Sunday, October 18, 2015

Random thoughts on ALL THINGS MUST PASS and Tower Records.

Saw Colin Hanks' documentary ALL THINGS MUST PASS yesterday--it's the story of the Tower Records chain (starting as a Sacramento CA record store) as mostly told by founder Russ Solomon and his loyal employees.  As a story of a business that grew too large and crashed due to institutional arrogance (and bloodless bankers who decided to liquidate rather than save), the documentary is likely to get massive airplay on CNBC in years to come (after a few bleeps to eliminate R-rated expletives).

After moving to Southern California in 1988, I became a frequent Tower Records shopper (Westwood, Pasadena, Northridge, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, Glendale, Torrance and the flagship Sunset Boulevard store) for the conglomerate's remaining 18 years of life.  It was an era where huge quantities of recorded music, videos-for-sale-and-rent and music/film books/magazines could be found all over the city (including competing chains Music Plus, Wherehouse and Sam Goody).  Even if a customer wanted somethig esoteric, it could be found by either going to various stores or having a special order placed.

ALL THINGS MUST PASS, perhaps to please Russ Solomon, makes no mention of competing chains.

The film does enlighten with an explanation of Tower Records' enthusiastic embrace of the compact disc format--and willingness to collude with the Music Industry to overcharge CDs for Massive Profits.

There's also an interesting statistic that pops up about the quantity of sales (in the hundreds of millions) of audiocassettes (cheaper than CDs) in the 90s.

To keep Massive Profits alive, the cassette format was killed in 2002; the vinyl album was faded out a few years earlier.

David Geffen and another exec whose name I don't remember are the film's representatives of the Music Industry.  Geffen comes off as the Voice of Reason--while the other exec spouts the bromides (Napster is Stealing; it was a Good Idea to finish off the recorded single to make the kids buy albums) that fueled the rise of iTunes and led to today's Music Industry trying to kill the CD format (and, once again, going back to higher prices per disc), while vinyl records are again being embraced by chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Urban Outfitters (though more as a limited-run Hipster Accessory).

And, as the film ends, Tower Records remains alive as an active chain only in Japan (plus the Tower brand exists online selling music/books)--where Russ Solomon is greeted as Conquering Hero and viewers can walk out of the multiplex secure in the knowledge that It Was Not All In Vain.

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