Alibi V.24 No.40 • Oct 1-7, 2015 

Rock Reads

Not Really a Pretender

Hynde’s human memoir


Reckless: My Life as a Pretender
Although Chrissie Hynde’s new rock and roll memoir, Reckless, has been roundly criticized in the press, it’s worth noting that her version of the genre’s traditional post-career, extended artist’s statement is unflinching in it’s portrayal of the excesses of a generation of rockers. Also of note: Hynde’s prose style is far from reckless and is in fact quite readable.

Reckless has been portrayed as a book whose basic premise is flawed. By claiming responsibility for some of the tragic events in her life—including rape at the hands of a horrible biker gang she met while visiting a boyfriend at a jail in Cleveland—Hynde raised the ire of third wave feminists everywhere. Victim-shaming is certainly wrong, but in the context of Hynde’s account it becomes part of a cautionary tale whose morals ultimately reside in the white middle-class milieu that the rocker was immersed in while growing up. That doesn’t make her proclamations forgivable, just human.

Ironically, Akron, Ohio family life, the middle class and traditional gender roles are all places in space and time Hynde consciously chose to reject again and again as she grew to adulthood. She paints a picture of that early life as primarily Arcadian though, telling readers at the beginning of her remembrance that the thing she recalls most about her youth in Akron is the trees. It’s in this precise and terrible irony that the author tries to strike a balance, at once laying claim to the values and experiences of her past—revisioning her youthful experiences as chaotically self-induced—and proclaiming her transference to the rock and roll lifestyle as a force that was as uplifting as it was destructive.

These conflicting forces make for interesting reading, despite what other media outlets have decided upon, because they reveal the subject of the book to be a human being. Human beings are contradictory, impulsive and sometimes difficult creatures as regards their own identity. If anything, Hynde has done as superb job of casting rock musicians—male and female—as the messy, turbulent representatives of life on Earth that they really are.

While many a rock and roll biography begins with a predilection for capturing the nuances of godliness—even worse for Crissakes, the self-satisfyied sense of otherness that led one into the realm of rock music—Hynde dispenses with such affectations, telling it like it is and was, from her unique perspective.

Historically speaking, Hynde does a competent job of capturing the atmospherics of the late ‘70s. Advancing cultural process that led to the ascendence of punk rock and new wave becomes a personal undertaking for the author; her exploits as a member of one of America’s premier post-rock outfits seems a natural outcome. Hynde’s move to London and her success with The Pretenders is portrayed as one more step away from an injurious but somehow beloved past. All of this makes for enjoyable reading, yet one can’t help but wonder afterwards what led her back to her roots. Hynde may never make peace with her conflicted past, but her written work is an honest attempt to explore it.