A totally absurd generalization I’d like to discuss

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:

Tolstoy:Dostoevsky::Beatles:Rolling Stones

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?

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4 Responses to A totally absurd generalization I’d like to discuss

  1. juan says:

    i think the analogy is ok (although i read only one novel by Tolstoi).i think it’s a reflection of a more general tension in art, which would be captured by and large by the opposition between romantic/classical.Nietzsche also had a distinction like that,in his discussion of Greek art.
    there are artists whose temeperament is more about breaking the rules and innovation,like Dostoievski or Beethoven, and artists who elevate the rules to perfection, like Mozart and maybe Tolstoi.this distinction may of course have its vagueness, but i think the differences between these 2 types are undeniable.it doesn’t mean that you can’t find classical bits in romantic artists and vice versa.i also don’t think one way of doing things is superior per se.
    it may be argued that classical artists are closer to human nature in the sense that they are more accessible and more universal.i think it’s very hard to find somebody who actually dislikes Mozart or the Beatles, but there certainly are people who would dislike Beethoven (even today) or the Stones.But about this claim im not so sure.Maybe the ancient greeks or the chinese would find Mozart weird.

    in 20th century fiction, for another example, you can contrast someone like Borges or Kafka, who i think of as classical and who i love, to Pynchon for example who i don’t really like.
    or how about And Justice for All vs. The Black album?
    whatever this difference is that we are talking about, it’s there in all these examples.

  2. Nates says:

    Just to complete the chain of thought:
    Tolstoy : Dostoevsky : : Beatles : Rolling Stones : : Apollonian:Dionysian

    Also, the Velvet Underground were studio tweakers in their own right. Cases in point: European Son or Lady Godiva’s Operation, which are at once Dionysian-gritty and Apollonian-crafted. Perhaps this is the band Nietzsche was waiting for…

  3. Josh says:

    I guess I should actually read The Birth of Tragedy. I think I read the intro once but that’s all. Other than On the Genealogy of Morals my Nietzsche exposure is pretty limited. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but there you have it.

    As for the VU – I like both songs Nates mentioned (especially “European Son”) but to call that song “studio-crafted” is a bit like calling the first Ashlee Simpson album “edgy.”

  4. Nates says:

    Josh, I think you’d love Birth of Tragedy. There’s some embarrassing stuff about Wagner in there, but his big-picture ideas about art and culture are fascinating and thought-provoking. Probably blog-post provoking too.

    As far as European Son goes, I suspect we’ve been talking past each other in using the term “studio-crafted.” I think what you have in mind is something like: “a clean, precise, polished sound,” whereas what I was thinking of was something more along the lines of: “a song that would sound totally different played live.” European Son would fit the latter sense of studio-crafted (think of all the studio-generated noise and effects), but obviously not the former. Having drawn the distinction, however, I agree that your idea of studio-crafted is more relevant to the conversation we’re having.

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