Chrissie Hynde, leader of the Pretenders, is one of the most widely imitated figures in rock: sexy, unflappable, vulnerable yet tough, a groundbreaking songwriter and performer. In these pages, Chrissie gives us her story. We see her all-American 1950s childhood in Ohio, and her teenage self falling for the rock music of the 1960s. We follow her to London, where she takes a job with NME and makes her way into the churning ’70s London punk scene, meeting Lemmy, Sid Vicious and Iggy Pop, living in squats, writing songs, playing in early versions of the Clash and the Damned. Her work with the Pretenders—which melded punk, New Wave, and pop to irresistible effect—would catapult her to instant stardom. Through it all is Chrissie’s unmistakable voice, ringing with fearless emotional honesty, a razor-sharp wit, and an enduring belief in the power of rock’n’roll.
“Heartfelt and beautifully written.” —The Huffington Post
“Snaps with wit. . . . Reveals an extremely rare and brave character.” —New York Daily News
“Sharp. . . . Moving. . . . Restless and emphatic.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Hynde is an irresistible, unapologetic storyteller.” —USA Today
“A love letter to rock ‘n’roll. . . . Honest and distinctive. . . . [Reckless] gives an accurate sense of what it’s like to sit down with Chrissie Hynde. . . . Acerbic, clever, confrontational.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Rich and ragged. . . . Engaging. . . . [Hynde] writes just like she lives, and just like she makes music. She does it her way, which is an inimitable multiplicity of things: impulsive, untamed, ragged, proud.” —The Daily Beast
“Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography, Reckless, out-rocks them all.” —The Washington Post
“Rebellious, fierce. . . . Full of engaging stories, dry wit and revelations.” —The Guardian (London)
“Fascinating. . . . A portrait of an era.” —Vogue.com
“[A] fascinating memoir.” —Financial Times
“Entertaining. . . . Sarcasm and dry humor shine through. . . . One can almost hear her deep, sneering vibrato.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A stirring tale of rock, regret and redemption. . . . Unflinching. . . . Reckless is a survivor’s tale, a portrait of a woman bolstered by conviction and buoyed by extreme fortitude. ” —The Buffalo News
“This long-awaited memoir tells [Hynde’s] life story in full and utterly fascinating detail. . . . She brings a fantastic eye for detail, a withering and sardonic sense of humor, and a fearless emotional honesty.” —Library Journal
The first thing I think of isn’t the rubber tires or cars or factories--it’s the trees, and they will always be my lasting impression of it.
The first one I saw was the cherry tree. It was expecting me. Trees have personalities, subtle but a baby can tell. The house on Hillcrest Street stood on the crest of a hill paved with red bricks. When a car drove up it made a distinctive sound like a Spaniard rolling his Rs. I loved that sound and I loved that house painted blue, the color of choice for an Akron house, with its covered porch you could sit on when it rained. And I loved the pond in Uncle Harry’s backyard next door. But mostly I loved the cherry tree.
Melville and Dolores; Bud and Dee; Mr. and Mrs. M. G. Hynde. Akron, Ohio; Rubber City; Tire Town. Those were the different names of my three parents: father, mother, hometown.
Father: blue eyes, Marine Corps uniform, playing a harmonica. He held me aloft so high I could have touched the ceiling. Mother: perfect nails, Elizabeth Taylor hair, red-and-white striped dress, impeccable. Hometown: streets, trees, streams, the Ohio seasons. I learned everything I needed to know from the three of you.
My mother was from Summit Lake. Her dad, Jack Roberts, was an Akron cop. Her mother, Irene, a seamstress, played piano in the church, Margaret Park Presbyterian. It was to her house on Hillcrest Street where they took me from People’s Hospital that day in September 1951.
Summit Lake was Akron’s Coney Island, the place for boats and rides and summer pastimes--and that’s where Bud and Dolores starting seeing each other. They were bound to meet because his sister Ruth had married her brother Gene.
In later years, my dad spent many hours researching the Hynde family tree. He even trawled through the family records in Edinburgh’s town hall after I married a Scotsman. (Yes, there’s my dad wearing a fishing hat, Bermuda shorts and Hush Puppies, wandering the cobbled streets, always looking up.) “Scotland--Home of Golf,” as said on the tea towel I gave him that he displayed above his workbench in the garage where he crafted his own golf clubs, listening to the police band on his radio.
“Oh, Bud, why are you listening to that?” My mother, critical of any hillbillyish behavior.
“Now, Christy, do your neighbors know you’re Scots?” he asked loudly, every time he came to London. “They don’t care, Dad. They’re Greek.”
The family heritage fad for families started in the seventies. Before that, if you weren’t part of an ethnic minority like African, Italian or Jewish, you were simply American. There were no Hispanics or Asians around, not up north. We looked and sounded like the characters in cowboy shows on TV: Have Gun--Will Travel; Tombstone Territory; The Rifleman. (I knew all the theme songs.) White Europeans: we owned the joint. I must have been fifteen before it occurred to me to ask where the Hyndes came from. And the Craigs, the Roberts and Joneses. According to my father “they,” as in “we,” had come from Scotland via Nova Scotia. His theory: “Now, Hynde was originally spelled H-Y-N-D--the E was added as a flourish!”
(Most of his sentences began with “now.”) I think the “flourish” referred to the florid style of script they wrote in back then. I must have heard him say that fifty times.
My mother’s people were from Caerphilly, and must have found jobs in the coal mines of southern Ohio, as Welsh coal miners would have. “Wales? Where the heck is that? Is that a country?” I asked. Her mother, Irene, had been adopted along with her brother and sisters, Edna, Glovina and Louie. I never knew why; I forgot to ask my mother when I had the chance.
My maternal grandparents, the cop and the seamstress, divorced. I never asked about that, either. It was uncommon to divorce back then. My mother wouldn’t have talked about it anyway. There’s a lot I never knew, I suppose, like with every family.
Before she married she went to New York City to work as a model. I never appreciated how bold that was for a girl back then. It was the “Land of Opportunity,” but people like mine didn’t get very many back then. Now I see that’s where her sense of glamour came from. Always ultramodern. Then she became the wife and mother she was born to be, like every woman in her community.
When I was eight she went back to work, as a secretary, but she always made dinner and did the housework. I wasn’t allowed to come to the table in bare feet. She ran a tight ship.
Grandma Roberts was living with us when she died. She moved in with us on Stabler Road, leaving the little apartment in North Hill where she’d been on her own since the Hillcrest days. I was ten when she had a heart attack at the dinner table. An ambulance came and took her away, and we never saw her again. The thing that shocked me most was my mother saying, “Oh, God. Oh, God.” I’d never heard her talk like that before. Was that swearing? No, it couldn’t have been. We weren’t allowed to swear.
My grandma Hynde was the last one of their generation. She spent the end of her days in an old people’s home playing bingo. We always went to her house in Tallmadge for Easter and would spend the day with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Gene and our double cousins, Dave, Dick and Marianne, all five of us sharing both sets of grandparents. No, that wasn’t a hillbilly thing. Not if my mother had anything to do with it.
Grandma Hynde listened to the baseball game on the radio and did crossword puzzles as good as anyone. By then, Americans were starting a new trend: not to have aging parents live in the family home. It wasn’t the modern way.
My brother, Terry, played clarinet. Kids in the neighborhood called him Benny after Benny Goodman. Then he moved on to the sax and became as fine a sax player as I’ve ever heard. He was the musician of the family, not me. The only time I ever saw Terry star-struck was when I introduced him to Neneh Cherry. “Her dad’s Don Cherry!” Terry could hardly speak.
I had no concept of life beyond Akron’s leafy borders--the warehouses, factories, valleys, streams and woodlands, with their dramatic transformations. For all I knew every town had red brick roads and every fourth house was painted blue.
That’s when Akron was the center of the universe.
Thirty years earlier, Akron and Washington, DC, had been the fastest-growing cities in the nation. Akron was the rubber capital of the world and we had all the major factories--Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone, General, Mohawk, Ace--and Washington had the White House.
Almost everyone had a job in one of these factories, including my grandpa (Leonard) Hynde, who worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber. Hundreds of West Virginians moved up to Akron to get jobs as rubber workers, so many that it was often referred to as the capital of West Virginia.
When you walked down Main Street in Akron you either caught the fragrant whiff of rolled oats from the silos at the Quaker Oats factory or the acrid smell from one of the rubber factories. The latter, the distinctive pong like you get patching out in a hot rod, will still conjure to an Akronite the days when the city was the famous Rubber Capital of the World. We were big and important, renowned for rubber and the Soap Box Derby, which took place every year, kids from across the nation submitting their custom-built racers, one of which would soar downhill faster than the others and claim the trophy to national acclaim.
We had industry and abundant, rolling farmland for hundreds of miles to the south, east and west. (See how proud I am?) The Seneca Indians named it “Ohi-yo,” meaning, “It is beautiful, beautiful river.” Yes, Ohio: so beautiful.
My dad kept a collection of Indian arrowheads in a cigar box. Boy Scouts in his day were encouraged to collect arrowheads--it was in the handbook. My dad’s were carefully labeled to tell precisely where each had been plucked from along the banks of the Cuyahoga Valley that the Eries, Seneca and other bands of Ohio Indians (I know they aren’t referred to as “Indians” these days, but c’mon--they were the Indians to us) traveled through, portaging their canoes across what by the time of my father were their burial grounds.
The Amish and Mennonites settled there, their farms extending across Pennsylvania, so that they were often referred to as the Pennsylvania Dutch, although they were actually of German origin. They never used electricity or anything technology-driven. The men wore beards but never a mustache, as that would be reminiscent of the military and they were devout pacifists. Even buttons were prohibited because buttons evoked military connotations. They were a familiar sight in their somber black buggies drawn by somber bay horses that also pulled their plows, everything done by real horsepower. It was thrilling to see an Amish buggy when our family took a customary drive into the country for tomatoes, apples or corn, according to the seasons.
How strange it seemed, me in the convertible with my modern parents and the Amish in their old-fashioned clothes--women and girls in long dresses, puffy sleeves and white bonnets, the men and boys in suspenders holding up their rough cotton trousers--dressed like extras in a film featuring the pioneers.
They never changed. It’s still just as common a sight to see a buggy nowadays, antlike atop a bridge traversing a twelve-lane highway as trucks and cars roar beneath them. They continue to go about their business the same as they did when the countryside was a sanctuary in which they could live out their austere lives undisturbed. With their steady, unchanging commitment to family and community, they remain a testament to their beliefs and values. They can put up a barn in one day; ordinary citizens can hire them to construct outbuildings. Ohio wouldn’t be Ohio without the Amish.
Frank Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, built an English Tudor country estate on seventy acres of wooded land in 1912 in West Akron--the twelfth-largest house in America--and called it Stan Hywet Hall. It inspired the many mock Tudor mansions that still line Portage Path, named after the trail where the Indians once portaged their canoes, and elegant Merriman Avenue and all the surrounding areas with English street names--Mayfair, Hereford, Wye, Eton, Edgerton, Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire--names I only recognized as English when I returned years later.
Every city in Ohio had a train depot: Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Sandusky and Youngstown, even the smaller towns, Seneca, Barberton, Lodi, Lorain and the rest.
At one time America had the best train system in the world, probably because most of the men who built it were chained to other dedicated workers and not given time off. Along with the tracks that soon spanned America came a lot of music because, as well as picking up the heavy chain that bound them, they sang. The slaves gave us tracks of many kinds.
By the end of the fifties the extensive passenger-train system was, like the Indian Nation, history, so if it wasn’t for the music there would be little else to show for all that hard work.
Ohio seasons were the ones pictured in calendars. Summers, hot and lazy, buzzing with life, pungent and green. Autumn, hesitant at first, slate-colored skies and leaves of scarlet and gold that dropped off the trees and covered the ground like an Indian blanket. Winters, harsh, the first snowfall like a fresh sheet thrown over the houses, storing them away until spring. We’d always have a white Christmas. Then came the spring, all blossoms, birdsong and fragrant breezes. Geese in formations of military precision came and went throughout. “Canada geese,” my dad regularly reminded us. “People always say ‘Canadian geese.’ It’s not Canadian geese, it’s Canada geese!”
Aunt Binny, Grandma Robert’s sister, and Uncle Harry lived next door on Hillcrest Street. Uncle Harry tended his tomato plants in the dappled sunlight while I watched the fish swim and glitter in his pond. Aunt Binny made us hand puppets out of socks, elaborate works of art they were too. I loved going to their house because I knew where they kept their stash of Beeman’s Gum, just inside the top drawer of the sideboard in their dining room.
Akron houses smelled of wood polish and ironing and rhubarb pie, and seemed like the foundation of civilization itself. But it was a foundation about to shift. Our houses were in the way of progress. We had to move.
But we didn’t have to move from our houses; we had to move our houses. All those homes standing in the way of the expressway, which was planning its nationwide takeover, were hoisted onto logs and rolled out of the way. Out of the way of the coming of a new America.
It was essentially the beginning of the end of Akron as a city. There were ditches where the houses had been, and wet clay got churned up to the surface where you could see and smell it. Even as a three-year-old, it seemed all wrong to me to be exposed like that.
The pond and the cherry tree were left behind to be dealt with by the bulldozers. My cherry tree.
Red bricks were hacked out and the streets abruptly dropped off at metal barriers prohibiting entry into the inner belt. Every street becoming a dead end. Across the swath of concrete, its other half could be found, spliced like a worm, still wriggling. The streets, houses, people and neighborhoods were simply in the way of this “urban improvement,” insignificant next to the endless expanse of highway that would soon swallow America.
Cuyahoga Falls . . .
When my dad got out of the Marines, after we’d moved to North Carolina and Florida to be with him, we moved to 8th Street in Cuyahoga Falls, a stone’s throw from Akron. He would forevermore talk proudly of his time serving his country when he’d had malaria three times. While serving on Guadalcanal in the Pacific he’d had a glimpse of the mythical “others”--but for the rest of us, well, it would be some years before we paused to consider life beyond our borders: life outside of Ohio; life outside of the pages of Life magazine. We were the norm, the mean, the gold standard.
He got a job with the Ohio Bell Telephone company and would be a loyal employee for the rest of his working life. He had a “Yellow Pages” badge permanently pinned to his golf hat or fishing hat. “Oh, Bud, take that silly hat off!” was a plea oft heard around Hynde House.