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US / November 25, 1980

THE GREAT PRETENDER
Chrissie Hynde is one - but only when she sings
By Brant Mewborn


Their name is something of a put-on, but the Pretenders are for real. Fueled by no fewer than three hits from their first LP ("Brass in Pocket," "Kid" and "Stop Your Sobbing"), they're pop's hottest new band, while Chrissie Hynde, 29, the group's lead singer and main songwriter, is fast gaining a reputation as rock's "bad girl."

The vampy Hynde may resemble a darkly passionate answer to the calculated cool of Blondie's Deborah Harry, but the black-haired Pretender is like no one else. Flexing a soulful, full-bodied voice while stalking the stage with a tough-talking guitar, she makes it clear that she's the toughest of the boys in the band - any band. Remember it was Hynde whom Memphis police forcibly handcuffed and jailed last April after a barroom brawl - this is no pretend Pretender.

"That could happen to anybody," she says unapologetically. "Because I happen to be public property now, it's a big deal. I'm a pretty reasonable guy, but I'm moody. I've got a lot of pressures on me, and when I get a little jolly, apparently I do get a bit nasty."

In Hynde's sight, "jolly" means drunk. "Drunk and disorderly," she muses. "That's not too over the top. I'd much rather be involved in an incident like that than be busted for heroin. I feel a great responsibility today because of the position I'm in. I know how I was influenced by people who were in bands when I was a kid."

The daughter of a secretary mother and adman father, Hynde grew up in Akron, Ohio. She admits, "I was not the model teenage girl that anybody's parents would have wanted. I didn't date boys and I was a lousy student. All I wanted to do was go out and see bands."

Her pop idols included Dionne Warwick, Jeff Beck and Cher. Hynde fantasized about going to England to be in a rock band like the Beatles, the Kinks or her other heroes. "It wasn't an ambition," she says. "It was simply a dream."

Nonetheless, she taught herself the harmonica, ukulele and guitar, and at 16 made her local debut fronting for a band. Not until 1973, after three years as an art major at Kent State, did she head for London.

"When I arrived, swinging London and Carnaby Street had finished," she says, "but as far as I'm concerned, everything is better over there than it is here - even now." She led the life of a gypsy in London ("People always took me in. I'd do their dishes and become part of the scene; they'd let me stay and sleep on the floor"), doing odd jobs but finding only a measure of contentment.

Her musical interests were revived when the New Musical Express editor assigned her to profile rockers Suzie Quatro, Brian Eno and David Cassidy. A year later, she sadly concluded: "I was a bad writer and there was nothing happening in music worth writing about."

She stashed her typewriter, reached for a microphone and guitar and set out to make music on her own. The next few years, while doing everything from waitressing to drawing fake coats of arms, she wrote songs and sought the right band. A pilgrimage that took her from London, Paris, Cleveland and Tucson, back to Paris and London, finally paid off in '78, when Dave Hill became her manager.

Hill introduced her to English bassist Pete Farndon, who soon rounded up two friends. Presto, chango, the Pretenders appeared.

Inevitably, Hynde receives the most attention from fans and the media, but her insistence on sharing the spotlight dissolves any rivalries within the group. "We're like a little club onstage," thinks Jimmy Honeyman-Scott, the 23-year-old lead guitarist. "It's the most relaxing hour of the day."

Hynde, who hates to compromise on anything, agreed to drop her original choice for the group's name - The Rhythm Method - when she realized that the contraceptive connotation would hinder radio airplay. "The important thing to me," she says bluntly, "is songs on AM radio. That's what I was brought up on, that's what I love. I want to make music that's accessible to anybody."

This something-for-everyone stance also extends to the earthy, no-nonsense image she projects - and the seductive, pin-up queen attitude she rejects. "I don't think of myself as a girl guitar player," she says. "I just think of myself as a guitar player." Her fellow Pretenders agree. "She's just another bloke on the road," says Scott.

With her boyish, androgynous looks and attitude, Hynde invades the unisex territory of male gender-benders David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart. "I don't want to cordon myself off from any segment of the public," she reiterates. "I don't think of people as hetero, bi or homosexual - unless I'm going to hit the sack with them."

However, any discussion of sackmates is off-limits. Hynde would prefer that the public adopt the viewpoint expressed in her song "Private Life": "Your sexual complications are not my fascination."

Indeed, for all her devil-may-care antics, Chrissie Hynde is essentially a levelheaded woman who's finally succeeding at what she's always wanted to do. "If you're committed to something," she says passionately, "you give it 100 percent. You do your job right, buddy, or get out." And from this Pretender, that's no pretense.


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