High Fidelity Made Me A Music Snob
By Kathy Iandoli
I’m not a film buff at all, yet I have certain films that (I feel) shaped my entire career. There was Empire Records, which inspired me to work at a record store in New Jersey in the ‘90s—surrounded by fellow gum-snapping music brats who challenged categories like “Acid Jazz” and “Gangster Rap” (considering back then we championed for a label-less existence)—all while getting checks cut by “the man.” Then of course there was the one-two punch of Almost Famous and Brown Sugar: two films that romanticized being a music journalist, where the respective protagonists William Miller and Sid Shaw hugged every part of their lives with a notebook in tow. And then there was High Fidelity, the film (and novel) that taught me valuable lessons about being an audiophile with a carefully curated record collection. In other words, High Fidelity made me a music snob.
Back in ’95, Nick Hornby penned his opus, and it became the manual for any avid record collector who dared to have a life outside of their record store. Maybe you were the guy behind the counter; maybe you were the guy who stood in the store all day, holding up the walls while you blew your checks on limited edition Joy Division 45s. Or perhaps you were the cute girl who surprised the guys with your music knowledge (the tables have since turned, no dis), a music columnist at a local paper, which was the precursor to being a music blogger. In 2000, the High Fidelity film arrived where John Cusack and Jack Black’s on-screen personalities personified the duality of the music snob. Rob (Cusack) was left-brained and anal, mastering his “Top 5” lists in a way that would make any free spirit shrivel. He reorganizes his record collection based upon life milestones, and when it comes to mixtapes it’s more of a science than a feeling to him. Every moment in his life is punctuated with either a song or an entire album. A place for everything, and everything is in its place. We know the romantic plotline by now, where his wavering commitment issues are the contradiction to his neuroses, leading him to make some real decisions about his life and his career by the story’s end.
And then there’s Barry (Black), who approaches everything from the gut. He judges music fans based upon appearance, as his right-brainedisms will lead him to shout out music facts that don’t exist, just to maintain his outward appearance of music snobbery. He demands certain songs out of people only to criticize their selections, despite not having the most brilliant taste himself (it’s brilliant to him though). But in the end, we learn he’s actually a pretty gifted musician, which is the craziest plot twist in any nerdy music flick.
The book turned 20 this year and the film turned 15, and so much has changed in the musical landscape since their respective releases. Vinyl went from a dying industry to the most burgeoning one in music commerce over that course of time. Four years after the book released (and a year before the film), Napster happened which basically shut the music industry down for a period, yet the advent of MP3s made music discovery much easier than wearing a dust mask in some dank basement looking for warped records. Evolution was a gift and a curse for music. And for me.
High Fidelity bookended my record store experience: I started working at a record store the year after High Fidelity the book released and quit my job the year after the film arrived. I would return to the record store world in 2004, when I took a job at Fat Beats, but by then I was an established music journalist and the biggest Hip-Hop snob on Avenue of the Americas. High Fidelity did that.
All love story plotlines aside, High Fidelity taught me how to curate a mixtape, how to dig deep into my music fan friends’ psyches to learn more about them through their varied tastes, to find the perfect songs to fall in love to, and of course to find the perfect songs for the ruin. Above all, it made me believe that the motto “music is the soundtrack to your life” isn’t some cheesy bullshit sentiment emblazoned on a mug. It’s meaningful and real if you allow it to be. While the aforementioned films gave me a career path, High Fidelity shaped the person who walked into those roles, character flaws and all. That is something I will always be thankful for.
Happy Anniversary x 2.
Follow Kathy Iandoli on Twitter @kath3000 and http://www.kathyiandoli.com