“Whether by choice or natural causes, more rock legends will be lost in the years ahead, until there are finally none of them left. When that happens, will there be a new generation of disciples who take up the cause for classic rock and carry it forward? Or is classic rock itself now a problematic relic from a time when white male musicians commanded a disproportionate amount of attention? Does it deserve to fade away?”
-Steven Hyden (from Twilight of the Gods, page 8)
Sunday March 31st, 1985. Montreal Forum. Deep Purple, Perfect Strangers Tour. That was the first time I saw a classic rock band in concert. Sure I had seen Iron Maiden twice by then, but they were not yet around long enough to be considered “classic.” I had also attended an Ozzy Osboure show, but he was a solo act with a band that was at the time less than five years old. No. A reunified Deep Purple on their first tour together in a decade with their all-star line-up (Ian Paice, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover and Ian Gillan, the same musicians who recorded the legendary Machine Head LP), that was something special. They played all the crowd-pleasing hits, and mercifully only performed five songs from the new album. The lights turned down, the collective excitement grew and I held high my Bic lighter in anticipation. They opened the show with one of their classics, “Highway Star” and closed it, obviously, with “Smoke on the Water.” Going to big-time Forum venue concerts were among the few highlights of my teenage years. I still have all my ticket stubs.
Classic rock no longer rules the airwaves like it used to; it has been banished to the nether regions of oldies radio and streaming services. The artists, the survivors anyway, play to much smaller venues and drag themselves and their geriatric pain out of rehab long enough for one more nostalgia tour in an atmosphere not unlike that of a Vegas revue. How did it get like this? What happened? I wanted to know. That is why I could not wait to bury my ample nose into Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by music journalist and fellow Gen-X rock geek, Steven Hyden.
In Twilight of the Gods, Hyden traces album oriented rock, from its inception to its decline and demise at the hands of Napster and YouTube, through his personal experiences growing up in a small Mid-West American town and listening to certain radio stations that helped form his preferences as a rock fan, a journey eerily similar to my own. In fact, his story and mine have so many parallels that if I were to ever meet him in person, I would ask if he had the other half of the mysterious amulet I’ve been wearing around my neck since infancy.
The author cleverly structures his work like a vinyl double-album, with four or five tracks per side. Nice touch. He names his chapters after actual songs, which if pressed would make a totally cool compilation. Just looking at the table of contents I knew this tome was going to be a winner.
Hyden’s witty writing style, brutal honesty and personal touches and opinions make his effort all the better. He employs humour, jagged asides, and dry sarcasm (like on page 223 where he calls Lenny Kravitz a “walking Hard Rock Cafe Exhibit”) effectively. Twilight of the Gods is highly readable and filled with innumerable quotable lines. And the author’s observations are beyond astute; that are razor sharp and so pointed that I cut myself several times while reading the book.
But once again I find myself making the same complaint that I do for all the other books about classic rock: When are the women going to get their due? He only mentions Pat Benatar once! (Page 262, as a lyric in a Weezer song.) When I was a teenager I saw Pat Benatar live when she was in her prime, and she could rock as hard as any man. Debbie Harry and Stevie Nicks? Hardly referred to at all by Hyden, and even then in passing.
Overall great lines, great zingers, and great anecdotes make Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock in my opinion the best book about classic rock in print. Well worth the time for aging denim-clad people like me who have lived through that era and survived it with fond memories and tinnitus, as well as the younger set looking to get up to speed.
And yes, I agree. Don Henley does suck.