Back in the USSR?
Over the course of a few happy days not long ago (thank you, A!) I spent some time listening to the music of the Beatles and the Beachboys. Both used to give me great pleasure, but on hearing the old songs again I was struck by how much more interesting those of the Beatles are. Their music is more complex, takes more forms, and has lyrics that deal with a wider range of subject matter. The Beachboys give the impression of perpetually enjoying the company of surfer girls, and if things didn’t work out there was always a Rhonda ready to help or a Barbara Ann to supply romance, suggesting something along the lines of the Surf City of Jan and Dean, with its remarkable demographic structure of two girls for every boy.
More recently I overheard another Beatles’ song, ‘Back in the USSR’. It’s a clever piece of work, in which a line in the chorus, ‘Back in the US [pause], back in the US [pause]’ invites the listener to supply an ‘A’, but no, it’s not the USA but the USSR to which a return is being made. And surely the song is a parody of the music of the Beachboys. The sunny tone and use of harmonies, not to mention the lyrics, are a kind of tribute, doubtless an affectionate one, to the Beachboys.
While the Beatles can parody the Beachboys, I can’t imagine the Beachboys being able to return the favour. Big things seem to have the capacity to incorporate lesser ones within their frame of reference, and the same may be true of intellectual systems as well. Imagine a system of such truth and richness that everything that was valid in other systems could be incorporated within it. Indeed, such things would fit better in their new home than they had in those within which they had originated.