Reckless: My Life As A Pretender by Chrissie Hynde, book review: The hard-rocker looks back without rancour

The book offers insight into how her parent’s aspirations to live the American dream jarred with her and her brother’s all-embracing engagement with the 1960s counter-culture

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Chrissie Hynde seems to have spent much of her adolescence and twenties as a punk in search of a movement. Indeed you worry that her brand of aloof androgyny and her younger self’s taste for nihilistic excess might have made her a permanent outsider had she not landed on these shores just as a gobby cultural movement that made stars of misfits was in foment. 

The book’s subtitle is “My Life” but this is actually a Bildungsroman ending in 1983 with Hynde experiencing bittersweet success: she is the front-woman of a hit band, The Pretenders, but two founding members are dead from overdoses. She is expecting her first child with The Kinks’ Ray Davies, but their relationship is volatile. When they try to wed at Guildford Registry Office, the registrar takes one look at her mascara-and-tear-stained face and sends them home to think about it.

Hynde says of the memoir, dedicated to her daughters (a second child was fathered by Simple Minds’ frontman Jim Kerr) that she could not have written it while her parents were alive – nor, you hazard, when her children were too young. 

An engaging and frank read it also offers insight into how her parent’s aspirations to live the American dream jarred with her and her brother’s all-embracing engagement with the 1960s counter-culture. The most poetic passages recount the Akron (“America’s tyre town”) of her early childhood and how, ironically, the building of freeways, suburbs and a car culture robbed it of its soul: “American cities boast about ‘urban renewal’, but Akron’s trajectory was essentially urban removal.”

Hynde was often self-destructive, but is never self-pitying. She has earned opprobrium for saying she blames herself for a brutish sexual encounter, while high on Quaaludes, with the Cleveland Heavy Bikers gang. Actually she returned the next day and ended up dating one of them. This is a wiser woman recalling an often misspent youth, not necessarily justifying it. 

There are happier chance encounters. She gives David Bowie a lift after a Ziggy Stardust gig in Cleveland. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood offer her a job in their SEX emporium. She wakes up in bed with Iggy Pop. All the latter makes this a fun rock‘n’roll memoir. Hynde is not a needy narrator seeking approval. Yet, like Viv Albertine’s acclaimed recent memoir, this book gives a vivid sense of a time and place where kids from backgrounds that shouldn’t have dared to dream sought their own destiny – and often got burnt in the process. 

Order for £18.78 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030