Greetings again from the darkness. I do not envy those experiencing their childhood in this modern era. Sure, they have far superior electronics and hundreds more TV channels, but they also have very little independence (most can’t even walk alone to a friend’s house or a park) and they likely will never experience the pure joy of perusing the stacks at Tower Records (or any other record store) for hours … experiencing the thrill of discovering a new artist or style of music that rips into their soul. OK, I admittedly suffer from a touch of “old man” syndrome, but filmmaker Colin Hanks (yes, the actor and son of Tom) has delivered both a cozy trip down memory lane and a stark accounting of good times and bad at Tower Records.
With humble beginnings as little more than a lark, Tower Records began when Russ Solomon’s dad decided to sell used 45 rpm singles in his cramped Sacramento drug store. He bought the singles for 3 cents and sold them for 10 cents. Within a few years, Russ purchased the record business from his dad, and proceeded to run it as only a rebellious kid from the 1960’s could. From 1960 through 2000, the business grew each year. It expanded the number of stores (peaking at 192 worldwide) and constantly adjusted to the musical tastes and the delivery method – 45’s, LP’s, cassettes, CD’s, etc.
Using some terrific photographs and video clips, accompanied by spot on music selections, director Hanks brilliantly and generously allows the actual players to tell the story. The expected celebrity drops are present, and even the words of David Geffen, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen and Sir Elton John carry emotion. However, far and away the most impact comes from extended interviews with the unconventional and charismatic Tower Records founder Russ Solomon and his devoted and forthright employee team. Their sincere recollections provide the roadmap through the phenomenal growth, as well as the devastating end in 2006. We understand how these stores became so much more than retail outlets … they were cultural hotspots for at least two generations. We also learn some things we probably shouldn’t … like the definition of “hand truck fuel”, and the reason Russ installed hot lighting in the listening booths.
Mr. Hanks surprises with his ability to balance nostalgia and the harsh realities of the downfall of an iconic cultural business. The film captures the key role Tower Records, while also pointing out that the crash was due to more than just Napster and digital music delivery. An interesting case study for business majors highlights the importance of vision vs debt. For more insight from Colin Hanks, check out the interview from film critic Chase Whale: http://www.hammertonail.com/reviews/documentary/a-conversation-with-colin-hanks-all-things-must-pass/
“No Music. No Life”. The motto of Tower Records was somehow inspirational, and fit perfectly for stores that featured mammoth album artwork on their store fronts, their own “Pulse” magazine, and staff that couldn’t fathom life without music … much less wearing a suit and tie to work. This was truly “a chain of independent stores”, and trust me when I tell you that hanging out at Tower Records was more fun than having hundreds of cable channels.
watch the trailer: