PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Finally, a Proper Biography of Chrissie Hynde

Despite the analytic difficulties inherently present in Hynde as a subject, Sobsey truly does deliver the goods.

Chrissie Hynde: A Musical Biography

Publisher: University of Texas Press
Length: 200 pages
Author: Adam Sobsey
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-04

I have often thought about writing a biography of Chrissie Hynde. In my opinion, she is the George Harrison of punk rock: an utterly original guitarist possessed of a unique sense of both self and influence, with a strong spiritual guidance system and a public attitude that is equal parts mysterious and misunderstood. As a result of a bizarre cocktail of humility and fame, of working class Midwestern pragmatism and right-place-right-time English expatriatism, the Pretenders’ bandleader is one of the most ornery stars in the history of rock music. She is an extremely tough broad whose life and work are certainly worth a detailed 50,000 word treatment, and yet, the only commentary on her unique place in the rock pantheon comes courtesy of her own memoir, Reckless.

Published in 2015, Reckless stops at the early '80s with the deaths of two of her bandmates. Though Hynde has been married three times, twice to other rock stars, her memoir only devotes about two or three pages to these relationships in total. Her early relationship with a bandmate begins and concludes in a single sentence acknowledgment, and her two daughters are likewise quite hidden. Many of the good stories in the book are a few tales that were already classifiable as oft-repeated from her interviews, and large chunks of the book are about the dumb things she did while on drugs.

Her discussion of one of those things, wandering addled into a situation where she was raped by some heavy bikers, ultimately tanked the publicity for Reckless in a firestorm of feminist condemnation when Hynde attempted to take responsibility for her own poor judgment. Lambasted as the writing of a rape apologist, Reckless never got the more positive attention it deserved as the lone account of Hynde’s legacy.

Enter Adam Sobsey, with Chrissie Hynde: A Musical Biography. Oh, I was so skeptical! Sobsey’s other book is about baseball, which at first thought might not appear to offer much in the way of credibility to any take on the Pretenders. But baseball is a dispassionate fandom, and Sobsey documents Hynde’s music with that same statistically-minded, historical approach. This book is thick with detail and seldom strays into editorializing that is unsupported by the facts. His ability to root out the facts, in this case, is itself quite admirable.

Hynde is a very guarded person, to put it mildly. Even direct quotations from her interviews or from Reckless are not straightforwardly reliable, in Dylanesque fashion, so Sobsey is not working with a huge pile of research to begin with and then additionally, he has to thoroughly parse what little background there is for hints of corroborated truth.

Despite the analytic difficulties inherently present in Hynde as a subject, Sobsey truly does deliver the goods. He has enough musicianship to accurately analyze chord progressions and time signatures, embedding these in considerations of genre, bands in the Pretenders’ orbit and other appropriate contexts. He has enough literary comprehension to trace themes and motifs across the lyrical compositions of multiple albums, including most obviously Hynde’s lifelong ecological concern for children and animals as well as her ongoing fascination with biker culture and the state of Ohio, where she grew up.

The subtitle points toward a preferential focus on Hynde’s work over Hynde’s life, but Sobsey does succeed in quite a thorough account of her life to the extent that it provides fairly direct parallels or accompaniments to her work in the band. Hynde’s life has been sensational, but Sobsey does not sensationalize it. He often draws attention to places in her story where proper details have not been forthcoming, and whenever he is compelled to lightly speculate, he makes clear that these are nothing more than open rhetorical questions sitting atop some plausibly fact-based or timeline-adjacent connections.

This work is as gloriously comprehensive as it gets on the subject of Chrissie Hynde. Sobsey’s effort to weave a consistent, continuous understanding out of a person who defies most modern classifications is a noble effort. It’s such a noble effort and so much a satisfying read that I'm happy to admit something I almost never do, which is that I couldn’t have written it better myself -- and I have really given serious thought to writing it myself.

Chrissie Hynde: A Musical Biography will please both diehard fans starving for any trickle of concrete detail and those with a passing interest who might like to know a bit more about the leader of one of the world’s most enigmatic bands. Sobsey’s portrait casts away all doubt that the Great Pretender is, in fact, one of the most underrated, authentic people to have survived the music industry mostly intact. We are lucky to finally have this book, and even though the band has recently released its first album of new material since 2008’s excellent Break Up the Concrete, I doubt there will be a need for another Hynde biography for some time as a result of the quality of this one.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.