Book review: Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders doesn't pull her punches in Reckless

The rock'n'roll star waited until her parents were dead before publishing her autobiography, which doesn't shy away from provocative opinions or controversial subjects

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 8:00am

There's provocative directness, and then there's Chrissie Hynde: "You can't f*** around with people, especially people who wear 'I Heart Rape' and 'On Your Knees' badges … I considered their demand while sustaining a volley of lit matches, which bounced off my rib rack."

Here begins the pre-Christmas rock memoir surge, in "a dark and noticeably empty house" in Cleveland, Ohio, where the future Pretenders singer and songwriter marks her spot as one of punk and new wave's most atypical voices. These remarks about an assault on her by a biker gang when she was 21 have recently melted the internet. Hynde's feminism is intolerant of the concept of victimhood. "The good thing about Quaaludes: I wasn't duly perturbed," she says. "I was getting experience."

This uncompromising whatever-ness fits with the figure staring out from the cover of Reckless: a rocker sitting in a bath, denims and gold chelsea boots hanging over the side, fringe, eyeliner and vest as black as night. But from the very beginning of her autobiography, Hynde is a much more complicated character.

She admits in the prologue that she didn't publish this book until her straitlaced, aspirational parents died: "I would have had to leave out the bad language and tell a lot of lies about what I'd been doing all that time I was gone." That suggests someone highly affected by certain people's emotions. But not everyone's, granted. She says later, on becoming vegetarian: "I got used to having this disregard for 97 per cent of the population."

Even before we approach Hynde's stellar career with The Pretenders, there are enough eyebrow-raising anecdotes here to give a publisher multiple orgasms. To wit: Hynde's first kiss was with soul singer Jackie Wilson (slobbered on to her from the stage). She once drove David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust to lunch (when she was merely a passing fan). There's a brilliant page about her disastrous relationship with Ray Davies and a full account of her first meeting with Motörhead's Lemmy. Seeing her for the first time in a shop, without speaking, he stuck a tube of powder up her nose. "I was up for three days," Hynde drawls.

She can write. Her language is concise, as you might expect from a proto-punk-era NME writer, although she says she was awful, in one of many examples of self-deprecation: "The more dismissive and poorly written my reviews, the more the NME applauded me." She's good at one-liners, like this one about her girl gang's teen era: "We had no sexual experience, but we had Robert Plant."

In books, unlike music, this is often the ticket readers pay for. And when Hynde forgets herself and obliges, she's golden.

Reckless: My Life by Chrissie Hynde (Doubleday)

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