Disclaimer: this post is not about that song.
This is about one of the great influences on my life, whose music constantly played in the background as I grew from a teenager into a young woman. As much as music can define you, hers brought definition to an insecure young girl, trying to find her place in the world. Before I discovered my own taste in music, I listened to that of my brother, who was much older than me. He listened to Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynrd, Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper. I liked them, but they didn’t speak to me. And then I discovered The Pretenders. The tracks were just edgy enough to offset the poetry in the lyrics, meaningful without being sappy. You could certainly rock out to the tunes, but if you actually paid attention to the words, they spoke to you. If there were ever to be a movie about me, the soundtrack would have to be written (and hopefully performed) by Chrissie Hynde – the force behind The Pretenders.
I just didn’t realize that influence until recently, when I revisited the music and got around to reading Chrissie’s autobiography, Reckless. You see, as luck would have it (if you believe in luck, which I don’t, because I think everything happens for a reason), I happened to see that she was touring in England this month, performing in small venues. I haven’t been to very many concerts because I hate big crowds, but I decided I had to go see her. I started listening to all the old songs I had loved so much, along with the newer ones, and began to plan my trip down memory lane.
The first time I went to London was in 1981. I was on my way home to Saudi Arabia from boarding school in the States, and after flying to Paris for a few days to see a classmate who lived there, I met my mother in England. We stayed at The Royal Garden Hotel near Kensington Palace and spent a lovely few days walking around, shopping, and visiting Covent Garden. So, since I was going to be revisiting that era by going to the concert, I booked the same hotel. Unfortunately, the only familiar thing was the Arabs in the lobby. I guess that particular hotel is still popular with Saudis!
After two days wandering around Kensington Gardens and Notting Hill, G and I caught the train up to Cambridge. We did the obligatory punt tour of the river, getting a feel for the history of the university and the town. We both agreed that we would have loved to have gone to college there, but then how different our lives would have been!
When it was time to get ready for the concert, I could hardly contain my excitement. We started walking from our hotel to the center of town, and on the way I could have sworn Chrissie passed us going the other way. For a moment I panicked at the thought that there would be no concert! We found the venue, where a line had already started to form outside, which reassured me. Across the alley was a pub, so we went in to have a drink before the show. There were some other people at the bar who said they were also going to the concert, to which the young barman replied, “Chrissie walked right by me on the street!” “Maybe it was her I saw,” I thought.
It was interesting to see the type of people lined up across the alley: an eclectic mix of rock types, young people, aging hippies, and pretty normal looking folks like us. When the doors opened and everyone started to go in, we headed over. There was another moment of panic when I couldn’t find the tickets on my phone, but there they were. We went up the stairs and entered a large industrial looking space, reminiscent of our clubbing days – dark, with a long bar in the outer room. We got drinks and went to join the other people near the stage. After waiting what felt like hours, with the thickening crowd closing in (which made me have second and third thoughts about being there), the band finally came on the stage. What a thrill! Chrissie looked out at the crowd and said, “You think you could get any closer?!” And then the music started, and I was 17 again. Chrissie looks and sounds fucking fantastic and The Pretenders can still rock the stage!! Oh, and the band is not hard to look at either. They played all the familiar songs, and even one from their upcoming album – Let the Sun Come In – which is fabulous. I can’t wait to hear the album! After an amazing show, we slipped out and around the back just in time to see the band come out and get into their car. And yes, it was Chrissie who passed us on the street earlier.
When we got back home, I ordered Reckless, which documents Chrissie’s life as a teen growing up in Akron and then her quest to form a band in London. It is a brutally honest, unapologetic recollection of an adventurous, often difficult life trying to make it as a musician. She foresaw the shift in music that was coming….that was ready and waiting for someone like her. Honestly, I am truly amazed at how determined she was, and more than that, how she even survived! Add to that the fact that she traveled halfway around the world to do it, and I am in awe. If you are into the history of punk music, or even just raw autobiographies, I highly recommend the book!
As I read it, I couldn’t help looking back on my own life, growing up as an expat in Saudi Arabia, writing poetry and listening to my favorite music for hours on end (cue The Pretenders). I had a feverish sense of wanderlust and couldn’t wait to be old enough to get out on my own. I wanted to LIVE. After reading her story, I can relate even more now to Chrissie. Now I know why her music spoke to me. We are kindred souls. I have also been reckless at times, fearing nothing but missing out on something. And after leaving Saudi Arabia for the last time in 1987, I could never bear to stay in one place for very long. That restless, searching young girl is still somewhere deep inside, but now instead of feeling guilty (and sometimes even ashamed), I am more accepting and even grateful for her spirit. When an interviewer asked Chrissie where she got her wanderlust from, she said that she was born with it. I think Chrissie is spot on. Some people are just comfortable staying put, and others aren’t.
Thank you Chrissie, for surviving, for telling your story, and for being my inspiration. And more than anything, thank you for the music! Keep rocking…..