When Patty Schemel brought a box of videotapes over to the house of P. David Ebersole, she thought she was just going to be digitizing the footage that she shot while playing drums for the band Hole.
"While we were dubbing everything, David would ask, 'What's going on here?'" Schemel recounts, "And then he made the comment that this was a really great story and that I should do something with it."
Ebersole was right on both counts. The footage in their new film, "Hit So Hard" catalogs the stormy weather of being in a rock band and includes rare eye-of-the-hurricane moments with Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. As for the "do something with it" part, under Ebersole's direction, Schemel unravels a dark thread of her descent into drug addiction and eventual redemption.
"I hadn't seen a lot of it in so long and so every day I would leave there with a real heaviness," says Schemel, who has been clean and sober for seven years. What hits so hard about "Hit So Hard" isn't just the drugs and deaths they led to, but also the ugliness of the music industry. At one point, she is forced out of the band because a producer doesn't want her playing on "Celebrity Skin," Hole's follow-up to their breakthrough "Live Through This" album. When it comes time to filming the video for the first single, they recruit a look-alike to play drums.
"I remember being so out of it at the time, I was like, 'Really? Maybe I was there!'"
She's exaggerating. Schemel seems to approach her past with a healthy perspective. She has been on the cover of Rol-ling Stone and she has lived on the streets, but she seems to be living very much in the moment. She also retains a solidarity with her former bandmates, all of whom appear in the film.
In interview portions, Courtney Love is candid about the chain of events, even placing some of the blame on herself for Schemel's departure.
"I think she trusts that I'm not gonna screw her over," says Schemel.
About a girl
The previously unseen footage of Kurt Cobain is one of the most exciting aspects of "Hit So Hard." Schemel was initially going to play drums for Nirvana before Cobain auditioned Dave Grohl. But the two remained close, and he was the one who suggested that she play for his wife's band. Ebersole says this Cobain was a surprise to see on film.
"The vision I had of him before I saw this footage was that he was just in this tortured mode, sitting in a corner, shot up with heroin and waiting to die," he says. "But he was a really full person who was creative and loved, and you get to see such a different side because of this."