In 1986, Chrissie Hynde told Night Flight that ’80s rock ‘n’ rollers were in it for the Rolex and Porsche

By on September 16, 2015

Chrissie Hynde celebrated her 64th birthday last week, and her 336-page memoir Reckless: My Life as a Pretender was published the day after that, so we thought since she’s been in the news a lot lately — especially after talking about being raped at age 21, and then espousing controversial thoughts on rape in general — we thought we’d take a look back at the interview she did with Night Flight in 1986, where she discussed how she thought the 80s rock ‘n’ rollers were in it for the wrong reasons, for the Rolex watch and the Porsche, and how the music she grew up with in the Sixties was about revolution.

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Hynde knew that her autobiography’s publication was going to stir up some raw emotions, and she explained in the prologue that she waited until both of her parents had passed on to save them the embarrassment of reading about what she’d written, saying that she if she’d written it before their deaths, she “would have had to leave out the bad language and tell a lot of lies.”

“Message of Love”

Hynde was born in 1951, in Akron, Ohio, and her family later moved to Cleveland, which we’re told is America’s rock ‘n’ roll birthplace (right?). Her parents were conservative, she writes, and she was a typical kid, at first, in love with TV westerns and horses, but by the time she was in junior high, she was becoming more of a wild child, drawn both to rock music and outlaw bikers (which she refers to in the book as “the heavy bikers” and also “the get-down boys”), and she was further drawn into a dark world where says she was beaten, robbed and raped. Music started to become her first love, but she was also pretty heavily into drugs — pot, LSD, pills, opium, cough syrup, speed, and, later, heroin.

Hynde went to college at Kent State University, where, on May 4, 1970 — just like Jerry Casale of DEVO, which we told you about here — she witnessed the National Guard opening fire on students who were protesting the war in Vietnam.

In 1973, she took off for London, where“everyone was underweight with undernourished, pallid skin tones, greenish in hue.” She ended up reviewing early punk records for New Musical Express. She also ended up as a shop girl at the Malcolm McLaren- and Vivienne Westwood-owned boutique called SEX, where scrawled above the door was the slogan: “Craft must have clothes but Truth loves to go naked.” The interior of the shop was sprayed with pornographic graffiti, hung with rubber curtains and stocked with sex and fetish wear.

Geoff Edgers, writing for the Washington Post recently wrote: her commitment to music was as strong as her commitment to drugs: “Drugs now permeated everything — it was just a fact of life. A life without drugs was unfathomable,” and it got worse once she discovered there were ‘heavy bikers’ in London, too.

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What she really wanted to do, however, was write great rock songs, and front her own band, and eventually, that’s what she did, putting together the original lineup of the band Pretenders (people couldn’t help themselves and kept adding a “The” to the band’s name, but they were originally just Pretenders, which is a different name entirely, if you think about it). The band released their stunning self-titled debut LP in 1980 in the U.S. (it was released earlier in the U.K., soaring to #1 on the U.K. charts in 1979).

In Reckless, she talks about meeting the three other band members who formed the original line-up, and their successful first singles, “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Brass in Pocket,” “Talk of the Town,” and “Back on the Chain Gang,” and how she had to battle back and keep the band going after two of those bandmates — lead guitarist James Honeyman Scott and bassist Peter Farndon — both died from drug overdoses.

Her memoir Reckless actually ends the last of their deaths, saying that “whatever the story I was telling at that point, it was done there.” Fardon overdosed in 1983, a year after Honeyman-Scott died from a cocaine overdose.

Hynde insists in the memoir that she has never got over losing Farndon. “I’d taken him into my reckless world and lost him there,” she writes.

“Back on the Chain Gang” was a single Pretenders released in November 1982. The song was also released on The King of Comedy soundtrack album (March 1983) and later included on the Pretenders’ next album Learning to Crawl in January 1984. It reached #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (the band’s highest charting U.S. single), #4 on Billboard‘s Top Tracks chart and #17 in the United Kingdom. The song was originally going to be about Ray Davies, leader of the band The Kinks. Hynde and Davies were a couple and had a daughter together, but the meaning of the song changed after James Honeyman Scott, the Pretenders’ guitarist, died of a drug overdose at the age of 25 in 1982.

She continued to battle back, all the time, and finds herself battling to get back, and more recently she seems to to have struck a raw nerve with the sisterhood after she made comments about rape in an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times Magazine, saying that women who dress provocatively can be seen as an invitation to rapists (“If you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him. If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and fuck me,’ you’d better be good on your feet.”).

In that same interview, Hynde says of her rape by one of the bikers: “Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility… If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?” She says that her own rape was her own fault, that she was out of her mind on drugs, behaving flirtatiously and hopelessly naive.

Pretenders perform “Stop Your Sobbing” in this 1979 appearance on the “Kenny Everett Video Show” in the UK (March 19, 1979)

Here’s an excerpt about that episode in her life from the Daily Mail UK:

She had met the bikers — from her description of their winged insignia, they were the Hells Angels — a few years earlier when they were providing security at a rock concert in Cleveland. She and some friends had been invited back with the band to their clubhouse. She remembers that swords, crossbows, whips and Nazi regalia hung on the walls, and that the musicians were discussing drug deals with the bikers. On that occasion, the girls were spared any predatory advances from their thuggish, leather-clad hosts because, Hynde later concluded, they were under-age teenagers.

This wasn’t the case a few years later when she met the crew at the Cleveland Municipal Jail, where, like them, she had been visiting friends. The then 21-year-old Hynde was stoned on Quaaludes, a strong sedative pill that was a popular drug in the Sixties and Seventies. The bikers invited her to a party and Hynde agreed to go — although a girlfriend who was with her ‘recoiled in horror’ from the invitation.

She met the bikers at their run-down clubhouse, a different one this time. It was so sinister, writes Hynde, that it had ‘Jeffrey Dahmer written all over it’ — a ghoulish allusion to the lair where the notorious U.S. serial killer dispatched his victims. The Hells Angels, she says, unchained a series of padlocks to reveal a ‘dark and noticeably empty house’, and she gradually realised what might be about to happen — or, as she put it, ‘the party was going to be hosted exclusively by yours truly’. She was led upstairs to a poorly lit room where one of them ordered her to ‘get your fuckin’ clothes off’. When she protested, they threatened to beat her so badly ‘you’ll make some plastic surgeon rich’.

They ordered her to perform sex acts on them, and when she hesitated, they lit matches and threw them at her naked body. She remembers the burning matches ‘bounced off my rib rack and underlit their stony expressions before dropping to the forensically soiled carpet’. She eventually gave in to their demands. The next day, one of them — an ‘ugly’ blond biker — drove her home, patting her on the thigh and telling her she ‘ain’t a half bad chick.'”

Pretenders performing “Kid” on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops,”(1979)

Understandably, these comments have raised considerable objection. In Reckless, Hynde frames this rape in terms many women won’t agree with, but she’s being honest about her own hunger for experience, however unsettling or drug-induced: “But chicks (present company guilty as charged) overlooked obvious shit when in the thrall of some muscle.”

Also, in her memoir, she says that if she had stayed in Ohio, that today she “might be married to a biker and be reaching under the sofa for my teeth now.”

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Edgers, again, writing for the Washington Post – revealed it was her first phone interview after making those controversial statements, and Hynde told him hat she had no regrets about what she said, explaining the world she’d found herself in, hanging out with bikers, was something she knew about going in (she writes in the book how she was taken into an abandoned building and raped), saying “I would say there was an element of sexual assault, but frankly, if you go into the clubhouse of the world’s most notorious bikers, it’s not going to be for a Bible reading.”

Hynde told Edgers that she wanted her memoir 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.”

Pretenders performing “The Wait” on Rockpalast, 1981

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From Sire Records’ promo for The Pretenders’ album Last of the Independents:

• Don’t moan about being a chick, refer to feminism or complain about sexist discrimination. We’ve all been thrown down stairs and fucked about, but no one wants to hear a whining female. Write a loosely disguised song about it instead and clean up ($).

• Never pretend you know more than you do. If you don’t know chord names, refer to the dots. Don’t go near the desk unless you plan on becoming an engineer.

• Make the other band members look and sound good. Bring out the best in them; that’s your job. Oh, and you better sound good, too.

• Do not insist on working with “females”; that’s just more b.s. Get the best man for the job. If it happens to be a woman, great — you’ll have someone to go to department stores with on tour instead of making one of the road crew go with you.

• Try not to have a sexual relationship within the band. It always ends in tears.

• Don’t think that sticking your boobs out and trying to look fuckable will help. Remember you’re in a rock and roll band. It’s not “fuck me,” it’s “fuck you”!

• Don’t try to compete with the guys; it won’t impress anybody. Remember, one of the reasons they like you is because you don’t offer yet more competition to the already existing male egos.

• If you sing, don’t “belt” or “screech.” No one wants to hear that shit; it sounds “hysterical.”

• Shave your legs, for chrissakes!

• Don’t take advice from people like me. Do your own thing always.

CHRISSIE HYNDE ADVICE

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.