Pretenders singer and songwriter Chrissie Hynde has no regrets. At least about her much-attacked comments on rape in a recent an interview.
“They’re entitled to say whatever they want,” she told The Washington Post last week about her critics. It was her first phone interview since the furor. “Do I regret saying it? I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”
Hynde, 63, whose memoir “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender” arrived in bookstores last Tuesday, said she doesn’t read things written about her.
“I’ve just had some e-mails from friends saying, ‘Do you want to hide at my place?’ ” she said.
After a little resistance, Hynde, who released her first Pretenders album in 1980, listened as the Sunday Times paragraph that sparked the controversy was read to her, a statement that ends with her saying, “If you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him.”
“Sounds like common sense,” she said Thursday.
But what about people who were offended?
“If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask me for it,” she said.
“At the moment, we’re in one of the worst humanitarian crises in our lifetime,” she said. You see that picture of “a Turkish policeman carrying the body of a 3-year-old boy who got washed up on the shore. These are the heartbreaking images we have and we’re talking about millions of displaced persons and people whose families have been destroyed and we’re talking about comments that I allegedly made about girls in their underwear.”
In a wide-ranging interview, excerpted here, Hynde talked about “Reckless,” which follows her from her childhood in Ohio to England during the birth of punk rock and ends in a surprising spot: with the deaths of original Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon in the early 1980s.
What was hard about writing “Reckless?”
“I didn’t have an outline or anything. I wasn’t even sure if I was writing a book. I started out writing vignettes. The hardest part of it was seaming it together chronologically. I wouldn’t say it was hard. I’m not really a writer. It’s not my field.”
But you wrote this alone, right?
“I don’t understand this thing with autobiographies. If you haven’t written it, I don’t see how it’s autobiographical. I’m just saying, in general, not pointing any fingers at anyone. But the way it’s done these days, I think it should be stated on the cover. I see it as almost a form of cheating. It gives the wrong impression to the reader.”
Were there times you wished you hadn’t signed a book deal?
“No, because I’ve had about three or four people over the last 20 years, I’ve employed them to write sort of a biography on the band so I could stop talking about it. In fact, John McEnroe said at one point, ‘People don’t want a biography. You’ve got to write an autobiography.’ And also, I couldn’t have written this while my folks were alive. To me, it sounds like I’m doing something behind their back but then again, I did a lot of things behind their back.”
But you were a kid. It’s hard to imagine they’d say that today. Wouldn’t they say, ‘Oh, now you’re older and look how you turned out and you made good choices’?
“I don’t know if I made good choices. I can say that I mostly made bad choices. I did a lot of things that broke the law, and my parents would not abide that. Like when I’ve been arrested in a PETA protest. They were not amused.”
But you did make good choices when you got older. You became an accomplished musician.
“When I was taking drugs, how can I say that was a good choice? But for all of the obvious things, I was having a good time. We all did. And a lot of us ended up in a much worse state than I did.
“I didn’t think when I started writing this book that I was reckless and I didn’t think it was about drugs. But it wasn’t too far into the book, when I got to the age of 16, every chapter, someone dies — I don’t talk about everyone who dies, because I don’t want to bring it up to their families.”
You don’t do drugs anymore.
“I don’t use anything now. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, look at me.’ I just burned myself out. The other thing is, it’s an age thing. At a certain age, you can’t sustain anything. It just starts disrupting your daily life.”
This book starts in Akron, and Akron weighs heavily. It’s a place you saw some amazing things, it’s also a place you fled.
“It was wonderful time to grow up, and anyone who grew up and didn’t want to be in a band was dead from the waist down. That was the characteristic of my generation. And bands were everything and it was sort of the pinnacle of the culture, and everybody went along with it because of the quality of the bands and I could have reeled off the names of 30 bands that were on the radio that were better than anything that exists now.”
And I know you still feel strongly about the city.
“My story was also the story of American cities in general. Since I’ve been in the band and I’ve traveled around these cities. I remember how excited I was to get to Wichita and everybody’s singing ‘Wichita Lineman,’ and then you get there and there’s no city. But the good news, things are starting to come around. . . . That’s what’s happening in Akron. There’s a fantastic art museum. A great jazz club. A lot of restaurants. People are going back into the downtown, because they want a cultural experience and you can’t get it in a shopping mall, and also the shopping malls in the country are closing.”
The reason we’re talking about rape at all is because of what happens with you and that biker gang. They take you into a kind of abandoned building, and you’re effectively raped.
“I would say there was an element of sexual assault, but frankly, if you go into the club house of the world’s most notorious bikers, it’s not going to be for a Bible reading.”
But you also have a second situation where you’re hitchhiking and you get drugged and end up naked in this guy’s place not really knowing what’s happening.
“But I knocked on the guy’s car door and said, ‘Can you give me a lift?’ to a stranger. What was I thinking?”
Fair enough, but on a basic level, I feel bad reading about what happened when you were younger. You have a daughter. I have a daughter. I don’t want her in that house with those bikers.
“I know, but most people aren’t as stupid as me. I wouldn’t expect most people to do some of the stuff I did. But then again, most people don’t get to be a rock star, either. We have to walk the plank. I don’t think that’s a sign of intelligence, I don’t know what it is a sign of. I’m not saying I was asking for it. It wasn’t the same as walking down a street in the middle of a nice evening and somebody dragging you into a bush with a knife in your throat.”
This book ends after the second record. That’s more than 30 years ago.
“I didn’t stop after the second record. I stopped after the second death in my band. I started writing, ‘Then we had rehearsals,’ and it struck me that whatever the story I was telling at that point, it was done there.”
Does that mean there’s a second memoir in you, the sort of walkup to now?
“I hadn’t even thought about it. I mean, I’m not really a writer.”
You know there are a lot of women rockers publishing memoirs now. In the past, it’s been mainly men. Is that encouraging?
“I don’t care. A good book is a good book. A good song is a good song. Let me hear it, let me read it. I’m not very gender-driven. This book is not meant to be a guide.”
So it’s not a guide?
“I hope not.”
What would you like it to be?
“I would like it to be a picture of what happened in America in the 1960s and how it affected a couple of generations. It’s not so much my story. I think it’s more a story of what happened to all of us. And I have a voice and a guy who works in Lucky Shoes in Akron may not have that voice. It’s the same way as making a record. You give voice to something that someone else wasn’t able to do. That’s the best you can hope for. Hit a chord with someone. I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher. I’m just a rock singer. And now a leading authority on rape.”
Geoff Edgers is the Washington Post’s national arts reporter.