Twilight of the Gods
- By Steven Hyden
- Dey Street Books
- 320 pp.
- Reviewed by Michael Causey
- June 23, 2019
This musical elegy will have you shredding on air guitar in no time.
Millennials must be getting pretty tired of us by now. We men of a certain age who natter on and on about why 1971 was the best year ever in music, how crappy it is today, and why we feel sorry for youngsters born on the wrong side of the century divide who aren’t enlightened about Led Zeppelin.
Add Steven Hyden to that list. In Twilight of the Gods, he’s full of lament for the lost world of arena-rock concerts by the Who or Black Sabbath. He misses the edgy radio that, for all its cheesy disc jockeys and long wafts of inane commercials, was a driving force that helped guide us to good new music in a way online music services like iTunes and Pandora just can’t.
But just as the book begins to feel like riding on an oppressive cruise ship with performances by the remaining members of Def Leppard, Hyden makes clear he’s no ostrich buried in 1980s sand. He celebrates, for example, the excellence of Courtney Barnett, a fresh singer/songwriter from Australia. He astutely points out she’s in some ways a throwback with her left-handed Jimi Hendrix-style guitar look and Keith Richards hair, but brings her own modern sensibilities to her work.
“Unlike those guys, Barnett is a twentysomething lesbian who writes hilarious songs about being stuck inside your own head even as the world goes crazy around you,” Hyden explains.
He also applauds rock music’s more open attitudes today toward homosexuality and gender fluidity. Decades ago, Queen’s Freddie Mercury and, for a time, Elton John felt pressure to hide their sexuality from fans. Today, while there may well be some artists who remain in the closet, publicly stating one’s truth is no longer a guaranteed career-killer in rock ‘n’ roll.
Like so many things, music is about subjective taste. There is no law of physics that says Mozart is better than Salieri. It’s just that most of us believe he is. Ditto with rock. Speaking personally, Hyden won me over by appreciating the qualities of the Rolling Stones’ lesser 1975 effort, Black and Blue, and the weirdness of McCartney II, Paul’s strange record that sounds like a genius monkeying around with a new synthesizer in his basement. It is, and it’s great. Bonus points for Hyden: He agrees that Don Henley sucks.
Along the way, Hyden takes us on an insightful tour of Prince’s Paisley Park home; he’s fun when talking (without rancor) about interviews he’s done with bands he’s not crazy about (hey there, REO Speedwagon and Styx); and he’s downright Nostradamus-esque in anticipating Fleetwood Mac’s recent dumping of the prickly Lindsey Buckingham.
Loving him when the band’s album came out in 1977, Hyden has since changed his tune, as it were. “When I listen to Rumours now, Lindsey seems like kind of a jerk.” Apparently, Mick Fleetwood has made the same journey.
Hyden teeters on the edge of over-mythologizing arena rock but pulls back just in time when he acknowledges its many downsides. “I adore the mythology of stadium rock, but the reality of it kind of sucks. Only a fool would romanticize overpriced parking, bad sight lines, piss-poor sound, and the emotionally disconnected performances that are endemic to the stadium-rock experience.”
Those of us around in 2050 should be prepared for a deluge of books (or holograms or whatever) reminiscing about the golden days of Kayne, Taylor Swift, and the like. We’ll read about how music just hadn’t been the same since iTunes folded in 2035, to be replaced by digital music implants delivered to us by drones.
We’ll turn up our eardrum transplants, adjust our Lasik eyeballs, and activate our bionic necks to nod in sympathetic solidarity with the younger generation. Then we’ll be teleported back to our “late stage apartments” designed by IKEA and ask our caregiver to put the copy of Led Zeppelin IV we borrowed from neighbor Steven Hyden on our antique turntable.
We’ll remind her to play it loud. Then she’ll smile indulgently, awkwardly plop the needle on the turntable, and then gently ask us if we’d like butterscotch pudding again for lunch.
[Editor’s note: This review originally ran in 2018.]
Michael Causey is a cool (read: old) throwback DJ on WOWD 94.3. He does play Courtney Barnett, though.