High Fidelity Essay, Research Paper
In Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, the main character, Rob, relates music to every aspect of his life. He utilizes music as an escape from his anxieties regarding his failing record store, relationship, and sense of self. Music provides Rob with the inspiration that keeps him going:
Records have helped me to fall in love, no question. I hear something new, with a chord change that melts my guts, and before I know it I’m looking for someone. (169)
Music prompts Rob to isolate himself, hold an unrealistic view of people and sabotage his relationships. Rob allows himself to get overcome with a feeling when listening to a song pertaining to that feeling. Many of the songs he mentions as his favorites or with significant meaning, relate to Rob’s life in that they have a lot to do with loneliness. One song in particular that Rob wants to serve as his eulogy, “Many Rivers to Cross,” by Jimmy Cliff touches upon aspects of his life, such as loneliness, abandonment and anger.
The title, which is repeated throughout the song, relates strongly to Rob due to the fact that it contains the word “cross” in it. Having just broken up with his girlfriend, coming to grips with his fear of commitment and finding unhappiness with his occupation, Rob has just crossed many boundaries in his life. He has taken on a sense of depression, which leads him to resort to anger all the time. The word “cross” in the title can also relate to Rob’s anger. He is constantly “cross” with his coworkers:
If I have to listen to one more word of his useless, pathetic, meaningless babble in my entire life I will kill him. When I let him go I am shaking with anger. (56)
When on the topic of Ian, the man Laura left him for, Rob goes of on a tangent about how he “never liked him then, and [he] *censored*ing hate[s] him now” (70). Rob has trouble controlling his temper and is easily impelled into a fit of rage. At the funeral, while speaking to Liz, he gets all worked up and “suddenly, [he’s] raging and [he] [doesn’t] know how to calm down” (244). The word “cross” describes Rob quite well because he always seems to find someone to be angry with. Rob’s distress is clearly caused by loneliness and unhappiness with the way his life has turned out.
Rob clearly feels he is battling life alone. He feels he has no one to express his feelings to because no one understands him:
I can’t speak to Laura because she lives with somebody else and she calls from phone boxes and she pretends she doesn’t, and I can’t speak to Liz because she knows about the money and the abortion and me seeing someone else, and I can’t speak to Barry and Dick because they are Barry and Dick, and I can’t speak to my friends because I don’t speak to my friends, and I can’t speak now because Laura’s father has died, and I just have to take it because otherwise I am a bad guy… (244-245)
Rob’s loneliness is accentuated by the funeral where everything, particularly the solitariness of a coffin, relates to death. As Cliff sings, “And this loneliness won’t leave me alone, it’s such a drag to be on your own”. These lyrics sound as if they came straight out of Rob’s mouth. He cannot escape the lonesomeness he is feeling because he has no one to turn to. Rob, after years of unhappiness, is just about ready to give up on searching for contentment because “unhappiness really meant something back then. Now it’s just a drag” (4). Rob has come to the conclusion that discontent is something he just has to deal with, because no matter what he has it is never enough. The whole atmosphere of this song is one of depression, which is clearly the aura Rob gives off. Rob fears he will be lonely his whole life. “[He] saw, for the first time, how scared [he is] of dying, and of other people dying… it has prevented [him] from sticking with a relationship, because if you stick with a relationship, and your life becomes dependent on that person’s life, and then they die… well, you’re up the creek…” (247). Rob does not want to be left alone, and that is just what Laura has done.
The source of Rob’s anger and loneliness is Laura’s departure. The lyrics, “My baby left, and she wouldn’t say why, now all I do is cry…” is reminiscent of Laura. As strong as Rob tries to be, “to [his] intense irritation and embarrassment, [he’s] in tears, and the feel-nothing world [he’s] been living in for the past few days has vanished’ (60). At this point Rob acknowledges his defeat and realizes he cannot go on without Laura in his life because she was the one person he could rely on and talk to. With Laura gone, Rob resorts to a false comfort, his music.
Rob is so passionate about music because it is the one stable thing in his life. No one can take music away from him and it keeps him going. Music is what he uses to start conversations, make a living, fill up his apartment and to motivate him. The lyrics, “It’s only my wind that keeps me alive” can be related to Rob’s music. The only thing that keeps him going during rough times is his music, his “wind.” Music is a secure commitment, which will never walk out on him or die on him… music is his High Fidelity.