Low Fidelity, or: How John Cusack is ruining my life

I should not be allowed to watch High Fidelity ever again. Because it’s amazing and it always makes me feel like shit. It’s a weird juxtaposition. I’m ambivalent about my love for this movie. It’s damn near a perfect movie. And I only qualify that with “damn near,” by the way, because I really hate the song that plays over the end credits.

No, stop it. You’re not going to talk me out of this one.

It’s damn near a perfect movie. And here’s why:
– Unbeatable soundtrack. Un. Beat. Able.
– Super witty dialogue. Excellent writing overall, based on a great book.
– John Cusack gets rained on. Again.
– Jack Black singing Al Green.
– Tim Robbins with a hilarious yuppie ponytail.
– Bruce fucking Springsteen.

Yeah, that was six, but whatever. Ha! Meta jokes! Sorry.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you simply must. Especially if you’re a music lover. Really especially if you’re a music collector. Basic rundown: struggling record store owner (Rob Gordon, played by our hero, John Cusack) loses his girlfriend, thus sending him into a shame spiral of self-examination. He recounts his top five horrible breakups, trying to figure out what contributed to each of them. It’s a weird structure for a movie, the narrator speaking directly to the viewer, told in flashbacks and present-day over-analytical musings. And the record store is a great backdrop for this story, because it shows the I-just-have-to-make-it-through-today aspect of a horrible breakup, which I think is lacking in a lot of American love story-based movies. Your heart just got stepped on and fed to you? Too bad, you’ve still got to pay the bills. Sad but true.

But the thing I think I really dig about this film is the way it’s just steeped in music references. Even the costumes and set design show an obsessive love of music that speaks not only to the backstory of the characters, but also to the viewer. A sort of inside joke, if you will. It’s a great movie. I love it. And I hate it. And that’s why it’s interesting. For me. Maybe not for you.

My only goal in this life is to write. You may or may not know that my secondary goal is to open my own bookstore, mostly just to subsidize my first goal. And also to feed my junkie-level book habit. Because I have a Literature degree and don’t want to teach, these are the only two things I’m qualified to do. But my way-down-deep, extra special, super secret dream job? I’d love to own a record store. Clearly none of my dreams involve me making any money. I’m honestly and truly ok with that. I hate money. It’s not about money. It’s about the love of a thing. On top of which, like agro whipped cream, I just don’t want to work for anyone else ever again. I got burned badly by the Giant Evil Bookstore. So fuck it, I’ll open my own. That makes sense. But a record store? That’s just crazy talk.

I won’t say vinyl is dead. It’s actually making a comeback. (Thanks, hipsters.) There are only two or three places left in the U.S. that still press vinyl. Everybody else went out of business in the 90’s. (Thanks, internet.) I’m not one of those people who thinks that absolutely everything sounds better on vinyl. Nine Inch Nails? Nope. You need those sharp, clean, digital edges. Anything live? No! Crowd noise plus needle noise equals too much fucking noise. But I love vinyl. I love how it smells. I love the necessity for interaction with vinyl, because you can only listen to a handful of songs and then you have to get up and flip it over, you know? Instead of just absorbing hours and hours of iPod music, mindlessly, and without any sort of intention. And you have to be delicate with records, store them properly and protect them from sticky hands and scratchy things. It’s an act of love to be a person who collects vinyl. Finding an obscure record that I’ve been looking for in the back of the bin in a thrift store for two bucks? That’s just heavenly. There’s really nothing bad about vinyl.

So High Fidelity really fucks me up. Every time I watch it I listen to The Clash for about a week solid. And I end up having all these horribly unrealistic fantasies about owning a record store. Which makes me feel like I’m cheating on my more plausible goal of owning a bookstore. Which then makes me feel like shit because, probably, neither of these will ever happen. So then I drink heavily and listen to The Clash for another week (possibly the Violent Femmes, after the drinking starts) and end up hating myself because I’ll never amount to anything.

See the problem?

This isn’t John Cusack’s fault, I guess. I’m a huge Cusack fan. Say Anything? War, Inc? Grosse Pointe Blank? Better Off Dead? Being John Malkovich? Come on. The guy’s a genius. I could blame it on Nick Hornby, maybe, for writing the wonderful novel. But there’s something about Cusack’s performance as Rob Gordon that’s just heart wrenching. It’s not the love story thing. It’s a great story, but it’s a love story like any other. No, what gets me in the feels is that he runs a business that is, essentially, for the connoisseurs and by the connoisseurs. That’s clearly frustrating, both because there’s no money in it, and also because collectors of things are always comparing their obsessions rather than their collections. Your fixation becomes a big part of your personality, a measure of your worth. And despite living squarely on the edge of bankruptcy, he continues to do it because he can’t do anything else. It’s all he knows, all he loves, all he is. That’s admirable. Rare, even. It’s impressive as far as the screenwriting goes, too. The love story bits are couched in the language of his love of music because that’s the only way he knows how to talk. Obsession makes for interesting linguistics.

I’d like to say, at the end of my life, that I absolutely, unabashedly, did what I loved. Even if it’s financial torture and it makes everything else harder, being passionate about what you do, how you spend your energy, is worth every penny you didn’t make. I saw a Facebook meme the other day that said “The biggest risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” That’s the bottom line. (How sad is it that my current mantra-slash-philosophy was distilled down to a Facebook meme? One that I didn’t make? Urgh.)

Anyway. Go watch High Fidelity again. It’s so fucking good. You can turn it into a drinking game, too. Every time someone mentions a band, take a drink. Every time they quote a song, take a shot. You won’t get through the whole movie but it’s fun. And a great way to kickstart your self-loathing Clash marathon. Good times.

13 thoughts on “Low Fidelity, or: How John Cusack is ruining my life

  1. Ah! Back to lovely vinyl again. Excellent stuff. Here’s an idea, why not aim to run a second-hand record AND book shop? Two great things together. I have a feeling that if I ran such an establishment I wouldn’t want to sell any of the stock, but I’ll cross that bridge if I ever get to it.

    1. I’ve thought about that. As isolated as the towns are from each other out here, a combo like that might work. Better here than other places. Used books, comic books, and vinyl? Or, buy a building with two retail spaces in it and open the stores next to each other. Like having twins.

  2. I love your song, Vanessa.
    Back in the ’70’s I dreamed of owning a bookstore with, maybe, a limited menu cafe. I never did but when I was able to work in your “giant evil” corporation (you know what I mean) I took the opportunity. Like you I’ve been kicked around but I have stayed, largely because I do it so damned well. Even so, I still dream of my own place. Would it work? Would I make a decent living? I don’t know. Probably I would simply feed my own addictions for the printed word, my own and those of others.
    Dream large. Dream deep.

    1. Thanks so much, Doc. And for the record you DO do it damn well. So did I. I loved the job and the people, I just really hated the company and their practices. Seems like it’ll be much more fulfilling to do it on my own terms, book/music addictions notwithstanding.

  3. My favorite actor!! I read this only because you put his name in the title! (oops, sorry about the unnecessary use of punctuation!!)

      1. juxtaposition, etc. You know I’m not very smart! Dumb it down a little.

        1. You’re smarter than you think you are. I won’t dumb it down, but I WILL bring you an extra fancy dictionary when I come visit. 🙂

          1. Will that be in August? I will gladly accept a dictionary for my family. We don’t even own one, a real one. Ash has one she got from school, which I actually make her use. But I could DEFINITELY use one! <3

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