into the glare of mainstream media scrutiny. Schemel describes her years with the band with the same unflinching honesty and eye for telling detail that she brings to all parts of her life, recounting the shock and devastation that followed the deaths of Cobain and Hole's bassist, Kristen Pfaff, and the subsequent turmoil that plagued the band and ultimately contributed to her being fired from the group in 1998.
Below, in an early excerpt from Hit So Hard, Schemel describes the 1992 audition that led to her joining Hole, moving to L.A. (and leaving behind her girlfriend), and becoming close friends with Love, Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson, and eventually Cobain, as well. The audition took place at legendary DIY venue Jabberjaw. “It was daytime," Schemel recalls. "It was like 100 degrees" inside the tiny venue.
Not long after Schemel joined Hole, Cobain would call her the best musician in the band — a sentiment shared by many of the group's fans. Since her days with Hole, Schemel has also played drums with Juliette Lewis, Imperial Teen and Death Valley Girls, and is currently the drummer for L.A.-based punk group Upset. “I’m a lot more serious about it now," she says of her instrument. "You know they always say, ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’ It’s almost like that. I wish I would’ve been a little more serious about my craft.”
Living in Los Angeles sometimes takes Schemel past not only the former location of Jabberjaw, and the Hollywood apartment she once shared with Love and Cobain, but also the street corners where she used to score drugs. But she says she's made peace with those darker memories from her former life. “She’s still in me, that person," she says. "But my life is so different now.”
The following excerpt is reprinted with permission of Da Capo Press. All rights reserved.
I packed my drums in the back of my car and drove down to L.A. to meet with Eric Erlandson in a coffee shop. We talked things through—he and Courtney wanted to produce a more melodic sound for a new record with more structure than the first record, Pretty on the Inside. Eric was looking for a drummer who could keep time amid Courtney’s chaotic transitions. We got together immediately after to work on some of their catalogue. I liked the songs. (I also noticed that the main riff to “Mrs. Jones” was copied verbatim from “Dark Entries” by Bauhaus.) And Eric seemed to respond to me, too. I’ll never forget when I sent him a demo tape of a bunch of my work, and he called and said, “Is this really you? Playing drums?” It was as if he couldn’t believe it.
It was April 24, 1992, my twenty-fifth birthday, when we set up at Jabberjaw, a coffeehouse turned all-ages nightclub on Pico. The first time I saw her she was wearing a blue gingham dress and knee socks. It’s now a Courtney cliché — the bleached blonde hair, red lipstick, bruised knees in a prom dress, chronically late — certainly no one you could ever forget even if you wanted to. I set up my drums, took off my shoes, and played three of their songs on the sweat lodge of a stage for Eric, who stood brooding with his guitar against the Tiffany blue walls of the bar. Kurt had come with her, but I think he listened from the other room, not wanting to be too much of an influence. Even with the fan Courtney insisted he purchased from Rite Aid down the block, I was sweating all over that place, and thought I’d faint from dehydration. After a rousing version of the Wipers song “Over the Edge,” we finally went outside to get some air.
“What kind of drugs do you do?” Courtney asked first thing, dragging on a Winston.
“Speed, I guess. And alcohol,” I said, leaving out the rest of the truth. “But I don’t play when I’m fucked up.”
“Braggart. Do you want to be my drummer?” I told her I did.
“Fine, it’s settled,” she said, “You’ll come stay with Kurt and me.”
It became obvious really quickly that she was going to become a significant person in my life.
When I returned home to Jenn a few days later, I had already been invited to join the band and had plans to move immediately to Los Angeles. During the drive back, I saw it all very clearly. I would move into the spare bedroom at Kurt and Courtney’s place on Alta Loma Terrace in North Hollywood. I knew I’d spend half my time
in Seattle, where Nirvana and Hole were co-based. I suspected that Jenn would decide she would stay in S.F., and we would have a long-distance relationship for a while until it was no longer feasible. I knew I would visit a few times but mostly call her when I was drunk in the middle of the night. She would come down to L.A. or up to Seattle to see me, but how long could that really sustain itself? I knew what I wanted was to travel, to play all over the world and meet my favorite musicians, and to make out with beautiful strangers.
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But the day after I got back to S.F., the verdict in the Rodney King case came down, and the subsequent riots shut down the city — L.A. was burning. We devised a new plan to reconvene in Seattle once the dust settled. In the meantime, Courtney called me at least once a day to talk. I soon learned that she was notorious for her phone calls (and her phone bills). At first I thought it was a bonding exercise and an extension of my audition — it was important that we had the same pop and punk references and that she trusted her drummer and vice versa. But I soon discovered it was more than that. Courtney had to talk like some people have to smoke a cigarette; she was always fiending for conversation. She never slept, so most of those calls would come in around 2 or 3 in the morning.
I’ve heard Courtney’s conversational style described as playing pinball. The subject matter would shift from a new idea for a song, to industry gossip, to reflections on something she’d experienced earlier that day, to a story about herself at 5 years old — all in three minutes or less. Sometimes she’d ask a question of whomever she was talking to, but the focus wouldn’t stay there long. With us at first there was a lot of talk about music, and had I seen the new issue of NME? What did I think about Blur? She could quote something Morrissey said in a 1987 magazine profile and come up with the source material just as quickly.
Patty Schemel's Hit So Hard: A Memoir is out Tuesday, Oct. 31 from Da Capo Press and will be available via Amazon and at your local bookstore. She will be in conversation with Shirley Manson and signing copies of Hit So Hard at Book Soup on Tuesday, Nov. 14.