Chrissie Hynde’s aversion to needles probably saved her from being one of the junkies that infest her drive to become a rock star.
In her autobiography, Reckless, Hynde is unapologetic about her drug taking while she is on her way to putting together what became The Pretenders, one of punk’s shining bands. Drugs are also to blame for the ruin of the original band that included Martin Chambers, Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott.
In fact, Chrissie Hynde is unapologetic about most things. What happened, happened. Her view is romantic on one level, realistic on another and sensible ultimately. She has the ability to tell her story in a way that every restless soul living through the social and musical climate of the late 70s can identify. Hynde is matter-of-fact but personable. Reckless (Random House) isn’t career spanning though. The story is about what led to the formation of the first version of The Pretenders, which many – including Hynde apparently – regard as the true one.
Drugs also led to the fragmentation of The Band.
Up to the early 70s, The Band were a unit, blood brothers tightened by years of playing in bars and lifted by the songs of Robbie Robertson. In his Testimony (Alfred A. Knopf), Robertson tells how success caught The Band (Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robertson) unprepared. They had time and money and could indulge themselves, which they did with heroin and booze. Robertson changed, too. He wasn’t a drug casualty but indulged himself in other ways. He is uncanny in his eye for detail and reconstructing dialogue. His stories are so lucid they become believable rather than merely opportunistic and self-serving, which they could be. Like Reckless, Testimony isn’t career spanning but stops at 1976, when The Band did. As you’d expect of the man who wrote Up On Cripple Creek or The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Robertson is literate and thoughtful.
Drugs play a key role in the downfall of The Lovin’ Spoonful.
Steve Boone’s Hotter Than A Match Head has been around a few years but I finally got around to it earlier this year. The zephyr-like history of the Lovin’ Spoonful always has fascinated me as my my appreciation of the band has increased year by year. At first, Steve Boone might not be the ideal guy to tell the story. He was the relatively silent bassist, after all, while John Sebastian was the witty, sly writer of a song such as Summer In The City, which gives Hotter Than A Match Head its title, Boone, though, emerges as aware and a perceptive writer and he and guitarist Zal Yanofsky were at the centre of the drug bust that caused the zephyr to plummet to the ground. After that, Steve Boone did what he could to survive. The story from that point is familiar and hardly as exciting as Lovin’ Spoonful’s few years of glory but it does have a relatively happy ending and gives overdue credit to a great band.
Booze is the culprit in Myles Goodwin’s Just Between You And Me (Harper Collins).
As leader of April Wine, Goodwyn piloted his band to international success. These were tough times for a Canadian band, but Goodwyn doesn’t dwell on the “inferiority complex” that hung over the Canadian music business like a suffocating blanket. It took years for April Wine to improve its artwork and sound production but according to Myles Goodwyn, April Wine was a minor hit from its first album and went onward, upward and outward from there. As the band grew more successful, the pressure mounted accordingly and was matched by his drinking. There were drugs, of course, but Goodwyn’s preferred drug was booze. It helped him address band politics and the usual questions of songwriting, record production and musical direction. His writing is conversational, even confidential at times, so, by the time he is rescued from himself he is much more likeable from the aloof, rigid person he appeared to be as April Wine was making its transition from domestic to international success.
Drugs are peripheral but still an influence on the trajectory of Carl Wilson.
This is the only book, Long Promised Road (Jawbone Press), of the five reviewed here that is a biography rather than an autobiography but this makes sense. The Carl Wilson portrayed by Kent Crowley seems too modest to write his own book. Crowley’s main point seems to be that the Beach Boy was an under-rated but influential guitarist. He progressed from an essential part of The Beach Boys’ instrumental sound to an admired singer, then a producer and songwriter. As drug abuse hastened Brian Wilson’s breakdown and Dennis Wilson’s alienation from the band (despite his emergence as a writer), Carl, the youngest brother and Beach Boy along with Al Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, was thrust into the role of leader and conscience. He wears both with grace. There are no startling revelations but at last there is some recognition given to an often taken for granted part of a long and sometimes twisted story.