From “Precious” to “Mystery Achievement,” the first Pretenders album was rock and roll perfection. It seemed edgy (“Up The Neck,” “Space Invader”) but not without a nod to pop (“Kids,” “Stop Your Sobbing.”)
You would think that lead singer Chrissie Hynde was born to lead a band. And, after reading her memoir Reckless: My Life As A Pretender, you would confirm this hunch.
But it was hardly a straight line. She immersed herself in the scene (from a very early age, in Ohio) and wouldn’t let go. She loved rock. She adored rockers. She traveled all over eastern Ohio and points beyond to watch bands. Rolling Stones (early on). Jackie Wilson. Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. Tim Buckley. Led Zeppelin. Early on, young Chrissie developed an obsession with Iggy Pop.
And then came a harbinger of what was to come.
“A guy from Cuyahoga Falls, Mark Mothersbaugh, was putting a band together. My brother knew his brother. He was a bespeckled oddball, but then Ohio was a breeding ground for oddballs. I was asked if I wanted to be the singer. I guess I had that kind of personality, or maybe I just looked the type.”
Mothersbaugh (yes, the Devo dude) shows up later when Hynde goes to Kent State, too. And at Kent State, Hynde is out protesting the Vietnam War when National Guardsmen killed four students and injured nine others.
More music. And drugs. And sex, which Chrissie Hynde approached with indifference. “I was a hot little number, but all the heat was in my head and focused primarily on a turntable. Still, I can’t remember having sexual fantasies about actually getting it on with one of my rock-star heroes. I wanted to be them, not do them.”
Her encounters with rock stars grow ever closer and more direct, like getting stoned with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. And then some wanderings—Mexico, Toronto, Arizona, Paris. And then (I’m abbreviating here) off to England for more of the same. Finding the scene, ingratiating herself. It was 1975. Music and more music. Reckless mentions more bands and musicians than a stack of Rolling Stone magazines. She was there when Malcolm McLaren saw The New York Dolls and dreamed up the Sex Pistols on the spot. She was buddies with The Clash before they broke. No, wait, she could have been in The Clash. She wrote for NME, too.
Reckless is light on introspection. There os a quick account of how The Pretenders came together and how much she adored James Honeyman-Scott, her lead guitar player. There’s a brief mention of her relationship with Ray Davies (of the Kinks) and no mention of her marriage to Jim Kerr (Simple Minds). There is band turmoil and there are the two deaths, both drug-related, of Honeyman-Scott and bass player Pete Farndon. Those deaths come in the last few pages and then we get a bromide or two and cheery wrap-up that encourages us to use humor to manage grief. We get nothing on her Buddhism.
The closer we get to a moment when Chrissie Hynde might tell us what the Pretenders stood for and what inspired various songs, the narrative turns fluffy—more interested in mentioning rock stars who were now their equal and less thinking about how the world works and all the things she has seen.
I wish Reckless had more depth. As memoirs go it’s middle of the road.