Just Like the Record

High Fidelity Complements the Book, Surprise, Surprise


by Eddie Rivera


            I read the book. Twice. I gave it to friends. I even gave a copy to a well-known major recording artist (I'll never tell). British novelist Nick Hornby's 1995 novel High Fidelity was just that kind of rare surprise—a book that captured that feeling of why we love rock music and why we are such love-struck geeks for it. The book's hero, Rob Fleming, die-hard owner of a London record store, deeply understands the power of music, its effect on the psyche and why owning two Simple Minds CDs is a "war crime." He understands, for example, the importance of Solomon Burke, who you have never heard of.


            John Cusack, who produced and stars in the new film version of the book, holds the character close for good reason. When the film was announced two years ago, I held my breath and hoped against hope that it would come close to the flavor of the original effort. Cusack understood completely, and spent long hours, it was reported, agonizing over what songs would appear in the musically meticulous film. How meticulous? One character wears a Love and Rockets T-shirt. But not the T-shirt of that foppy, early ’90s English twit band. He wears the T-shirt from whence the band name was stolen—the original comic book of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.


            To the credit of both Cusack and director Stephen Frears, the film, now set in Chicago, makes no concession to anything near adult contemporary radio. There are no current radio hits just to bring snot-nosed teens in. The music, from the opening Kinks tune to the unappreciated soul gems, is treated with kid gloves, and not just mood music. The only snot-nosed teens in the film, rock, by the way, and are clearly on their way to becoming the snot-nosed adults in the film. 


            And those adults, especially Cusack (renamed Rob Gordon), grapple with relationships, aging, career decisions and top ten lists ("Top Ten Jobs," "Top Ten Songs for Monday Morning," you get the idea), throughout the clever, entertaining film. Cusack loses girl, organizes records, meets girl, and organizes more records throughout, and we feel his pain to hilarious degrees.


            Director Frears makes the best of Hornby's original narrative by having Cusack "break the third wall" and speak sections directly to the audience. We know all his thoughts. He says them out loud. That's one simple and effective way for Frears to acknowledge that the book wrote it better than he can show it.


            Know someone who owns too many records? One who lusts to strap on a Fender Stratocaster and strum it loud on stage, just once? One who studies liner notes for research and life strategies? Take them to see High Fidelity. It's one way to get on their Top Ten list.


©2000 Arroyo Seco Journal