Movies

Why ‘High Fidelity’ Is An Artifact Of Music Fandom In A Bygone Era

High Fidelity came out just after the turn of the millennium, March 31, 2000, based on a book written by Nick Hornby in 1995. I have problems with the film itself — mainly, I don’t think any of the characters are likable — but this is not the film section of Uproxx, it’s the music section, so we are going to focus on that aspect of this movie. Which is good, because this is what’s great about High Fidelity.

When John Cusack’s Rob wasn’t out trying to figure out what went on with his old girlfriends, he was hanging around his record store with Jack Black’s Barry and Todd Louiso’s Dick, talking about music. They make top-five list after top-five list on various topics — songs about death, side-one track-ones, Stevie Wonder’s ’80s and ’90s missteps, and so on. They are snide and elitist, but in a way that is recognizable and relatable among music fanatics. Barry gets mad at some guy for wanting to buy “I Just Called to Say I Love You” for his daughter and for not being into The Jesus and Mary Chain. Who hasn’t been irked by somebody not being into The Jesus and Mary Chain? They are great. There are also the mixtapes. Rob considers himself a master of the mixtape, and throughout the film, including in the final monologue, he give tips on how to make the perfect mixtape.

This is where the film excels, because the attention to detail is nigh perfect. Watching these three men who define themselves by their musical tastes, for better or worse, captures something that most music fans can, at least tangentially, understand. The movie is a testament to a certain brand of music fandom. Except that brand has now become, inadvertently, a time capsule of a world that is also now essentially gone forever.

Of course, this isn’t an aberration. All films, eventually, become a reliquary of a bygone era. As Philip J. Fry said when the milk in his ball-cap turned into yogurt, time makes fools of us all. However, it is rare for a movie to become so dated so vociferously and so quickly as High Fidelity. Again, this is a movie about guys who hang out in a record store and make mixtapes. These are things that this modern, digital, computerized world of ours has impacted to a greater degree than most things, especially cultural things. Fervent music fans who define themselves by the music they like still exist, of course. People are still yelling at one another over liking or not liking The Jesus and Mary Chain. They just do it over Twitter or message boards now. If you have ever been on the internet, you know lists are still popular. These lists aren’t being exchanged by dudes hanging out in a record shop anymore, though.

Or, at the very least, this is happening a lot less often. People don’t buy music, and when they do, they don’t do it at stores. Record stores are for people who romanticize, or fetishize, the tangible music experience. Folks like Rob and Barry and Dick are probably the ones still at the store, actually. However, that’s because they are dinosaurs in this modern era. Even kids who love music don’t think of it in that tangible way anymore. Plus, if you want a vinyl record, you can buy it online. If you want to buy a copy of “I Just Called to Say I Love You” you can do it without some music snob giving you crap for it. Or you can just send your kid a link to a YouTube video for the song and save money and time.

Mixtapes are even more antiquated. Why make somebody a mixtape when you can make them a playlist? Mixtapes took craft and skill and effort. You can just throw a bunch of songs on a playlist. You can take some off, or add some on, in the blink of an eye. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a very different thing, and it makes the concept of a mixtape seem very silly by comparison. Cassettes in general are completely obsolete. You can get CDs. You can get vinyl records. You can stream. You can download from Bandcamp. Some bands still release cassettes, but as a joke, as kitsch. That’s what mixtapes have become, whereas they were objects of great importance to Rob and friends.

It has only been 15 years since High Fidelity came out, and yet, from a music fandom perspective, it might as well be one of those movies from the 1950s where they go into space. At least, that’s how it probably feels to those who grew up in the world of the internet and Napster and so on. For those who actually remember, and were part of, the world of record stores and mixtapes, it’s more likely to bring about wistfulness or nostalgia. High Fidelity is a reminder of what being a music fan used to be like, and what it used to be like is extremely different than what it is now. We live in a world where Nick and Nora can make an infinite playlist. The art of the mixtape is dead, but at least we don’t have to drive anywhere to complain about it.

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