Your Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden, Back Bay Books, 293 pages, $16.99 paper. Prince was still alive when this wildly readable book was written. On the subject of Michael Jackson vs. Prince – in an essay titled “A Quirky Theory About Quirk Theory” – Steven Hyden observes “my favorite Prince music is puckish and psychedelic and derives from unwatchable screwball comedies,” but still admits his favorites are all hopelessly uncommercial. But he insists that Prince and Jackson were rivals because: 1) The two once went on stage with James Brown to show off for him, 2) Prince bailed on the recording session of “We Are the World,” 3) Prince once beat Michael Jackson at pingpong (“Prince slammed the ball into MJ’s crotch” and sweetly told friends afterward “he played like Helen Keller”), and 4) Prince declined to do a duet with Jackson on “Bad.” “In the long run,” Hyden writes, he’d “rather be Prince than Michael Jackson.” But he also writes, “Prince seems to understand that ‘being Prince’ is now the most crucial part of his art. Prince can play the role of eccentric artistic genius with the same flair he brings to the guitar or his songwriting – it’s sort of the only thing keeping him culturally significant at this point.”
Before Hyden is finished, the wildly entertaining and adamant former rock critic for Grantland considers, among others, Oasis vs. Blur, Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam, White Stripes vs. Black Keys, Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West, Eric Clapton vs. Jimi Hendrix, Roger Waters vs. the rest of Pink Floyd, Biggie vs. Tupac, Neil Young vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd and, yes of course, the Beatles vs. the Stones. (“Beatles vs. Stones is really about the hegemony of the Beatles,” but “I am a Stones person. I’m just more attracted to the Stones.”)
Before you assume too much not in evidence about Hyden, he also tells you along the way that as “a painfully serious middle-schooler” he ran cross-country (and remembers none of it) even though “I was blessed with the pure athleticism of Jeffrey Tambor” and eventually outgrew disliking Pearl Jam.
No matter who you might be on any rock-aware cultural spectrum, this is great fun. But it’s a bit more than just that, too. – Jeff Simon