Christine Ellen Hynde, the dark-haired music loving, pot smoking teen in Akron, Ohio, has a lot to say about how her life turned out. She just doesn’t use a whole lot of words to do so. And that works out to her advantage. For the leader and focal point of the Pretenders, Hynde has always been about straight-forwardness – in her lyrics and in her guitar playing – so pussy-footing around a subject or embellishing it with flowery details would feel phony and a waste of time. The interesting thing about writing a memoir of one’s life this way is that you can leave the meal feeling slighted instead of full. Hynde almost married Sid Vicious? “Morning came and we arrived first thing to find the registry office closed for an extended holiday. Bollocks!” And that is pretty much the extent of that situation.
Hynde doesn’t even get to the Pretenders until very close to the end of the book. But it’s okay, for the previous 234 pages are ripe with tales. She attached herself to music at a very young age. “Every band I saw took a piece of me with them back into the night,” she explains early in the pages of Reckless. “Bands were everything; nothing else mattered.” Except having fun, smoking dope, hanging out with bikers, caring about school only enough to get her to a college and out of her house. She dreamed of being in a band and moving to England, both journeys eventually taking longer to fulfil than she thought. She almost gave up. She lived on people’s floors, one step from the gutter. Chrissie Hynde, the great vocalist of a new musical movement, was not who you thought she was. If it weren’t for being around the right people at the right time, she may still be squatting in some rundown flat on the wrong side of the avenue, smoking dope, dreaming of playing guitar in a rock & roll band. “Funny how seemingly insignificant things sometimes turn out to be links you can’t see at the time.”
Those links have names like Johnny Rotten, The Clash, Johnny Thunders, Vivienne Westwood, Nick Kent and Lemmy Kilmister. She rubbed shoulders with them all before she became THE Chrissie Hynde. Even her time at Kent State University was rife with bold talking political awareness, the Vietnam War raging, scaring kids with nightly news reports of the dead and whispered talks with returning soldiers. “We were confused, pissed off and had to be careful not to see the news while on acid.” They burned the ROTC building on campus and National Guardsmen shot at students. Hynde moved back home but felt like a caged animal.
Hynde telling her story in short blunt sections is the best thing she could have done. You can relate to the teen discovering music and marijuana, the divide opening up between parents and child, the need to run, to be free, to play in a band, to do nothing but sit in a room and daydream, with no responsibilities except to pass high school. “I couldn’t have told this when my parents were alive, I would have had to leave out the bad language and tell a lot of lies about what I’d been doing all that time I was gone,” Hynde writes in the Prologue. Her story is relatable, honest, warts and all. She doesn’t care if she comes across as a lazy pothead. That’s who she was. She doesn’t hide the fact that she did things others would prefer to stay hidden underneath a ratty old rug in the attic. It’s what happened. Not all rock stars are born with a guitar pick between their teeth.
The last section of Reckless is devoted to her life in the Pretenders. She pulls the curtain back for a peek at the good and the ugly. She tries to avoid being singled out as the main component of her band, she hates reading the reviews, she struggles to sleep in her tour bus coffin, she watches bandmates dance with the devil. But she clung on tight, wrote songs that mattered, became a worshiped frontwoman for years to come. In 312 pages, Hynde’s journey speaks volumes with so little words.