High Fidelity is available to stream on Hulu right now.
High Fidelity is a movie about musical biography, and I’ve always been tickled by this because it’s an integral part of my musical biography. I didn’t listen to a lot of pop music growing up. The only genre of music that I know from my childhood is Motown and oldies, the result of many car rides to the soundtrack of K-RTH 101.1 FM (Oldies Radio!). About the time that I left home for high school, I was getting more curious about music–oddly enough, the album that led to all the others was Seal’s Human Beings–as well as being more aware of how un-cool I was for not knowing any music besides the piano pieces I played. The summer before freshman year, I got a subscription to Rhapsody, and I haven’t stopped listening.
That year, I also saw High Fidelity for the first time. At the time, I was charmed by John Cusack’s monologues and the smart soundtrack. As I learned more about music, I began to enjoy the music banter in the movie more. This time around, I’m struck by the different music-fan archetypes set up by the three record store proprietors, played by John Cusack, Jack Black, and Todd Louiso.
Cusack listens for the way that music makes him feel, for the strange way that a pop song can completely inhabit a memory, or a person, an emotion, a day, a decade. For him to arrange his record collection not alphabetically, but autobiographically makes sense because that’s the way that he listens to music. Cusack cannot separate his love for an album from the circumstances in which he heard it.
Jack Black is the type of listener that’s always chasing the new, as well as a musical partisan. Once an album is regarded as “classic,” Black has less interest in it, not because it isn’t good, but because the record no longer needs help to be heard. He has no patience for music that is tame, or backwards looking. He’s also the most critical.
Louiso’s character is a collector, a completist. When he hears a song he likes, he goes and tracks down all of the albums by that artist, reads about the records, knows the session musicians. He’s the most likely to like deep tracks on an album.
Their interactions are also interesting, and ring true to me as a music fan. All three have comprehensive knowledge of the same general area of music, but because they derive pleasure from different aspects of the listening experience, they all have some degree of suspicion for each other. Cusack, because his love for an album depends to a certain degree on circumstance, finds the other two approaches annoying. They, on the other hand, find him dilettantish. Louiso doesn’t understand how the other two could like an album and not be curious about all the other albums by the same artist. Black hates old sad bastard music, and is deeply suspicious of anybody that likes music that he doesn’t like.
Anybody who talks about music with other people a lot knows these archetypes. I’m a Jack Black style listener, and I often have to catch myself from being mean to the John Cusacks of the world.