About First or Best

There’s a song stuck in my head: the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (or rather Weird Al Yankovic’s “Tacky” which I strongly prefer.) I mentioned this to my husband this morning. “Artists know they’ve ‘arrived’ when Weird Al asks for permission to do a parody of their song…but I wonder how they feel when his version turns out better than theirs? More complex cleaverer wordplay in the lyrics? Less repetitious?” David responded “If he’s so good why didn’t he do it first?” I said “First doesn’t count for much. Mozart wasn’t first in classical music. But he was the best at what he did. That’s what counted.” David said “And Bach, too. He didn’t originate his style.” Me: “…But he was the best at it.”

I remember reading about Terry Pratchett being compared with Chaucer. Yes, both write satire…but Pratchett writes more. He has a wider scope. Chaucer lived in a comparatively small Britain. Pratchett combs through all the minutiae of his society and writes about it warmly and humanistically. Pratchett may be “only” a fantasy writer, but he is a better writer than Chaucer, and an immortal satirist for those reasons. Better than Swift. Better than Chaucer. Being dusty and old doesn’t make you more worthy. It just means you’ve survived. Pratchett is new and bright…someday he may be old and dusty, but not now.

What’s sure is that no one will ever attempt parodying the parodist. Weird Al’s “Everything You Know is Wrong” is safe. That song could have come out of the mind of a Zen monk who meditated a bit too long and went ’round the bend. Maybe to enlightenment and then back again?

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