I cannot remember the last time I was so disappointed with a book.
First, let me get a personal note out of the way. Chrissie Hynde attended Kent State University, one of her best friends in London was Nick Kent, and she spent considerable time in Kentish Town, northern London. Seeing my name in print so much is really weird. Alas, that is the only emotion Chrissie provided to me in her memoir, Reckless: My Life As A Pretender.
At the very least, she is better at writing song lyrics than writing books, but really, maybe this is a nonrequired book. She fails to provide insight into her creative process, nor display any emotional, nor intellectual depth. She might describe the setting to inspire a song, but without any analysis, and without any informative prose. Yep, a lot of rock ‘n’ roll is cerebral dead space, but typically the greats have something to say off stage: John Lennon, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Bob Dylan.
I don’t put her in that class of talent either, she is a tier below, but still, I believe she deserves her spot in the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon. Chrissie kicks ass. She writes good songs, surrounds herself with great talent, and 40 years later, those first two albums have staying power. (Staying power” is really important to me as a music fan.) I was excited to learn more about Chrissie Hynde and I picked up her memoir from the Seattle Public Library.
In particular, I am a recent student of the Kent State Shootings, and I was interested to learn more about her experience and how that molded her foray into punk rock.
Jeff Miller, one of the 4 students shot and killed that day, 4 May 1970, was the boyfriend of one of Chrissie’s better friends. She goes through the motions of describing events, where she was, and what she was doing, but how did the events affect her? Apparently not at all. (I was previously mistaken. I thought it was then that she bolted to London, estranged from her all-American family, but no, she wouldn’t leave Ohio for another 3 or 4 years.) Chrissie continued with school, sort of. It’s not clear that she very received her degree, apparently not, but the National Guard shootings had no apparent effect on her beliefs, her goals, or life philosophy. (Contrast with Jerry Casale of Devo.)
But I know better than to have expectations. I try to read and appreciate what’s given.
She mentions an early experience in London, for example, pre-Clash, where she and Mick Jones would work on songwriting together, over the course of several months. (Mick Jones!) She does not describe any actual working session, shares zero work produced from those sessions, and nothing about what she learned from Mick or he learned from her. She doesn’t even say it was useful – just something she did. Another in a long line of things she did: drugs, men, meeting people, losing people, moving around. A lot of her experiences are surely deadwood (I have deadwood experiences and so do you), but do any of her experiences stand out as fun, inspiring, educational, loving, important? I don’t know.
It’s a shitty book. (There, I swore. She would appreciate that.)
My favorite thing she wrote does not appear until page 278 (of a 312-page book):
Distinctive voices in rock are trained through years of many things: frustration, fear, loneliness, anger, insecurity, arrogance, narcissism, or just sheer perseverance – anything but a teacher.
That’s a great sentence, and it’s true, most rockers do not receive any voice training, and that is an important note. An entire book could be written about the importance of that fact, compared with the importance of voice training for almost any other artistic or vocational vocal form.
And then as the book closed, I was thinking about the name Pretenders and about “imposter syndrome’, of which I have spoken to many people over recent years. Certainly, that psychiatric term applies to her, although she would never use an intellectual phrase like that. I was contemplating her final words about enjoying her children and relying on her Hinduism when the book fell open to the epigraph:
“Life teaches you how to live it,
If you live long enough.”
I realized then that was what the book was about, and she does address this, but not directly. It took Chrissie some 65 years, loss of friends, overdose deaths of bandmates, raising children, and years of Bhagavad Gita training, to realize that maybe she found herself. There’s a lesson here, about how people can work harder and smarter to own their life. That’s great!
I remain certain she’s not anybody I need to run into next time I’m riding the London tubes.
A quick note to people that may read this: I am planning to give up my blog later this year (probably late 2021). Having a blog served a purpose for a few years, but I never really achieved what I’d hoped to, and now I have other endeavors that take more of my effort. People can stay in touch with my radio DJ efforts on Facebook (search “Community Noise Radio”) or sporadically on Micoud (https://www.mixcloud.com/CommunityNoise/) or send me email notes (the increasingly questionable CommunityNoise.email@example.com). Thanks for reading my stuff!