In Defense of Chrissie Hynde: Why NPR Needs to Change and Why David Greene is a Sexist Fool

Twitter isn’t always the best yardstick when it comes to pinpointing the vox populi’s whims and anxieties, but given the way that the digital horde reacted to Chrissie Hynde’s interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, you’d think that it had just survived the Battle of Stalingrad or an unscheduled viewing of The Human Centipede 3:

“Not for the faint of heart,” “still recovering,” “gamely soldiering.” These are not the phrases one typically associates with a junket interview. But the Pretenders founder adroitly decided that she didn’t enjoy being subjected to David Greene’s insipid questions. Greene, a man apparently terrified of a woman with an independent mind and a fuddy fuss who muttered “bleeping’ instead of “fucking” when quoting a passage from Hynde’s new memoir, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, made several mistakes. Instead of asking Hynde for the story behind her 1979 rock anthem “Brass in Pocket,” Greene wrongly assumed that Hynde would subscribe to his reductionist thesis that this was “a song that empowers women”:

Hynde: You know, it’s just a three minute rock song. It’s…I don’t think it’s as loaded as that.

As someone who has interviewed close to a thousand authors, filmmakers, and other celebrated minds and who fully cops to an exuberance involving overly analytical takes on an artist’s work, I’ve seen plenty of moments like this unfold before me. What you do in a situation like this is backtrack from your prerigged thesis and let the subject talk. The whole purpose of a conversation is to listen very carefully to what someone else is saying and ask questions that specifically follow up on the other person’s remarks. There was an opportunity here to get Hynde talking about how her music had been appropriated by ideological groups or whether a three minute rock song could ever have any real cultural stakes. But Greene, with an almost total lack of social awareness, could not read Hynde’s clear cues and sustained his foppish interlocutory thrust to the bitter end:

Greene: People certainly thought in its day [sic] as being very different and really emboldening women.
Hynde: Okay, well I’m not here to embolden anyone.

From here, the NPR producer cuts away in aloof and hilarious fashion to a lengthy clip of “Brass in Pocket” to pad out time, leaving the listener wondering what embarrassing (and possibly more interesting) bits were left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps there were many minutes in which David Greene, a man who seems incapable of improvisation, was left with his tongue capsized in a Gordian knot. Greene tells us that “Chrissie Hynde is a really tough interview,” even though Hynde sounded perfectly relaxed with Marc Maron last December and, most recently, with Tig Notaro.

Nice try, David. The fault here is clearly with the stiff interviewer and NPR’s despicably antiseptic culture, which is all about soothing the listener with pat platitudes easily forgotten in a morning commute haze. It’s telling that Greene speaks of Hynde “sharing her story,” as if the rock and roller’s rough life was akin to a child showing off a hastily composed watercolor painting at nursery school. Greene condescends to Hynde by calling this 64-year-old music veteran “a Midwestern girl” and trying to use her Ohio roots to presumably appeal to NPR’s easily shocked demographic. If Greene had truly been interested in Hynde, he might have described her in less innocuous and truer terms. Moreover, Greene can’t even deign to praise the Pretenders. Instead, he gushes over the Rolling Stones rather than the band that Hynde has been a member of:

Greene: And the Rolling Stones. They came — I mean, I, I loved reading about how you sort of took some of the staging off to take it with you, almost as a souvenir.
Hynde: Yeah. Do you want me to repeat the story?
Greene: I’d love you to.
Hynde: Is that the question?
Greene: No. I’d love you to.
Hynde: Can I just not repeat the stories that I’ve already said in the book? Can we talk about things outside of that? Is that possible? I don’t want to do a book reading, as it were.

Let’s unpack why this is terribly insulting to Hynde and why Hynde, much as any woman should, might react as hostilely as she did. Here is someone who has been creating music for many decades. She’s not a neophyte. She’s an accomplished rock performer. Instead of talking to her about The Pretenders, Greene has opted to paint Hynde as some Rolling Stones groupie plucking staging as souvenirs. Hynde has given Greene a big clue, pointing out that she’s not some automatic doll who performs book readings.

Compare this with Greene’s fawning treatment of Stones guitarist Keith Richards back in September. Not only was Richards permitted the courtesy to smoke inside the studio, but Greene gushed about Richards’s considerable accomplishments (children’s book author, raconteur, solo artist) in a manner so obsequious that you’d think he was the Pope. It would never occur to a sycophantic sexist like Greene to ask Richards what he thought of the Pretenders, much less paint him as some febrile fanboy.

Instead of recognizing his clear mistake, Greene digs in the dirk further, demanding that Hynde, presumably because she is a woman, express her “emotions” about an experience that is nowhere nearly as germane as her rugged life:

Greene: No, I would just like to hear some of the emotions of why you love the Rolling Stones so much. I mean, you were — you were taking some of the notes that people had written for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and taking them home with you. I mean, what was driving you?
Hynde: Well, well, I just loved the bands. That’s what drove me all my life is that I just loved the bands. Back in those days, nobody thought I wanted to grow up and be a rock star. Nobody thought about fame. Nobody thought about making a lot of money. I just liked music and I really liked rock guitar. I didn’t think I was going to be a rock guitar player because I was a girl. I would have been too shy to play with, you know, guys.

It’s bad enough that we have to suffer though NPR’s crass abridgements of complex emotion into superficial seven minute segments, but it’s hard for any progressive-minded listener to hear a talented and interesting woman, one who emerged from an uncertain blue-collar existence to a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, reduced to something akin to a toy.

If Hynde were a man, this interview wouldn’t be a controversy. One would think that the Twitter crowd, so eager to denounce such demoralizing portraits of women, would have glommed onto an autonomous voice being diminished by an incurious and inattentive fool. But instead the shock is with an interview departing from mealy-mouthed form. The time has come for more women to stop letting “nice guys” like Greene diminish their accomplishments and for all radio producers to be committed to organic conversations. If NPR insists on being a forum for gutless toadies and the celebrities who tolerate them, then perhaps the cure involves opening up the floodgates to every voice on the spectrum with thought and compassion. Of course, podcasting has been doing all this quite wonderfully for years. So if Greene cannot adjust his timid mien to the 21st century, then perhaps his stature should perish.

© 2015, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.

Be Sociable, Share!

24 Comments

  1. Well, first of all – she wrote a book and she is doing press for said book. Obviously she’s not into it, but that is not the fault of the interviewer. For her to get hostile when an interviewer asks her about a story in the book and say, I don’t want to do a book reading, is ridiculous. He’s not asking for a reading, he’s asking her to relay a story from the book that they can then talk about BECAUSE SHE IS THERE DOING AN INTERVIEW ABOUT THE BOOK SHE WROTE AND WANTS PEOPLE TO BUY.

    Also, the larger issue here is her response to critics who are calling into question her repeating of a story where she was clearly sexually assaulted and saying that well, look where I was and what I was doing and who I was with. I mean, I was basically asking for it. (yes, I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist) Language and thinking like this is wildly dangerous, perpetuating the idea that a woman must be responsible for not only her actions but the actions of others because a man just CANNOT control himself and assault a woman in that instance, right? He asked her about it in the interview because this has gotten a lot of coverage lately, and it gave her an opportunity to perhaps phrase herself in a different way. She began by saying, this how I feel and my experience, I’m not speaking for all women. Fine, I still think this is bad and dangerous territory, but whatever Chrissie, these are your thoughts. She then, however, went on to repeat some more generalized thoughts about how women should not dress a certain way, act a certain way or put themselves into certain situations, because this is what can happen (again, paraphrasing). THIS IS CALLED RAPE CULTURE. No one is asking Chrissie to speak for all women, but if she’s putting thoughts out there that others find dangerous, she cannot expect to not get called out on it. Also, she ended the interview by saying, whatever, don’t buy the book then. Good job promoting your book, Chrissie.

    It seems like whoever wrote this post wants to prove very badly that NPR is full of fuddy-duddies who simply cannot handle a strong woman who uses strong language and has strong thoughts . Guess what, I’m a progressive feminist into punk and I listen to npr every day on my way to work – it provides me with a wealth of unbiased information ranging from world news to culture bits like this one about Chrissie’s book. Being a strong woman does not give you cart blanche to be hostile and aggressive in a really unpleasant way. I heard the interview on my way to work this morning and I didn’t think, what a strong woman standing up to the mealy mouthed man! I thought, props to David Greene soldiering on, and that Chrissie Hynde needs to find a new publicist if she does not want to promote this book.
    /rant

  2. Thank you, Helen, for your vivacious response. In hindsight, I regret not including reference to the earlier statements whereby Hynde blames herself for sexual assault in this article. But Greene’s failure to establish rapport and respect and to create a climate whereby he could broach these questions in a constructive dialogue with Hynde shows that the responsibility was actually on him. I also believe that Hynde, much less any author, is under no obligation to play nice. Obviously, we all pine for people to be pleasant to each other, but when that comes at the expense of expressing an unpopular viewpoint, what purpose is dialogue? Who wants to be subjected to nothing more than viewpoints we agree with? As to the “don’t buy the book” remarks, I wish more authors would have the guts to adhere to their visions in a culture where any vaguely disagreeable viewpoint is used to condemn or shame or write off someone. Chrissie Hynde’s appearance is a welcome tonic to a culture that is becoming too safe for its own good. See Kelefa Sanneh’s recent piece in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/the-hell-you-say

  3. Agreed that Greene’s interview was pitiful and amateur. I looked up his bio-here’s a magnum cum laude Harvard grad who’s reported major stories like Presidential campaigns and from war zones and he couldn’t ask ANY intelligent questions of Hynde? It’s clear he didn’t do any research on her. Any 30 minute internet search would tell him she’s a tough interview. Not tough because she has bad manners, but tough because as a thinking person she demands the same courtesy from her interviewer. There are so many questions Greene could have asked. I would have loved to hear about her favorite venues to play shows, how she developed her bangs and black eyeliner look, how she found the courage to start playing guitar and be a bandleader, how she learned to navigate the music business, where she gets her inspiration for songs, etc. This interview was a missed opportunity. Bummer. Chrissie deserves better.

  4. Personally, I was never interested in Chrissie Hynde until I heard this interview. Here is a woman who refuses to be anybody’s victim. Greene was a patronizing nerd from the git go. Hynde laid down the boundaries and Greene ignored them. He deserved what he got, one can only hope he learned something from it.

  5. Hey, you’re a fuckwit and you parsed this interview for your own lame political agenda. She wrote a book, why can’t he ask her about what’s in it? Oh wait, he should have looked into the crazy 8 ball that you & Hynde apparently share to find the questions you deem appropriate.

  6. Look, there is real grit here of a kind we are not used to in an era of soulless, pre-programed press junkets. Hynde is taking us back to an earlier era where things could get gritty and people could be shocked by the “fuck you” of it all. Greene is just being the generic neutered interviewer that our society has gotten too comfortable with as the “norm.” If you want to defend him, go for it. Sad though…

  7. Never cared for Pretenders but I loved this interview. Chrissie didnt let Greene “assault” her. You go, girl!

  8. Wait a minute — Did any of you even listen to that interview as it happened?? Chrissie Hyde was a nothing but a revolving bitch. Why was she on the show? Because she wrote the fucking book! Not just because she was Chrissie Hynde and we were supposed to be “interested in her music” as she said. No, it was because she wrote the fucking book and we are interested in the book. Don’t blame poor David Greene for the way the interview turned out. What the hell did Chrissie Hynde expect? Every time David Greene asked her anything about the book, she refused to even consider answering. Fear gawd’s sake — you write a fucking book, you go out on a fucking book tour to promote your fucking book, and it goes without question that you do interviews to talk about and promote your fucking book. But she didn’t even want to do that. What was she thinking? Why do an interview? I almost turned off the radio because who wants to deal with some twisted ego like that?

  9. I have such respect for Chrissie, because of her responses in this interview. She is presenting herself. She is not seeking to be a role model, but to add more info to what has happened in her life memoir. She is not there to be second guessed on how she has made sense of when she was sexual assaulted in her mind. She was not molded by this era to use terminology like “rape culture”, but she knows what her actions were and takes responsibility for what she believes she is responsible for as part of the assault. I don’t think it is fair to tell her that she has no fault in the matter if her conscience tells her differently, if she claims she has not labeled it ever as rape on purpose.
    I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear her response to him questioning her with, “It’s common sense.”

    I won’t disrespect her by judging her understanding of what happened in a traumatic event in her own life. It seems wrong to do so, especially in an interview like this. It was as if the interviewer wanted to prod her to find out why she isn’t a fervent feminist, and then try to convince her that her reasoning is wrong and that she really should be one, considering the path she carved out by her career as a glorified female rockstar. Thank you for answering true to yourself, Chrissie. Few people of your integrity are left.

  10. Why was she on NPR at this time? Because she wrote a book! I guess then, it is now wrong to answer questions about the book? A number of people want to justify her lack of being kind for being a poor female victim of this male interviewer. Lets flip this, if she was a male, all would say “what an asshole” and this thread would not exist. We all are jumping on the discrimination bandwagon in wvery form. We are all opinionated to a extremist degree. Open your minds. He could of done a better job. And she was a bitch. Simple

  11. listened to this interview and cringed the entire time. I couldn’t agree more with you. thank you for jolting me out if my NPR haze. It’s bullshit.

  12. I head the entire interview and Chrissie was a complete bitch. I hadn’t heard of her before. An interview about a book usually rouses some interest in buying said book. Not in this case. As a woman myself, considered to be a bitch by some, Chrissie was aggressive and surprisingly uncooperative when asked about the book. Why on earth did she give an interview. That said, she has come to my attention as the most unpleasant person I have ever heard on a book interview.

  13. I was embarrassed to listen to this interview. Ms. Hynde was on NPR on a press junket for her book, for God’s sake. If I were Greene, I’d have responded by saying “You are here promoting your book, correct? You know, the one you refuse to talk about?” It’s true that an interviewee “doesn’t have to play nice”, but I wish that it were also the case that the interviewer didn’t have to, either. We have to stop making demi-gods out of people who’s contribution to our culture comes nowhere near their own view of their importance. She came off like a sullen, pugnacious, rude mess. I was in no way encouraged to buy her book. There is nothing more off-putting than an artist with an inflated sense of themselves. Bob Dylan used to pull this crap, too, and my reaction was much the same. #legendsintheirownrooms

  14. I don’t have strong feelings on this entire interview one way or another, but I do think it’s worth noting that Hynde isn’t always as fun as you make it sound based on other interviews she did. For example, at my local radio station where she recently performed and did an interview, there were an incredible number of “new rules” added to the attendance pages – which the station said were all at the request of the artist. I think Hynde is a great musician, but why couldn’t it also be that, in part, she was having a bad day or being picky?

  15. It helps – even if you are rich and famous – not to be a jerk. I was amazed at the fact that Hynde couldn’t bother to show any respect to Mr. Greene. He’s a working man trying to do his job. There’s no need to urinate all over him to meet your political agenda. He simply asked a few innocuous questions about her book.

    The Pretenders music is great. Hynde as a person is pathetic. What else should we expect from Rubber City, Ohio?

  16. I’m concerned about Helen, the self-proclaimed strong, independent woman who thinks she’s getting unbiased information from NPR. It is NOT unbiased and David Greene with the worst of the perpetrators. Listen to an interview with someone who doesn’t share his views; the condescension is palpable.

  17. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No wonder we can’t get anything done in American politics; it’s one side or the other, right? No in between. David Greene could have focused more of his questions on her music and experiences with the Pretenders. Let’s be honest, that band is the only reason she has the money, fame and creative outlet that allows her to be who and where she is in life. I am a HUGE Pretenders fan. Asking her about the Stones over and over was a bit curious. And, maybe seeing the direction her mood was taking the interview, I agree that he could have steered things more towards asking a question and letting her talk instead of telling her what people think about this or that. But, she was being a brat. It’s part of what’s gotten her to where she is. Call it what you will. There was nothing deeply insulting to Hynde in this interview, and I’m sick of people being offended for other people who’s situations have nothing to do with them. Authors have been asked to read something from their book, that they are only there to promote for the sake of sales, in every NPR interview since the dawn of the network. And, I can’t ever remember someone declining. It’s just the interview format they usually use. Certainly, it’s Chrissie’s right to say ‘I don’t want to regurgitate the copy, let’s just talk’. Fine. But, she was being willfully petulant for… some reason, as well. Pretty sick of rich artists with bad attitudes. No whining on the yacht.

  18. Guess I missed something. Being a fan (and generational contemporary) of the Pretenders, I situated the interview in that music and its cultural contexts. I also appreciated the humor of Greene’s attempts to navigate what appeared to be a carefully conceived publicity stunt that amounted to a middle finger aimed at NPR. I wouldn’t have expected anything else from Hynde.
    But was it the gendered heroics that some of these responses indicate????
    Nah. It was a Pretenders concert.
    Incidentally the book has been given lukewarm reviews, the author basically riding the current wave of memoirs of famous or infamous musicians of the time. Want a true testament to the arts context of this period? Read Patti Smith’s work.

  19. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07l5dvt#play Listen to that interview (one of many she has given about the book), and you realize that the problem with the David Greene’s was that he didn’t read the book and know what it’s about. Many times NPR is about the story about the story. Pays better to be about the story.

  20. You know what? I just read this book and thought it was fabulous. She’s a punk rocker. She could give a damn about what you or anyone else thinks about what she did and how she did it. The song Tattooed Love Boys which is an amazing song came from her experiences. If there has ever been a strong woman in this world it is her. IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT SHE SAYS OR WHAT HAPPENED TO HER OR HOW SHE SAYS IT, THEN JUST LIKE SHE SAID IN THE INTERVIEW, “DON’T BUY THE FUCKING BOOK”. Anyone who tries to read into her life and between her lines to put in their own opinions or references or whether this person or that person might be offended should really just piss off. IN TRUE FORM, SHE COULD CARE LESS WHAT YOU THINK AND COULD CARE LESS IF YOU BUY HER BOOK. IT’S FOR HER FANS, NOT FOR WANNA-BE CRITICS!

  21. I loved the way Chrissie handed Green his ass. He’s an idiot, and I’m often embarrassed by his clumsy, ill-prepared style. He often interrupts people in interviews, and I find myself screaming at the radio, “Shut up, you imbecile, and let the person answer the question.” I love NPR until I hear Green’s weak, silly, pandering voice; additionally, I find many of his views to be surface-level and under-developed. Love Chrissie even more for refusing to kiss Green’s STUPID ass, and I can’t wait to see her on tour this year.

  22. david greene is a racist, sexist, pompous dickhead. that much is clear each and EVERY time he opens his fat mouth! terri gross is pretty awful too, but i think celebs should stick to being interviewed by her if they must go on npr at all.

  23. I love this whole discussion! Really terrific insights, knowledge, passion. I find David Greene fatuous… but it is hard to do what he does every day. Chrissie Hynde is smart, and a handful — and has cut through bullshit, this giving this rare opportunity to talk intelligently and with a point of view about the problems with NPR and underfunded media is general. NPR usually just interviews reporters — yes, the story about the story as one commenter mentioned. Thanks for a great article — and comments section!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *