What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Pip, Dickens’ classic social climbing orphan.
(via Flavorwire » Literary Mixtape: Great Expectations’s Pip)
It turns out all these characters listen to a lot of the same things that are in the MP3 collections of young music writers! Pip, for instance, listens to Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You.” Of course.
I can’t suspend enough disbelief to engage with this series, since I find the idea of Jay Gatsby grooving to MGMT’s “Electric Feel” to be irredeemably ridiculous. But one entry focused on a character from a novel with the near-contemporary setting fitting a believable playlist: Harry Potter. Such an undertaking would, however, require care and imagination. Instead, we get… well, on Harry’s apparent love for Ben Folds Five’s “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”:
Harry is a Ben Folds fan if we’ve ever seen one, and this song in particular would appeal to the dark, secret pride he must have had about being important. We all know Ron thought he was secretly full of himself. But Harry really did get beat up after class before he found out he was famous, so we would expect a little I-told-you-so vitriol.
Which would make sense were it not for every single scene in every single book in which Harry shrinks away from fame, finds it undesirable and wishes he could be left alone.
With that last paragraph, I was on the verge of treating that article too seriously, so I’ll turn my attention instead to what Harry Potter actually would listen to. To answer this, remember the distinct cultural gulf between the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, including the Muggle-raised émigrés who first encounter it at age eleven. Ron has no idea who Cinderella is, while Harry refers to the British PM as the “Muggle PM,” even when talking to non-Wizards. (He corrects himself halfway through, referring instead to “your PM”; apparently his code-switching skills are extremely rudimentary.) Dean Thomas does maintain an allegiance to the West Ham soccer club, at least initially, but he seems to give that up as the series progresses, probably because spending his entire winter in school allows him no means of following the team’s progress. Wizards pay little to no heed to Muggle culture at all, including popular culture. We should thus assume Harry Potter’s musical development was halted at age 11.
Harry Potter was born on July 31, 1980, and he first went to Hogwarts on September 1, 1991. Brian Adams’s “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” was midway through its massive sixteen week run at the top of the charts. Harry would have no doubt known of its existence, and may even have enjoyed it. What is doubtful is that he would have spent his pre-teen years deeply engaged with music. He had an abusive, poorly-provided for childhood. He would likely not have had, or even been allowed access to, a record player, so he wouldn’t have been pawing through record stores and bringing home Smiths seven inches. He would have gathered what little musical knowledge he had through osmosis.
The Duran Duran single his cousin Dudley had. The Kylie Minogue tune he heard on “Top of the Pops.” The old Wings record Petunia liked as a teenager, which she still put on from time to time. The George Michael songs he overheard on the radio. Perhaps Harry was delighted — as children sometimes are — by the drama and novelty of Queen singles or the large hooks in Abba’s tunes.
This collection doesn’t tell you much about its owner’s personality, right? Well, no — that’s the point. I doubt Harry ever developed a chance to build his own idiosyncratic taste, and from age 11, if he did, it was with the music of the culture of which he felt a part: the Wizarding one, not the Muggle one.