Sunday, March 25, 2007

RIP Tower Records

It has been going on for months, and finally after 46 years in the music industry this past week Tower Record officially disappeared forever. It’s funny because the chain of music stores had such an impact in my growing up, and then the first time I set out on my own, I end up in the city where it was founded, and got to watch as the once mighty music giant shriveled up and died. Now I know many of you don’t even know what Tower Records is, and the rest probably say good riddance it was overpriced, and outdated, a relic in the world of digital downloads, and cheap chains like Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

Now I have two special attachments to Tower Records. Most recently is my move to Sacramento, since Russ Solomon founded the chain right here on Watt Ave. in 1960. There are two tower stores in the city – each with a Tower books and video nearby. So at work we have been watching the story closely especially since Solomon tried to buy back the chain. So the stores death throws have been in the news on a daily basis as the auction went late and as two companies For Your Entertainment music stores and liquidator Great American Group battled for the property. The out come would have been very different if FYE had won, there would be no sell off and the famous store on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard would remain open. That’s not the tune the fat lady sung. In the end Tower Records was worth more in pieces then it was as a while. So in October, with ‘Going Out of Business’ signs going up in all of their stores. For a few months the percentage off dropped as selection thinned out and stores emptied out. People who hadn’t stepped foot in a tower records in years were going back to look for deals, going out of their way to make one last stop to look at the music dinosaur before it went extinct.

The Second reason I am upset and more importantly is that Tower Records played a major role in my childhood. You can laugh all you want. It’s true. I bought my first real CD’s there, The Offspring’s, Smash in and Green Day’s Dookie in the early 90’s. I remember walking up the counter with my neon Velcro wallet and shelling out thirty bucks, a small fortune to my 12-year-old self. I remember walking the aisles and looking through the CD’s, and being in awe of all the music. It was really the only music store on Long Island except for the equally as expensive and now also closed Sam Goody, and The Wiz.

But my fascination with the store didn’t end there. It was the only store on Long Island that stayed open late. In fact the Tower on Sunrise Highway was open till 11:30 during the week though you could usually hang around there till midnight. It was nearby the mall and diner that were our usual haunts. It had a Ticketmaster window where I bought my first concert tickets, there would occasionally be people camped outside waiting for that window to open for the hard to find tickets. It was a world when AOL was just creeping into homes, and the Internet was a mystery, and no body was buying music or concert tickets on there yet.

Me and my friends would walk the aisles look at movies and CD’s and I would usually end up getting candy of some sort, either Nerds Rope or peach Smints which became kind of famous with the girls I was dating at the time.

The 18 and over section as kids held all of the mysteries of sex a teenage boy could want. When I got into Punk and independent labels The only places I could find the CD’s I craved were at tower or the concerts in the East Village and NYC I could rarely attend.

As I got older I would wander around the toy section starting my obsession with urban vinyl, and also got my first Ugly Doll there. Every time I would come home from college I would make at least one stop there, I would take an hour roll down the windows and take a slow drive down Sunrise Highway to Tower , and look for rare stuff I couldn’t find in Syracuse. Right before I left for Sacramento I picked up the imported double disk edition of UNKLE’S Never Never Land, and a Tower Branded Toy.

Tower was a stable of any night out with the guys… if we were bored and it was early we would head to tower and simply loiter around. It was just a place to go for no reason, we had cool friends who worked there heavily tattooed older kids, who would tell us about new music, and the ways of life. In High School they were outcasts; at Tower they were gods.

We would rarely buy anything, and when we did It was usually a gag or a joke. Cheap bizarre Japanese Movies on VHS and DVD with bad dubbing and plots edited to remove continuity and sense.

So as the stores began closing I made a religious trek there almost every week. I wasn’t the only one awed by Tower’s closure. I met people who hadn’t shopped there in years, but who had grown up going there. They couldn’t even say when they stopped going, but they just kind of grew out of it. I met workers who had been at tower their entire lives, people who loved music and loved working at Tower. For them it wasn’t a retail job it was a way of life.

So eventually the stores closed up. The lights were turned off and the stores locked up.

On the Marquee on the flagship Watt store there was Tower’s final goodbye – “Thanks for the Memories,” On the store on Broadway, was a sign that read “Your still the boss – thanks Russ.”

While this was the end for many people my relationship with Tower was not quite over. Months after the store closed, there was word of an auction. So this week, I got to go down to the old Tower offices Warehouse. It was in West Sacramento, and there they were auctioning off everything left over from the once great Tower Empire. They were selling shrink wrapping machines, desks, tables, palates of left over CD’S and one very odd crate of un purchased porno DVD’s. They were selling gold and platinum records awards for sales they helped artists achieve. Going under the hammer were plaques and giveaways items from Tower’s more than two decades of service to the Sacramento Community. (Included was a plaque from News 10 for its role in the coats for kids drive as well.) The warehouse and offices were covered in band stickers and music posters, graffittied, cut and pasted by smart-ass workers over the years. In the art room there were drafting tables and paint used to create the images of the tower campaigns. Anyone even after everything had been boxed up, and shuffled into lots could see it was a very cool place to work.

Right before the auction was set to begin I saw him, Russ Solomon, the man who created the chain that so impacted my life. He was there to watch the last bits of his dream slowly sold off to the highest bidder. I went over shyly and talked to him said hello, and said sorry. That it must have been hard to watch the end, of the end. However I hear he’s not quite done with the music business. While there will never be another Tower Records, with its famous Hollywood Blvd. Store that was the place celebs and rock stars popped in to visit there will be new life. Solomon is working on a new store called Resurrection Records.

So here’s to the future. That from the ashes of Tower Records will birth a Phoenix of Resurrection Records. Here’s to the hope that music stores will once again be a staple of cities nationwide, and that some kids will get the experience of a store dedicated to music, a place where they can one day look through more music then they could ever imagine, actually touching the cases and seeing the covers, finally picking out the perfect record, and getting to take something home, that you love from a store that holds seemingly unending possibilities for musical exploration.

Good Luck Russ – There is one person in Sacramento pulling for you – and can’t wait to walk into your new store.



Blogger Jenn said...

What a great post... I walk by the tower records that used to be downtown here, and its been boarded up for months. It's just a shell of what it iwas. Real sad that it couldn't have been utilized some other way, or figure out some way to adapt.

March 30, 2007 1:02 PM  
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