Sunday, October 15, 2006

Saturday October 14, 2006

Requiem For Tower Records

Tower Records Fresno, after it moved

As the ‘Loper who is most in touch with the 15-year-old inside, I had a long conversation with that 15-year-old, and he is a little bit sad about the news that Tower Records is finally dead.

Because when I was a teenager — and for maybe a dozen years after that — the Tower Records in Fresno, California was the greatest place in the entire fracking multiverse, bar none.

Yes, I understand all too well the plethora of market forces that contributed to Tower’s final demise. Over the years, Tower’s share of my disposable income decreased — first it was Columbia House and BMB, then it was used CDs at Ragin’ Records, then it was Amoeba Records, then it was Amazon, then it was Best Buy, then it was iTunes and eMusic — even as my disposable income increased.

So while I don’t go there that often anymore — though, ironically, the last time was about two days prior to the liquidation announcement when I discovered that Best Buy didn’t have the CD of The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America and I needed to have it right that second — I am going to miss it as an easily-accessible choice between the indie-deficient big box stores and the hard-to-get-to stores like Amoeba.

However, there are some memories that this music geek has about the only major record chain store that even seemed remotely hip:

  • The summer I was 15, I started working part-time. I had a burgeoning record habit at that point, and I had already started riding my 10-speed to Tower — which was in the Northgate Shopping Center at Barstow and Blackstone between the K-Mart and the UA Cinemas –, but naturally, as the money rolled in ($2.65 an hour! whoo-hoo!), I started buying albums like crazy, somehow riding home with essentially one hand with albums like Who’s next and Foghat Live! dangling in that bright yellow bag.
  • Like the man said: “punk rock changed my life” and Tower was where I first bought Television, Ramones, Sex Pistols, X, Buzzcocks, Brains, U2, Soft Boys, Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division and so many other albums by so many other bands that I hadn’t even heard, just read about. Until KFSR came around in 1982, there wasn’t any radio station in Fresno that played this stuff on any regular basis, so I was glad that there were obviously buyers at Tower who were willing to take a chance on stocking all of these bands.
  • Of course, what made Tower the place to go was the imports section. The imports section in the late 1970s and early 1980s was a godsend: all of these punk / post-punk singles — “Complete Control,” “Funeral Pyre,” “A Celebration,” all entered my life as 7″ import singles. Hell, I still don’t think “A Celebration” has had a proper U.S. release, (only as part of that U2 iTunes thing) and we are a quarter-century down the line. And I was so stoked to get the import version of Sandinista! a whole month prior to its release here.

    Even after KFSR (Fresno State’s college station where Kirk & I were DJs for many many years) went on the air and we were getting records sent to us by the record companies, the import section continued to be source of life-changing music. It’s where I found seminal singles like “This Charming Man,” “Never Understand” that I had only just read about. Obviously bands like The Smiths and The Jesus and Mary Chain would have become a part of my life no matter what, but I was glad that I was able to buy their 12″ singles and play them on the radio sometimes months before those albums hit our shores.

    Kirk might remember this differently, but it was during one of our class-ditching midday trips to Tower’s import section where he stumbled across the Toy Dolls Dig That Groove Baby and bought it just for the cover art. Next thing you know, it was a huge sensation, and the Toy Dolls sold out a 500-seat club in Fresno, CA.

  • Tower Records Pulse! was, of course, a way to show off their deep catalog and let consumers know of upcoming releases. But it also had a pretty strong editorial voice and a actual point of view besides just “buy records.” The point of view was “buy good records,” a distinction with a difference.

    And while Pulse! didn’t create the concept of the “Desert Island Discs,” they surely did a lot to popluarize it. I sent in a list once, but it never got published. Probably because while they wanted 10, I could barely stop at 20.

  • As our little college station hit the air, we made friends with some of the people who worked there. This is a shout-out to Jeff who used to give us the discounts for years.
  • In the early 1990’s, even as I started hanging out at Ragin’ Records, I liked to go to Tower first thing in the morning on a Saturday. Fewer people in the aisles, showing up there at 9:00 on a Saturday morning, hungover as hell, more Saturdays than I can remember.
  • Tower was famously open 365 days per year, so I went there every Christmas for like 20 years, long after other places followed their lead. Even after I moved out of Fresno and Tower moved from the K-Mart shopping center to their current location (when was that, anyways), I made it a point to stop by on Christmas Day. I think that the streak was finally broken only a few years ago, and it started in, like, 1976.

    I guess that I won’t so much be going there this year, though.

Tower Records was an essential part of a time and a place that are long gone now. It was a perfect place for a post-Boomer pre-Internet rock ‘n’ roller who didn’t live in the big city to discover music. So while I’m not sad that they’re going away, I’m sure as shit glad that they existed.