Chrissie Hynde Doesn’t Need Answers, So It’s Difficult to Ask Her Questions

Why we leave Chrissie Hynde alone.

Alone with Chrissie Hynde
Nicola Roberts
Eagle Rock Entertainment
May 2018

Eagle Rock Entertainment released a weird double-feature on Chrissie Hynde. The total run time is 172 minutes, a whopper of a number that no doubt gets fans salivating. Surely somewhere in that many minutes is a unheard gem or two; surely for a split second there glimmers a different side of the icon who begrudgingly lets us love her. If you’re looking for new factoids about Hynde, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for talking heads on her legacy, in Hynde’s own words, just fuck off. She thinks biopics are gross, so this DVD is not that. It’s two shows in one: the hour-long documentary that aired on the BBC Four’s show, Arena, in February of 2017, and an hour and a half of concert footage that aired on Germany’s Rockpalast series in July of 1981. These two things seem to have nothing to do with each other.

Buy this DVD for the Alone with Chrissie Hynde film — not for the concert. The Pretenders launched their second album, Pretenders II, in August of 1981. Two weeks later, they recorded a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Center that was ultimately released as a bonus disc on the 2006 remastered edition of Pretenders II. The show they did in Germany somewhat rejiggers the order of the set list, but it’s pretty much the same sound as the Santa Monica show. What makes both shows special is that they are some of the last recorded gigs featuring the band’s original line-up. Lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott would die from cocaine in June 1982, and bassist Pete Farndon would die of heroin in April 1983. The Rockpalast gig was plenty great, and though it’s unlikely to offer any additional insights into the band’s sound based on differences from the Santa Monica audio, it’s nice to see the footage. Hynde has more lines in her face now, but she always wore clothes like that, made faces and moved like that, played guitar and sang like that. The seamlessness of this concert footage fitting in alongside other video available is warmly reassuring of Hynde’s constancy.

Alone with Chrissie Hynde gets top billing on the DVD, which lists the concert as simply bonus material. Again, there’s no new information in this feature, which nevertheless fascinates. Basically, she allowed some cameras to follow her around for a little while in 2016 during the making of the Alone album, the band’s first new recording since 2008’s Break Up the Concrete. The documentary crew seems to have done a lot of watching and waiting; there’s very little effort to question Hynde or direct her attention in a particular way. The crew traveled to her flats in Paris and London, her recording studio in Nashville, some promo gigs in New York, and her hometown in Akron. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys makes a brief appearance in the studio. Sandra Bernhard makes a longer appearance, interviewing Hynde for her radio show and then having lunch with her afterward. Most of the footage is just Hynde by herself, often in the middle of a crowd—which is the very thing worth contemplating.

She tries on a bunch of men’s jackets and vests. She shows off two dozen paintings that she’s done, in various impressionistic and abstract modes. She sits in very cool-looking chairs in otherwise basically empty rooms. She stares out many windows. She moseys through hotel lobbies and down staircases. She meanders through graveyards, parks, forests, and parking lots. She milks a cow, even though it’s been decades since she drank milk herself. She talks about being a vegan, about not being a feminist, about how bands and tours work—and mainly she is saying something about loneliness. Hynde is alone, but for the most part not lonely. She construes being alone as a tremendous luxury and privilege.

This is why people think Hynde is so gorgeous; she exudes a genuine asceticism that can seem opaque and offensive, or at the very least ornery, to people who wrongly assume that rock necessitates shlock. She’s a grown up punk, that late Seventies species of which not many true examples remain. All this time, she’s said exactly what’s on her mind. People get frustrated because what’s on her mind has only ever been about seven things. That’s why there are so few documents about Hynde and why those documents tend to disappoint. There is no new information because Hynde gave us all of it already. She’s been unblinking about saying her thoughts aloud and also about sitting comfortably in silence, so it can be hard for people and even for cameras to look her in the eye without feeling as though they are comforting something hostile, something preternaturally intelligent. She intimidates, and though this has not been a reaction she’s cultivated overmuch on purpose, she is totally aware that to most people she’s a wolf best left alone. It suits her and she is content.

She continues prowling through the world solo, absorbed by her surroundings but searching them for nothing. Hynde doesn’t need answers, so it’s difficult to ask her questions. Is there anything more confusing to modern culture than a woman who is alone and at peace?