I was listening to the two guys from Sound Opinions talking about their new book, which is apparently a book-length conversation between the two of them about the relative merits of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. While listening to them talk about this for a little bit (it was during the recent WBEZ pledge drive – and by the way – if you listen to WBEZ regularly and don’t pledge, you are a completely immoral free-rider who deserves to be hit by a runaway trolley someone else has failed to stop) –
Anyway, while they were trying to describe the sort of essence of the difference between The Beatles and the Stones, they were suggesting that the Beatles’ strength seemed to lie in the studio, using production as a sort of “fifth member” – and they cited the closing medley of <i>Abbey Road</i> as the quintessential example of this. Some people love it (including me), and others think it’s overblown and gets away from something <i>dirtier</i>, something that’s more effectively captured on Stones albums, especially the bluesier ones. Not being as familiar with the Stones, I might also include the Velvet Underground in the “dirtier” camp – a song like “Sister Ray” I suppose (which I also love) would make an interesting (or at least stark) contrast with Abbey Road’s closing medley.
This all reminded me of my reading <i>Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?</i>, a book by George Steiner I read last year, prior to really undertaking the Dostoevsky project in earnest. Steiner’s thesis, in short, is that while Tolstoy’s texts are smoother, more polished and perhaps better characterized and therefore more readable, they are ultimately politically naive and overly romantic in their consideration of the conditions of 19th century Russia. Further, there is something problematic about human nature that Dosteovesky’s texts capture, and also, something that their unpolished and seemingly haphazard surfaces actually help to get at, but that Tolstoy’s polish obscures from view.
So, in short, what do you think about this analogy:
And further – to really reach the level of generality I’m looking for – assuming the previous analogy speaks to something, what is that something? Is there some essential tension in human nature as made manifest in artistic exploration that this analogy highlights?