I always wanted to be a rocker chick. I can still see the ones I knew in my youth, the black bottomed tennis shoes, feathered hair, and jean jackets loaded with patches from various shows. Joan Jett seemed like she had the world figured out, and Lita Ford looked like she could tear your head from your neck. The Pretenders never seemed like a heavy band to me when I was young, but Chrissie Hynde had those bangs over her eyes, a slight overbite, and a fashion sense that set her apart; she was always different. Songs like ‘Brass in Pocket’ only came to my attention through boyfriends that thought I should have an interest in Chrissie Hynde, and once I started looking and listening it was hard to deny her individuality apart from a worn out eighties rock scene. Her voice and looks are all her own, and it’s those qualities that drew me closer to her and her story.
Chrissie Hynde prefaces this book by admitting that she would not have been able to write honestly if her parents were still alive. And if honesty means true rock n’ roll is a story of sex and drugs then Hynde does not waver from the standard. It’s a story easily told, but Hynde is a great writer, even if she doesn’t care to admit to it. What also makes her version interesting to me are the intersections of early rock in America and the emergence of punk in England in which Hynde was a participant. Her love (and later transgressions with) for Iggy Pop makes her enviable while her friendships with Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and Mick Jones of the Clash all make her a walking archive of seventies musical transition.
It takes Hynde a long time to get a band together. She watches everyone else form around her into history creating music machines while she stumbles between Ohio, England, and France trying to scratch something together. All the while dating bikers and doing too many drugs. When it finally happens for her she signs her record deal with no fanfare, it’s a quiet progression for her. Fame doesn’t suit her very well but the band life is everything she wants. Lots of on the road antics and friendships won and lost, she’s happiest on the move. Ultimately The Pretenders were only a band for five years, beginning in 1978 and ending in 1982 because of the early death of two members. It was five years that brought about songs like “Brass in Pocket”, “Back on the Chain Gang” and “I Go to Sleep” – enough that they were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Chrissie Hynde is quoted as saying at her induction: ““It’s never been my intention to change the world or set an example for others to follow…I just wanted to play guitar in a rock and roll band and make music that people could dig.”
This has to be the most endearing quality of Hynde: she always wanted to be in a band to rock. She wasn’t posing as a rocker, she was the real deal. “I think it’s easy to see that the moral of my story is that drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, only cause suffering” she writes, but without those things the story might have been much different, and maybe less rock ‘n’ roll. I like that Hynde isn’t typical, she’s unique, from her look to her voice. And through her story I like her even more, she was a risk taker and made the most of impulsive decisions. There’s not enough of us out there that can say we barely planned our lives, that we went with the risky decision because it was true to who we are.