Okay, I know we have The Ringer now, and The Ringer has brought us Actual National Treasure Sam Donsky. Is it wrong that I still miss Grantland, though? They had an incredible stable of writers with a particular gift for writing about important things through the lens of seemingly unimportant things. Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me (affiliate link: Book Depository), from Grantland alum and UpRoxx writer Steven Hyden, reminded me of what was so special about Grantland’s glory days.
And yes, okay, the subtitle is a little grandiose. The meaning of life isn’t on offer here, but Hyden gets into a lot of questions about identity and the ways that we define ourselves by defining against something, or someone, else. Hyden admits that he likes the work of the Beatles as much as he likes the work of the Rolling Stones, but that he defines himself as a Stones person rather than a Beatles person because a Stones person is more in line with his understanding of his own personality.
While it would be easy to differentiate each side of a rivalry in a simplistic way — cool versus not cool — Hyden is self-consciously suspicious of easy answers. Here he is on the trendy, near-universal dislike of Crash among all the people I have ever followed on Twitter:
Hating Crash has become what I like to call a Default Smart Opinion. A Default Smart Opinion is an opinion that’s generally considered to be inarguable because it’s repeated ad nauseam by seemingly intelligent individuals. . . . The usual formula for a regular smart opinion — research plus careful consideration plus nuanced analysis — doesn’t apply. You needn’t actually listen to a Nickelback album or watch The Big Bang Theory or study Kim Kardashian’s collected philosophical scrolls. You merely have to recite recycled bits of conventional wisdom.
As a Despiser of Popular Things Cause They’re Popular manqué (I was saved from this fate by the indisputable greatness of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), I sometimes have to remind myself of the danger of Default Smart Opinions. They’re a fun and easy way to differentiate yourself from an imagined mass of dumb people, but they only work until you encounter someone who likes that thing and actually have to contend with the complex ways real human persons interact with their faves. In other words, they work best when you are only talking to people exactly like you, and that’s a risky type of opinion to espouse.
If Hyden doesn’t quite manage to get at the meaning of life, he does do an incredible job of writing about music in a way that’s accessible to those of us who are music-stupid.1 Talking to music people can be the explainiest motherfucking thing in this life, but with Hyden, you just feel like he truly wants to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. I wrote down approximately a kajillion albums to check out after reading this book, and I felt stupid exactly 0 times.2
I’d also like to say that it is unendingly lovely to hear people say any iteration of this, a sentiment I could not agree with more even though I had a near-picture-perfect happy childhood and parents who loved me and an unflinching expectation of stability and support.
Nor am I minimizing the hell that it is being a teenager. I have no sentimentality for childhood. I hated being a kid — all I wanted was to be older, and when I was older, I found that I was right all along about adulthood being way better.
I think we can all agree that Prince is one of the five coolest people on the planet. (The others are LeBron James, Beyonce, Bill Clinton, and Jennifer Lawrence. If you don’t like this list, I’m sorry, but these are the people that everybody else on earth signed off on.)
LeBron James? That’s who you choose from the world of sports? I’m generally on board with this list, but, LeBron James?
- That is me. I do not know music stuff. Please do not laugh and make jokes at me about this, I am legit really embarrassed by it. ↩
- Like, except for the perpetual low-level shame I feel about my utter music ignorance. That’s always there. But that’s self-generated, and Hyden contributed to it not at all in this book. ↩