“This is a story of drug abuse” – Chrissie Hynde
Reckless – Marked by lack of proper caution: careless of consequences – Irresponsible
That’s the dictionary definition of the word. And I guess that that word pretty much sums up Chrissie Hynde’s life, at least through the early days of the Pretenders. (I find it interesting that the book is subtitled My Life As a Pretender as if to say she was pretending all along. (The band is named after a Fifties song called “The Great Pretender.”)
I’ve been a Pretenders fan from go, even seeing them open once for the Stones in Boston way back in 2002. I’ve written about them as well. And about all I knew of Chrissie Hynde is that she was from Akron, Ohio, somehow made her way to England, wrote for the New Musical Express – and then was famous.
This book fills in the gaps. I’d heard it was a good read and boy is it ever. Hynde has a tough chick exterior and well, in a lot of ways she definitely is that. (She confirms the story that she was drunk and kicked out the back window of a police car. Fuck me!)
She grew up in Akron, pretty much middle class with a stable home life. There’s even one of those “good school girl” pictures in the book. But having been born in 1951, the inevitable generation gap between her and her Nixon-loving parents was pretty much inevitable. She doesn’t come across in the book as heavily political so much as a great, great music lover. (That said, she was actually on campus at Kent State in 1970 when Nixon’s Gestapo gunned down unarmed kids. Her friend’s boyfriend was one of those who was murdered. )
By the time she was 15 or so, Chrissie had gotten pretty much into the drugs and rock ‘n roll scene. (She confesses she was a virgin till 19, having little to no interest in sex. She realized she had to get drunk to approach men in bars and eventually made up for lost time.) I find it amusing that her first kiss came from Jackie Wilson. She went to see him perform and his handlers would single women out of the crowd to kiss him.)
For whatever reason, Hynde was attracted not only to the music scene but also to the bad characters. She hung out with motorcycle gangs, one of whom later sexually assaulted her. Post-publication, Hynde got a lot of heat for seemingly blaming herself for getting raped. (I think she was raped – she alludes to it but never quite uses that word.) I never got the feeling she was blaming herself for that so much as saying, effectively, If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
If you read this book and didn’t know the outcome, you would just think that Hynde was, well, not exactly a winner and going exactly nowhere. I don’t think she thought she was either. It was all just drugs and down and out people. We’ve all met the type.
But Chrissie had one burning desire which was to be in a band. She learned to play guitar and discovered she could sing. (Is she not one of the most distinctive singers on the planet?) She loved British music and so on a whim, in 1973, moved to London which was an instant love affair. (She lives there to this day).
Through contacts she made in the States, she somehow fell into the perfectly right crowd. Someone hearing her talk about music suggested she scribe for the aforementioned New Musical Express. She also met Malcolm McLaren and worked in his clothes shop. (Chrisse could sew and design.)
Do I need to tell you that McLaren managed one of Chrissie’s favorites, The New York Dolls? And then later the Sex Pistol? Where was Chrissie in all this? Right the fuck in the center of it. She knew ALL those guys way before they had bands or were famous. She jammed with what became the Clash. They invited her on tour when they formed just to *hang* with them and get drunk. She was good friends with all the Sex Pistols guys. She has a whole chapter on Lemmy!
At one point, continually frustrated by not being to make headway in the aggro male world of rock and roll, she heads badk to Akron. But she later returns and starts writing tunes, starts finding the right guys to back her up. She gives the late James Honeyman-Scott all the credit in the world for bringing tough, melodic guitar to her songs and making them better. The guys had to work hard to play within her unusual sense of rhythm.
“Brass in Pocket” was an early hit and it’s interesting to see Hynde’s reaction to not only her loss of anonymity but also the “but I’m a pretender” syndrome kick in.
Interestingly, ninety percent of this book is in the “getting there.” Once the band is formed and they’re successful, there isn’t a whole lot left in the book. She kinda takes the next 40 years or so and wraps it up in a neat bow. Sequel?
As of this writing, the only original members in the band are her and drummer Martin Chambers. (Honeyman-Scott and original bassist Pete Farndon died of overdoses years ago.)
Anyway, if, like me, you enjoy a good sex, drugs and rock and roll story look no further.