As someone who has the privilege of reading pretty much everything Steven Hyden has written about music over the past year and a half — and for many years before that — I was excited to finally get the chance to read his new book, Twilight Of The Gods>. The follow up to his first book, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, a treatise on the diehard face-offs between bands across the decades, this time around Hyden is more concerned specifically with rock legends, and the slow closing of an era where their defined pop culture.
Released a week ago today, in Twighlight Of The Gods Hyden traces the inception of the classic rock era, which in his estimation begins with the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, and ends with Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile In 1999. Adopting a framework inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Power Of The Myth, Hyden takes the reader on a hero’s journey through the many highs and lows of these mythic figures, from Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan — and plenty of other minor characters in between.
As music criticism, and indeed, the music industry as a whole, seeks to grapple with the overwhelming dominance of white male figureheads in the 20th century, Hyden offers a clear-eyed perspective on an already-dated era that is quite obviously winding down. By explicitly interacting with the way these old preconceived notions dictated power and glam in rock and roll culture, Hyden offers a very modern take on some age-old figures, while also remaining self-aware of his own place in the system. Even as the book reveres a bygone period, it also looks to the future with sharp analysis, funny insight, and a sense of wonder that is rare to find in any kind of writing, let alone music criticism. (Read his excerpted chapter on dad rock for a taste of it yourself.)
Last week I talked with Hyden about a couple key elements of the book that stuck out to me, like mourning our rockstars, what a rock band even is anymore, and if some figures loom larger in culture than the era itself. Read our conversation below.
The book is about the end of classic rock, something that I think we’ve seen culture grapple with over the last couple years as icons like David Bowie, Prince, Chris Cornell, and Tom Petty have died. Did writing this book help give you some personal closure? Do you feel like just grappling with it over the text helped you accept the end of this era?
I don’t have closure in the sense of being done with the music. I’m still really interested in this era, and I feel like I’m gonna basically go down with the ship. One of the points of the book is that people use classic rock, and probably pop culture in general, to help understand their own lives. With classic rock, specifically, it’s become is a way for people to process their own mortality. When David Bowie or Prince passed away, I think the reason why that impacts people is that they feel like a part of their own lives has disappeared, and it’s not coming back.
It becomes a way to think about these pretty heavy topics that we spend most of the day trying to avoid. This book, especially towards the end, becomes about processing mortality, and the idea of impermanence. There’s a great work of art that you think will stand the test of time. There’s going to come a time for everything where it finally disappears. There’s a sadness to that, but there’s also something beautiful about creating and living in the face of that.