Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless Life

Chrissie Hynde is the living embodiment of punk rock’s “DIY” (“do it yourself”) ethos: a non-writer who wrote for the NME (and has now written a memoir called Reckless); and a self-taught guitarist, singer and songwriter who became the lead singer, principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist for one of rock’s seminal post-punk bands: The Pretenders.
While the writing in Reckless veers between amateurish and literary, the voice is unmistakably Hynde’s: brash, in your face, and unapologetic—much like punk rock itself.
Two things struck me while reading this book. One is how much you can get away with when you’re young and cute (especially if you’re young and cute in London in the ’70s). The other is the unique position occupied by women in rock: able to trade on their gender in this male-dominated world, but also vulnerable because of that gender. Hynde pretty much admits to being raped (or, at least, sexually abused and/or beaten) in the course of her journey, as Cyndi Lauper did in her memoir, and Madonna did in a recent interview.
It’s a miracle Hynde survived, let alone thrived!
Her ascent to rock stardom thus reads like either a series of incredible coincidences or something on the order of divinely preordained destiny.
She arrives in London with no money and no prospects and, in short order, meets Nick Kent, a writer for the NME, which results in her landing a writing gig there, despite her lack of credentials.
In a similar fashion, on a return trip to London, she winds up meeting Pete Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers, the other three quarters of The Pretenders. (It turns out that Honeyman-Scott was actually living next door to Hynde at one point, and she overheard his guitar playing without knowing who it was.)
She also hobnobs with such future luminaries as The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood (working in their clothing store was one of her many odd jobs), Iggy Pop (with whom she has a memorable dalliance), Ray Davies, John McEnroe, John Belushi, and many more.
All of this is heady stuff.
But, in predictable Behind the Music fashion, it all comes crashing down once the band gets a taste of success and fame. Shortly after their second world tour, half the band—Honeyman-Scott and Farndon—die of drug-related causes.
Reckless is a tale of fulfilling your wildest dreams and having them turn into your worst nightmare.
And still carrying on.