Book Review – My Life as a Pretender



Reckless: My Life as a Pretender
Chrissie Hynde

The most interesting thing about biographies, especially autobiographies, is what isn’t included. So often, a person’s story intertwines with that of someone else’s, who may not wish to have their dirty laundry displayed for all to see.

In Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, the singer shares some incredibly raw events, but stays quiet on others. Telling the story of her life up to the end of The Pretenders and the deaths of band mates James Honeyman-Scott in 1982 and bass player Pete Farndon in 1983, Reckless details Hynde’s time as a hippie, witnessing the massacre at Kent State, and watching from the sidelines as all her friends in the London punk scene go on to form bands and sign record contracts, but is often mum or overly subdued on her real relationships. For instance, after nearly marrying Ray Davies of The Kinks, they went on to have a child together, and while Davies is included because their relationship fell within the time-line of the book, he had apparently asked not to be, so references to him are minimal.

What Hynde does share is about an adult life that seemed to lack purpose. She did poorly at school, slept on a variety of floors and sofas, had odd jobs, from music writing to house cleaning, none of which kept her interest for any period of time, and bounced around from Cleveland to Paris to London, mostly in search of drugs and some vague idea of forming a band.

And let’s not for a second doubt that Reckless refers to Hynde’s willingness to try just about anything, especially if it would get her high. Most of the main anecdotes of the book, from being gang-raped by bikers to finding herself in bed with Iggy Pop, are remembered from within the fog of whatever drug was popular at the time, quaaluudes being a recurring favourite.

In interviews, Hynde mentions waiting to write the book until after certain people (her parents, the mother of bass player Farndon) were dead, and has referred to the work as “reckless light” – which leaves us wondering what has been left out.

The story meanders in places and could have been tightened up in editing, but Reckless works best as documentation of the London punk scene by someone who witnessed it first hand. Stories or documentaries about specific bands concentrate on one group, but Hynde’s perspective, as someone in the middle of it all, from working at Sex with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren to hanging out with (and nearly marrying) both John Lydon and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols (so she could stay in the country), and being an early member of The Clash, is a point of view that few ever experience.

The first three-quarters of Reckless take part before the Pretenders are signed and the book ends when the original line-up breaks up; Hynde continues with the name and goes on to become a Mom and get her act together – the final section reads a bit like a “drugs are bad, m’kay” public service announcement – so there’s another thirty years or so to cover if Hynde were to write a follow-up. One can’t help but think those decades might be a bit more sedate, though.

There are few among us who didn’t do stupid shit in our misspent youth, Hynde is just more open about her transgressions, and those transgressions make for amusing and occasionally shocking reading, even if she’s not telling us everything.