For nearly 10 minutes last night, Courtney Love, Patty Schemel, Melissa auf der Maur, and Eric Erlandson stood on a stage together -- without instruments, without harming each other. The classic Hole lineup publicly reconciled to support drummer Schemel, the subject of P. David Ebersole's documentary "Hit So Hard: The Live & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel," which screened at New York's Museum of Modern Art. It was the first time all four members of the quartet had seen each other in 13 years, and while fans encouraged the idea of a real Hole reunion -- with instruments -- via enthusiastic cheers, the band made no promises about reconvening anytime soon.
"The only reason I came to this movie theater is Patty Schemel is alive," auf der Maur said during a brief Q&A. After watching the documentary, attendees understood what she meant: Schemel, a powerhouse lesbian drummer from rural Washington, fell into the depths of alcohol, heroin, and crack addiction during and after her tenure in Hole, eventually landing on the streets of Seattle, where she'd collect call Love from pay phones to beg for cash. After she went through rehab for what she estimates was the 11th time, Schemel dug out the video tapes she'd made documenting Hole's on and offstage life and asked Ebersole to tell her story.
Schemel auditioned for Hole on her 25th birthday, playing an old Wipers cover. But she didn't just catch Love's ear. "Patty was very nearly in Nirvana," Courtney explains in the film, saying she told Kurt Cobain, "Why don't we split her -- six months, six months." Schemel stayed in Love's band, but she was very much a part of Cobain's private world. She lived with Love, Cobain, and their infant daughter Frances Bean, and the first third of "Hit So Hard" is heavy on intimate, never-before-seen tape of the Cobain family. In one eerie piece of footage, the camera lingers on baby Frances and Love is heard saying, "We were worried about your daddy tonight. We thought he was dead. He's gonna leave his girls." Cobain responds in a sing-songy tone, repeating hypnotically, "Would never leave my girls." In another sequence, Love strums an acoustic guitar and Cobain adds backing vocals on the unreleased song "Stinking of You."
Drug-addicted rock stars have a habit of dying at age 27. Schemel turned 27 in 1994 -- 19 days after Cobain's suicide, and 12 days after Hole's Live Through This was released. "Hit So Hard" captures how the band soldiered on through those "dark days," but Schemel ultimately fell apart during the recording of 1997's Celebrity Skin, pushed to the brink by the brash tactics of producer Michael Beinhorn, who convinced Love she needed to replace Schemel because her drumming wasn't up to par. In interview footage, Love defends her decision to use a session drummer, saying auf der Maur's missteps in the studio cost her $3.2 million and "Patty would have cost me another $2 million."
Love and Schemel addressed their split -- Schemel didn't return to Hole after the studio slight -- in the post-film Q&A, and Courtney argued many bands bring in session players on records. "I didn't really know that that kind of stuff went on, but also, I think that we became so corporate," Schemel said. "But that's what made the '90s special," Erlandson replied, and the crowd chuckled.
When asked what they're doing next, Schemel said, "Individually?" and a fan yelled, "Together!" which led to a few moments of hopeful cheers. The members of Hole shuffled uncomfortable onstage, and Erlandson said, "We scheduled our first gardening party together, we're going to plant some pea sprouts, and after that ..."
"If something's not relevant, I don't want to do it," Love said firmly. "So for me, as much as I love playing with Patty, and I would play with her in five seconds again, and everyone standing on this stage, if it's not moving forward I don't want to do it, it's just my thing. If it's not miserable and it's going forward, then I'm happy with it, that's all I have to say about that question." And with that, the event came to an abrupt end.
[Photo: GODLIS/Film Society Lincoln Center]