The release of Steven Hyden’s book Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me has been on my calendar for months. A former Grantland (~RIP to my favorite website~) staff writer, Hyden wrote what might my favorite major publication review of any One Direction album in 2013 when he noted that the best rock song of the year was on “Midnight Memories” (yes, obviously, he was referencing “Little Black Dress”). A Midwesterner, Hyden feels like a rare breed in the male-dominated world of rock criticism in his willingness to embrace new music. He reviews the likes of Drake, Joanna Newsom, and Beach Slang all with sincere enthusiasm and insight. If you’re looking for another podcast to download about rock music, Hyden now hosts “Celebration Rock.”
I was excited when it was revealed Hyden’s new book would be about rivalries in music, and what they say about all of us. Hyden writes welcoming prose about music that does not have the elitism of Pitchfork. His knowledge is extensive, but he’s willing to gently explain the background history of Neil Young, Kanye West or Prince to new music fans.
Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me succeeds in letting us know the bands behind major music rivalries, while illuminating Steven Hyden himself. In his chapter on Jack White and The Black Keys, Hyden writes about the difficulties of men in their thirties making friends at their children’s activities. As he notes, “I get that ‘Why can’t Jack White and Dan Auerbach be friends?’ might seem like a frivolous question: speculating on the status of the relationship between two similar celebrities is a silly exercise. But what I’m really asking is this: Why can’t I make more male friends?”
The rivalries chosen span decades, an expansive look at how musicians have sparred over credibility, image and chords. As Hyden told The A.V. Club, “Let’s be real: Musical rivalries are never totally about music. It’s about sympathizing with a particular worldview represented by an artist over a different worldview represented by an ‘opposing’ artist. You are what you love—and also what you choose not to love.” I highly recommend Steven Hyden’s book if, like me, you’re interested in what the music you like says about you, about us as a collective community.
I myself had a chance to catch Steven Hyden on his book tour in New York in conversation with Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield. I knew I had found “my people” when it only took 35 minutes for Rob Sheffield to name drop Harry Styles and his iconic tattoos to a room of mostly thirty year old men. It was great to hear the two of them expand upon projection, Oasis versus Blur (one of the many rivalries covered in Hyden’s book), the mythology in music of mystery versus/or equating with authenticity (“Is a curated Instagram that different from artists selecting iconography for fans to dismantle on a 70s album cover?”), records as imaginary friends, and using pop culture—specifically music—as shorthand to describe who we are.
I was drawn to the discussion of authenticity as it is an idea that witchsong and its staff continues to come back to when celebrating and loving musical acts. I personally do not believe that the curation of an archive of Instagram pictures and commentary is inauthentic. (I could tell the older readers in the audience did.) All of us, celebrities, teens, and girl-across-the-cubicle are documenting our lives (for better or worse) through social media. The dialogue between fans and performer has never been more open. The discourse online is what has propelled Troye Sivan and Halsey to international acclaim. There are Instagram accounts clearly overseen by performers in partnership with professional photographers (Adele, Coldplay, Fifth Harmony), and then there are the personal accounts of performers that offer further insight into their achievements, dalliances, frustrations (Louis Tomlinson of One Direction, Justin Bieber, Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix). However, mystery remains. Harry Styles may give me a picture of his feet, but there is often very little clarity. I can read the same symbolism into the picture of his feet that prior fans used to read into a Radiohead album cover. The images are still open to discussion, interpretation, projection. Mystery remains despite more avenues to learn about their likes, dislikes. Instagram doesn’t equate with inauthenticity just because it is off the cuff. Hyden himself noted that Led Zeppelin’s curated album covers, notably without their likenesses and beloved for their mystery, comes from the same meticulous attention to detail that modern stars now use to catalog new tattoos, paid promotion, and international landscapes.
For any of us who have loved music, who have used it to talk about ourselves, Hyden has an extraordinary section where he admits—like Chris Christie does with Bruce Springsteen—of thinking of his favorite musicians as imaginary friends. I’m glad that in the course of reading Hyden’s book, it felt like I had made another imaginary friend with which to argue, agree, and affectionately underline.
Chuck Klosterman is my favorite author. Earlier this year I wrote about Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, a refreshing take on music, by acknowledging my love of Klosterman’s work. He is the formative author of my teen years. I got the book thanks to a recommendation from Lost’s Jorge Garcia in Entertainment Weekly. My worn copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto traveled the halls of my high school and later the globe to China and London alongside me. It has been gifted to friends for birthdays, loaned to roommates with dog-eared pages. I’ve laughed alongside Chuck for over ten years. His new book But What If We’re Wrong? seeks to think about the present as if it were the past. Therefore Klosterman takes what we believe will be the celebrated idea in any given field in hundred years and undermines why that will be wrong. Our projected ideas of the future are very rarely right. Klosterman interweaves his own opinions in with interviews from George Saunders, David Bryne, Ryan Adams, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater.
It took eleven years to finally be in the same room as Klosterman. I didn’t have him sign my book after his reading at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, because I was afraid of blurting out one of the following upon meeting him: 1) “I’m pretty sure I’ve projected your personality onto every boy I’ve ever liked.” 2) “Your ex-girlfriend who chose a night in Portland seeing Coldplay’s first U.S. performance over you is probably a large part of the reason I (subconsciously) justified flying to Wembley to see One Direction.” 3) “Why did you unfollow me on Twitter after one fucking day?” 4) “What’s Rembert Browne’s phone number?”
Klosterman’s book was the perfect summer read. I could pick it up between two connecting flights, a June wedding, and work errands. I recommend reading the essays in chronological order. This is a book meant to be read from cover to cover. Don’t start at the end.
If you’re interested in checking out an excerpt before buying, Klosterman’s chapter on football was featured in GQ.
The book covers varying topics from science, football, and music. An intriguing question for fans of witchsong: “What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today?” Klosterman wrestles with the idea of what musician or band will come to stand singlehandedly for rock music as the composer John Philip Sousa is now synonymous with American military and patriotic marches. Will it be The Rolling Stones? The Beatles? Elvis? One Direction? Oh, sorry. That last one was my own interjection. Klosterman deftly parses through difficult questions, and illuminates how our culture will be remembered. But What If We’re Wrong? is not my favorite book Klosterman has ever written, but I understand the evolution of his career. He is no longer a man in his late twenties who wants to dissect The Real World and porn. He is interested in analyzing larger questions. That’s ok. I’m willing to follow him to whatever intellectual discussion he wants to write. Much like Hyden, Chuck Klosterman is interested in evaluating how we define ourselves, what that definition meant and will come to mean.