Books & Thoughts: Nick Hornby and the Peter Frampton Effect

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is a book about a man named Rob. It revolves around his break-up with his girlfriend. In the book, he admits he’s a difficult person. He’s a music-loving everyman with a poor understanding of women.

The name of his ex-girlfriend is Laura. Her memory haunts him throughout the first part of the book. One of the most memorable moments of High Fidelity (both novel and book) finds Rob bursting into tears as he hears a cover of Peter Frampton’s hit “Baby, I Love Your Way” from the mid-’70s, performed by a singer named Marie LaSalle.

John Cusack in 2000’s film verstion of High Fidelity, directed by Stephen Frears.

The song was a huge hit, he says, when he was in college and he hates it. Hatred is such a strong feeling that it posits a connection between Rob and the song that would otherwise not have existed if he had simply ignored it. Yet, he says he hates it so much it makes him puke. Nonetheless, listening to this cover version at the bar, he finds himself unable to control his emotions and starts crying, helplessly.

Why? It is not merely because he misses Laura, though he has suffered a trauma and is particularly vulnerable. In fact, at the end of the song, while he admits he does miss Laura, he also says he has fallen in love with Marie. The uncontrollable sobbing is due to “Baby, I Love Your Way” putting him in touch with a side of himself that he no longer remembered.

By listening to a song we presume he has done his best to stay away from since his college days, he re-discovers it. By rediscovering it, he rediscovers the way he was back when the song was a hit. He tastes that freedom and potential, which he no longer feels able to sustain as an older man. He misses that innocence but by denying it, he inevitably finds himself face to face with the inevitability of the passing of time.

None of this is textually written but by reading and experiencing art, you gain an understanding of the underlying, universal truths they communicate – whether that is the intention of the author or not. It is clear that most pivotal moments are driven by fewer aspects of life and human nature than we usually think. Most of these deal with the anxiety caused by the passing of time (and mortality).

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