Chrissie Hynde

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Chrissie Hynde Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 23/02/20

Undertaking promotional duties for the release of her autobiography “Reckless – My life as a Pretender,” in the fall of 2015, Chrissie Hynde was in an expansive and revelatory mood. Provoking fierce debate by saying it was her own fault for being sexually assaulted at 21, the singer/songwriter was quick to wade into another contentious area, namely the overly sexualised nature of modern pop music.

In an obvious reference to scantily-clad stars such as Miley Cyrus and Rihanna, the former Pretenders lead singer branded them ‘sex workers’ for selling music by ‘bumping and grinding’ in their underwear. The 64-year-old also accused them of doing ‘a great deal of damage’ to women with their risque performances. Launching the scathing attack during a tense interview on BBC’s Woman’s Hour, she suggested that today’s provocatively-dressed stars are sending the wrong message about how people should view sex.

‘I don’t think sexual assault is a gender issue as such, I think it’s very much all around us now. It’s provoked by this pornography culture, by pop stars who call themselves feminists. Maybe they’re feminists on behalf of prostitutes – but they are no feminists on behalf of music, if they are selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear in videos. That’s a kind of feminism – but, you know, you’re a sex worker is what you are. I think it’s provocative in a way that has nothing to do with music. I would say those women are responsible for a great deal of damage.’

Those comments may have ensured some uncomfortable meetings backstage at future ‘Grammy Nights’ but the singer would go further, antagonizing staunch feminists worldwide by recounting an event that occured in her early twenties. Hynde told the Sunday Times magazine that she blameed herself for an incident that occurred when she was 21. A member of an Ohio biker gang said he would take her to a party but instead brought her to a vacant house and forced her to perform sexual acts under the threat of violence.

“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing, and I take full responsibility,” Hynde said. “You can’t f— about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges. … Those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do.”

“You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say, ‘Whose brush is this?’ “ she continued. “You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive.”

The interviewer asked Hynde whether she was taken advantage of because she was vulnerable, to which she answered: “If you play with fire you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”

Hynde said that if she now were to be “walking around in my underwear, and I’m drunk” prior to a sexual assault, she would be at fault. “Who else’s fault can it be?” she said. “If I’m walking around, and I’m very modestly dressed and I’m keeping to myself, and someone attacks me, then I’d say that’s his fault. But if I’m being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who’s already unhinged — don’t do that. Come on! That’s just common sense.”

A cursory glance at online threads indicates the level of heated reaction to the singer’s comments. For all those women who believe that they should be able to dress as provocatively as they wish AND with impunity, then let us respect their views provided – AND ONLY provided – they would not react any differently to the sight of their own seventeen year old daughter with ‘next to nothing on’ walking out of the family home front door on a saturday evening. Any decision on the parent’s part to pass comment at that pivotal moment is acknowledgement of an ‘imperfect world,’ and the inherent dangers within it. That is essentially the nub of Hynde’s argument. If rape counsellors took issue with her sole admission of guilt, then one can understand their professional concerns that ‘victims’ might display even greater reticence in coming forward.

Hynde would move swiftly to diffuse the situation.

“I told my story the way I saw it,” she said. “I’m not here to advise anyone or validate myself or justify anything. I say I regret a lot of things I did.”

She expressed shock about the furore that followed her comments, believing they had been misinterpreted. “Suddenly I’m defending rape. I went places that no intelligent person would have gone. These bikers I’m talking about were dealing in some real hard drugs and criminal activity.”

Asked by ABC News reporter Linsey Davis if she thought women who dressed provocatively were in some way “asking for it,” Hynde replied: “I never said that. I think women who dress provocatively are asking for something. They’re asking for some sort of ‘Why do you dress provocatively?’”

The following link provides some interesting thoughts behind women’s motivation for the way they dress. Yet, if they truly are merely ‘advertising,’ then there’s nothing subliminal or subtle about it, and the very type of man they might well wish to attract would still recognise their attractiveness anyway, no matter what their outward appearance. Millions of men are also too stupid to recognise that woman aren’t dressing for their benefit, but for the purpose of ‘one upmanship’ amongst their peers. Observing women observing certain women is insightful to say the least.

Under construction

Recommended listening

Pretenders (1980)

Pretenders II (1981)

Learning to crawl (1984)

Get Close (1986)

Last of the Independents (1994)

Chrissie Hyde with the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble (2019)

A near steal at £6.50, I picked up Chrissie’s second solo album on compact disc with some confidence, having previously sampled her balladeering capabilities on other recordings.

While Chrissie Hynde’s voice remains as distinctive an instrument as it was in 1979, no one is ever going to mistake Valve Bone Woe for a Pretenders album. Nevertheless, having stated the obvious, it’s much harder to categorise this collection – jazz album, mood music album, covers album, or a wee-small-hours-of-the-morning album. Valve Bone Woe could conceivably be nominated for the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album Grammy award, and it could win. These descriptions all work, and yet Valve Bone Woe doesn’t fit comfortably into any of those categories. It’s perhaps the uneasy alliance between lush orchestral strings and ambient effects that makes this album so hard to define. Some judicious pruning would have helped, the opening track a relatively straightforward reading of Nancy Wilson’s 1964 hit “How Glad I Am”, being a case in point. It sets the album up nicely but overstays its welcome by two minutes, as the 50 piece orchestra meaders its way through to an inconclusive coda.

Up next is a spacey, moody meditation on Brian Wilson’s ‘Pet Sounds’ classic, “Caroline, No”. It feels relatively faithful on some level to the original, yet those weird ambient effects bubbling under the surface eventually bring the song to an otherworldly conclusion. It’s an odd and disquieting experience, like a pair of complementary radio stations broadcasting on a near identical frequency but it works and you could easily describe all of Valve Bone Woe that away. Odd. Disquieting. But, spend some time with the album and it’ll get deep inside you.

On a certain level, Valve Bone Woe is simply a collection of songs that Chrissie Hynde enjoys, its genesis being an early mixtape the singer/songwriter made featuring 14 of her favorite songs. She fell in love with the mix, lost it on her worldwide travels, only to find it again years later. Upon rehearing the mix, she decided to record her version of the mixtape, sequencing it as she had on the original tape, and vowing to take each song exactly where she felt it needed to go. Unlike the original source tape, this album’s orchestral ambitions, imaginative song selection, and sometimes unexpected sonic architecture also make for a supremely odd journey as well. If you trust in Chrissie Hynde’s voice, it will guide you through the twists and turns along the way all in all making the Valve Bone Woe musical concept a worthy trip.

Recommended reading

Reckless: My Life as a Pretender (Chrissie Hynde) 2015

One cannot ignore her cast iron constitution for Hynde is nothing if not a grade A survivor. As the title indicates, “Reckless” is intended to be a cautionary tale. For 35 years, Chrissie Hynde has carried herself as a keeper of the rock ’n’ roll flame, fearless and invulnerable; while the other members of her band, the Pretenders, continually change or prematurely die. Most of all, she has never wavered from the punk spirit and pop songcraft, nor the signature bangs and eyeliner, that made her one of music’s great ­frontwomen.

Her autobiography is ultimately, a cautionary tale and our Chrissie lays much of the culpability at the feet of drugs, the old familiar villain. Living on the edge of middle class conformity in her teens, she would pay an early price. Involved with a biker gang in Ohio and high on quaaludes when these leather jacketed renegades propose going back to their place, Hynde arrives at a “dark and noticeably empty house.” Ordered in no uncertain terms to “start suckin” whilst her captors flicked lighted matches at her torso, the now veteran rocker remains philosophical about that evening.