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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Alchemy: Chrissie Hynde helped us time travel

Mike and I rarely go to concerts, but we scored tickets to see The Pretenders last night. Anticipating the event, I was one excited lady. I loved their hits from 1979 - 1994 including "Brass in Pocket," "I'll Stand by You," "Chain Gang," and "Don't Get Me Wrong" - all ballads, basically. [Hint: this is foreshadowing. "Jaws" music plays.]

I enjoyed Chrissie Hynde's 2015 autobiography, Reckless. In it, she says that the main reason people loved her hits was that they're melodic. Makes sense to me. Like most people, I enjoy a lovely melody and great hook.

[More "Jaws" music] Imagine my surprise to discover that Chrissie Hynde is a hard, hard rocker. She played and moved like a person half her age. During her 90-minute show at Milwaukee's landmark Riverside Theatre, she gifted us with just a handful of ballads - including "Chain Gang," "I'll Stand by You," and "Don't Get Me Wrong." Her standout slow tune was new to me: "Hymn to Her," written by her high school friend Meg Keene. Onstage, Chrissie said, "I wish I had written it." She hesitated during the first line of the song and apologized for her voice: unnecessary. Singing the words almost a cappella, her voice rose strong and sure, deep and soulful . . . and she sounded exactly like who she is, someone who's LIVED through 66 years. 

The bulk of the show was raw rock, loud and fast and energetic. The problem with these hard songs was that Chrissie's fantastic contralto voice sometimes got lost in the mix. I just couldn't hear her.

I finally gave up on trying to understand the words. I let the beat run over me. In other words, I let go and gave in. And that's when I started having fun. It's obvious that Chrissie loves a strong bass line; I do too. Like the people all around me, I started moving and bouncing to the beat. After a while, I realized that Mike, next to me, was bouncing too. Chrissie Hynde's energy had ignited a big old hall full of white people. And they bopped. 

Alchemy: turning dross into gold. Chrissie Hynde's alchemy: turning older people into younger people. Somehow, while I listened, I traveled backwards through my 67 years, to a younger version who still lives inside. When it happened, I had only one feeling: happiness. 

She never played my fave, "Brass in Pocket." I'm still sad about that. But because of the magic she brought, I forgive her.

Gail Grenier is the author of Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, Dessert First, Calling All Horses, and Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee, all available on

1 comment:

  1. Just read this, Gail, great piece. My wife and I were there too. My faves are all the hard stuff, but all my favorites are my wife's least favorites and vice-versa, but we both love her. She got in a few ballads too, though, so there was something for everyone. We had never heard Hymn to Her before but it is now Cathy's new favorite. Their first album (probably their hardest, before their guitarist and bassist od'd) was a huge album in my life, coming at a time when it seemed rock was dead. Never got to see the originals, but glad I at least got to see Chrissie once. - Mark Peters