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Chrissie Hynde is a woman of many convictions – but she'll stand by them, whether popular, controversial or otherwise.
Now 60, The Pretenders frontwoman has chronicled her sex-, drugs- and rock 'n' roll-filled career in a memoir, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, now available for sale in paperback.
When the tell-all first hit shelves last year, the "Back on the Chain Gang" singer caught a considerable amount of flak for her comments on sexual assault: Of being raped in her 20s, Hyde wrote, "I take full responsibility"; then, seemingly victim-blaming remarks she made in an interview drew criticism from the anti-sexual violence organization Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
But as she was rising to fame with her popular English-American new wave act in their '80s punk heydey, Hynde is just as unapologetic about her oft-feather-ruffling opinions today.
PEOPLE caught up with the rocker ahead of her paperback's release, and per usual, she didn't hold back – from shading Madonna and ignoring the Kardashians ("I don't have an opinion") to dismissing sexism in the music industry.
Why did you want to share your story?
I said for years and years, 'I'll never write a book." And I don't really like attention outside of what I have to do. I do what I have to do to keep my thing alive, but I don't like any kind of other focus on me, usually. So I'm a big hypocrite.
It's just a way of sifting through the debris and making it make some kind of sense and putting it to the side so you can get on with it. It's like cleaning out you cupboards and drawers and getting rid of stuff so you can regroup and see what's actually there. You discover a lot when you write your story. It takes you into things that you hadn't thought of for a long time. It's cathartic that way. It helps you to move forward. I think that's why so many people end up doing it at a certain age.
You've said you didn't want your parents to know your story.
I feel very guilty about it, and I'm very, very sorry. I feel like I did something behind their back, and my parents were fiercely proud of me when I got a name for myself. But they didn't quite get me because I had to hide so much from them – they were really straitlaced Americans. My lifestyle was an affront to their whole value system.
And I've got stuff in there ... the drugs ... that, for a start, they would have been so ashamed to face their world. For me to be talking about that in public, stuff they don't even know about, they would have been deeply, deeply hurt. So I waited until they died. It feels like a hypocrisy on my part.
You're from Akron, Ohio. How did growing up in the Midwest shape who you are today?
You know, it's weird: I've lived in London since 1973, and I have to admit this really does wind me up, but every single day since I've been there, three or four times a day – because of my strong Midwestern accent, the coveted accent that we cherish – I'm asked, "What are you doing here?" I go in to buy shoes, and they go, "What's your American size?" And I go, "I don't know!" They think I've just got to town. But then I don't wanna say too much. They're like, "Oh, what are you doing?" Then it would lead to back to, "Oh, I'm a singer." I don't need to have that conversation five times a day. But it comes up all the time because of this accent.
But then, I am very American. I feel I am the quintessential American. I'm a buckeye, man; I am what I am.
How has the entertainment landscape changed over the years since you started out?
None of the stuff I loved growing up was mainstream. You had to find it for yourself, and that turned you on. You would walk down the street and see someone carrying an album you liked. ... It was a fun thing. Now everything's mainstream, and everything has to be big, and everyone has to be the biggest. It's just not cool anymore. Nothing's cool.
Frankly, after all the reality television and after all the talent shows for people who aren't very talented, judged by people who have no taste ... For all this stuff that you see, none of it – for an 18-year-old kid – could be better than picking up a guitar, getting on the drum kit, and just bashing it out with your mates. It doesn't matter how much money you made or if you got famous. There is nothing better.
So you're not a fan of the Kardashians?
I don't know. I would know who they were if I saw a picture, probably. But I don't know, beyond that, what their thing is. But I guess not. I don't have an opinion.
Reality TV has kind of taken over in the last 10 years.
It's part of the machine. It's just a system. It pays people. They have jobs. It's soulless. It's a temporary, fast turnover of stuff. Artists, someone who's sat on the edge of their bed for three years trying to learn the guitar, learn their craft – they really want to develop it and get good at it and do it all their life; they don't want to be a flash in the pan and make a lot of money. And I think it will win out in the end.
Who do you like these days?
There's a rap artist called Lil Ugly Mane, and I found him when I was looking up a word, "lugubrious," on the dictionary on my phone, and it took me to a song. And I just listened to him – everything he does I love. He's very, very underground. I don't really use the internet beyond someone sending me a clip of something I might like – and there might be five related things. It's a whole world in there, which everyone benefits from. And like any other tool, you can use it for good or bad purposes.
Despite how you might feel about it, you really did influence mainstream culture. Madonna called you one of her biggest influences.
She says that! She probably thinks it sounds cool.
How do you really feel about Madonna?
I'm the queen of the mall look. I don't know if that means I influenced the culture or the culture influenced me more.
You balk at mainstream artists a bit, but are there any you do find talented?
Oh, of course! There's many. Let's take someone like Cat Power. Chan Marshall, who's a mate of mine, and I've toured with her. She's done her career in a very unusual way: She's not mainstream – not everyone knows who she is – yet she's got an ardent following, and she's always out on tour and doing stuff. I really admire people who can manage to keep their thing alive and not be in the glare of this. You don't see her on the cover of magazines and stuff. You don't have to play the game. Everyone has to do certain things every day that they don't necessarily want to do, to cross the street. But I think a lot of people do it their own way and maintain their dignity.
Things like having dignity with what you do, keeping your integrity. Decency: There's a word you don't hear anymore. You say "decency," and you're like, "Ooh, what's your problem?" It's unbelievable. Values are no longer valued. And I think that's gonna turn around because these are the things that speak to people ... women who call themselves feminists. And they are feminists, but they're feminists on behalf of the sex trade. They're there for sex workers. It's very confusing, the messages that go out with words like "empowerment" and all that. How about just getting good at what you do and keeping your mouth shut for a while? Just learn your craft and get out there. I'm not talkin' about anyone specific at all. There's just a lot of that going on, and a lot of hysteria.
What does feminism mean to you?
Well, obviously, standing up on behalf of your fellow man or woman and seeing that they're treated fairly in any regard is a noble cause. That's too broad of a thing to...
What does it mean to me? It's a very broad spectrum ... It depends on what country you're in. You're talking about human rights. You're talking about a lot of things. So. Of course I think it's noble to stand up and try to help your fellow man. Of course, I would get in trouble for saying "your fellow man" – your fellow man and woman. You gotta be so careful with what you say now.
There's a big conversation in music right now that the industry has always been a man's world –
No, it hasn't. It hasn't.
You don't think so?
I know it's not. Of course it's not. That's another myth that they try to perpetuate. Of course it hasn't always been. Up until birth control, women were shackled to ... They were a lot busier at home.
But you don't think it was harder for you to come up in the industry because you were –
Not at all. Not at all. I think if anything, men – and I'm very experienced in this; I know what I'm talking about. Men like when women do this. They think it's fascinating. I tell ya right now, if a woman walked in here and looked like Pamela Anderson and played like Jimi Hendrix, there's not a band in the world that wouldn't be falling to her feet and saying, "Will you be in my band?"
Men like it when women can play guitar. Prince had all women in his band. Jeff Beck likes working with women. These were the greatest guitar players alive.
I donâ€™t know where this myth comes from. All any guy in any band wants to do is sound as good as he can. And if anyone can make that happen, he wants that to happen. They're not restricted of anything – sexual orientation, race, creed, none of that. None of that means anything. "If you make me sound good, please be in my band." And that's for sure. So.
You don't think you ever faced any sexism?
No, never. Not in music. Not at all. The only thing that ever held me back was myself, because I was shy; I was embarrassed to play in front of guys; I didn't think I was very good. They were always like, "Come on, come on!" I was always the one like, "Uhhh." But no. So sue me! But no one tried to hold me back or gave me a hard time. [Laughs]
What keeps you doing this? Why still make music?
It's fun! It's exactly the same as always. No other reason at all. I'm not trying to increase my audience. I'm not trying to win anyone over. I'm not trying to live on past laurels. I really don't want to be out there unless what I'm doing feels relevant, for the moment. But I'm also aware of the fact that people who are 60 now, it goes into the realm of "the classics" because you had something out for a while, and that's what people want to hear. I don't really question it.
When you find the thing that you wanna do and that you like doing – and you get to do it – why would you stop doing it? I don't have a goal. The only goal I have is to do it. I don't care what happens around it.