Journeyman music journalist Steven Hyden (Uproxx, Grantland) was raised on classic-rock radio, one generation removed from the rock stars he idolized.
By the time Hyden came of musical age, Keith Moon and John Bonham were dead, Ozzy had been kicked out of Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith had transformed from the druggiest, most dangerous band in rock into a loathsome power-ballad factory.
Twilight of the Gods is Hyden’s reckoning with this distance from first-hand rock history, and how it shaped his younger self’s worldview of larger-than-life Jaggers, Dylans, and McCartneys commanding the earth.
Simultaneously conveying the fervor of his teenage years and imparting the wisdom he’s accrued since then, Hyden’s book is both a celebration of his favorite music—from Floyd to Fleetwood Mac to (shudder) Phish—and a personal account of his witnessing the decline of rock, a musical force that had once seemed unstoppable. It’s affectionate and wryly self-interrogating, as Hyden explores why he connected with this music so much and why it still works for him.
Once in a while, he hits on an epiphany: “[Black Sabbath’s] Vol. 4 will never be tied to a particular year or ideology or set of passing trends. You put it on and it just sounds like rock ’n’ roll,” Hyden writes. “Sex and drugs signify something else to me now than they did when I was 19. But Vol. 4 feels exactly the same.”
More often than not, though, Hyden uses rock music as a decoder ring for understanding his own life, and its rather abrupt shift into irrelevance in the 21st century—coupled with the deaths of many of its biggest stars—becomes a tool for understanding loss. “Rock stars live, they love, they falter, they come back,” he writes. “We pay attention because the exaggerated arc of rock stardom creates a framework for understanding our own lives.”
If all of this sounds like yet another case of “aging white guy waxes nostalgic while complaining that his interests, once mainstream, have been displaced,” Hyden’s way ahead of you. Unlike virtually every other kind of writing of this nature that I’ve read, his book never points fingers, cries foul, or blames the youth.
Hyden acknowledges that he was born and raised at a particular time, in a particular place, with a particular shade of skin, and if anything, Twilight of the Gods reveals how those variables—which none of us have any control over—shape our cultural interests, which in turn define our sense of selves.