Friday, October 13, 2006

a sad day for music

It's not sad because J-Zee hasn't dissed me yet. No, it's sad because Tower Records is finally closing its doors.

When I was in high school in Macon, GA, back in the early '90s, it was a huge thrill to go to the Tower Records store in Atlanta next to Lenox Square Mall. Before you could order any CD you wanted through and then, it wasn't easy to find certain albums in Macon at small, mall-based stores like Turtle's, Record Bar, or Camelot Music. And as my tastes in music started to expand (or got better, you might say), it became frustrating going into Record Bar (later Traxx, once there was no actual vinyl left on the premises) or Turtle's (later Blockbuster Music and Wherehouse Music) or Camelot (um ... still Camelot as recently as 1995, which is the last time I remember buying something there—Michael Jackson's Off the Wall on cassette and the Replacements' Hootenanny on CD, to be exact) and not being able to locate Paul Simon's One-Trick Pony or albums by lesser-known bands like Big Star.

So when you went to Tower, which specialized in "deep catalog" offerings, it was like Christmas Day. They seemed to have everything, and you could imagine spending an entire day there just flipping through the racks of CDs or reading movie magazines you'd never seen before, like the UK's Empire. I remember Empire having really glossy pages and found it interesting that movie titles in that magazine were neither italicized nor surrounded by quotation marks. I currently have an issue of Empire from 1999 that I still haven't read. Good job, Robert.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the items I purchased at Tower between the golden years of 1992 and 1998, before Internet CD shopping took over:

1) Sly and the Family Stone's Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back and Small Talk (both of which were Japanese imports, which made me feel like a big man)
2) The Simpsons: Songs in the Key of Springfield
3) Randy Newman's Sail Away
4) Soul Hits of the '70s: Didn't It Blow Your Mind! Vol. 9
5) Big Star's #1 Record/Radio City and Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93
6) Dave Thomas's SCTV: Behind the Scenes book

Internet CD shopping ruined an important aspect of traveling to other cities and countries for me: going into record stores. One of the only good things about my "study abroad" trip to Europe in 1997 was my visits to various record stores in Italy and England, including Tower Records in London. Pretty shallow, I'll admit, but you should've met some of the people on that trip. In Italy I found a copy of Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On that featured the original 1971 artwork, and in England I found Lou Reed's first solo album from '72, which you couldn't find in the States at the time as far as I knew, and Geoffrey Williams's The Drop. (Who's Geoffrey Williams, you ask? Let me tell you!)

Now when I travel, the thrill is gone. When I bought the Lemonheads' Hate Your Friends from in January or February of '98, I knew a big change was about to happen. I still like to buy CDs in stores—a Second City performer made fun of me in a show for buying Pete Yorn's Nightcrawler at Virgin Megastore because if you buy albums there you "must be a tourist," even though I'd just explained from my seat in the audience that I had bought the album after walking there FROM WORK (for the record, this happened on October 26, but I'm cheating by leaving this post dated as October 13, which is when I started it)—but there's definitely some convenience in buying albums online, especially if, like me, you don't own a car. You can also save some money aside from the shipping and handling charges, because if you don't buy an album like Nightcrawler at Virgin four weeks after it's released, the price gets jacked up to $18.99.

Here's an excerpt from an article about Tower's financial problems from back in August, I believe:

"We're praying they'll reorganize successfully," one veteran music executive said. "We're praying they'll come back to life. Do I feel they're going to do it? Yes. Tower's enough of a brand, they can come back." The executive added that the dissolution of Tower could have a dire impact on the public's perception of music retailing: "Can you imagine Tower Records with boards on the windows on Sunset Boulevard? It'd be horrifying."

Well, Halloween's right around the corner. Why not give nostalgia whores like me a real fright?

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