‘Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?’ – High Fidelity at 21

Patrick Fakeman takes us through Top 5 musical and life reflections from the 2000 hit movie, High Fidelity.

I was out last weekend taking a long drive. Peter Frampton was being interviewed and after the chat came the inevitable… The DJ played the timeless live version of ‘Baby I Love Your Way’ from Frampton’s 1976 album ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’. 

Now apparently it’s not cool to like Frampton but there are far more concerning disagreements in the world right now so lets say screw you to critics of music taste. If I recall, I first heard the 1994 Big Mountain cover of BILYW which, whilst a moment in time, isn’t my jam. What IS my jam though is the Lisa Bonet version that she famously performs in Stephen Frears’ 2000 movie ‘High Fidelity’ staring John Cusack, based on the Nick Hornby book of the same name. Tonight I was flicking through YouTube and found the clip of Lisa. Her take, or that of her musician character Marie De Salle, is stunning. A slow reimagining of a classic.. 

The point of all this was that it was during this reminiscent perusal of the interwebs that it dawned on me that the movie adaption of High Fidelity has recently had it’s 21st birthday. 21 years since Rob Gordon introduced us to not only Championship Vinyl, but his tragic love life history and early mid-life crises. A movie full of anger, upset, bad excuses and great music. So to celebrate, I thought I would celebrate this story of top 5’s with my own ‘Top 5 of High Fidelity’. A movie that has stuck with me since I was 16. Maybe I’ll work out why along the way…

Number 5 – Championship Vinyl

Early in the movie, Rob is newly single and so full of upset from his partner leaving him that he’s broken the 4th wall and is relaying to us his woes of love. Along the way he as has introduced us to his place of work – Championship Vinyl. Set in a neighbourhood that ‘attracts the bare minimum of window shoppers’ it’s everything a record nut like me would want from a record store. It’s big. Row upon row of crates of records, including ‘deleted Smiths singles and original, not rereleased – underlined – Frank Zappa albums’. Rob’s employees, Dick and Barry (the talented and very funny Todd Louiso and Jack Black, respectively) battle it out to set the musical tone and mood of this forgotten corner of Chicago with a world of great music hidden within its aisles. 

Championship Vinyl is full of judgemental music snobbery. Grown men being mocked for their want to purchase Stevie Wonder singles and arguments over cover versions of popular tracks – It’s the Twitter of its era. I had a similar experience in a craft beer store in New York City. You know what you want, you know they have it… but the knitwear clad dude behind the counter knows better… and you either walk out empty handed or with some weird local shit that needs shifting that week. Purchase clashes aside – Fakeman of 2000 wouldn’t have dared walk into a store like Championship Vinyl – I’d have not had the confidence to take on the challenge. But despite its judgemental staff, whom are too preoccupied with their love lives and debating over who sung the better version of Little Latin Lupe Lu, Fakeman 2022 would spend hours surrounded by their rhetoric. Most of my friends are huge music nuts and we spend so much time sharing music that Championship Vinyl feels like it would be my happy place. 

Number 4 – Getting Older 

‘Some people never got over Vietnam, or the night their band opened for Nirvana’ – Rob doesn’t seem to be able to get over himself. Despite his ‘career’ in record store management, the guy is content with his day-to-day grind being his downhill trajectory. He reminisces the days when he was a DJ and meeting ‘promising women, cos that’s what being a DJ is all about’. It’s around this point in the movie that Rob is pretty much unlikeable, but music is his constant. Now I know that many people reading this will consider music to be a huge part of their lives and for many, a saviour. But when the hair is getting greyer and this text is getting that little harder to read without a squint, we all know that it’s the people in life that make the difference too. The beauty of High Fidelity is how Rob goes from literally hating everyone to being able to see all the good shit about them… All the while the music remains. 

We take this trip through his miserable past, watching his bad haircuts get worse and his cigarette consumption grow. Us lovers of the 70s, 80s and 90s have all admitted to our lust for nostalgia… Often seeing things through some very rose-tinted glasses (the 80s was NOT that glamorous, folks!). Yet Rob seems to enjoy sitting in its misery.  We’ve all been there. Woe is ME.. but High Fidelity teaches us that growing old is all about accepting help, pushing yourself and looking after your record collection. When Spotify is dead and gone, you’ll wish that you did!

Number 3 – The Art of the Mixtape 

Now as far as I can tell, the film adaption of High Fidelity doesn’t specify a particular era for which Rob is experiencing his meltdowns and redemptions. However, in an effort to impress his girlfriend Laura, he makes her a mixtape. When did you last make someone a mixtape? And have you ever even received one?!  Just take a minute and think about that.

So much is said nowadays – in the 2020’s – about how we can have curated Spotify lists. Shit, people clamber to have the most followers on their click-and-point curation that doesn’t really even exist other than in the clouds. Some amongst you might even just remember the heart, soul, energy and anxiety that went into making a mixtape for someone you were trying to impress. What did you want to say with the tracks you selected? Is it too mushy? Did you go all-in with the Luther for maximum impact?! Mixtapes were (and still are) a way of sharing and throwing your passion out for the recipient to hear. Did you hand it over, walk home and spend the evening wondering how they would react? If it was a buddy, did you throw in some curveballs? Rob’s overzealous employee Barry insists on a Monday Morning playlist to kick start their week – Something I feel every human needs in that darkest of weekly moments. Rob is more concerned that Barry hasn’t arrived at work until Monday afternoon! Mixtape target truly missed on that occasion.

Mixtapes were not just a gift – they were an art-form. I can remember finding one that belonged to someone in my family and the person who had recorded it spent long periods between tracks talking.. the fuck, man..? You’ve immediately ruined the flow. Mixtape target also truly missed on that occasion.

Rob introduced us to his mixtape method as a way of finding a ‘promising woman’ and keeping her.. By the end of the movie his view has changed to that of using the process to express himself that little better. Bring back the mixtape. 

Number 2 – ‘Professional Critics’

OK, so I picked this one not because of its connotations (God forbid critics exist in certain music scenes) but more for the concept and impact. Rob begins to manage the awesomely named ‘Kinky Wizards’ – an electronic band who we are introduced to initially as they attempt to steal records from the store to sample from. Rob later creates a record label and signs the boys up to release their music. What follows is an insane ‘I know more about music that you’ argument between Rob and Barry.

Rob, Barry and Dick spend 24/7 critiquing not only every new album pressed to wax that comes through the door, but also each other and their customers’ tastes. It looks and sounds exhausting as they like very little. The rare example of music that does earn one of their self-coveted approvals just results in arguments from the other two who inevitably disagree. The long-winded point I’m trying to make here is that those who spend their days critiquing / promoting music are, on a base level, doing a good thing – the world needs more music in more people’s ears. What isn’t useful is extremes. Those that hate everything that’s released as it doesn’t fit their genre expectations – all hail you – gatekeeper of your tiny world. The rest of us will enjoy the development of genre sound. Equally as challenging are those that love everything. Let’s not muddy the waters – not every one is a 10/10. Especially when there are varying levels of dedication and time to the craftsmanship that is music production. 

I used to take real issue with review platforms where promoting the artist was a second thought, but as Damon Albarn once wrote – ‘I’m a professional cynic but my heart’s not in it’. 

Rob, Barry and Dick show us all that its too exhausting to live in a world of constant critique. Sometimes you just gotta press play, kick back with a beer and listen without prejudice. 

Number 1 – Mother-Fucking MUSIC

How was number one going to be anything but this?

The power of a new track is something we have all experienced. Rob throws on a Beta Band track and watches the customers in the store as they all start to sway to the counter and enquire as to who is playing. Sure, we still have that element in existence now, but often it’s a twitter / facebook 30 second preview or a pre-order track release on Bandcamp. Worse – It’s a purchase because you like the colour of a record that you don’t even intend to ever play! Anyway – My point is.. Music. Discovering it. Be it through a jumped up music snob, a mixtape or a weeknight gig. 

It took a few viewings of High Fidelity for the purpose of writing this article to help me truly understand why I love it. Rob is flawed. He can be pretty childish and arrogant. We have all been there. He struggles with matters of the heart that result in his defensive and pig-headed way of treating those around him . What Rob also does is learn. Like a musician, he develops and he understands what’s important. 

Finally and most importantly – Rob loves music. All manner of disco, funk, soul, electronic.  Like Rob, we might not realise it but our lives are measured by it. It soundtracks our youth, our adulthood, our highs and lows. Rob takes this to the extreme with a record collection that is placed in autobiographical order so he knows what music was in his life at a certain times and what impact it had. Without it he would have more room in his apartment but certainly a more barren life.

We can all recall a moment in life from a song we hear on the radio on a long drive. Be that a movie such as High Fidelity or a memory with friends you met through a particular music scene. I can only speak for myself when I say that I 100% am Rob when it comes to the ever-present friend that is music. Fuck knows where I would be without it. 

High Fidelity isn’t perfect. I’ll reserve that spot for Scarface – But what it is, is probably the most relatable movie of the last 21 years. 

Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostagic and hopeful all at the same time

Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.

Written by Patrick Fakeman


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