Saturday, November 15, 2008

Relating to High Fidelity

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is a much-loved classic, not least because it was the Brit lad lit equivalent to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary chick lit in the '90s.

It’s a great mix of wry humor, unpretentious intellect and blokey sentiment (a Hornby trademark that’s since inspired countless writers).

It’s also a call to nostalgia for anyone who’s ever turned to a favourite song/album to deal with a particular occasion or emotion.

High Fidelity, as well as offering an insight into one particular male mind, asks a few of life’s big questions:

- Is it possible to share your life with someone whose record collection is incompatible with your own?

- Can people have terrible taste and still be worth knowing?

- Do songs about broken hearts and misery and loneliness mess up your life if consumed in excess?

For Rob Fleming, a 35-year-old pop addict and owner of a failing record shop, these are the sort of questions that need an answer.

His girlfriend has just left him, prompting the dilemma of whether he can go on living in a poky flat surrounded by vinyl and CDs or should he get a real home, a real family and a real job? Perhaps most difficult of all, will he ever be able to stop thinking about life in terms of the All Time Top Five bands, books, films, songs. Even now that he's been dumped again, his first reaction is to create an All Time Top Five Break-ups list.

I had a couple of reactions to this book, but perhaps the strongest was that it took me back to my late teens, when my entire life revolved around music ... When the choice of cassette in my HK Premier was more important than my choice of outfit.

Regular poster, Bec C, one of my oldest, dearest and coolest friends, will remember this era vividly.

How many hours did we spend discussing whether ZZ Top was better in the '70s (Tres Hombres era) or the '80s (Eliminator era)? Or working out the lyrics to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid? Or compiling the ultimate '70s and '80s heavy metal cassette, on which Rainbow, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin could co-exist with Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Whitesnake?

Our debates about top five lists were along the lines of best rock drummers of all time, coolest Angus Young guitar solos, best Aussie pub bands... We definitely made judgements about people based on their music tastes (and, as is apparent from last week’s blogs, I still do this to a degree with people’s reading tastes. Bec, of The Small Stuff, was also bang on a few weeks ago when she suggested I would “get” the appeal of the lists in Hornby's book).

For High Fidelity’s Rob, the ability to compile those lists and solve musical dilemmas of his own devising is central to his identity.

It’s one of his excuses for not growing up, as the “adults” in his life keep urging him to do (and by adults, I clearly don’t mean his offsiders in the record shop).

He equates growing up with having to give it all up – believing that maturity leaves no time to focus all one's energy on a single passion.

My experience with blogging this past year has revealed there are countless people who live and breathe stories (for Rob it's stories in songs – for us literary bloggers, it’s stories in books).

Book-loving bloggers are more adept than most at creating a list at the drop of a hat because the subject matter is always at the front of their minds.

But are they as obsessed as Rob is about music? Has their depth of trivial knowledge and passion shaped their lives at the expense of other things?

Are they still functional adults?

Well, are you?

(I’d like to think I am, but others may disagree…)

There’s a particularly great line in High Fidelity I also want to explore, but I’ll leave that till next time.


Linda Jacobs said...

This was an interesting review. I liked hearing about your list obsession!

Bec said...

Hi Paula,

I'm so glad you liked this book - I did think you would 'get it'. I reckon Rob was a very 'real' character. I was never quite as obsessed as him during my 'music' period in the 80s but I was pretty close, and I certainly knew plenty of people who were just like him (in fact, I think my best friend in high school/uni, and Rob, were one and the same person :P)

I do wonder though about whether Rob is right in his theory that people who live so closely bound to their music live life at a greater intensity, and thus are more likely to be melancholy, depressed etc. Music is certainly for the most part a very intense thing, so I think there may be something in it...

the ink-stained toe-poker said...

It's an awesome book. Hornby's funniest but not his best -for that you've got to look to Fever Pitch.

You've raised some interesting questions here. I've been forced to read a lot of books of late to review/ talk about/analyse and I found the level of consumption wearing. It's making me sick of it. Like eating pie you don't really feel like, you just keep putting it in your mouth anyway.

I do like the notion that it was more important to choose the music before the clothes. I think that happens a lot when people are making book lists.

Oh and one other thing...

Cool rock chick will always be cool!