Singer Chrissie Hynde (left) of The Pretenders.
(photo credit: VINCENT WEST / REUTERS)
Can a woman in her mid-60s still retain the persona of an attitude-oozing leatherwearing punk? If you’re Chrissie Hynde, the answer is yes, and you best get out of the way if you doubt it.
The 66-year-old Hynde seems remarkably similar to the young American expat music journalist who moved to England in the mid- 1970s and became caught up in the punk rock explosion.
It’s been 39 years since she joined that musical revolution by forming The Pretenders with three British rockers – Pete Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers – and establishing herself as one of rock’s all-time great band leaders, male or female.
“It was kind of a do-it-yourself time and it was really not about musicianship, it was about personality and attitude,” she told The Guardian last year. “I am very grateful to punk because I was a girl and I felt like if I got in a band I’d be kind of a novelty act, but punk was all about non-discrimination. No one cared, because it was punk, so you know anyone could do anything they wanted.”
One part tuneful pop and one part sassy tuff all fueled by a ferocious rhythmic attack and snarling vocals, The Pretenders were one of the few punk-era bands to cross over to mainstream success with two stunning albums, 1979’s self-titled debut and 1981’s Pretenders II.
By 1983, both Farndon and Honeyman-Scott had succumbed to drug overdoses, and 1983’s album Learning to Crawl saw Hynde reach even greater heights, summoning her grief and anger to create the band’s masterpiece. 1986’s Get Close, marking the advent of the Hynde solo show/Pretenders in name only era, spawned number one singles in “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “My Baby,” with an even more accessible pop approach.
That approach reached its extreme on 1994’s Last of the Independents, when Hynde collared professional pop songwriters Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg to polish her rough edges and provide her with a slick power ballad, “I’ll Stand by You,” that proved to be The Pretenders’ last big hit.
Over the last two decades, through diminished exposure and sales from sporadic releases ranging from 1999’s Viva El to last year’s acclaimed Alone, Hynde, who branched out from her rock star role to become an outspoken animal rights and vegetarian activist, veered back to the more uncompromising, no frills sound she started with.
“The only thing I’ve ever offered the public is some music. If they like the music, that’s great, turn on the radio. If they don’t like it, switch it off. I have no other message, other than vegetarianism, which has always been exactly the same thing I said right from day one,” she told The Guardian.
In the same interview, Hynde expressed disdain for the mantles of musical success that have honored her, such a the Grammys and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, to which she and The Pretenders were inducted in 2005.
“I loathe the Grammys with a vengeance,” she said. “The whole idea of it, I don’t understand it, I don’t respect it, I don’t get it at all. I think it’s bullshit.”
Regarding the Hall of Fame, she added, “I call it the Rock and Roll Hall of Shit… It’s everything that rock ’n’ roll isn’t. It sort of desecrates the name of rock ’n’ roll.”
Hynde, along with original drummer Chambers and the rest of her band that have backed her over the last decade, reveres rock ‘n’ roll, something they will demonstrate when The Pretenders make their Israeli debut
. Getting back on the chain gang will never have felt so good.The Pretenders will perform on Saturday night, September 23, at the Menorah Mivtahim Arena in Tel Aviv.