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All Things Must Pass, a documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records, is worth a look. It’s one of those interesting stories that are relevant to me because it’s ephemeral and generational. It’s like watching a doc about free weekly newspapers thick with ads, repertory movie theaters that showed old films, or even as recent as video rental stores; all things that were big in “our” time — baby boomer’s time — and have since faded. But whatever age you are, you may find it of interest.
I’d wondered how they managed to get interviews with people like Bruce Springsteen and David Geffen until I found out the director was Tom Hanks’ son Colin. As Colin’s dad nostalgically depicted in That Thing You Do, back when I was a kid, records were sold in places like TV and radio stores, department stores, and five-and-dimes (a pretty anachronistic phrase now).
A few record stores existed mostly for the classical and jazz fans (I can’t really call them “crowds”) and were smallish hobby and collector stores. We boomers have lived through the whole era of the giant record superstore, rock-driven places like Sam Goody in New York and Tower Records, which started in 1960 in Sacramento and made its first giant leap to San Francisco in 1967. Its early claim to fame was completeness; every record, every genre. That’s what the owners liked to see as the Tower difference, its contribution — a deep catalog, which was as much a commitment to being willing to move, inventory, and stock a lot of things as it was to fuzzier concepts that sound good in today’s interviews, like musical diversity.