When I was a kid, I loved going for car rides with my dad. We would jump into his red Honda Prelude (not a joke) or beat-up minivan (definitely not a joke) and he would scan through the endless channels of static until he found a classic rock station — blissfully cranking up a song that finally hit a chord. The Eagles, CCR, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; these “classic” bands were all brand new to me, but there was something special about watching my dad sing along to the radio, pound his fists, and take in every second of the wistful joy that overcame him. It was magic in its purest form.
Celebration Rock host and Springsteen enthusiast STEVEN HYDEN can attest to the longstanding power of rock ‘n’ roll because he’s lived through it. In his new book, Twilight Of The Gods, Hyden digs into the demise of classic rock and the fortitude of the genre’s biggest heroes — discussing David Bowie, Robert Plant, and Pete Townshend, and how the prose of those legends have lasted far beyond their “best before date”. Said artists are mythological in stature, but once these figures fade away, will rock music still have the same tenacity as say, the super-human being known as Keith Richards?
In this case, one can only knock on wood and hope for the best. Or ask an expert. We chose the latter as we called Hyden to discuss Fleetwood Mac, classic rock’s expiration date, and how the genre is still having a major impact on younger minds like Lindsey Jordan and Julien Baker.
In your previous novel, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, you took on music’s biggest rivalries and used them as a way to show how we use our favourite bands to describe ourselves and our ideas. In Twilight Of The Gods you hone in on classic rock and its place in history and culture; what led you to this particular topic?
I had originally started it five years ago and in the prologue of Twilight Of The Gods, I wrote about seeing The Who in Chicago back when they were on their Quadrophenia tour. That was the first time I’ve seen a concert like that where I really felt the age of the performers. Obviously, I’m aware that going into the show where the members were in their sixties, they weren’t gonna look the way they did in the ’60s or ’70s. But the thing about that show — just the mortality of those guys really dawned on me and I started thinking about the inevitable end of that era of music.
So I went into that show sort of thinking about it and actually started to put together a proposal for a book back then, but in a way it was almost too early to do it where I couldn’t really get interested in it. I didn’t think people were really thinking about it yet. So I ended up doing Your Favorite Band is Killing Me instead and then in early 2016, David Bowie passed away. And then a couple months after that Prince died as well as Glenn Frey and there was a series of high profile, rockstar deaths. It really became an issue people started to think about.
Then there was “Oldchella” — that concept that’s in place. I didn’t make it up as someone else actually coined that, but all these things were happening and it seemed to become more a part of the cultural conversation. And I was like, “Alright, now is the time to do this book”. That was really it. It was inspired by what’s been happening in the last couple years and I think this is just something that everyone is thinking about right now.
And with Fleetwood Mac on tour and the drama around Lindsey Buckingham not being there, it’s perfect timing.
Yeah, and Elton John announced his retirement tour and Paul Simon is doing one as well this summer. Unfortunately these occurrences are only going to become more common in the years ahead. I mean, a lot of these original, classic “classic rock” people — they’re over 70 years old. I mean Paul Simon is 76 years old. I think one of my biggest fears in the lead up to the release of my new book was that someone I wrote about would pass away. This was likely on my mind because when I wrote my first book, Prince passed away like three weeks before it came out and there was a chapter about Prince and Michael Jackson.
I mean, that’s like number 1,000 on the list of sad things about Prince dying. There’s many other reasons why Prince’s death was sad beyond my book (laughs). But it was like I’m writing about the mortality of Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and I really hope I’m not testing fate by writing about this because my hope is that those guys continue to keep doing what they’re doing for years to come. We’re kind of reaching that point now where a lot of those people are in the twilight of their careers at this point and a lot of people have yet to wrap their heads around that fact. But you know, it’s just the way it is.
Absolutely. Every time Robert Plant is in town, I kick myself for not going and having to miss it for something else because you know, he’s like 74 years old. And how much longer is he going to be around or even be able to tour?
Yeah, he was recently on my podcast. It was amazing to talk to him. He’s such a nice, normal guy. I mean he seemed to be for the half hour I spoke to him. I don’t know how normal Robert Plant actually is in regular life, but from what I’ve heard, he sounds like a remarkably down to earth person for being the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. But going into that interview — I normally don’t get that nervous to interview people anymore but that was an interview I was pretty nervous to do because that’s like interviewing Batman. Or some mythical comic book character that I grew up worshipping. It’s pretty bizarre.
It’s crazy. He’s a golden god.
I remember when my assigning editor brought up the idea of putting in a request to interview him, my palms immediately started sweating. Like even talking about it, I just felt nervous.
It’s one of those things where the worst part of it would probably be the hour before you talk to him, which was true for me. But within 30 seconds of talking to him, I was totally fine because again, he’s such a warm person in spite of being the front man of arguably the greatest rock and roll band ever. When you start to get into the conversation itself, he’s just like any other person. Which is amazing because then there are people of that stature who aren’t necessarily like that or aren’t as approachable. He’s definitely unique in that regard.
Is there a question that you didn’t get to ask him and you maybe wish you had?
Oh man. I don’t know. There’s so many Led Zeppelin-related questions I would have asked him properly, but when you interview him, I don’t think he is totally aberrant with just talking about the old days. And the good thing about him is that he actually has made a lot of really great records on his own — especially in the last, I think, decade. His last couple of solo records are really good and they are worth talking about.
But if I could ask him anything? I mean, I probably just would have asked him a million, nerdy Led Zeppelin questions. Like, “Did the mud shark incident actually happen?”. It would have been something like that, but you would never ever talk about that because he would have hung up the phone. The only limitation I had with the interview was the allotment of time that we had. We only had about a half hour, like 35 minutes. If I had more time. He probably would have been open to anything as he definitely seemed game to talk.
He sounded very warm and friendly and that came across almost immediately. In your novel though, you state that in the future “classic rock bands will melt into one another”. Can you elaborate or break down the “Frankenstein effect” that you reference?
Yeah, I mean we mentioned Fleetwood Mac before. That’s a recent example of this phenomena, which I call “shrunk groups” in the book. It’s a play on the supergroups from the ’70s, where you had these bands that were sort of superstar members of different groups and they would form a “supergroup”. The idea with shrunk groups has to do with a lot of these sort of late stage, classic rock bands who are losing numbers because of personal reasons or because of health reasons or people passing away, and you end up with these sort of weird amalgamations happening.
With Fleetwood Mac, you’ve got Mike Campbell from The Heartbreakers in the band now and he’s obviously available because Tom Petty passed away last year. Then you have Neil Finn from Private House, which seems really random to me. I mean, I understand Mike Campbell being in there because it’s Southern California and he knows Stevie Nicks and there’s a connection there. Plus, I figured they’ll for sure play “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” as Campbell could do the guitar solo and all that. But when I was writing this book, a lot of what I wrote was in 2016 and in that year you had Axl Rose touring with AC/DC. That was a new thing which seemed like it would be a disaster and then it ended up being pretty good. I mean, these videos have surfaced — it’s funny because I saw AC/DC with Brian Johnson right before he had to leave the road. I saw them on Valentine’s Day 2016 and then I think that tour got suspended maybe like a week or two after that and then they ended up hiring Axl as the new lead singer.
And then you have like Dead & Company which is the Grateful Dead with John Mayer in place of Jerry Garcia — which is like really bizarre on paper yet it’s funny. I was talking with a Grateful Dead fan this weekend and he saw Dead & Company and he went into it feeling pretty skeptical about John Mayer. Then he left a total convert. Judging by the conversations that you see in Grateful Dead circles, it seems like a lot of people have come around on John Mayer, which you would not expect in the “dead head” community. But I think it’s one of those things where people realized if you want to have the experience of going to these shows — whether it’s hanging out in the parking lot beforehand or hanging out with your friends and drinking and smoking weed or whatever and just being in the environment and hearing those songs that you love — you kind of have to accept these weird marriages of convenience that happen.
And I think that will happen with Fleetwood Mac. I’m sure there are people that love Lindsey Buckingham but want to hear “Rihannon” and want to hear “You Make Loving Fun”. People want to hear all the songs they love off of Rumors. But the only way you’re going to be able to do that now with like most of Fleetwood Mac is by going to see them with these two other guys that are kind of randomly put in there.
I just think that this is probably going to be more common in the years ahead. Like let’s say Keith Richards died; would The Stones put Jimmy Page in there? Or would they put Jack White in there to replace Richards? I think stuff like that isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. But then of course there’s also things like holograms, which are just starting to kind of come into fruition. Like hologram tours — there’s going to be a Frank Zappa hologram tour. I feel like it’s probably inevitable that it would be in Las Vegas for something like in 2020. Then you’re going to be able to see hologram versions of classic rock people that are no longer with us. Maybe there will be a Jimi Hendrix hologram or you know, a Led Zeppelin hologram or a Beatles hologram.
I’m just thinking out loud but if there is an audience that wants to see this stuff, then there’s too much money for there not to be. I mean, right now there is still some weirdness with holograms. People don’t feel totally good about it, but generally I feel like people get over that kind of stuff. Even if there’s a new generation of people that aren’t as averse to the latest technology. Like maybe there will be an actual hologram of Jerry Garcia playing with John Mayer in Dead & Company one day, who knows.
Holograms seem like such a strange concept right now. I’m sure that in a couple of years people will think they’re normal.
All it takes is for someone to do it really well. Like if someone does it really well and everyone enjoys the show because they’ve realized “OK, this is how you do it”, audiences will just learn from that and it will probably become way more common. All you need is one tour to sort of break the taboo. It’ll happen because is there that much difference between a hologram and like Fleetwood Mac touring with people that aren’t really part of Fleetwood Mac? Like why can’t some other band with hired guns decide to augment maybe one or two original members?
I mean, it’s really about re-creating an experience for the people who aren’t going to be able to get it otherwise and that’s what they’re paying for. They’re paying to experience this music with other people in an arena, and if they’re having a good time, who’s to say it’s wrong, you know?
While you were researching your novel, you spoke about how you went to see as many classic rock concerts as humanly possible. So I guess if Bruce on Broadway is one of the best, then what would you say is the worst show you’ve seen so far?
I don’t know. With all the shows I saw while writing the book, I don’t think I really saw a terrible one. It’s interesting because the book starts by me talking about this Who concert I saw in 2013 which was a little weird because I felt like they seemed really old and it kind of made me think about the mortality of this band that I really love. But I also really loved the show at the same time, like while recognizing Roger Daltrey’s voice isn’t as strong as it used to be and that Pete Townshend looked pretty pale up there and all that stuff.
I’d say generally, this is maybe the best time to see a lot of classic rock artists because 10 years ago, a lot of these artists were still making new records and a lot of those new records maybe weren’t that great. And they still felt obligated to front load their shows with a lot of the songs on those records, which I think from an artistic standpoint is a totally justifiable thing to do because you don’t want to feel like you’re a nostalgic act and you want to show you still have something to say. On that level, I totally respect it. But there’s a sense now that when you go to one of these shows, those same bands know there’s not a lot of time left. So instead they celebrate this legacy that’s been created over the course of decades and they put on a really great show.
I saw Paul McCartney and he played for like three hours, and he played so many different kinds of songs from throughout his career and it was pretty great. Is Paul McCartney still singing as well as he did in the ‘70s? No, of course not. But he’s still really fucking good and he’s better than like a lot of bands that I see who are a third of his age. So I tip my cap to him. I saw Roger Waters recently and it was one of the best arena shows I’ve ever seen. It was an expensive ticket, but like all that money is put into the production values, and it was really good.
I know this is a really long-winded answer to your question, but there honestly wasn’t a concert — certainly not during the writing of this book — that I came away from disappointed or not liking at all. Like I have really liked all of the shows I have been to.
Well, that’s great. I wouldn’t want to hear that a particular classic rock band was awful because I think that’d be more heartbreaking than anything.
I mean, you’re totally right. I think it’s also a part of the question “What are you expecting from this?” Some people are in the opinion that if you can’t be what you were at your peak, then you shouldn’t still be on the road. I don’t subscribe to that at all because I think with some artists — especially with the really great artists — they always find a way to do something unique.
When they’re at this point in their career, the artists that suffer are the ones who are still trying to sound like they’re 25-years-old. The artists who embrace their age and express what it’s like to be where they are now — they make it work for them. I think a lot of classic rock artists actually have been pretty good at that point in their career, especially in the ‘80s as there were a lot of growing pains for that generation. In the ‘90s, a lot of them started to figure it out and a lot of it has to do with just being yourself and not trying to be cool or young or pop anymore.
Mick Jagger flirts with that a little bit and U2 certainly has that problem. With Bono, I think it’s really important for him that U2 has some sort of pop relevance and he doesn’t understand that just being a band like U2, you’re not going to have pop elements no matter what you do. You could have the greatest song in the world but like a lot of 15-year-old kids who are into hip-hop or whatever, they’re not going to care. You can put your record on their phone against their will, and force them to listen to your record but that won’t change. I understand Bono’s ambition and I understand what that thought process was but it’s just that idea was taken to an extreme level. All you have to do is be yourself and just embrace who you are and embrace this time in your career because I think people respect that more.
Especially because your core audience will relate to you more if you are just yourself. I can’t even tell you how frustrating it was to put on my headphones to listen to music and have that U2 album come on. It’s just like “What the fuck?”.
Yeah, it’s weird and that album was actually pretty good. I think it got totally destroyed because the weakness of that album is that it was overcooked production-wise. Again, because I think Bono and U2 in general overthink their records too much. I just feel like… man, if you just made a record of you guys in a room playing these songs, it would sound great because they’re still a really great live band. They play really well, but with Danger Mouse in there or Ryan Tedder trying to make these sort of pop sounding records, it just doesn’t work.
It’s like you’re not going to get on the radio with that stuff, it’s over. Especially now, like they’re not going to give a shit about you. So make a great sounding U2 record with some awesome Edge sounding guitars on there and just play live on your records. It would sound so good.
Especially with Generation Z, they can just smell bullshit coming from a mile away. You won’t be able to break through to that audience. Like you’re trying to be something that you’re not so why not just embrace what everybody has loved for so many years?
I think if you accept who you are and you don’t see molds, people might say like, “Oh that’s an older guy or that’s an older band” but people who are comfortable in their own skin seem cooler, you know? It’s only when you’re trying to like wear the cool kid clothes and speak the lingo and Snapchatting or whatever — you just look stupid. Young people always see through that.
There’s a Frank Sinatra documentary from a couple years ago and in it, they talked about how Sinatra became passé in the ‘60s with the Beatles and all the music that was happening. They showed clips of him wearing ‘60s-looking clothes and it just looks ridiculous. That’s not Frank Sinatra. He did revert back to just wearing suits and looking cool with the fedora or whatever — like in the ‘70s and beyond — because people looked at that and were like, “Whoa, he’s still got a coolness about him”. When you try to look young, you usually end up looking stupid and that was true with Sinatra and it’s true with a band like U2 now. It’s always been a consistent thing.
Absolutely. So like yourself, I discovered a love for classic rock at a very young age and that was all thanks to living in a small town and having to depend mostly on the radio because I didn’t have much choice. Younger audiences today are kind of inundated with choice and reach when it comes to music, both new and old. So do you think the internet is currently playing a role in the demise of classic rock or even rock as a whole?
It’s hard for me to say as I would never want to speak for teenagers because I’m not a teenager now. I also don’t know what it’s like to grow up now. It blows my mind though — like the amount of information that’s at the fingertips of people who are 12, 13, 14 years old. I can’t fathom what that would be like. But I look at a band like Greta Van Fleet, which is like this group that seems a lot bigger than what you hear about — in terms of the shows they sell out and hearing others that aren’t necessarily plugged into the internet ask about them. Their members are barely 20 years old and they’re from Michigan, and they sound exactly like Led Zeppelin — and it’s like how do they and why do they listen to that kind of music? They were probably like me and looking for something different, but they found this music that probably seemed like it was super ancient.
When I discovered rock music, it felt like it was like the blues, you know? It felt like it had been around forever. There’s this idea that kids will only listen to pop music and they are only really obsessed with the stuff that is of the moment. And certainly, that’s true for many, many people. But I think there’s always going to be listeners who are skeptical about mainstream culture and who are seeking something that feels more permanent — something they can latch onto in this kind of mythological way that I write about in the book.
I think classic rock will continue to have that kind of residence for people. Maybe not as much and not as widespread, I don’t know. But as someone who listens to new bands all the time, I don’t hear a shortage of groups that are drawing on the lineage of classic rock music. I talk to a lot of musicians — like a lot of younger musicians who talk about that kind of music. I just did an interview with Lindsey Jordan from Snail Mail; she’s like super buzzy as her debut album is out and she was talking about Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, and how she would listen to them when she was a kid — which would’ve been… what, 2010 — and how that was a big thing for her when she started playing guitar. Like that was the first music she learned how to play and I have conversations like that with musicians all the time.
For my podcast, I did that series on Springsteen and two of the musicians I talked to were Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. They are both in their early 20s and they could talk about him as eloquently as any 60-year-old man. They were amazing. They were like English professors breaking down Springsteen. Those records came out 20 years before they were born — at least, maybe even longer — and yet those records still speak to them. The thing about rock music that’s different than a lot of other kinds of music is… well, a few things that happen simultaneously.
You’re always recognizing the roots of the music because it comes from the blues and it comes from folk music and country music and all those music genres. So you’re trying to take those raw materials and push them forward, and it’s like the past and future happening simultaneously in rock music. I love the fact you can draw a line from The War On Drugs to Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan and to Woody Guthrie. I love that. I love the lineage of it. That doesn’t make it worse for me. It makes it better, and it’s what I’ve always loved about that kind of music as it connected me to something that was bigger than myself. I still feel that way, as hokey as that might sound, but I really believe in that. I just don’t know if you get that feeling from pop music.
With pop, things change so much and artists don’t have the same kind of careers because for every Beyoncé, there’s like a million… I’m trying to think of a “flash in the pan” pop singer but I actually can’t think of any because they’re forgettable. I mean Beyoncé’s career is truly remarkable, and regardless, she has remained on top for like 20 years and it’s insane that she’s been able to do that. But she’s definitely the exception to the rule in that regard. And then with hip-hop, you have like Jay-Z who musically, his new records don’t mean as much anymore, but he could still do an arena tour. He’s like The Rolling Stones of rap music. There’s not many like him as rap and hip-hop artists tend to have a much shorter career. Eminem is another example. Kanye has had a 15-year run at this point, although he’s totally gone insane and he’s not really a pop star anymore. He’s a celebrity but he hasn’t had an actual pop hit in a super long time.
How do you think your rock star heroes and their prose have informed your adult years? And how has that shaped who you are as a parent and as an adult?
There is something about the art that you grow old with that is very powerful. For instance, Springsteen and Dylan are different than Led Zeppelin because Zeppelin hasn’t made any new records. So if you’re going to listen to them, you’re going to get into the same stuff you listened to when you were a kid. Whereas with Springsteen, Dylan, Neil Young, and some of these other artists who feel like they need to continue to make records about getting older and mortality and things of that nature — there’s certainly going to be things that mean more to me as an adult.
I touch on this in the book but there’s a song by Springsteen called “Wreck On The Highway”. It’s the last song on The River, in which he talks about this guy who is driving late at night when he sees a car accident on the way home and there’s someone laying on the side of the road who is dead. He goes home and he looks at his girlfriend or wife or whatever and he’s thinking about the transience of life — about the idea that everything you have, you’re going to lose at some point. When I first heard The River as a teenager… you really can’t wrap your head around that. But now that I’m married and I have children, I totally relate to that.
There’s a lot of fear in that kind of thought but it keeps you grounded and makes you grateful to be alive. It’s really just about what you get out of any great art — especially where you feel like they’re sort of reflecting on their own reality and their own feelings about it. You gain a lot of wisdom from people like that. Like if you listen to Time Out Of Mind by Bob Dylan, he’s writing about what it’s like to get older and how your perspective changes your own past. There are things he says on that record that I understand more now than I did maybe when I was 25.
That’s the great thing about art — you can hear things at different points in your life and you can get something else from it. In hindsight, the art has changed because you have changed as a person. Like I’m sure there are things I won’t get from those records now that I might get 10 years from now.