Books

Hole's Drummer Gets Clean with Clarity in 'Hit So Hard' Memoir

Patty Schemel's Hit So Hard is one of the most honest -- but moreover, one of the most useful -- addiction memoirs in recent history. Courtney Love should read.

Kurt Cobain died when I was in 8th grade. For those of us straddling Gen X and Gen Y, it's an understatement to say his suicide was formative. Even amongst us 14-year-old kids, blame got pretty evenly divided between heroin and Courtney Love. For most of us, Love provoke the same intense polarization as Yoko Ono did for the generation before us. We blamed her for monkeywrenching Nirvana, for enabling Cobain's drug abuse, but none of us ever doubted how much he loved her. Looking at the two of them together was like looking at the sun, so bright was their connection, even when enfeebled by opiates.



Hit So Hard

Publisher: Da Capo Press
Length: 304 pages
Author: Patty Schemel
Price: $27.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-10
Amazon

Some of the best footage of the two of them together can be found in the documentary Hit So Hard, directed by P. David Ebersole and filmed mostly by Patty Schemel, the drummer for Hole. As a teen, I never got into Hole the way I got into Nirvana. I wasn't ready to understand the beauty of a feminist vulgarity or the power of confrontational performance art, and like I said, the high drama of Kurt and Courtney blotted out a lot of the rest of the subculture. Cobain's death blotted out a lot of others, including the fatal overdose of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff and the quite constant near-deaths of Schemel. The film purports to be about Schemel's life, about the long list of follies stemming from her addiction to heroin and crack. But Kurt and Courtney often steal the show.

A half-decade later, Schemel's memoir of same title is now available. The content entirely overlaps that of the documentary, and I admit that I went into it looking for more of the first family of grunge, but quickly found myself able to focus on the intense delight of Schemel's own story. Cobain is dead by page 75. Hit So Hard is one of the most honest -- but moreover, one of the most useful -- addiction memoirs in recent history. Most books like this operate as tell-alls, where the reader gets to indulge in juicy gossip and ridiculous rockstar antics for two hundred pages, followed by three pages of some kind of hazy but harrowing rock bottom moment, followed by fewer than 50 pages about getting cleaned up and the assurance that the author has definitely put those days behind him. And I'm using “him" deliberately because there simply aren't that many books like this where the rockstar is female and they're usually focused on alcoholism -- they don't hit so hard.

Hole's drummer is descended from alcoholics, but Hit So Hard spends most of its time on heroin and then adds crack about halfway through the story. Schemel is not only an apt explainer of drug culture, she's also a gifted humorist in that fine tradition of blackness that can really only emerge from the depths of such despairing pursuit of death by overdose. Her description of the nature of the highs is much clearer than any of Lou Reed's compositions. Her explication of how to buy hard drugs from strangers in strange cities and get them on the airplane is reported with a level of detail that does more to examine junky psychology than any straightforward testimonial could. Her analysis of the comparative merits of various rehab and detox procedures is deeply wise to the nuances of how best to kick, and why these programs are not one size fits all.


Hit So Hard pulls no punches. It's an unvarnished and unsensational account of how Schemel survived -- how she outlasted her addiction, but also how she coped with coming out, with the sudden fame and chaotic demands of Hole, with the prolonged agony of Cobain's legacy, and so on. She admits that relapse is always a possibility, that the baggage of addiction never fully leaves no matter how long one has been clean. She admits she literally and metaphorically sold off everything that Hole had given her. She admits that she glossed so much of her chemical dependency by harnessing the power of dysfunctional romantic relationships.

Regret and shame are useless feelings in the context of Schemel's noble effort to carry on. Far more valuable is her ability to look the facts in the face and her knack for landing bleak punchlines. This type of humor is often found amongst successful 12-steppers and may be the best weapon Schemel has in the ongoing daily management of her sobriety. She's not joking around to minimize the real consequences of her failings, or to strut her ballsy rockstar stuff. Jonesing for crack and going on the hunt for it is an extremely serious business; a heroin junky finds it impossible to laugh because the pain and emergency are just too overwhelmingly depressing to be funny.

Forget about picking up the pieces of the life she once had; Schemel's memoir is proof of something much more foundational: that through a committed combination of clarity and wit, even the most enabled and damaged rockstar might get a second chance at both love and music. Courtney Love should probably read it.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.