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Self-defeating DISCERNMENT

High Fidelity, the 1995 Nick Hornby book turned into the 2000 film with John Cusack, is the story of a 35-year-old man wrestling with relationships and commitment. But it’s also a parable on the danger of too extreme a Discernment need.

Here’s one of the best scenes from the film. Rob, the main character, has broken up with girlfriend, Laura. He’s moping around in the record store he owns and runs with the help of Dick and Barry (Jack Black in his first big role).

Today, as usual, they’re playing Rob’s favourite game, All-Time Top Fives.

ROB: OK, I feel kind of basic today. Top five side one, track ones. “Janie Jones”, Clash from The Clash.

Barry’s unimpressed. Rob follows up with “Let’s Get It On”, Marvin Gaye, from Let’s Get It On, which Barry grudgingly accepts.

Then Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, from Nevermind. Barry pounces.

BARRY: Oh no, Rob, that’s not obvious enough, not at all. How about “Point Of Know Return on Point Of Know Return?”

(I’m showing my Discernment need here, that is how you spell it – a 1975 album by American band Kansas.)

Rob tells Barry to shut up. Next up, “White Light/White Heat”, Velvet Underground. Lewis, a cool-looking dude lounging around in the store, agrees this would make his list too. Barry is still dismissive.

Then for Number Five, Rob plays what he sees as his trump card. Massive Attack, No Protection, “Radiation Ruling The Nation”. He’s triumphant but Barry sees through his strategy.

BARRY: Ah, kind of a new record. Very nice, Rob, a sly declaration of new classic status slipped into a list of old safe ones. Very pussy.

At this point, a nervous, bespectacled customer tries to get Barry’s attention. He’s told to wait.

BARRY: Couldn’t you be any more obvious than that, Rob? How about, I don’t know, The Beatles? How about fucking – fucking Beethoven? Track one side one of the Fifth Symphony? How can someone who has no interest in music own a record store?

This is to a man who’s currently trying to reorganise his massive vinyl collection autobiographically.

The nervous customer eventually manages to engage Barry.

CUSTOMER: Do you still have that, uh, Beefheart French import “Safe As Milk”?

Barry pretends to be Mr Helpful. He glides round the counter, pulls the album straight out and hands it over. The customer takes the record from the sleeve and inspects it for any microscopic scratch. Satisfied, he asks how much. Barry takes the record back.

BARRY: Ah. Oh no. You know what, I don’t think I’m selling it this week. Maybe next week?

CUSTOMER: Oh no, you said that last week!

Barry shrugs. The customer storms out, at which point Lewis says he doesn’t have that record and will buy it for forty dollars. Barry looks at Rob, who agrees to sell. Lewis acts all mystified.

LEWIS: Now why would you sell it to me and not to him?

BARRY: Because you’re not a geek, Lewis.

LEWIS: You guys are snobs.

DICK: No we’re not!

LEWIS: No seriously, you’re totally elitist. You feel like the unappreciated scholars, so you shit on the people who know less than you.


LEWIS: Which is everybody.


Lewis looks at them, wisdom pitying knowledge.

LEWIS: It’s just sad, that’s all.

So what would be your all-time top five side one, track ones if the brief is a less extreme, more mainstream Discernment than that of Rob, Dick and Barry?

Here are mine:

1. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” from Thriller – Michael Jackson

2. “Hells Bells” from Back In Black – AC/DC

3. “Speak To Me” / “Breathe” from Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd

4. “Bat Out Of Hell” from Bat Out Of Hell – Meatloaf

5. “Second Hand News” from Rumours – Fleetwood Mac

The top five best-selling studio albums of all time.

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