Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography is called Reckless.
She didn’t strike me that way having read it.
Sure, there’s the lack of a Michael Heseltine-style five-year masterplan. If LinkedIn had been around in the mid-to-late ‘70s, her profile might have required some creative accounting. Missing all her uni classes. A load of drugs she probably shouldn’t have taken, some shoplifting, fare-dodging and spells in squats and running from Nowheresville, Ohio to Cleveland to sleeping on floors in London to Paris and back to London doesn’t make for a great resume, as they call it over there.
But definitions of reckless include thoughtless, inattentive and devil-may-care.
Chrissie Hynde’s terms of her ambition is to be in a band and form enough writing material to make interesting songs, then it’s perfect. And almost unrepeatable.
The admittedly just-repeated “unrepeatable” is apt here because the London Chrissie Hynde encounters is a very different beast from the 21st century mass of crane currently with its balls gripped by eastern European and Asian oligarchy and a manifesto set by the corporations who ruined our skyline.
Rent at £4 a week, putting 5p in the meter, waiting to use the callbox in the hall…. Chrissie Hynde’s prose makes the city look as old fashioned in her own way as Dickens or Peter Ackroyd.
The grit she portrays belies a certain glamour….diving into squats, blagging work at the NME and noising up Neil Diamond fans with her reviews (an early form of trolling), turning up to late for work with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood and getting fired, nipping over to Mick Jones’ flat in Royal Oak where his gran made her tea, hanging out with The Ramones and The Damned (pictured) in Camden at their Roundhouse gig, modelling in St. Martin’s while rehearsing with The Pretenders in Covent Garden, marathons on speed in a bikers’ clubhouse in Eltham. London, like New York, has always considered itself as the most exciting city in the world. She makes it feel like that in the pages, not writing about her native America with anything like the same affection.
There’s something freeing about how she describes the opportunities of discovering public transport – especially when she perfects jumping over the barriers at Clapham South.
“Public transport! What genius thought that one up?” she writes. Most rock stars are waiting in a corner for their limo. She explores the options of moving around the city while not paying for it.
The book is annoying in some aspects. The story stops just when the band is taking off and ex-boyfriend and band member Pete has died. She’s coy about her relationship with Ray Davies and, as the book ends, hasn’t married Jim Kerr yet. (If it’s Part 1 of a two or three-part autobiography, have the decency to say so on the front).
But the crucible of Chrissie Hynde as a musician is all in there.
What emerges is of a tough broad who ditched everything else that got in the way of her goal. College, architectural practice, the fashion scene, selling handbags on market stalls, eventually the drugs.
And in the end, you have songs as good as Back on the Chain Gang, Brass in Pocket and Don’t Get Me Wrong.
Chrissie Hynde is not reckless at all. There’s a throughline in her entire story which has continued after the book stops in the early ‘80s. She kept chasing the music.