Chryssie Hynde – My Life As A Pretender

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Reviewed by Roy Trakin.

Chrissie Hynde, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender (Doubleday)

A surprisingly dour, joyless memoir that waits until it’s more than two-thirds through before introducing the band which made her famous, Chrissie Hynde’s All-American Midwest girl turned U.K. punk icon is a picaresque tale with several Zelig-like moments.

Surprisingly sexless – though it does depict in somewhat graphic detail her controversial gang rape at the hands of several members of what she calls the Heavy Biker gang (and carefully avoids dubbing Hell’s Angels for libel reasons, no doubt), that she insists she “asked for” – the story begins with a barely teenage Hynde receiving a kiss from Jackie Wilson at one of her first concerts and includes such magic moments as driving David Bowie home in her mother’s Oldsmobile after his Ziggy Stardust show in Cleveland and bedding longtime idol Iggy Pop (and admiring his much-touted private part) as well as propitious meetings with NME journalist Nick Kent and musician Chris Spedding.

The peripatetic journey takes us from her beloved Akron (whose demise she’d mourn in “My City Was Gone”), to the campus of Kent State, where she was an eyewitness to the National Guard murders of four classmates, north of the border to Toronto, south of the border to Mexico, and then to Paris and, finally, London, where she found herself at the dawn of punk, playing in bands that eventually became The Clash and The Damned.

With a self-deprecating air, along with an uncompromising stance towards “selling out,” Hynde reveals that the name of her most famous band comes from a biker boyfriend who secretly admired Sam Cooke’s “The Great Pretender,” while admitting the moniker dogged her own feelings of inadequacy even after her belated success. 

Reckless proceeds to rip the façade off the glamor of rock ‘n’ roll, exposing the nasty underbelly of drug addiction that claimed the lives of her bandmates Pete Farndon and Jimmy Honeyman-Scott and eventually led to her own sobriety and devotion to the Bhagavad Gita for spiritual guidance.

The devout vegan barely mentions her near-marriage to Ray Davies, and completely omits her real one to Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr, ending her story long before the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and she became a role model for female rock stars.

Maybe Hynde was doomed to dissatisfaction after an idyllic childhood spent under that cherry tree on Hillcrest Street where she grew up, mourning the loss of her hometown to suburban sprawl and neglect, a bittersweet sorrow which permeates every page of this surprisingly melancholic memoir.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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