As promised, here is my wrap-up review of "Reckless", the autobiography of Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders, who hails from Akron Ohio. The first half of the book documented her years growing up in Akron Ohio and her college years at KSU. Anyone who grew up in Northeast Ohio will find lots of familiar references to N.E. Ohio entities such as Ghoulardi, Portage Lakes, and Cleveland's groundbreaking rock radio station WMMS. It's engaging and entertaining reading for Ohio natives.
Where my last post left off, she had just arrived in London's Heathrow airport. Ohio had become too stifling and besides, the Hell's Angels were after her. They surely couldn't find her in England. At this point the book began to drag a little. There were just too many details about day to day living in England and Paris to keep me riveted. Maybe this is more a reflection on me, having never lived in any of those places. Also, she started using British English slang that I did not understand. What exactly is a "quiff" hairstyle? Who are the "get down boys?" And what does it mean to be "dossing?" Again, this may be a reflection of my own lack of worldly experience.
She spent a brief time as a writer for NME, a British "Rolling Stone" knockoff. As a result she had plenty of contacts in the music scene. When the NME job went sour, she moved to Paris, which was at that time an incubator of the punk rock movement. She started using heroine, realized she was in trouble, and made a brief trip back to the states to shake the habit, but quickly became bored and returned to Europe. Chrissie's main interests in life were to join a band and do drugs. She was drawn to and hung with any avant garde character who shared those interests, including Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, and many others.
Despite all the drug use and crazy living conditions, she had a laser-like focus on joining a band. She made some demo tapes and at one point got an offer from a manager who promised to make her a star, but she refused. She didn't want to go solo. She rotated into and out of more bands than you can count. She was gaining her musical chops, but there was always a guitarist or singer waiting in the wings who was just a little better. Besides, women rockers were not universally sought out by the male dominated bands. The guys she was hanging with were the same people who eventually formed "The Clash", "The Damned", and "The Sex Pistols."
Eventually she hit the jackpot by hooking up with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bass player Pete Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers, and the Pretenders were born. They cut records, started touring, and started making actual money, touring all over Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Her description of touring & performing are interesting accounts of the day to day life of a "rock star."
The drug use never stopped though. Despite the commercial success, they were in a downward spiral of recklessness and drug abuse that was affecting all their lives and performances. Chrissie was arrested in Memphis after a fracas in a restaurant but that only seemed to bump up her rock credibility a notch.
It all came to a screaming halt soon after. The band decided to fire Pete. His drug induced craziness was too much even for them. Chrissie discovered she was pregnant by then-husband Ray Davies of "The Kinks." They agreed it was time to take a break, recover from touring, and re-group at a later date. That never happened. Within a short time, Honeyman-Scott was found dead at the age of 25 from cardiac arrest due to cocaine intolerance. Later Fardnon was found dead in a bathtub, having shot up, passed out, and drowned.
There is a happy ending though. Chrissie has kept the band going with other members. She has a beautiful daughter, has stopped abusing drugs, and reads the Bhagavad Gita. In her own words, the moral of the story is "drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, only cause suffering." The other moral of the story in my opinion is "persistence pays off." Chrissie's success was entirely due to the fact that she never lost sight of her goal to join a band. There were probably more talented singers and better guitarists in Paris in the 1970's but nobody ever had more desire, drive, and focus than Chris Hynde of Akron Ohio.