Published Jan. 28, 2000|Updated Sept. 26, 2005


Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders is known to be brash. Contrary. Hynde tells it like it is and says what she wants. Don't like her no nonsense approach? Boo hoo, Hynde's attitude suggests. Go tell someone who cares.

In a telephone call from London, where the rock 'n' roll American expatriate has made her home for more than two decades, Hynde, 48, talked about her 20 years in the music biz. She recalled her start as a punk rock chick cavorting with the legendary Sex Pistols in the 1970s, and how she's maintained that punk attitude, ruffling feathers on last year's Lilith Fair tour.

So, set the record straight: Did you give Sid Vicious his famous padlock necklace?

"I gave him the padlock, yeah," Hynde says. "He got the chain himself." Vicious wore the necklace until the day he died.

Hynde shares stories about hanging out with her "mates," such as Vicious and Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten, during punk's heyday. At one point, Hynde considered marriage to the doomed Vicious, for purely pragmatic reasons.

"It was a sham to keep me in the country," Hynde says. "I did pay Sid like two pounds or something because that's just how Sid was. He wouldn't do anything for nothing. But it was a lark. That's the way we were."

When the happy couple got to the registry's office, it was closed. The next day, officials told them they could not marry because Vicious had criminal charges against him.

Vicious would later be charged with the murder of girlfriend Nancy Spungen before overdosing on heroin.

Things worked out better for Hynde, who went on to form the Pretenders. The band just released Viva El Amor, its first album in five years. Viva is a return to form, full of pep and vitriol, biting lyrics and punk attitude, all done in tight pop style. The album's cover is a photograph by the late Linda McCartney, a close friend of Hynde's.

You were just included in VH-1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll. Also, Entertainment Weekly listed you as one of the 100 greatest entertainers of the century. Do you consider yourself an artist or an entertainer?

"Oh, I don't even care. I've never thought about it. It seems pompous to think I'm an artist, because I don't think I'm anything special. But I'll plead artist, even though I'm also an entertainer, entertaining people like a buffoon or a clown, you know?"

What do you mean, a buffoon? That's awful.

"Not at all," argues Hynde. "What could be better than making people laugh?"

Hynde says entertainment encompasses many art forms, including, she jokes, beheadings. "I wouldn't mind that. As long as the person deserved it."

How was it doing Lilith Fair? You were one of the few rock 'n' rollers on the bill. And you were characteristically contrary about the New Agey attitude of the tour.

"It was real fun, actually," Hynde says. "And I wasn't the only bitter, twisted and cynical one."

Hynde says she had a blast hanging out with Sheryl Crow, who is a good friend. Some of the other female performers _ Hynde refers to them as "whiny little sh_-" _ got on their nerves.

"I just don't get it. Well, I do get it. I'm not stupid, but it seems all this women in rock stuff, tours like Lilith, it's a no-go. It doesn't mean anything. All these women who say it's a man's field. So? The funny thing is, that always worked to my advantage."

To the people who say women aren't encouraged to play guitar, Hynde shoots back, "Jimi Hendrix probably wasn't encouraged to play guitar either."

What young female talent is catching your ear right now?

"There isn't any." Hynde thinks for a moment. "I do like little Beth Orton," Hynde says, sounding maternal. (The irony: British singer Orton is 29 and over 6 feet tall.)

What about Sheryl Crow's new music?

"Yeah, well, Sheryl's no spring chicken." Hynde laughs.

Hynde complains that not enough women really rock out. She thinks maybe it has to do with sexual orientation.

"Lesbians just get that guitar thing more," says Hynde, who is married to her third husband, 34-year-old Colombian sculptor Lucho Brevia. "It's definitely a tomboyish thing. Sheryl Crow kicks a_, but she's straight. The girls in Luscious Jackson rock, but, of course, some of them are (gay). I don't know, it's strange."

You and Sheryl got the Lilith ladies to loosen up a bit, didn't you?

"They were really showing their true colors toward the end," says Hynde. "We got Sarah McLachlan to do some dirty dancing." At some gigs, says Hynde, the normally subdued McLachlan danced with the Pretenders while the band played Middle of the Road. The singer bumped and grinded and even took her shirt off. "I was speechless," says Hynde.

Do all women in rock annoy you?

"The ones who moan "A woman's body is her own' and "I control it.' " Hynde says. Why, she asks, do the women who show off their bodies most complain about rock being sexist?

"That's just bull__," Hynde says.

"I always had that punk sensibility, that it was unrock to show off your body. That you should only stick them out if you want to be obnoxious."

There have only been a handful of female artists who don't focus or capitalize on their gender, who are more androgynous. You and Patti Smith were forerunners.

"Well, Patti had that whole New York poet-cum-artist thing," Hynde says. "I dig her whole schtick. But I just wanted to play rhythm guitar and be a band person."

Are you a big deal in Britain?

"No one here knows who I am. The pop scene here is fickle. Trendy. Every once in a while an old cabdriver sometimes turns around and asks me, "You still making records?' No one knows who I am. And that's cool. I go about being a civilian."

You're a very big deal in America.

"Yeah, but in America I don't hang out at fashion shows. So, people can't see how f__- up I really am. So they still like me."

Did you ever think you'd end up an icon?

"Let's be realistic: Anyone who hangs out long enough is an icon. As long as you don't flake off or die or something. I mean, Steve Miller is an icon. Patti Smith is an icon. The trick is to stay alive.

"My thing is, two of my guys died," she says, referring to the drug overdose deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farandoless in the early 1980s.

"I dare say if they hadn't died, we would have broken up long ago. I keep it going in the spirit of those guys. So, in a weird way, they are responsible for the longevity of the band."

Your husband helped you quit your pot habit, right?

"I was a pothead for many years. Then I was trying to impress this Colombian who smokes nothing. After you smoke dope for so many years, it's just so boring."

Do you feel better?

"I'm clearheaded. It's nice not having to think about it. It's one less thing to worry about. Of course, I still think they should legalize it."

I know you're into animal rights. Are you political?

"My politics are pretty much if someone is a meat eater or not," Hynde says. (She has been a vegetarian since 1969.) "That's my first definition of a person. I don't care if you're lesbian, black, Jewish, rock, pop, Muslim. Are you a meat eater or not?"

Yeah, but what can you do? Is it a case of "ome of my best friends are meat eaters?"

"Actually, no," Hynde says. "I don't know that many meat eaters. I'm not particularly prejudiced, but I'm sorry, if you're still eating meat in the year 2000, it's too . . . lame. I can't deal with those people."

Hynde's two teenage daughters, Natalie Ray, whose father is the Kinks' Ray Davies, and Yasmin, whose dad is former Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr, are also vegetarians. Hynde is proud that they have never eaten meat.

"It's a great privilege to be raised the way they were raised."

You once said you started the Pretenders to avoid a career. What if it hadn't worked out? What other profession might you have chosen?

Hynde pauses. "Wow," she says. "I don't know. I couldn't have had a pretty regular job. I couldn't have been even a session player. I'm not good enough. Waitressing?"

Does it give you the chills?

"Actually, it does. It does. I don't know. I think I would go work for Greenpeace or work for PETA."

At 48, are you happy to see older women in rock such as Cher and Debbie Harry making comebacks?

"Sure, sure. But Cher clearly doesn't like turning 50. And I don't care about turning 50," says Hynde. "I don't mind looking older. I do mind looking uglier.

"But, who cares? I'm definitely old now, and life is just as fun as it ever was."

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