WHAT WOULD A VINYL JUNKIE DO? Music, Morals, And Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity Dilemma


Misfortune is not a word I would ordinarily use to describe being matrimonially linked to the deliciously saucy actress Beverly D’Angelo. But, as you can see from this (unfortunately) deleted scene from the 2000 film adaption of author Nick Hornby’s 1995 book, “Hi Fidelity” (the scene, in somewhat different form, is included in Hornby’s masterwork), here the delightful Ms. D’Angelo becomes every record collector’s worst nightmare, save outright theft or fire.

Because I’m a lot closer to the main character, independent record shop owner Rob Gordon, than I would like to admit — oh, what the hell, of course I admit it! — I had to freeze-frame the opening of this clip to linger over those amazing albums framed up there above the wall of records: Good God. The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” The 13th Floor Elevators’ debut LP.  The Chocolate Watch Band’s “No Way Out.” Moby Grape – yeah, the rare one with one of  Grape guys extending  his middle finger on the front cover, which was quickly airbrushed out by the record company on subsequent pressings.  And those framed masterpieces, while possibly the cherries on top, may have only hinted at  the glorious history those quiet shelves contained. I’m more of an LP guy than a singles guy, so I was hungry and dying to see what Rob, a.k.a actor John Cusack, pulled from this  stunning wall of  wax. Which, sadly, he didn’t.

UNLUCKY ELEVATOR: Maybe Beverly's hubby got off on the 13th floor. Now his wife wants to sell this (yikes!)

UNLUCKY ELEVATOR: Maybe Beverly’s hubby got off on the 13th floor. Now his wife wants to sell this (yikes!)

CHECK YOUR CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND: Time is running out for Beverly D'Angelo's hubby's record collection

CHECK YOUR CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND: Time is running out for Beverly D’Angelo’s hubby’s record collection

But we do see him pluck from those vast drawers filled with rare 45-rpm singles, with ever greater astonishment and with a kind of moaning, sighing sound emanating from his throat (or is that from down deep in his soul, or even lower regions?) that resembles engaging in a sexual act of some kind (and maybe perusing vinyl porn like this is a sexual act). I didn’t mike myself or have a camera on me, but I wondered if watching this elicited a similar unconscious response from me as I gazed at the drool-worthy original pressings of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”; Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely”; James Cotton’s “My Baby.” As much as I longed for Rob to keep flipping, fanning, and caressing these beautiful creatures — for god’s sake, don’t stop! — he does stop to complete the scene and engage in (his) post-coital dialogue with the peeved and impatient Ms. D’Angelo. Oh, right. We have a movie to do here.

Viewing this scene (hitting rewind so I could re-experience the scene and again feel the flush, giddy sensation of poring over those 45s) got me thinking about ethics. Namely, what would I do in this situation? Rob undoubtedly takes the high road, and rebuffs D’Angelo’s bitterly dripping desire for revenge — and the potential vinyl windfall of Rob’s life. Although I commend — and agree with — Rob’s golden rule not to opportunistically exploit or profit at the hands of a fellow record collector, I’m not sure I would be as strong.

But having camped out in record stores as a second home for most of my life and even having worked the other side of the counter briefly as quite possibly the world’s oldest first-time record clerk, I started thinking that Rob and the guys like him — they’re always guys — who run record stores run a business that is incredibly tough to maintain. They need to turn a profit to survive. They need to buy low and sell high. They need to respond to the finicky tastes and capricious trends of supply and demand. And they simply cannot afford to pay somebody selling their collection, no matter how exemplary, what that collection is worth. After all, they’re not ambassadors of good will or the fairy godmother or a non-profit up for the Nobel Peace Prize.  And they’re not purchasing those records for their own collections (well, most of the time anyway). They’re buying them to flip, to sell, at a mark-up and at a reasonable profit. That’s business. 

I’m not saying that record stores rip off or hoodwink folks selling their collections. Quite the contrary. As someone who has, reluctantly, been occasionally been forced to sell specimens here and there from my own collection as a way of subsidizing another stack of records I want (or need) to have as a way of growing it, improving and enhancing that collection as a living, breathing organism, I can tell you that most of the guys who run record stores are very fair. They are, after all, very much like me. They love records and music. They’ve probably been there on the other side of the counter. They know you probably know what you have (because you’ve taken the trouble to obtain it), and know what those records are worth. The rule of thumb, in my experience at least, is that record store owners will give you roughly half of what they think they can sell a record for (or what they claim they can sell your records for). And they will always give you more if you take the exchange in trade, for credit.

But of course, the case with Rob at Beverly’s is obviously a different story. She wants to screw her husband over as revenge, and is counting on Rob to be a willing and ready accomplice. She’s counting on his greed, in a sense. The question becomes: Does he play along? We all know what he gets if he does. But do we — or he — know what he gives up if he does? And what taking this guy’s collection may cost him cosmically as a person and fellow traveler in the wax wilderness?

Then there’s yet another dimension in this moral and ethical dilemma: The husband, whom we never see or meet. The fact (if true) that he’s asked/directed  the wife he’s cheating on to sell all of his singles and send him whatever she gets for them so he can keep partying with his barely legal girlfriend in Jamaica tells me something disturbing. Bottom line, he doesn’t love his singles and records as much as he should. Certainly not as much as he likes, ahem, (pardon my French, readers) 19-year-old pussy. I mean, check out the house Beverly and hubby live in. You just know there’s a Jaguar or Beemer parked in the two-car garage. Couldn’t he sell something else?

MOPY GRIPE: Is that a member of Moby Grape in the middle, or Beverly D'Angelo giving her philandering husband the finger?

MOPY GRIPE: Is that a member of Moby Grape, or Beverly D’Angelo giving her philandering husband the finger?

So maybe on some level he doesn’t deserve those records anymore. He’s made his choice. He’s engaged in some tacky behavior that — as intimidating and  brusquely business-like as she seems — has badly betrayed and very probably hurt his wife very deeply. Not to get on a different moral tangent about marital fidelity or lack thereof, and I’m honestly not judging that because we have no idea what brought this scenario about. But since this scene is set as a kind of moral test and ethical quandary, I feel we can factor in, as one element of the discussion, the husband’s actions, priorities, and choices that make it an ethical quandary. He’s got a lot of nerve asking the wife he’s cheating on to do his bidding for him. Then  again, also bottom line, is that it’s his record collection. It belongs to him, to do with as he wishes. Maybe he conceived of it as money for a rainy day someday. And maybe this is his rainy day (or a whole lot of cocoa-butter slathered sunny days).  Even if it is, this is an impressive collection that he’s obviously built with love, care, dedication, passion, and a focused obsessiveness over time. Decades, probably. Maybe he — and his collection — deserve better. And, well, shit happens.

So there we have it. And now, for me at least, comes the interesting part. For all of you who love and collect records or music or, hell, anything you love — and I know you’re out there because you’re here  reading this thing called “RPM” — what would you do if you were Rob? Have you ever been in a similar or comparable situation? If so, I (and probably all of us here) would love to hear about it. If you prefer, you can also/either/or tackle this little exercise from another angle that I’d also love to hear about if you have a tale to tell. The  overwhelming rush and sensory overload Rob feels when he hits upon this veritable gold mine of wax is a giddy and euphoric feeling I’ve had the great good fortune to have many times in my life. I know, I know. But as dauntingly  sophisticated, dangerously debonair, and casually cultured as you no doubt all think I am, I am at heart a man of simple tastes and pleasures. (A lot of them, including chatting with you, are outlined right here on this blog). So I ask you: What is the best, or most incredible and surprising, day of your record-hunting life? Feel free to leave a comment or reply below, or at my “RPM: Life In Analog” Facebook site if you wish. Thanks in advance for sharing your perspectives and war stories of  battles waged, won or lost.  I very much look forward to, um, collecting your answers. And I promise not to sell them to finance a trip to Jamaica, even with my wife (well, OK, maybe I would do that).

Couldn’t resist a few more scenes (this poor sap  doesn’t own “Blonde On Blonde”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eBh6xipKYk&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk&index=19

Filing records autobiographically: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQvOnDlql5g&index=37&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk

The wrath of  Barry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ECyX8A3iP0&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk&index=9

Sad bastard music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc3TYIIpOZM&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk&index=10





  1. I’ve thought about this a little and as a former manager of a record store that did buy and sell used stuff, I’ve traversed a very similar dilemma: First off, relative to Rob (Cusak), he faces the rather typical, utilitarian dilemma: to determine what actions are right one needs to determine what outcomes are good. That logic is based on consequences, which we can already see is a complicated… well, an almost impossible thing to determine with any certainty. Cusak already delves into it by mentioning charity, etc. But, he also flip-flops and seems to perceive that the whole proposition is simply not right (regardless of consequences): One simply shouldn’t do such harm to another (the more deontological side of the issue). Surely we don’t want to claim that because the owner of the collection is doing something immoral (so says his wife at least) that then taking the collection is warranted. So, we’re left with the question of getting something for less than proper value, knowingly.

    At the record store we had a very similar problem: the drug addled hipsters who shoplifted CDs and brought them into our store, willing to take whatever price I proposed, because they had a bigger goal in mind: the next score. The problem was exactly parallel to Rob’s. If I didn’t buy them, my competition surely would and make a nice profit. But if I bought them, I was essentially participating in a criminal act, as a fence, for stolen items (but it was impossible to be absolutely certain about any of these details… semi-homeless, youngish white guy has a bag full of shrink wrapped Beatles and Stones wanting $50 for the lot… seemed obvious, but “certain”? Hard to say.). After some thinking about the profit/loss potential and the larger moral issue at stake, I decided that I could not buy them, much to these shoplifter’s surprise (and my boss’s too, I might add). My logic was that the whole enterprise, including encouraging such folk to grace my door, was at least in bad form and likely to not be “worth it” (whatever that means) in the end… So, as with all realistic, moral decisions, there was a bit of “this just ain’t right” and a bit of “is this really beneficial, all things considered”… which is all quite untidy, as one of my philosophy mentors loved to characterize such situations.

    With all that said, in this specific case, my decision would be quite different and maybe surprising, even to myself: What’s at stake here is not mere profit and loss and some junkie loser trying to score some cash. We have here a unique, historical collection, and there’s then a bit more at stake. I think I would have taken the whole lot, put it in safe keeping, and wait to have a chat with the real owner and see what develops. He could say, “Screw it… glad you got it, I’m off to the beach with my teenage bride who doesn’t know a Sun Records from a hole in the wall.” Or he could say, “My God man, you’re my hero, you saved the only thing that really matters to me… well, now my romp with Bonnie is done with. How can I get it back from you?” Or a host of other interesting scenerios, all with the potential for a nice remedy to a horrific dilemma.

    But that’s just my instinct… which is not exactly a state of the art, ethical proof.

    Washington, DC

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such a great, thoughtful, well-considered and in-depth reply Jon. So much food for thought in your comments (as I had hoped my own piece might provide as well as entertainment). Yes, I think you have helped me crystallize what I would ultimately do, realistically as both a lover and collector of records (and if I were a record store owner/manager, as you were), but also as someone who is tries to live by a few built-in golden rules of empathy, generosity, and putting oneself in another’s shoes and experiences. I had leaned toward this, but with your hypothetical scenario of a guy who is grateful and says, how can I get this back (rather than gimme that back now!) I could imagine taking the collection and sitting on it for awhile, and eventually checking back or waiting for the owner to either contact me or perhaps I contact him (sensing that there would be a devastated person on the other end). I would offer, if he asked ‘how can I get/buy it back?’ to return it for the price I paid but ask/implore him to possibly consider selling me a few things for a fair price that I either badly wanted for myself or my store. If it was something for myself I would offer a fair, full, competitive price that I would hope would make it worth his while and would feel OK about parting with because, well, I saved his ass and he IS getting back all of the contents of his ‘wallet,’ including cash and credit cards. If it was something I wanted to sell as a high profile profit-making coup for the store, I would also offer a fair store price. But I wouldn’t force him or withhold the collection if he did not want to sell. As much as I might fantasize about keeping a couple of things as a ‘finder’s fee’ or ‘reward’ for my good deed, I probably could not do it, knowing he wanted his collection back. It would feel exploitive and opportunistic and sleazy, and wouldn’t feel right or fair, whether it was a fellow collector or just a person off the street. (Even though, if his wife is telling the truth, he has one hell of a nerve demanding she sell his collection and wire him the money; on that front, he is not only boorishly insensitive and arrogant, but pretty damn stupid and leaving himself wide open to her being justifiably pissed). Of course, we don’t really know anything about this guy, really, as a person. The best-case would be him saying ‘great, glad you got it!’ as you suggested. Or, he might do the right thing and offer some sort of compensation or reward. That might come in the form of him offering to buy back his collection at a whopping price because it’s worth it to him and he’s so relieved it’s still intact. Or he could say, ‘pick out a few things for yourself, they’re yours on the house for being so cool about it, man.’ Then again, if he found out where his collection was, called me up or confronted me, and rudely began accusing me of stealing and shouting at me, and I got the distinct impression that this guy was a total prick (sometimes, yes, you CAN tell on a first impression) and a verbally abusive SOB who showed zero gratitude, and blamed everybody else for screwing him over, I might not feel so charitable…Hmmmmm. I think taking the collection and sleeping on it buys time and possible outcomes. But ultimately, the moral/ethical question posed by this scene (and in Hornby’s book) really isn’t about how we would/should respond dependent upon what this man might say or how he may act in the future. It is how Rob/Cusack chooses to respond right then and there, at that moment when confronted with that immediate choice, and the prospect of a personal windfall. And the dilemma continues.


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