Making a Playlist is a Delicate Art

And High Fidelity does it well

I’ve always been insecure about my relationship with music. Putting on a playlist of songs I’ve never heard before feels like taking a leap of faith, an exercise in patience, and, if I’m doing other tasks, focus. At the beginning of a new job I told a coworker that I “didn’t really like music,” and maybe out of horror or pity, she spent a year curating a bespoke Spotify playlist for me. There are some people that are just good at music, people who choose music over silence or a podcast. I’ve never been that person.

Then at the beginning of quarantine, I watched the movie version of High Fidelity from 2000, starring John Cusack and Jack Black. Later in the summer, I watched the show version, remade with Zoe Kravitz telling the story from a woman’s POV. And I slowly started to get it: I put music on when I wash the dishes. I take note of what friends are listening to and save the songs I like. I find myself missing concerts and live music. (However, I still am not listening to the songs people share on their Instagram stories. That is a bridge too far.) 

It’s not often you come across a perfect entertainment trifecta: a book, a movie, and a show. One that captures how people obsessively dwell on heartbreak so perfectly. High Fidelity fits the bill so this newsletter is dedicated to all things Rob & Co: the return of vinyl, pizza for binge-watching, and a lot of good music.

🎥 Watch: High Fidelity (movie)

Anyone who is obsessed with ranking things can probably relate to High Fidelity. Randomly ranking things is my favorite pastime: top 5 Thanksgiving dishes, top 5 dog breeds, top 5 elementary school teachers. You name it, I’ll rank it. In High Fidelity, Rob, played by a young John Cusack, is obsessed with ranking things too: his top 5 worst breakups, his top 5 desert island tracks, his top 5 favorite things about his ex, Laura, who he pines after for the entire movie while chronicling his worst breakups. The movie is so ‘90s, so outdated in many, many ways, but very worth watching.

Bonus: About a Boy About a Boy is one of my favorite movies. It’s actually a non-Christmas Christmas movie if you know what I mean, but can be watched year-round. Hugh Grant is at his peak emotionally fucked up yet endearing, puppy-dog-eyed cad. Also based on a Nick Hornby book.

🎥 Watch: High Fidelity (show)

The show is better than the movie by leaps and bounds. The format follows the book and movie with some present-day changes. Though she still breaks the fourth wall, Rob, short for Robin, in this case, is a bisexual, Black woman who lives in Brooklyn, played by Zoe Kravitz. Rob wears band T-shirts, eats lasagna in the bathtub, smokes weed, and talks to Debbie Harry. I am still mourning its cancellation which happened before it progressed to a second season, a season that was supposed to be focused on the show’s best character, Cherise, one of Rob’s record-store friends, played brilliantly by Da’Vine Joy.

Fun fact: In the movie, Lisa Bonet plays a singer and one-time love interest of Rob’s. In the remake, Bonet’s IRL daughter, Zoe Kravitz, plays the title character.

🍕 Make: Best-Ever Homemade Pizza

In movies and television, pizza is always the food item of choice for characters that don’t have their lives together. Pizza is actually kind of time-consuming and complicated to make and often expensive to order so that doesn’t really make sense. However, all three Robs really don’t have their lives together so pizza is the move for a High Fidelity binge. I simply do not have the counter space right now to be making my own pizza dough but for those that do here is a recipe to get you started.  

🍸 Drink: Frosé

There’s an amazing scene in High Fidelity (show) where Rob goes into Cafe Colette, a very aesthetic Williamsburg restaurant on my old block, and orders a frosé. This is after learning (spoiler) about her ex’s new girlfriend named Lily who she deems the type of girl that would drink frosé (you know…). As she sits at the counter sipping her frosé, she’s surrounded by other women sipping frosé, all of whom, in her mind, could turn out to be Lily. As the scene ends, she looks directly into the camera and says “Damn, this is delicious.” Frosé is a symbol of basic uncoolness and I love that because I love frosé. PS—I know it’s still kind of cold in some places but from the name to the color, frosé makes a lovely spring cocktail.

📚 Read: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

A no-brainer but I had to include it because of the perfect 3/3 High Fidelity mediums. This original telling of Rob’s top 5 breakups is set in London in the ‘80s, still against the backdrop of a record store, two quirky pals, and Sad Boy vibes. 

📚 Read: A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad is my favorite type of novel: a bunch of different characters whose stories all intertwine around a central figure over the course of many decades. In this case, the figure is Bennie Salazar, a record company executive, and Sasha, his kleptomaniac assistant. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011 and though not a comedy, nor uplifting, it centers around the music industry and the cast of characters who devote their lives to musical artists and their craft. One of my faves.

🎧 Listen: High Fidelity playlist 

This is also kind of a no-brainer but this is the official soundtrack from Hulu’s show. It was hard for me to listen to because it was basically all new songs to me. But 2021, the year of open-mindedness, has me pressing play and trusting the tunes. If you watch the show then later listen to the soundtrack, you can picture some of the scenes. One, in particular, stands out in my mind: when Rob goes to a show with her friends, gets sad about her ex, and makes her exit to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

💡Learn: How Vinyl Records Are Made

I just don’t have time for a long read this week so instead, I’m including a video of how vinyl records are made. Streaming I understand but a sound that comes out of grooves on a small, skinny tire? No idea.

Bonus: Vinyl Records Obsession

Having a record player in 2021 is completely unnecessary (and also, a bit of a Millennial stereotype—yes, we own one, and yes, so do most of the people my age.) But I’ve found owning a record player to be a bit like a music scavenger hunt—I stop in record stores in whatever city I’m in and see what they have. I’ve found Fleetwood Mac, Joan Baez, Van Morrison. This Quartz Obsession email on vinyl records has some fun facts.