Hit So Hard is as much a memoir as it is both a cautionary tale and a work designed to help lift the stigma of being an addict.
One of the hallmarks of great storytelling is that the story is engaging despite the audience’s knowledge of its ending. That Patty Schemel, former drummer of Hole, comes out alive on the other side of both heroin and crack addictions is a given. It’s the horrific and fascinating account of how she got into, and eventually out of, such a situation that becomes the reason to read her engaging and unflinchingly honest memoir, Hit So Hard.
Hit So Hard is as much a memoir as it is both a cautionary tale and a work designed to help lift the stigma of being an addict. Late in the book, she explicitly states she wants her story to be a reminder that those fighting addiction need not feel ashamed about it. It’s admirable, really. Hit So Hard could’ve been bitter, tortured bloodletting (as some memoirs by other rock stars have been), but it’s instead a largely just-the-facts narrative of her life, both in and out of fame.
To her credit, Schemel plays to her strengths throughout the book – that is, she wisely stays away from simile and metaphor or any kind of flowery descriptions. In this way, Hit So Hard feels more like the voice-over narration of a movie, and it works. For example, early on Schemel describes the drive of her heroin use thusly: “I wanted to get fucked up and be surrounded by other fucked up people, and I didn’t ever want to be alone.” The straight-shootin’ details allow readers a window – and a realistic one, at that – into her psyche, making the book that much more readable.
This is helped along by her candor and self-deprecation. Schemel makes effective use of sarcastic asides for a quick laugh to break the tension (i.e. her first time with heroin via injection: “I was an equal opportunity substance ingestion specialist.”). These witticisms keep the book from devolving into self-pity, which, in turn, furthers Hit So Hard’s goal as a self-help work to be achieved.
Hit So Hard isn’t just about Schemel’s struggle with addiction, though. It’s also an account of being in a famous band and working in the music business, as well as what Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain were like in private. The memoir mostly confirms popular beliefs and opinions of both grunge icons: that Love was also an addict, that she was sorta “out there” (especially during phone conversations), that she could be a sweetheart away from the public; that Cobain was funny and cartoonish, that he was kind, that he really didn’t like being famous. Anecdotes of Schemel’s interactions with Love and Cobain while she lived with them are a highlight of the book, both because the “characters” are infinitely interesting and because those private moments humanize them by sidestepping the surrounding mythology and simply discussing them as people.
Schemel also discusses feminism and the difficulties of being a gay female musician in a male-dominated business. “…if you were a girl, especially a girl drummer, the guy at the music store was gonna talk down to you,” she declares. It’s laid out as a part of reality without being preachy but with just enough bluntness and personal hurt to make her point – just as she does throughout Hit So Hard.