You know that old saying about the only sure things in life being death and taxes? Well, we need to amend it. Because these days, the only sure things in life are death, taxes and a musician you adored in your formative years turning into a complete and utter asswipe.
Smiths fans know what we’re talking about, what with Morrissey openly supporting racist groups now. And so do X fans, having watched in slow, horrified motion as Exene Cervenka basically turned into the lady version of Alex “Sandy Hook was a hoax” Jones. Then Cherie Currie had to go ruin The Runaways with her pro-Trump ranting. (See also: Kanye “slavery was a choice” West).
But few musicians we used to love bum us out quite as hard — or as often — as Chrissie Hynde. Hynde once seemed like the very embodiment of unflappable rock & roll cool — all heart-quickening songs, perfect bangs and effortless sex appeal. Think: Hynde in the video for “Don’t Get Me Wrong” with her green leather gloves, speeding through the English countryside in a red convertible. Think: Hynde, prowling the stage at 1995’s VH1 Fashion Awards like a young Mick Jagger in spiked heels and a mini skirt. Think: Hynde the fearless hunt saboteur, kicking up a stink in the countryside to save some adorable animals.
Sadly, just like Morrissey, Hynde’s particular brand of personality deterioration has been slow, steady and, at times, unnecessarily loud. In 2015, Hynde told the U.K.’s Sunday Times, without a hint of sarcasm: “You know, if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him.” Despite a sizable backlash over this (and a few other) victim-blaming comments, Hynde, just one week later, expanded on the sentiment even further in an interview with BBC Radio 4. She suggested that any woman openly embracing their own sex appeal should not — nay, could not — identify as a feminist. (No more feminism for you, sex workers, Beyoncé and, had she been around at the time, Lizzo!)
“I don’t think sexual assault is a gender issue as such,” Hynde said, “I think it’s very much all around us now. It’s provoked by this pornography culture, it’s provoked by pop stars who call themselves feminists. Maybe they’re feminists on behalf of prostitutes — but they are no feminists on behalf of music, if they are selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear in videos. That’s a kind of feminism — but, you know, you’re a sex worker is what you are.”
When fans and critics alike called her out on those comments, she responded a few months later by comparing that public response to a “lynch mob.” Not the best choice of words for a white woman sitting comfortably atop three decades of success.
Now, just days ago, she hit Twitter and posted a five-part message that was an “open letter” to Donald Trump. It was problematic on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to even begin. “I often think of how much my father, Melville ‘Bud’ Hynde, who proudly served his country as a Marine on Guadalcanal, would have enjoyed your Presidency,” she wrote. “The other day when you gave that award to Rush Limbaugh, my father would have been so delighted. He loved listening to Rush, which is why I allowed my song, ‘My City Was Gone’, to be used on his radio show.
“My father and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” she continued. “We argued a lot. But isn’t that the American way? The right to disagree without having your head chopped off? Soon, I will be participating in a protest in London against the extradition of #JulianAssange… I know Mr. Assange broke the law (as i have done defending the treatment of animals) but I believe he has been duly punished and should now be set free. Please consider my plea.”
That’s right, folks. In a single set of tweets, Hynde managed to: (a) address Donald Trump like he was a real human/ boy capable of reason; (b) talk warmly of Rush Limbaugh, a proud racist, homophobe and misogynist; and (c) plea for the protection of Julian Assange, a man who actively evaded rape and sexual assault charges for 10 years, and defiled the Ecuadorian Embassy that helped him do so. (There was talk of “feces on the wall” and “improper hygienic conduct,” among other horrors.)
There can be no sensible reason for anyone to do any of the above, but when you’re Chrissie Hynde? Well, it’s a swift kick in the face for thousands (millions?) of fans.
In Viv Albertine’s (The Slits) excellent memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, stories about Hynde in her pre-fame days repeatedly pop up. In them, she appears consistently as a supremely confident rebel who, even while surrounded by punk rock icons, often comes across as the most casual rule-breaker in the room. In one section, Albertine recalls being too insecure to join in when Vivienne Westwood and Hynde painted the word SEX “across their bare arses” for a photoshoot to promote Westwood’s London clothing store. In another, Albertine remembers Hynde’s casual approach to not giving a fuck thusly: “Once when Vivienne asked Chrissie a question, Chrissie replied ‘Oh, I just go with the flow.’ Vivienne thought that was unacceptable and wouldn’t speak to her again for a year.”
And maybe that’s the problem. It’s possible that Hynde has been marching to the beat of her own drummer for so long, she just hasn’t bothered to stop to make sure that her drumbeat is still in time. It isn’t and it hasn’t been for years. If she wants to avoid a complete transformation into a Morrissey-level hate-monger, she’d be well-advised to stop and re-evaluate the rhythm — and preferably sooner rather than later.