Tom Hibbert, MOJO, October 1994
IT IS JUST POSSIBLE, I SUPPOSE, THAT SOMEWHERE IN Chrissie Hynde’s attic, there lurks a portrait of a withered old crone hunched over an electric guitar with many of its strings broken.
It’s possible. Age (she’s 42 now, not to mention two children to the “good”) has not rumpled her nor hampered her “attitude”. She looks pretty much exactly the same – fringe into the eyes, the rest all cheekbones and limbs of string – and behaves pretty much exactly the same – “Don’t mess with me, pal!”; that is her catchphrase – as she did all those years ago, when she first appeared with three men on Top Of The Pops doing that lovely old Raymond Douglas Davies song ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. 1979. That makes The Pretenders – which, much as she has always protested against the notion, is Chrissie Hynde – as old as the Conservative government, and that is very old indeed…
Sheena was a punk rocker, but Hynde – despite the fact that she would never have made a record at all if she hadn’t known Rotten and Sidney back in those summers of “hate” – was always rock’n’roll. And look at her now on the cover of The Pretenders’ recent LP, Last Of The Independents: she’s sat there on the floor wearing the kind of fur bootees (“fun” fur, naturally) that wouldn’t look out of place upon the legs of David Lee Roth; she’s grasping a guitar and you can’t see her eyes because of the ever-present fringe of black. That’s rock’n’roll for starters, pal. Then listen to the LP. It’s jolly good. It’s rock’n’roll and she sings so beautifully, sensuously at times, for one who once told me “I hate the sound of my own voice” (of which more later).
She’s a contradictory old fishperson, too. Constant battler for animal rights – don’t eat ’em, kids, don’t wear ’em – but, bizarrely, fascinated by boxing (the point of which is for one human animal to inflict brain damage upon another). And wears rock’n’roll leather jackets. Strange taste in men: she’s been married to the surly Ray Davies and the unsuitably-sized Jim Kerr. Clams up at the mention of such private matters. Reads no newspapers – not even the “proper” ones – but thinks she knows everything, anyway. Reads the rock press because that, music, is where her heart is. Swears a lot, but pas devant les enfarns. Adores being in a band but sometimes can’t be bothered (fortunately, the latest version of The Pretenders is “gigging” so she is “back”!)… Bingo! A hard woman to pin down, really
On a very hot day in a very hot room in management offices she is enjoying one of those chilly lollies with ice cream in the middle that in olden times were called Mivvies. She is smoking snouts and so am I, and there are no ash trays: stuff ’em in the pot plants, I say. Is she giving me a funny look? I cannot say. That rock’n’roll fringe always gets in the way. A Psychologist Writes: “Ms Hynde’s insistence on having hair in her eyes and/or donning sun spectacles, commonly known as ‘shades’, for her public appearances is indicative of a crippling shyness within the inner-woman.” Oh, really? Come join us, why don’t you, as we chinwag. It’s make your mind up time…
How does it feel to be back, a-treading the boards?
Oh, good. I’d been missing Martin (Chambers). No-one plays like he does; he’s a unique drummer. But neither of us were playing very well when we parted ways quite a long time ago. We were traumatised. I think we were all fucked up by then.
Did you hate each other?
Me and Martin? No, we never fell out as friends. People couldn’t work out why we stopped working together and one theory was that we had been lovers, which is why people always stop working together.
You’ve been lovers with just about everyone haven’t you?
Yeah. It’s great isn’t it? Ha ha. It’s funny combining that with the fact that I’m not getting laid at the moment. It’s interesting.
You say that you were “traumatised” when working with Martin Chambers. Was that because your band (i.e., Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott) kept dying on you?
Well, I knew already that that was inevitable for all of us, so it didn’t really surprise me. Death doesn’t surprise me. We’re all going to die. But…I was, you know, deeply, deeply saddened by the loss of my partners. In Pete’s case, we actually fired him because he had gotten so strung out that we couldn’t work with him. And to tell you the truth, everyone thought, because I am always perceived as being the real hard-arse, that I was the one that said to Pete “There’s no way you can stay in the band”. But, actually, we had a meeting, me and Jimmy and Martin, and I couldn’t conceive of kicking Pete out. I didn’t have the heart to do it. But the others were adamant – they said “We just can’t work with him anymore”. I mean, he was behaving like a total arsehole, he was impossible to work with. Anybody can tell you in a band that when somebody gets in that state, you just can’t work anymore. It was getting in the way of the music, and that’s where my first loyalty has always been. I loved Pete but he was so impressed when he saw Johnny Thunders shooting up heroin, he was so impressed by what he saw as the romantic rock’n’roll aspect of it. I mean, I can remember pacing back and forth on speed with Sid (Vicious) and all the rest of them, but when they started shooting up, I just looked at them and said “You guys are full of shit”.
Not very dignified, shooting up, is it?
Well, it’s effective in an economical way to do it. You know, if you sniff that stuff, you waste a lot of it. You get a lot more out of it if you inject it – but I’m not even going to get into that because I don’t talk about that shit and I certainly don’t want to glorify it…
So, anyway, then everybody died.
So to speak…Two days after we fired Pete, Jimmy was dead of a drug over-dose – no-one knew exactly what. When I met Jimmy, he was already a little burned out speed freak from Hereford and his system was shot to fuck. But his death was a total shock. No one saw that coming. And the last time I saw Pete was at Jimmy’s funeral. We didn’t speak. But I knew when he looked at me what he was thinking: ‘If I’m so fucked up, why is it him in the box up there?’
And then Pete died anyway.
Yeah. I don’t know, the trauma was delayed. Musically, I wasn’t getting anything from Martin. He was away with the fairies. We both were. We were not the most clean-living of people. I was playing crap. I was crap – but I couldn’t afford to have anyone else crap around me. I’ve always made a point of making sure that everyone around me is better than I am: that’s the secret of my success. But even after half my band died on me, I decided I was going to keep this thing alive because I knew that Jimmy would be so disappointed if I didn’t. He loved the band so much and he was my right hand, and he would be so upset if he thought that he was the one who had fucked it all up. I couldn’t allow that to happen. Almost in his honour did I have to keep the thing alive…
Talking of Sid Vicious, as we were, John Lydon has this yarn in his so-called autobiography where you ask him to marry you so that you can stay in the country, but he chickens out and sends Sidney in his place, but Sid’s completely out of it and…
Look, John was a mate. They (Lydon’s co-authors) asked me if I wanted to talk to him for the book and I said “Well, what does John think?” and they said “John wants you to” so I said, “Yeah, of course I will”. And then I read your article in Q magazine – Who The Hell Does John Lydon Think He Is? – and there’s the guy fucking trashing me. I know he’s a back-stabber and a liar. He’s always lied to the press. I know him that well. But I thought “Fuck you, John. I didn’t get any Godamned royalties for your stinking fucking book”. And I’m the only good thing in it. Fuck him!
But is the marriage-that-never-was story true?
It doesn’t matter if it’s true. I don’t lie to the press. He does.
So no comment? You didn’t ask Johnny Rotten to marry you?
Look, I was looking through my phone book and calling up fucking Hells Angels, you know, anybody would do if I could stay in this country. I sure as hell didn’t want to go home. London was my home…But the reason I was pissed off with Rotten’s comments in your article was that he made it look like it was a proposition I was making to him, that we were romantically involved.
He said something like “I couldn’t marry her because she would have smothered me”.
I wasn’t even thinking of sitting on his face. Rotten’s a complete shit. I still love him but he shouldn’t fuck with me in the press like that. Don’t underestimate me. Don’t get me going, pal. That’s all I can say.
Do you miss the early days of The Pretenders, punk rock, your first appearance on the telly, etc?
What, the days I was living in squats and stuff? Huh. Actually, I always miss that scene because it was fun and exciting. I just liked the affectation of trying to put two fingers up to the establishment. I always remember the feeling of coming over to England from my colourless background and not knowing anyone in the country – and the wonderful thing about that was I was able to invent myself, I could do whatever I wanted. No-one would look at me and think “Oh, I can’t believe you’re wearing hotpants” or “I can’t believe you’ve dyed your fringe blonde, that’s not like you” because I had freedom from my past. It was liberation. Freedom is my quest.
You actually liked England when you arrived?
Of course I did. When I first came here, it was just like Alice In Wonderland. I’d never been on a train or anything. When I discovered I could get on a tube and go anywhere I wanted, I can’t tell you the wonderful taste of freedom that was.
But now you’re a living legend. “Freedom” of the tube-shuttling sort no longer exists, presumably.
Oh, sure it does. I was pretty smart by the time I got famous, you know, and frankly I don’t think any of it has ever affected me. There’s nowhere I won’t go alone. I’ll walk anywhere into anywhere and I’m never aware of feeling any sort of celebrity thing. That’s my freedom. And I’m not willing to relinquish that in any way, shape or form…But as for being a “living legend”, well, you know, I’ve only made six albums. I don’t think that constitutes a legend. But I suppose that anyone who passes 40 and they’re still here, that kind of gives you a legendary status in this game.
Talking about my husbands, hahaha? Oh, no, I’ve had some of that. I mean, we weren’t even reviewed at Glastonbury. The only review the music press gave us was “The Pretenders were on later but fuck them, I’ve waited 12 years to see the Manic Street Preachers”. But so what? Music is my hobby and…this is the problem with not dying young. How do you age gracefully and not become bitter? To me, that is one of the great goals to achieve. The principle of life is to enjoy it. But nobody you’ve ever met can get angrier faster than I can. I’m like a phenomenon.
Do you think your uncontained anger has had any effect on your “causes”, “animal rights, ain’t McDonalds hideous…”? I mean, has your voice helped to change anything?
Ha. Well, what I do aside from the music, my “causes”, does take away from my mystique of what people want a rock star to be. People want a rock star to be very confident, loaded, have a lot of sex and never get fat. Okay. But there has to be a higher purpose than that or I’m out of here, pal. And I know I have had an effect. I wouldn’t have believed it 25 years ago. Twenty-five years ago when I said I was a vegetarian, people would look at me and say “Oh, are you getting special injections?” But I knew if anyone was weird, it certainly wasn’t me. To me this animal rights thing is my life’s work although it’s taken a back seat recently because I don’t like mixing the music with the causes; I see it as my job and I know that I’ve made a difference. I refuse any credit but I know that there are certain people who, when I say things in People magazine like “If you’re going to eat someone’s baby, why don’t you eat your own?”, they think to themselves “Too fucking right!” And I can’t go anywhere without someone coming up to me and telling me they are starting up a vegan restaurant or something like that. And that gives me more satisfaction than anything I’ve done in the music business. I’m not a proud person but I feel grateful that I have been instrumental in something that is, er…worthy.
Do you think it’s a rock star’s place to try to save the planet?
What? Of course it is. It’s everybody’s place. I know what you mean, though. My animal people, they don’t understand it when they see me in the leather cowboy boots of a rock star. They don’t understand it when they see me hand in hand with a meat eater. It disappoints them. But, you see, I believe that now we’re in a sort of renaissance; it’s a very significant time. As dark as everything has gotten, there’s also a lot of light and there are millions of people out there who are on the brink of a higher consciousness. And, yeah, they don’t need people like me ranting. Some time ago I thought I had to keep ranting, demanding that people pay attention, but that was irresponsible…Er, let’s not talk about this anymore. It’s no longer my subject.
What is your subject?
The music. The Pretenders. Nothing else at the moment. Nothing private, if you don’t mind…I haven’t toured for eight years and I love touring. I love being on the road, I love doing shows, it’s fun. The wonderful thing about being on the road – and maybe this is a bit retarded – is that you know that whatever happens to you that day, you’ve got two hours that night when your energy has got to be very focussed. It’s like a meditation. It my raison d’etre. It’s not the adulation of the crowd –though I don’t like getting stiffed on stage which has happened many a time – it’s…mysterious.
So why did you stay away from performance for so long?
There are two reasons. Firstly, by the time the last album (Packed!), which bombed because I was all at sea, came out, I didn’t really have a guitar a player. When Robbie Macintosh left, who was replaced by Johnny Marr but only for a brief spell, I never had a guitar player and I can’t function without a guitar player. I can’t function without a band. I can’t just get session people together and call them The Pretenders. I try to get a band and make them a band. That takes time. And the second reason is I’ve got two children and they’d just gotten in school. I could take them around on tour when they were in carry-cots, but I do not mix my professional life as a rock star with my children’s lives as their mother. I don’t mix those – particularly as they have famous fathers (Davies and Kerr) as well. I don’t mix those. I don’t even like talking about my children because I can never get that picture of Christina Onassis out of my mind, that picture and how unhappy she looked. Privacy to me is everything.
Do they know they are the children of famous parents?
Oh, yeah. They know what I do. They know. When they were old enough, I said “You know I’m a singer and I can go all around the world singing and that’s actually what I do, but I haven’t done recently because you’ve been starting school. But if I did go on tour and you didn’t see me for three weeks, would that be alright?” And they went…”Yup!”.
Can’t you make it six weeks, please mummy?
Yeah, absolutely, hahaha! But, you know, this sounds dumb, but you do have to worry a lot about your children when you’re famous. I mean, who wants to walk into a party aged 15 and no sooner have you entered the building than everyone in the whole place knows that Mick Jagger’s daughter is in the building, and so you’re just worried about whether your hair looks good or not?
I didn’t know you’d had a daughter by Mick Jagger.
Oh, ho, cheap shot, pal. Example. That was an example.
Last time I interviewed you, you said that you hated listening to the sound of your own voice, your singing voice.
Oh, that was one of those statements that I’ve lived to regret bitterly. I was being honest, but I found out that honesty is not always the best policy. Let’s not dwell on that, please. Let’s just say I love my voice and leave it at that.
You said earlier that you are not a proud person. Don’t you feel a certain pride in some of your music.
Yeah, I suppose. Just because I’ve managed to do what one of my heroes, Mike Tyson, did, you know. He turned it around, bad background, and made it work for him.
Mike Tyson’s in prison…
I don’t want to get into that.
Why are you, a sensitive caring person, so fascinated with boxing?
Oh, because I was going out with a guy who liked boxing and he took me to a match and, like most women, I got into it because the guy was into it. And then, even without him, I started going to boxing matches and found that I just loved the fraternity of boxing. It’s fascinating. I’m fascinated by men because I can’t really understand them…Er, boxing seems so dignified.
At your show in London a few weeks ago, Michael Watson was there in a wheelchair.
Yeah. Yes, well, that is the downside to boxing. But look, I’ve never enjoyed sports very much but when I started going to boxing matches, I started seeing that there was a nobility to it, a nobility that I respect and admire. There’s something about the fighters that I relate to. And – this probably does sound a bit shitty – but here are men who have fought their way out of their circumstances and I feel that I’ve fought my way out of mine. Determination and will. I’ve got that, pal. And you can’t sniff at that.