Top 5 Favorite Billboard Essays: Nick Hornby Reflects On High Fidelity, 20 Years Later

If you’re in your mid-twenties or older, you may have been wondering what Nick Hornby’s thoughts on the ultimate fate of the characters in High Fidelity. Well! Fear not. He has written a short retrospective essay about his novel-form love song for record shops for Billboard.

More interesting than his short insights on what Rob and Laura would be up to now, though, are his insights on a music industry that’s gone digital since the book was published in 1995. The fact that he wrote a book about vinyl snobs really gave the book the aura of its era, since CDs have become outmoded, and everyone carries their music around in their pockets these days. Or, as Hornby says, “If I had been told, when I was writing it, that within a decade you’d be able to email a song, I’d have presumed that this meant you could also email a sandwich.”

That being said, vinyl – the format truly celebrated in High Fidelity — has asserted itself in the last several years; as Hornby notes, last year saw sales of nine million vinyl records despite the fact that the price of new vinyl has increased pretty steeply since it was the dominant format available. I vouch for vinyl — it sounds fucking amazing, granted that you have a record player with decent speakers. I mean, pre-compact disc, albums were produced and mixed to be played on vinyl; and even for music produced today, it just has a way warmer, fuzzier tone than digital.

Everyone knows that digital production has democratized the process of making music, but Hornby argues that the digitization of music has also democratized the act of listening to it. After all, everyone can now sample whatever music you might want to listen to, regardless of whether you fall into that artist’s core demographic. When you actually had to go to a record store and ask for help or take a record or a CD to the counter, especially in vinyl shops, there was a sort of air of snobbish judgment from the clerks. I can vouch for that, too, although my impeccable taste in music always helped a lot when I was a wee 13-year-old buying records at Val’s Halla, my neighborhood shop.

Anyway. Whether or not you ever loved High Fidelity or any of Hornby’s books, if you love music, you should check out the essay — he wrote the seminal 90s ode to music snobbery, back before music became, you know, accessible, and his insights are sharp.

[Billboard]

[Image via Touchstone/IMDB]

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