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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chrissie Hynde Breaks Up the Concrete

Chrissie Hynde

Today is Chrissie Hynde's birthday. If any one woman has lived out a rock n roll dream, lived to be a role model, and made the airwaves a better place, it is Chrissie. You know her as the leader of The Pretenders, but from where I stand, she is The Pretenders.

While they seemed to be an overnight sensation, Chrissie Hynde, the expatriate American girl living in London, worked long and hard to achieve the success she's associated with today.

chrissie hynde

As a student at Kent State University in her home state of Ohio, Chrissie was not only on campus on the day of the Kent State Massacre (May 4, 1970), but she knew one of the victims, Jeffrey Miller. It is Miller's fallen body in the famous photograph of that tragic day where the Ohio National Guard fired upon students who were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia (during the Vietnam War). Then-President Nixon had announced the invasion on television just a few nights before.

As a witness to one of the most senseless incidents where teenagers and young adults were treated with absolutely no regard or humanity, Chrissie Hynde, like so many others of her generation (and mine) - without even thinking twice about it - immersed herself in music, which more than anything else at the time, gave a voice to people of our own generation.

Chrissie made the first of her overseas journeys in 1973, to England, and then after a trip back home to Ohio, to France, and then back to England, where she worked for the NME, one of the UK's important music weeklies, auditioned for a number of bands alongside the people who, like Chrissie, would become notable punk rock musicians in their own right like Mick Jones (The Clash), and Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnick) (note that Jones and James are collaborators today in Carbon Silicon).

It was about six years after she left home that Chrissie Hynde, her magnificent voice and her equally magnificent taste in music hit my radar: The Pretenders' cover of one of my favorite songs, The Kinks' Stop Your Sobbing. Hearing the song sung by a woman made it all that much cooler... and it was produced by Nick Lowe, who was already responsible for much of my recent record collection.

A little over a year later, The Pretenders went on tour in the USA. Their shows, booked into relatively small - but completely normal for a band touring the USA for the first time - clubs. Those shows sold out instantly. The Pretenders played Los Angeles on my birthday at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium - a date added because their first gig - at the much smaller Palomino club in North Hollywood sold out pretty much in a minute.

chrissie in store

An in-store they did at the now defunct Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. was over-crowded, too. Chrissie, it would seem, has been unstoppable since then.

She survived blows early on in her career that could have side-lined people less strong. She carried on after the early deaths of two band-mates. She has balanced a career with her personal life, and like so many successful women, found her marriages to be short-lived. Like effective and successful writers, however, she has turned the personal experiences into songs with universal appeal because they ring true.

chrissie hynde tower in store 1980

In one month's time, The Pretenders’ ninth album, and their first in six years will be release. Its called Break Up The Concrete and will be out October 7th. Chrissie and a whole new set of musicians recorded in 10 days. If you visit the Pretenders website (conveniently linked as the title of this blog - but it is the very obvious, you can download and hear a new track each week. Break Up The Concrete is a raw, stripped down pure rock n roll album. Chrissie's trademark evocative voice is the lead instrument and a most compelling attraction... just as it always has been.

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