February 12, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, March 22, 1980
Pencil on 3-hole punch paper



When I first heard “Brass in Pocket,” it was good enough. Being high on a New Wave frenzy, I was excited for an album that would probably be another in a series of Blondie clones, and that was fine by me.

Seeing the debut album cover for the first time at Camelot Records was exciting; it was just as simple and iconic as the cover of Parallel Lines, but more minimalist. And that red leather motorcycle jacket and fingerless gloves? It was a lightning rod for a girl still in the “dress-up” stage of life.

But once the record needle hit the first track on the album (“Precious”), it was – literally - drop-jaw time. This was so not Blondie new wave fizz – this was some serious rock shit, with dirty words, dirty thoughts and dirty guitar wrangling that had me miming an air Telecaster before ever reaching the final track, “Mystery Achievement.”

The impact of that first listen to their debut album still resonates to this day. It was the songs, the sound, the sequencing of different emotions. That a girl was at the center of it was just one of many transcendent points. But let’s focus on Chrissie Hynde.

Chrissie Hynde, May 13, 1980
Watercolor on bond paper

Whereas Debbie Harry was a goddess, Chrissie Hynde was human. No matter how much makeup and clothing I slapped on, I could never replicate a millimeter of the Harry aura. But I already had the bangs and too much eye makeup – throw in some hastily crafted fingerless gloves, buy a leather jacket and voila! – I could look like a 10th rate knock-off of my new idol (and that I went to high school dressed like that remains one of the most embarrassing days of my youth).

As much as I needed to be inside the music I listened to, I had never felt the urge to pick up a guitar until Chrissie. In retrospect, it feels like an acoustic guitar magically popped into my hand somewhere during the 3rd listen of side one of the album. In reality, it was a $35 Sears acoustic given by my Mom as a birthday gift the following October. But it was Chrissie who inspired the need, Nancy Wilson of Heart who seconded the motion, and that enabled a teenage girl to have the exact same experience as every teenage boy around her. Gender should not be allowed to rob one of that heady musical milestone and Chrissie made it seem as natural as getting a driving learners permit.

Pretenders Space Invaders, October 1980
Pencil and marker in sketch book

Because so much was made of Debbie Harry being A Girl, Chrissie being One of the Guys had real magic. She was following in the footsteps of her musical idols – most all of them men – and her being female never made her reconsider what she could or could not do. That she was able to accomplish all this without sublimating her natural female tendencies was a lesson quickly learned. That she did not make an issue of it made it all the more potent.

In the press, Chrissie wasn’t so much out spoken as honest about everything. From being drunk and belligerent to being broken-hearted and vulnerable, she wasn’t a manufactured image, she just was.  And none of it would have meant much for very long if not for those songs and that band of people.

James Honeyman-Scott instantly became my new guitar god, Martin Chambers made my legs twitch and Peter Farndon was so dreamy. Together, those 4 were dynamite, and I could empathize with the great thrill it must have been for Chrissie to be Just One of Those Guys. Which is why the deaths of Honeyman-Scott and Farndon were such a punch to the gut – it might as well have been the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash for all the destruction it caused to a great rock band.

Chrissie Hynde, August 1982
Pencil in sketch book

Chrissie and Martin recovered and moved on, and had many great moments. It’s not like Chrissie could have stopped doing the only thing she ever wanted to do in life. And in the ensuing years, even when she had moments of musical laziness or misfires, she is always genuine in much the same way Keith Richards or Iggy Pop are always true to their code. Chrissie Hynde proves that musical integrity and longevity is not just a Guy Thing, but rather it’s staying true to what you were born to do.

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