The Grammy Museum hosted a screening of the new documentary All Things Must Pass: The Rise And Fall Of Tower Records and a Q&A with director Colin Hanks this past week in Los Angeles. A highly entertaining film, it chronicles Russ Solomon and his crew of outcasts as they transformed the used records section of a Sacramento drug store in 1960 into the largest music retailer the world has known grossing a billion dollars annually by 2000. Its anecdote filled rise over 4 decades was ended by wide-eyed expansion, debt and the dreaded mp3 in 2006, marking the end of an era in music business, and more importantly, music culture.
Interviewed in the film, Bruce Springsteen says that Tower was a symbol of where the artist’s “dreams meet the listener.” For the listener, record stores were social conduits. A meeting lodge for the fraternal order of misfits where every Tuesday (release day) was the official chapter meeting. Tower, with it’s expansive catalogue of albums, huge international magazine section, books, videos and pop culture collectables was the ultimate meeting ground in many major cities, offering ways to kill hours upon hours browsing and having discussions with employees and other regulars. Hanks and his crew captured this beautifully, expressing as he states, “the connection between people and the music,” while never straying from the narrative of how the cast of characters created a world recognized brand on their own terms with no road map to guide them to the top. “I don’t remember where I streamed that song or downloaded that song, but I remember where I bought that album,” Hanks said during the Q&A, a sentiment for why he felt the subject matter would resonate with the audience.
Ultimately records stores have disappeared almost entirely around the world as both the music industry changes and the way in which we purchase has evolved. “It’s not quite as simple as the Internet killed Tower. It’s Bigger than that,” Hanks added. The Best Buys and Walmarts of the world were culprits in the killing of the giant but the company itself has blame on its shoulders too. Regardless of why Tower fell, you still leave the theater feeling proud of the underdogs who seemingly had no skill sets yet created a financial behemoth that dictated many aspects of the corporate side of the industry while simultaneously keeping an integrity that made music snobs and junkies feel at home amongst the endless isles of artists to explore. As their logo said, “No Music, No Life”. Millions would have to agree.
Elton John said it best in the movie, he misses the routine. This is an experience Millennials will have missed out on completely. Lining up on Tuesday to be the first to buy the big new release or concert tickets and getting to interact with others who share your same obsession. Getting advice from the somewhat pretentious but happy to share his/her wisdom employee about what artists we should be listening to. That’s all been replaced by the “People who bought this also purchased…” suggestions on Amazon, and Facebook threads about the newly leaked CD that wasn’t supposed to be out yet. Most importantly the record store provided a safe haven for all who needed a welcoming place to hang for a few hours or make new friends. Once I even met an ex-girlfriend at the cash register while we both sneakily eyed the CD’s in each other’s hands before I finally made the first move. Tinder be damned! That’s how we swiped right back in the day.
Thanks to 1,600 Kick Starter donators, Colin Hanks and producer Sean M. Stuart finalized this film that they conceived back in December 2006. The final result is beautifully shot by Nicola Marsh, sharply edited by Darrin Roberts, full of great archival footage and backed by a solid soundtrack of classic Rock, Soul and Pop. Since making the rounds at places like SXSW last month it has officially found distribution for a theatrical release sometime this coming September. Colin and Sean promised that the future DVD will have tons of extras including stories about the craziest in-store artist promotions, interviews with The Root’s Questlove, Chuck D, Chris Cornell as well as extended interviews with Dave Grohl and many more. As of now there is no release date for the DVD but be sure to keep an eye out for it and catch it in theaters if it travels to your town.