Reckless: My Life, by Chrissie Hynde - book review: Grit and wit on a rocky road

Ebury Press - £20

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The Independent Culture

When The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde first landed in London in 1973 she had three records in her bag and a pair of sunglasses with “IGGY” written on one lens, and “POP” on the other.

Music had sustained Hynde through her early years in Akron, Ohio, a city that had once flourished through tyre production but by the late Sixties was in terminal decline. She got by listening to records, going to gigs and, from her mid-teens onwards, gorging on whatever drugs she could lay her hands on. Hynde’s musical awakening and her pre-fame escapades form the backbone of Reckless, a gritty, visceral work that is as much a chronicle of cultural change as it is an account of her slow rise to fame.

Her ultra-conservative parents loom in the background, though she remains grateful for their disapproval. “Had it not been for their total refusal to accept my need to rock,” she says, “I might have stayed in Ohio and married a biker and be reaching under the sofa for my teeth right now.”

Her travels take her to London, Paris, Cleveland, Arizona, New Mexico, and then back to London. For much of this time she dosses on friends’ floors or sets up home in squats, and works in dead-end jobs – she is, variously, a waitress, cleaner, shop assistant, bartender and life model – while trying to figure out her next move.

As well as tripping through some of the biggest musical moments of the Seventies, the book paints a vivid picture of a disillusioned generation bent on rebellion, whether through political protest (as a student in 1970, Hynde witnessed the Kent State shootings in Ohio), music or just by getting off their heads.

Hynde writes much like she speaks: with sharpness, a dry wit and her bullshit-ometer set to high. This no-nonsense style, along with her stock of extraordinary tales, has much in common with Viv Albertine’s excellent memoir, Music, Music, Music, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Boys, Boys, Boys.

Like Albertine, Hynde is also unflinching in her depiction of the sexual violence endured by women on the music scene. Her assault by a group of bikers is briefly but terrifyingly told and ends, as has been widely publicised, with her laying the blame firmly with herself. This is clearly her prerogative.

She speeds through her career as a Pretender, which may disappoint those looking for the juice on her music and post-fame relationships (with The Kinks’ Ray Davies and Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr). But Hynde is a canny writer who knows better than to dine out lazily on her star credentials. Less a regular rock memoir, Reckless is the tale of a girl who dares to dream.

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