As someone who has, sadly enough, never taken a breath in a world with a vitally alive Kurt Cobain, I almost felt like a hypocrite when I first opened Steven Hyden’s latest work, Your Favorite Band is Killing Me. I mostly just wasn’t in the age to consciously and actively experience the many rivalries the author has set out to explore in his book. With his help however, I got the opportunity for a different point of view that I was grateful to seize.
The book quickly sets a welcoming atmosphere not just for music geeks. It is structured in several chapters, each one concerned with a particular music rivalry. Setting the stage with a preface, the author explains what he attempts to do with this book. It is not what you might expect: the focus is not on picking a side or settling these rivalries once and for all, but rather on how they translate into daily life and what they might say about people inside or outside the band.
This is not to say that Steven Hyden does not share his preferences. On the contrary, he chose an approach for his writing that makes it a very personal experience for the readers. The chapters are sprinkled with little anecdotes taken from the author’s personal life, and the readers also get unsparing insight on his opinions as a music critic (his articles have appeared in magazines such as Rolling Stone and many more). That’s however not the only thing that makes the author’s personality shine through: the tone is very authentic. Irony and sarcasm are broadly used and all of this leaves the reader smirking at the least, for example, when Hyden declares the Rolling Stones as “dressing like the world’s sexiest hobos”, or when he notes with some dismay that “our society has not yet recognized person-rock band marriage”. At one point, he openly declares that the book would probably have an R rating, if there was some authority to do this for books.
Through his originality and his fresh ideas, Hyden brings something new to the table for everyone. If you have, up to this day, not been aware of that time when Axl Rose was thrashed by Tommy Hilfiger – well, there you go. In an effortless way, the Pope is linked to Robin Thicke, and the American Civil War to the Beatles vs Stones opposition, bringing new approaches even to debates that have been going on for decades. By the time he gets to the debate about Tupac Shakur vs The Notorious B.I.G. the tone gets very serious – this is a rivalry with deathly casualties, and Hyden reveals his own little theories about how the death of these legends has changed the music scene. He manages to engage the readers in reflection and reconsideration, and prompts them to delve into their own memories and experiences while he does just the same. To give an example: Hyden consistently classified nearly all of the groups I liked as “Beatles” type bands. (How did he know?? – I only have like 6 Beatles shirts in my closet…)
The chapters not only cover the artists in their respective title, but many more: artists you love more than anything else will definitely at some point get involved here, so brace yourselves. It even dips into sports, film, TV and more general pop culture to illustrate cases or add details. At times, the author is reaching out a little too far, so that the readers find themselves unsure of what they are reading and how that connects to the topic. Usually, the connection comes in later, explaining Hyden’s point. But ultimately, that’s a crucial part of the book’s charisma – you never know where it’s going to take you.
So, here’s the question we are left with at this point: does the book hold its promise? What are the revelations about the meaning of life that the subtitle so noticeably alludes to? The answer differs from chapter to chapter. We aren’t suddenly blessed with the actual meaning of life, but we learn that what might seem like a huge fight could potentially just be boiled down to two guys (who happen to be band members) growing up in completely different environments. Another rivalry could only just happen to be a stand-in for the ways we see social media work, and for different attitudes and characteristics their listeners want to see in the contrasting parties. Suddenly, one front man being at war with another relates to every other male person out there who has ever tried to make friends with another guy. The way of looking at the celebrities as simple human beings is what makes Steven Hyden achieve a relativization of the word “rivalry”, and he wants the readers to take away from the book that “what matters and what we believe matters in life often don’t line up”.
If there is one thing that stands out after the reading of this book, it is that music and all that comes with it clearly connects to life – the author’s life, your life, my life. I would argue that literature does so as well, and the book Your Favorite Band is Killing Me definitely supports that claim. This book is heavily recommended to everyone who has even a vague interest in music (I suppose you do, since you are already on this blog…) and likes to read true-to-life literature that will occasionally have you cracking up with laughter. You might learn something about the band that you’ve always loved or loathed, the artist that you could never make sense of, or possibly even about yourself.
Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life
By Steven Hyden
Back Bay Books (May 17, 2016)