High Times Greats: Chrissie Hynde

The original Pretender talks pot in a 1994 interview.
High Times Greats: Chrissie Hynde
Chrissie Hydne on the cover of her 2014 debut solo album “Stockholm”/ Official Facebook Page

For the November, 1994 issue of High Times, Chuck Crisafulli interviews Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, who delivers a blistering defense of her favorite herb. In honor of Hynde’s birthday September 7, we’re republishing the story below.

The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde is partying backstage with Urge Overkill. The snooty, well-coifed Hollywood crowd wasn’t particularly appreciative of Urge’s hot, hell-bent set, but no matter—everybody’s loose and relaxed. In Hynde’s case, “relaxed” has an edge to it. “If I see one more bimbo walking around with a set of implants, I’m going to rip them off her chest,” she snarls. When asked if she’d like to do an interview with High Times, Hynde is equally direct: “Why not? I’m a pothead.”

Rock ’n’ rollers don’t come much cooler, or smarter, than Hynde. Her dark wit, strong principles and refusal to take shit from anybody have made her a heroic figure to fans around the globe. Hynde is more than just an inspirational iconoclast—since 1978, the Akron, Ohio-raised London transplant has crafted some of rock’s most sublime and satisfying music.

The Pretenders’ self-titled 1980 debut was an explosively heady mix of punk energy and pop smarts. Perfectly satisfying singles like “Brass in Pocket” and “Mystery Achievement” packed joy, hate, lust and basic rock-thrill into a few minutes of guitar-driven song. Hynde, fronting a lineup that included drummer Martin Chambers, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, revealed herself to be the kind of performer rock had never seen before—a strong, talented, take-charge woman who was*as formidable as she was sexy. Hynde brought brains to the sometimes dim punk scene, and honest excitement to the often limp pop charts.

The Pretenders have had some rough times over their 14 years as a band, the lowest points coming with the drug overdose deaths of Honeyman-Scott in 1982 and Farndon the following year. But this year, Hynde reteamed with Chambers and recruited guitarist Adam Seymour and bassist Andy Hobson to record Last of the Independents (Sire), a collection of potent tracks that range from the lilting exuberance of “Night in My Veins” to the grandly sweeping cover of Dylan’s “Forever Young.” At 43, Hynde is as vital, vibrant and pissed-off as ever. After a four-year layoff, during which time she focused attention on her two daughters (an 11-year-old fathered by Ray Davies of the Kinks and a nine-year-old by Jim Kerr of Simple Minds), she’s rocking hard again.

A few weeks after the Urge show, and after a night of video-planning sessions for the emotionally charged “977,” Hynde phones from home in England at three in the morning, her time. She’s ready for the High Times interview.

First, Hynde dispels the notion that the original wave of British punks in the late ’70s looked down on pot-smoking as a hippie activity. “I think everyone always smoked pot if they could get it,” she says. “Maybe people who were stuck drinking beer all the time had an attitude about it, but I’ve never met people who didn’t want to smoke pot. It seems like it’s always been around. Whether those punks had their own stash or not—that’s a different question.”

Hynde, a radical vegetarian since she was 17, believes marijuana is a natural part of the vegetarian lifestyle. “Whatever I’m already doing becomes enhanced when I smoke pot,” she explains. “It can also be demotivating, because if I’m not doing anything and I smoke a joint, it enhances just sitting in a chair. Then I don’t even want to get up to change a record. That might not be a bad thing, but you have to get things done once in a while. Pot’s not a necessity, but I’ve incorporated it more successfully than alcohol or anything else into my life. It’s an herbal remedy for everyday stress. If it’s not there, I won’t suffer greatly. Maybe that’s the night I have a glass of wine instead. If it’s hard to get something to smoke, that’s when I break open the minibar.”

Hynde is casual and matter-of-fact about pot-smoking. But her anger rises when the conversation shifts to people who have been disproportionately punished for marijuana crimes and those who would call for even greater punishment. “I feel it’s my obligation to publicly say, ‘I smoke pot.’ I feel obligated to do that because of all the people who have gotten busted,” she says. “It’s not like I’m admitting I do something wrong—I think it’s fine. Just fucking cool it, people. Relax. You ask a person what they’ve got against pot and they can’t really tell you. Give me one good reason why pot should be illegal. That’s all I’m asking for—one good reason. I’ve never heard it. So make it legal already.”

As she works herself into a convincing prolegalization rant, Hynde has one major reservation. With the American capitalist system capable of subverting any human pleasure into rank commodity, the prospects of “Marlboro Spliff” billboards and “McDonald’s Happy Ganja Meals” do not amuse her. “I hate the idea of pot becoming commercialized,” she says. “Any pothead should be horrified of that. I’d like to see pot become legal, but have everything around it stay just the way it is. Let the pot dealers sell pot and take the Mafia and the government out of the equation.”

Hynde, who’s been having an absolute blast with the latest incarnation of the Pretenders, says a well-timed joint figures into a successful night’s work. “I could go on after smoking a joint,” she says. “If I’m pepped up, it’s OK. It depends what you’re doing and who’s around. If you’re relaxed in the dressing room and you smoke, it might become harder to get pumped up. It’s hard to say. But when I come offstage, I roll a joint. It’s the big ‘Ahhh.’ Somebody better have some pot out after the encore.”

Obviously familiar with the Dutch model of separating soft drugs (pot, hash) from hard drugs (coke, smack), Hynde believes legalizing weed would help steer drug consumers away from more destructive practices. “If you give people crap, their appetite for crap increases,” she says. “The more they get, the more they want. Pot is a better choice, because it’s not compulsive. The compulsion is in the people, not the herb.”

With the spirit and will of a survivor, Hynde pulled herself and her music through when heroin habits felled bandmates Honeyman-Scott and Farndon. “There was nothing to reevaluate at that time,” she says. “I just worried about getting on with it. If I felt I’d caused their deaths I certainly would have wanted to re-evaluate and take stock of what was going on. But that wasn’t the case. And I didn’t have a drug habit where I had to think, ‘Christ, this is getting heavy.’ I wasn’t strung out and I didn’t take heroin. I’m a pothead—that’s what I’m trying to tell you!”

“Pot’s fantastic. Just fantastic. It’s not for everybody because some people just don’t want to feel fantastic. They’d rather feel something else. But I like to feel fantastic,” Hynde says on a final note. “So, bring it on.”

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