RECKLESS: My Life As A Pretender, by Chrissie Hynde. Doubleday, 312 pp., $26.95.
HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL, by Carrie Brownstein. Riverhead, 244 pp., $27.95.
M TRAIN, by Patti Smith. Alfred A. Knopf, 253 pp., $25.
Amid a swarm of music memoirs this fall come three by essential women of rock, their ages spanning three decades: Patti Smith, the mother of punk, born 1946, her name synonymous with the New York/CBGB scene of the '70s; Chrissie Hynde, the founder and frontwoman of The Pretenders, born 1951, a Midwestern expat who built her career in Sex Pistols-era London; and Carrie Brownstein of the riot grrrl group Sleater-Kinney, born in 1974 and bred in the intense '90s punk scene of the Pacific Northwest.
The most fun is "Reckless." Hynde is an irresistible, unapologetic storyteller, reminiscent of Keith Richards in "Life." Her tale starts in Akron, Ohio, where she grew up on LSD and rock and roll. A die-hard fan always trying to get backstage, she ran into Tim Buckley in a parking lot, got an autograph from Paul Butterfield and a kiss from Jackie Wilson. Hynde can make almost any story funny, from changing a friend's name to Stella ("You couldn't call someone 'Debbie' on acid, it just wasn't right") to alarmingly lighthearted accounts of a drugged-up sexual encounter with five biker pals and the deaths of many musician friends, including Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Political correctness is the least of her concerns. "It seemed Sidney had stuck Nancy with a knife and killed her," she writes. "Oh dear."
The one moment of emotion, and it is an intense one, comes when drugs claim her beloved bandmate, James Honeyman-Scott, in 1982. Tellingly, that is where the book ends, with a brief afterword summing up the years since, and the credo that's gotten her through it, so evident here: "I . . . find that humor is everywhere once you strip away the grief."
Like Hynde, Brownstein is a kick-ass guitarist and songwriter who came up as a fan and fiercely co-opted rock's all-male "archetypes," "stage moves" and "representations of rebellion and debauchery." As that last formulation indicates, Brownstein is as analytical and postmodern as Hynde is gaily anti-intellectual. Brownstein has insightful things to say about growing up with a closeted gay dad and an anorexic mom, about how the creative process works, about the "performance" of the audience at a concert, about the punk aesthetic. She deconstructs Sleater-Kinney's music as a rock critic would, sometimes giving in to a touch of self-importance, forgivable in light of Sleater-Kinney having been anointed "the best rock band in the world" by Time magazine.
As she is the creator and co-star of TV's "Portlandia" (not discussed here), one expects Brownstein to be witty -- and she is, though much of the book deals with difficulties, health problems and interpersonal conflicts. Of her lone groupie experience on tour: "How much more information about former pets' names and our parents' college experiences might need to be discussed before we touch tongues? . . . [it was] less like the film '9 1/2 Weeks' and more like a sleepover I'd had at age nine and a half."
Brownstein describes carrying a copy of a book by Jean Genet as a signifier of membership in the punk artistic milieu. So it's no surprise that one appears in Smith's book. Unlike "Just Kids," her National Book Award-winning memoir of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, "M Train" is a collection of whimsical, lyrical, sometimes mystical musings, with photographs.
The book by Genet comes up in a memory of Smith's late husband, musician Fred "Sonic" Smith. "Some months before our first wedding anniversary," she writes, "Fred told me that if I promised to give him a child he would first take me anywhere in the world." She picks French Guiana, where she can visit the ground of the penal colony where Genet did time, collect some stones and bring them to his grave in France. The account of this quixotic mission appears among stories of a trip taken to photograph Frida Kahlo's bed, of buying a cottage on Rockaway Beach just before superstorm Sandy, of singing Buddy Holly songs with chess master Bobby Fischer. Always, she returns to her essentials: a cup of black coffee, a crime show on TV, a pen.
Dining alone one night in Japan, Smith opens a small jar of sake and murmurs a toast. "All writers are bums. . . . May I be counted among you one day."
Count three here.