Published Jul 27, 2016If you're a music fan — or, really, a fan of anything — you know that part of loving something is hating its opposite. This is the guiding premise of Steven Hyden's excellent Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, which is ostensibly a book about music rivalries but is actually much more. Despite his obvious biases, Hyden isn't interested in choosing winners and losers; rather, he uses music rivalries as a springboard to talk about what popular music means and how we use it to define ourselves for and against certain groups and ideas.
He swings for the fences with every chapter. Wielding an encyclopaedic knowledge of music rivalling even the most scholarly of record store geeks, Hyden pivots from early '90s award shows (the 1992 VMAs being his all-time favourite), to political commentary, to psychology and social theory. "Prince vs. Michael Jackson" morphs into a treatise on quirky versus popular high school cliques, while "Jimi Hendrix vs. Eric Clapton" becomes a meditation on death, dying and whether it's better to burn out or fade away.
With arguments this broad and, let's face it, impossible to prove, sometimes Hyden loses his footing, buries the lede or is lost in abstraction. In the hands of a lesser writer, Your Favourite Band Is Killing Me could have been an unbearably pretentious piece of pseudo-psychology. However, Hyden makes up for his free-form structure and general tin foil hat-ness with humble enthusiasm. Like every truly honest music fan, he knows his opinions are subjective, but damn it, he's going to argue them anyway.
What distinguishes Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me from the avalanche of self-important thinkpieces that colour music journalism today is the fact that Hyden writes with genuine warmth, as a fan rather than a social scientist. In the age of branding, where the image you project is as important as the music you write, Hyden's theories are relevant and fascinating to consider, even when they don't ring true.
Besides, even if you're wrong, isn't the real fun in arguing? (Little, Brown and Company)