“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” You all know where I’m going with this, right? It was only a matter of time before High Fidelity showed up in one of my articles, and today is the day! High Fidelity, for those that don’t know, is the story of a music obsessed record store owner recanting his “desert island, all-time, top-five most memorable breakups, in chronological order” while unknowingly creating the single greatest “mix tape” ever. Well, at least the fictional character Rob Gordon didn’t know it; he was wallowing in his own self-hatred and music snobbery. But John Cusack, the very real actor that portrays Rob, and the other screen writers reportedly listened to 2,000 songs and chose 70 music cues, curating the most intricate playlist to ever tell a story. In fact, the story line doesn’t really progress without the background music. The story is propelled by it, it’s even a troupe of sorts: Rob and his employees, Dick and Barry, constantly challenge each other to a game of Top Five Lists. Also, Barry catches Rob in the midst of reorganizing his massive record collection in “autobiographical” order while he tells his tales of heartbreak.
I hadn’t seen High Fidelity until my freshman year of college, when the androgynous girl down the hall showed me her The Black Keys “El Camino” vinyl she had just gotten from Hoffa’s Records, the ill-fated Athens Ohio record store. I thought it was super cool that she collected vinyl and had already amassed a huge collection. She admitted many of them had been passed down from her father before she left the nest, but everyone has to start somewhere. My fascination grew and I started tagging along to the record store with her, where she picked up a copy of High Fidelity from the discount DVD bin. We watched it as soon as we got back to the dorm, and there was no going back for me. Every cue makes absolute sense to me; everything from Queen’s “We Are the Champions” playing after Rob finds (false) closure about his breakup with Laura to Bob Dylan’s “Most Of The Time” playing while Rob walks in the rain, lamenting wasted time.
The number of songs played and referenced in High Fidelity was entirely too massive to fit on one commercially sold album, so obvious cuts had to be made. I would have hated that butcher job, but I believe a fair representation was finally chosen for the official movie soundtrack. But does it fit Rob’s rules to a great compilation tape? In the movie, Rob says, “Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do's and don'ts. First of all you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.” The final monologue of the movie, Rob begins with, “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.” As a serial playlist curator and mix CD burner, I think we should be left to pick the songs we think are most important in this film as our own personal soundtrack to it. I can say, however, that Jack Black’s cover of “Let’s Get It On” was a wise choice for the official soundtrack and would appear on my own, as well.