Hit So Hard

Hit So Hard
By Patty Schemel with Erin Hosier
[Da Capo Press]

If there was ever anyone from the grunge era who was more nakedly careerist that Courtney Love, it was Kurt Cobain. Cobain studiously constructed an anti-star persona that was form-fitted for the post college rock era and worked as a one-way ticket to stardom. His dirty jeans were artfully ripped. His oily, matted hair was disarranged just so. His lyrics disavowed western materialism and prefab pop culture. His music was a feral scream from the most fetid gutters of aimless, adolescent disaffect. And he was so troubled by his fame – a fame that was (not) foisted upon him through the soulless machinations of a profiteering music industry – that the only way out was suicide.

Nirvana’s career was already entering its downslope period by early 1994. The In Utero album was nowhere near as good as its predecessor had been. Nirvana’s album sales were down. And a slew of prefab grunge-lite acts such as Bush and Candlebox were stealing the spotlight and topping the charts.

As Jim Morrison, Jimi, Janis and the rest of the infamous 27 Club had already proven, no one is more venerated in the rock ’n’ roll world than a dead legend. So, in the most fucked up kind of way, suicide was the bold career move that revitalized Cobain’s fame and eternally crystallized his godhead status as the voice of a generation. Nevermind, indeed.

Cobain’s suicide was also especially fortuitous for Hole, whose career shifted into hyperdrive the moment Saint Kurt departed this mortal coil. I mean, talk about synchronized marketing: Cobain offs himself just weeks before Courtney’s band, Hole, issues its major label debut, the aptly titled Live Through This.

Granted, Live Through This is a truly great album. But Courtney’s career, and thus, the career of Hole, was and will forever be haunted by the ghost of Kurt.

Then again, Courtney was and will forever be one hell of a piece of work on her own. And for all intents and purposes, Courtney is Hole. So, just as Kurt eternally overshadows Courtney, Courtney was and will forever overshadow the other members of Hole.

As such, Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s rock bio/drug memoir, Hit So Hard (Da Capo Press) is a little bit of a head-scratcher. I mean, there are already so freakin’ many addiction memoirs and so many accounts of the grunge movement in general and Hole in particular in circulation. So what’s the raison d’etre for a book about the drummer?

“A drummer is widely considered to be the most replaceable member of any band,” writes Schemel. “You’re living high on the hog in some ways, but it’s borrowed money with a borrowed lifestyle.” And that pretty much summarizes the autobiographical arc of the book.

Drug memoirs and rock books – which are, most of the time, one and the same – are rarely that revelatory, anyway. The reader usually already knows the “big picture” story of how a band got from point A to point Z. What we want are the details of the interpersonal dramas that occurred in between those points – each and every one of ‘em, and the more lurid, the better.

Sure, the book is chock full of the requisite drugs and debauchery. But Schemel maintains a bit of moral high ground in Hit So Hard. Schemel’s role is here to tell her own wretched story in the context of Hole and the grunge movement – not to dish dirt about Courtney, or to dish dirt about Saint Kurt. Yeah, they’re both in there. But the book is about Schemel herself. And that’s a hell of a story in its own right.

Fun facts from the book: 1.) Guitarist Eric Erlandson, who was pretty much the sonic architect of the band, was adamant that only Courtney was allowed to use drugs while performing. (Of course, everyone in the band was using on the sly.) 2.) Schemel participated in one of Kurt’s many drug interventions – and she was high on heroin at the time. 3.) Schemel and bassist Kristen Pfaff went through a flirtation period while the band was recording Live Through This in Marietta. They were making out in front of everyone at an Amphetamine Reptile showcase at The Masquerade, even. “We didn’t go to third base or anything, but there was heavy petting, hands on legs, hands up legs,” Schemel writes.

Again, Hit So Hard is Schemel’s story – and much of that is not about grunge and not about Hole. In the 270-page book, Kurt is dead by page 75 and Schemel is fired from Hole by page 153. The final third of the book is about Schemel’s further descent into addiction – and prostitution, even – subsequent to her dismissal from Hole. And thats where it gets raunchiest. This is to say that the bulk of the dirt-dishing in the book is Schemel airing her own dirty laundry. To her credit, Schemel never delves into self-pity or the predictable sin-and-redemption narrative.

Although it’s doubtful that Hit So Hard will be winning the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award, the book is nevertheless a worthwhile addendum to the history of grunge, an era which was (sadly) probably the last gasp of counterculture as an en masse phenomenon and of bigtime, big money, massively popular guitar rock. Schemel seems like a really cool lady, a lesser-known player in the final season of rock ’n’ roll’s big league who still has something to say – and still has enough brain cells left to say it in a cogent, nuanced and affecting way. It’s a seamless trifecta of a coming-out, coming-of-age and coming-to-terms, all artfully wrought. Live Through This, indeed.