by Ron Foley Macdonald
Not just another rock memoir, Reckless is a fascinating recollection of one woman’s journey through the ashes of American Counterculture to the absolute center of Britain’s punk movement and just a bit beyond.
The hardest-rocking female musician this side of Janis Joplin and Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde’s beginnings in suburban Ohio – she states her family came from Scotland by way of Nova Scotia – reflect one of the great secrets of the early American New Wave Scene, namely that figures such as Television’s Tom Verlaine, poetess Patti Smith and Debby Harry of Blondie (who actually was old enough to attend Woodstock) were all of a generation to come of age during the high years of the 1960s. They lingered on long enough to spark the New York punk revolution, but in general they had a decade on the younger punkers on the other side of the pond.
In Chrissie Hynde’s case she ended up in England during the early ‘70s glam rock years, writing for New Musical Express while working for Malcolm MacLaren and Vivian Westwood’s various clothing shops, the very storefronts that birthed the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Hynde was actually in on an early version of the Clash with Mick Jones, but we’re getting ahead of her story. First off we have to witness her adventures at Kent State University during the famous shootings in 1970, along with her various encounters with bikers, rockers and drug dealers in a declining American youth culture scene.
A veritable teenage and early twentysomething hellion, Hynde finally finds herself repulsed by Ohio’s industrial decline. Heading for England she only had a vague enough idea of what she really wants to do. When she gets there, it’s all improvisation and happenstance.
But what improvisation and happenstance. Landing a record deal with the tight, accomplished four-piece post-punk outfit The Pretenders in 1979 and 1980 established her writing, playing and singing chops without a doubt. Add to that a sultry manner and a killer red leather jacket and you have one of the great indelible female figures on the 1980’s rock scene.
Like her musical adventures, where her style contains a curious mix of bravado and understatement, Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography keeps a sense of deadpan restraint throughout. The result is a curious mirror to her greatest records, a kind of fierce matter-of-factness that is key to her originality.
The book only takes Hynde up to her second album with the first great Pretenders lineup. Once the drug-related deaths of her guitarist (the great James Honeyman-Scott) and her bassist Pete Farndon take the air out of the balloon, the rush of success seems overly costly.
Still, this is a crucial bit of autobiography. Hynde’s prose is vivid and telling, particularly when she talks about how ‘60s counterculture swept everyone and everything before it into a miasmic mess. Once you get to the punk and new wave years, Hynde provides an insider’s view of yet another seismic cultural shift that is still sending reverberations down the spine of Western culture.
Rating: Essential Reading.
Ron Foley Macdonald is a filmmaker, musician, author, and arts journalist who lives in Halifax, NS. He has written for such publications as the Halifax Daily News, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and Take One. He taught film history for 15 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and has also taught at Dalhousie University and Mount Saint Vincent University. For two decades he was the Senior Programmer at the Atlantic Film Festival. He is currently the curator of the film and video series at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, and the producer of the recent feature films Exit Thread and Roundabout.