In this excerpt from Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, the punk doyenne remembers her early days of London fame.
The Pretenders’ first public appearance in England had been at the famous Barbarella’s in Birmingham, supporting David Johansen. We were thrilled to share the same stage as the princely Johansen, whom we idolized.
Johansen’s band was made up of a gang of New York Italians. They all had perfectly sculpted quiffs, and there was a lot of hairdryer action backstage. Pete [Farndon, Pretenders bassist] especially was enamored with them. He wanted to take his place in it, but you got the impression that he didn’t quite believe it himself, like it was a blag on his part. I was too busy feeling out of my depth myself. I never really thought I could pull it off — I just did what I had to do. All I knew for sure was that I was in love with the process. Not in love with the stage like an actor, but like a vagrant who finds a nook at the side to hide in and crash out for the night.
Anything that made me self-conscious horrified me: publicity, press, cameras — even fans, eventually. I figured out that confidence was a bluff. In fact, everything was a bluff except the actual music. As long as everyone else thinks you know what you’re doing, you’re practically home free.
I liked that I could buy some cool clothes, new boots and a good guitar. I loved taking my songs to the band and having them transformed. I knew I loved singing, but it took me a long time to feel like I owned it. But I knew it owned me and always had.
The feeling of being at home overrode the rest, and that feeling came with a guitar slung over my shoulder while standing in front of a microphone. Home at last.
The onset of being recognized in public was as squirm-making as I’d expected. I wanted it all, but I didn’t know what to do with it. You take the bitter with the sweet, but it’s still hard to swallow; like sucking the sugar coating off a pill but not being able to spit it out, and having to keep sucking indefinitely.
One day, a guy on the Underground platform kept staring at me. I rounded on him in my usual manner and said, “You see something you like?” But instead of backing off and walking on down the platform, he said, “Oooooh. Superstar!” He recognized me and I hadn’t seen it coming. What was I supposed to do? Smile and wink? Sign his train ticket? I turned and walked off, feeling like a twat.
You could never get bigheaded about success, not in England. In general, unlike in the States, people were very upfront about their dislike of anyone getting successful. One lovely spring morning, when I was walking through Soho, feeling enlivened by the joys of the season, I passed a dustman who shouted loud enough for the whole street to hear, “The Pretenders are crap!”
From the book Reckless by Chrissie Hynde. Copyright © 2015 by Chrissie Hynde Published by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of Billboard.