Life imitates art

For weeks, the question has followed me: "Did you see High Fidelity yet?" The last time so many different people quizzed me on the same topic was when the Smiths released The Queen Is Dead. Of course I've seen it. The film delighted me as much as, if not more than, Nick Hornby's 1995 novel. I even spotted a mistake amidst the ceaseless stream of trivia (Falco—God rest his soul—was Austrian, not German), which left me grinning with pride . . . until it dawned on me the screenwriters probably slipped that error in intentionally, to separate potential psychopaths from the merely fanatical.

When you're one of those sorry souls who isn't content emulating J. Crew catalogs and Fox-TV dramas, seeing Art imitate your Life is a rare source of validation. But sometimes the equation turns reflexive. And then you start peeking around every corner, well aware that men in white lab coats are waiting to pounce on you with butterfly nets.

In High Fidelity, the protagonist Rob meets his girlfriend Laura while DJing at a club, after she compliments his choices. Such episodes form the backbone of my tribe's mythology. One of my best friends daydreams of finding a husband when they simultaneously reach for the same rare funk-soul LP in a used-record store. Not long ago, I was spinning at Linda's Tavern when an attractive young man requested I play something from Dolly Parton's The Grass Is Blue, an album I adore. When he asked for my phone number, I scanned the perimeter to see if someone clutching a straightjacket was advancing on me.

The next step in the mating ritual is for the music lover to make a mix tape (as Rob does), which he or she then presents to the intended circa the first date. This provides a handy litmus test of the potential paramour's taste and intellect, as well as a way for those of us who've grown tongue-tied from years of solitary listening to lay some emotional groundwork without exposing ourselves verbally.

But I bucked that tradition a few years back. I devoted one too many days to fine-tuning a tape that—like my affection—was received initially with enthusiasm, then quickly discarded. The last time I tackled this fruitless task was back in Manhattan. The program started off optimistically enough, with Grace Jones' "Am I Ever Gonna Fall in Love in New York City?" But over the course of many presses of the pause button (each punctuated with a shot of vodka), the futility of wooing men via music became glaringly apparent. My selections took an ugly turn (Cathy Dennis' "You Lied to Me") before screeching to a halt with "Take A Bow" by Madonna. That mix featured more melodrama than the entire London run of Sunset Boulevard, all over a guy I'd barely kissed. I swore to stop torturing myself.

So I didn't show up with one for my new beau. Lo and behold, we've been dating for over a month. But now I'm feeling inspired to give that dreaded mix tape a go, because I have resources to draw on; things I know he enjoys—the Andrew Sisters, drum-and-bass, the French language—or acts we've seen together. Instead of the standard personality-quiz-on-cassette made for my imaginary Mr. Right, given in a "love me, love my record collection" spirit, I can pull together a program specifically for him.

Yet I still haven't made him one. Part of my hesitation stems from a healthy respect for my didactic streak. I'm struggling to appreciate my new boyfriend for who he is, not for how he's just like me. The temptation to force my tastes on him is too strong. I realized that the morning I kicked him out of bed for saying there was no discernable difference between the Smiths and Morrissey's lackluster solo career (although after calculating the little idiot was 10 years old when the Smiths split, I let him back under the covers).

But what I suspect is honestly stopping me isn't exclusive to music buffs: fear of commitment. Assembling 90 minutes worth of songs chosen with the recipient—not the compiler—in mind reflects an emotional investment I'm not ready to make. Yes, High Fidelity concludes with Rob sketching out just such a mix for the estranged Laura, "full of stuff she's heard of, and full of stuff she'd play," but they've been together for years, not mere weeks. When the right time arrives, I'll recognize it. Meanwhile, I'm trying to spend less time worrying about points of intersection between Life and Art, and more just enjoying Life, period. If the boyfriend can learn to refrain from whistling "You're the One for Me, Fatty" before I've had my Sunday morning coffee, I might get the hang of it yet.

 
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