Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe: A Farewell To Tower Records (1960 - 2006)

A part of my life is marching towards a slow, certain death. The Going-Out-Of-Business Sale signs have gone up at all Tower Records, as the entire chain is slated to meet an imminent demise, its assets having been sold off in bankruptcy to the highest bidder who has no intentions of salvaging the company. While many may barely bat an eye at the news, or even take sadistic pleasure in such a fate, some understand its significance, while others share in my despondency.

To me, the closures symbolize the waning days of a lifestyle in which I once reveled—a pastime known as record-shopping. One of the biggest independent record stores in the country, Amoeba, still exists a 30-minute drive away from home; my visits there will probably become more frequent, if not more costly. But no longer can I run out on a whim on a Saturday night to the neighborhood Tower Records a few blocks from my home to check out the sale prices on new releases, hunt for back catalog, and take inventory of the gaps in my collection. (Why I prefer not to download, take copied music from others, or order CDs online is an entirely different discussion.)

Admittedly, Tower’s regular prices were ridiculously high, which—aside from the backlash from music fans against the record industry in general—surely contributed to its financial woes. Still, Tower’s redeeming qualities were its encyclopedic selection that dwarfed those of Best Buy or Circuit City, and its convenient suburban locations (Virgin Megastores are too sparsely disbursed and their prices are just as prohibitive). Also, Tower’s sale prices were competitive, and its prices on back catalog were often reasonable. True, Target’s new release prices are excellent, but its limited product selection eventually rotates out of stock. Walmart sells censored versions of its music—which pretty much makes purchasing rap at Walmart an exercise in meaninglessness. Granted, the exclusive bonus track deals that Best Buy has been able to secure are an alluring, if not cunning, tactic to force completists like me to buy new releases there; I had already begun buying fewer new releases from Tower on that basis alone.

Above all else, though, I had a history with Tower—a stalwart that survived when Licorice Pizza, Musicland, The Wherehouse, Music Plus and numerous others could not. It was a destination devoted entirely to the pursuit of musical discovery (augmented by DVDs, books, magazines—even collectibles in its later years). In high school, I walked its aisles after class to search for a new theme song for the weekend’s exploits. CDs were sold in cardboard long-boxes back then, and albums were actually released on vinyl a few weeks before the CD. Although things have since changed a bit, nearly twenty years later on Saturday nights I would regularly visit Tower Records, a mistress in whose aisles I could find comfort and rediscover forgotten pleasures as well as seek out new experiences until midnight.

Yesterday, I made one last visit to a local Tower store: bargain-hunting shoppers gleefully rummaged through the dwindling inventory at the liquidation sale, disinterested vultures in an opportunistic spree. In the midst of all the bustling activity, I took a reflective look around, my heart wistful as I bid a final farewell.

It may be pathetic and silly to mourn the death of a record-store chain that was short on bargains, to wax maudlin over a format that creeps toward obsolescence. But, God-willing, when I am old and the hearing is not what it once was, when the discretionary purchases have yielded to what the pension doles my way and retirement savings allots, I will recall the countless hours spent at records stores in general and Tower Records in particular, riffling through the bins, soaking in the delicious smell of shrink-wrapped vinyl—later replaced by the clacking of compact-disc cases—that became the scents and sounds en route to discovering the soundtrack of my life, audio snapshots to preserve the visceral impact of my memories. Although the delights of youth—Christmas morning, birthday parties, trick-or-treating—disappear with age, when I was browsing the bins of Tower Records, I was in a candy store, a kid who knew no surfeit.

2 comments:

The Omnipotent Q said...

SS: Thanks for coming on my blog last night and I appreciate the kind words about the post I wrote about Tower Greenwich Village's last day. Thanks for alerting me to your thoughts. A very nice post.

Tower made have committed "suicide," but I'll miss it terribly.

Danielle said...

Yesterday, I made one last visit to a local Tower store: bargain-hunting shoppers gleefully rummaged through the dwindling inventory at the liquidation sale, disinterested vultures in an opportunistic spree. In the midst of all the bustling activity, I took a reflective look around, my heart wistful as I bid a final farewell.

Brilliantly said.