Books - H

HIT SO HARD - Patty Schemel {290 pages, Da Capo}

For those who don’t know, Patty Schemel is best known as the drummer of HOLE, although she has played in a number of other projects. She was a close friend of Kurt Cobain, who introduced her to HOLE. She was also prone to an addictive personality - be that for music, alcohol, drugs or sex - and frequently all at once.

From childhood, she was exposed to the effects of addiction as both her parents were recovering alcoholics and hosted AA meetings. From the age of 11 she had her first drink and was immediately enchanted by its intoxicating powers. The divorce of her parents sent Schemel spiralling into alcohol, aggression and a new-found love of Punk Rock. On top of all of this, she had to battle with her lesbian sexuality.

From there, it’s a two-fold account of her time: first within Seattle’s Grunge scene, befriending Kurt Cobain and joining HOLE. Secondly, it’s an account of her addictive side - of getting addicted to Heroin, followed by Crack Cocaine, alcohol in their absence and a range of sexual encounters which frequently went to destroy the relationship she was in at the time.

Both sides of her story make for gripping reading. Musically, she possessed a desire not just to be a drummer in a band, but be one of the best drummers around. Her tales of life in HOLE, from auditioning, recording and touring are laden with insight and of Courtney’s whims and outbursts. Much of her HOLE experience runs parallel to her burgeoning use of drugs, which probably takes up a greater part of the book.

It should be noted that Schemel does not in any way glamorize drug usage. She openly states her addiction cost her friends and relationships. She sold possessions to fuel her drug cravings. She was kicked out of HOLE due to her failing health and drug-addled performance. She frequently went into detox and rehab before working with the band, only to rapidly get back to her loaded, pre-rehab condition. At her drug peak, she had lost her identity completely - homeless, prostituting herself to feed the habit, getting arrested and, finally, discovering the drugs had lost their effect and she now had to take them just to function. She describes with clarity her all-encompassing need for drugs, a need which supplanted all other needs, which lead her to befriend very dubious characters and find herself in squalid places. It’s frank, brutal and disturbing yet eloquently written and free from any form of egotism.

Although there is a lot of darkness in this book, including death (Kurt, HOLE bassist Kristen Pfaff and SOUNDGARDEN’s Chris Connell to name just the biggest three names), it does have a victorious, cathartic finale in the fact Schemel is now clean (and has been for many years), has a wife and a child. She is proud of who she is and of what her life has become, but does not flinch from, or sugar-coat her past.

The book is filled out with eight pages of glossy photos (including childhood, Kurt, HOLE and post-addiction happiness), an index and a page of acknowledgements. Have to say too, it was refreshing not have to wade through an ‘inspiration’ preface!

Schemel’s narrative is very readable. There is no pretension in her words, no eulogizing or self-aggrandizing her status as someone who has been part of a platinum selling band and toured the world. Nor does she hide her sexual misdemeanors where she cheated on her partners for no other reason than because she could. She writes in a conversational yet brave tone and, without a doubt, is inimitably likeable.

There’s a lot to absorb from this memoir. You have the fantasized wish of just about every musician of being in the right place at the right time as Schemel was when Grunge exploded. You have the highs of what such a life can bring, and the very dark lows. You have a virtually sadistic story of going as far down the tracks as one can go before the catharsis of getting, not just back on track, but of personal happiness and liberation. And amidst all that there is the one basic: It’s a damn good book!!  (15.04.18)