What was classic rock? The question sounds confrontational—how rude to put the Rolling Stones in the past tense when Mick Jagger is still honing his workout routine!—but, of course, the very name classic rock has always implied a was. In 1992, Nirvana jockeyed against contemporaries of their day, from Guns N’ Roses to Kris Kross, for airwave space. Today, “Heart-Shaped Box” still glowers on the radio, but often next to the pre–Kurt Cobain likes of The Who and REO Speedwagon. This process is necessarily morbid: What’s vital today will be interred tomorrow, under the euphemistic placard of classic.
So it might seem redundant for Steven Hyden’s Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock to perch itself as a memorial. Hasn’t classic rock always been evaluated through the eulogist’s haze of time and sentiment? Then again, the urgency of Hyden’s task is clear. “I started writing this book around the time that David Bowie died, and I finished it around the time that Tom Petty passed,” writes the critic, currently on staff at Uproxx. “You want to know what happened in between? A lot of other rock stars went.”
We now live in the era of the blockbuster obituary—a Tom Petty or Wolfe drops with at least the frequency of a Disney franchise movie—largely for simple demographic reasons: The Baby Boom has reached the beginning of the end of its trajectory. And the Boomers, as seen in the very label classic applying to the soundtrack of their primes, have excelled at overlaying the mantle of myth on stories whose ink was still drying. But the overlapping public funerals of the past few years have also been a forum for intergenerational probing of legacies. Just this week, it’s been made clear how cherished Philip Roth was by the writers who came up after him. But resentments have also been revealed, linked to the notion of important white men choking off pathways to acclaim.