Saturday, May 7, 2016

Reckless by Chrissie Hynde

As I get older, I start noticing some strange connections. If Peter Parker aged naturally, he’d be the same age as my father. I also learned that Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders (one of my favorite bands), is only three years younger than my parents. I can hardly believe it, though there is an unreliable part of my mind that seems convinced that I’m still in my early 20s.

This bit about Hynde’s age is hardly the most interesting thing in her autobiography, Reckless. You find many things you normally find in autobiographies. For instance, her early childhood in Ohio was surprisingly and pleasantly normal.

Things get more interesting in her teen years. She became a teenager in the 1960s and she was swept up into the youth culture of the time. She had two loves, music and drugs.

Hynde did a lot of drugs. She doesn’t dwell on the term addiction, but she doesn’t hide that she clearly was addicted. She subjected to herself to may dangers and abuses for the sake of getting high. A person would not do that if she was thinking straight, but addicts don’t think straight.

Unfortunately, drugs got in the way of the music. Drugs took the lives of many innovative musicians of the 1960s and 1970s, and Hynde mentions many of them that she knew. Two members of the Pretenders, Jimmy Scott and Pete Farndon, died of drug-related causes. It seems that there are several occasions in her story, before the Pretenders, when her dream of being in a band was interrupted by drugs, either her own pursuit of them or her potential bandmates’.

Hynde was adventurous. She traveled far from her childhood home in Akron to Canada, Mexico and France before settling in London. London became her home, largely because of the music scene. There she finally put together a band, though an unusual British band with an American lead. She met an amazing number of other musicians, famous then or later, who were there. It may seem like name dropping to discuss the Clash or the Sex Pistols, but these were people she knew and she lived their ups and downs with them.

The final section of the book, covering the career of the Pretenders, is surprisingly short. Admittedly, the original line-up did not last long due to the deaths of Scott and Farndon.

Hynde’s tone is not nostalgic. She has nostalgia for a Midwestern urbanism that was almost dead by the time she came along. She speaks frankly about her own days. She expresses a strong sense of agency and does not blame anyone for the way they treated her or depict herself as a victim. She seems to regret that the drugs people thought would set them free did not, and that as addicts they kept using drugs long after they knew it was a trap.

If you’re interested in rock and roll (and rhythm and blues and punk), you’ll likely enjoy this book. Hynde clearly loves this music and was around when it was undergoing much innovation. She was friends with some of the first stars of punk. He story is also an interesting section of the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, she was a student at Kent State University and witnessed the protests and other events that led to the National Guard firing on students.

If you’r interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Hynde, Chrissie. Reckless: My Life as a Pretender. New York: Doubleday, 2015.