ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS – THE RWOM REVIEW…

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There’s one thing that most true music geeks love and understand, and that is the joy of digging through record or CD bins and killing off a Saturday discovering new finds. But more than that, many of us have been able to experience that in a real record store, with knowledgeable people who actually enjoyed and took pride in being part of the entire culture of music lovers. When I was a teenager… in fact even before that, there was a store called Orbit Music that was basically my home on Saturdays while my mom was grocery shopping across the parking lot. I learned so much just from hanging around all the great people there, especially its owner, Doug. In fact, in this day where it’s harder and harder to find actual record stores, he has still kept Orbit alive in my hometown of Mishawaka, Indiana. That is quite a feat, considering at one point we had enough places in the town to shop all day. Most of those that were chains have gone under. Musicland (which was always overpriced), Circuit City (which every once in a while had something but was just another stop), Blockbuster Music (an idea that fizzled almost as quickly as it started), Media Play – which became a favorite of mine because of its size and selection of imports, and was sort of the Sam Goody chain’s answer to Tower Records, and yes, Best Buy. When I was younger I didn’t realize that buying some of my music so cheaply on release day at Best Buy was really hurting homegrown places I cared about like Orbit Music. Best Buy makes no money on CDs. They sell them as “loss leaders”, bait to get you into the store to buy more expensive items like computers and phones. Which I almost never did because their electronics were usually crap. So Best Buy lost a lot of money on me. But at that time there were 3 locations for Orbit Music. One was the main location, next door to its original closet-sized Town & Country location, and it was fairly large now. It was still the ground zero location. Some of the original people that started the store still worked in that location, so it was by far the best. There was the Notre Dame off-campus location, smaller but more tailored to college taste. And then the Western Avenue location, which seemed to specialize a bit more in rap and R&B but had some of its own feel different than the other two.

Eventually, as with a lot of people, I started finding hard to find music online. While yes I did and still do download music, I always purchased the things I felt were worth owning. I saved downloading for either previewing or for the things that couldn’t be found reasonably on CD. At one point though in 2003 I started discovering Chicago. It had a few different specialized music stores. Borderline Music, which was a dance pop fan’s dream. The sadly now defunct Evil Clown which had every cool 80s band’s hard to find import. Reckless Records, which had just a lot of interesting things period old and new. And then one day I found the two story Tower Records. It was the largest record store I had ever been too. I didn’t have a lot of money. In fact I went to get the debut album from Scissor Sisters as they had a special “only at Tower” rarities EP you got for free if you bought the album. I wish I had the money and time to spend all day there. Very shortly after, Tower Records went bankrupt and closed all of its stores. But… I never got the chance to really explore that store!

I had always wondered what happened to Tower. Hadn’t it been around a very long time? Well, now we have a lovingly created documentary about Tower Records called All Things Must Pass. The film follows the tale from its beginnings as part of a drug store in 1960, all the way to its implosion of sorts. The film includes in-depth stories and tales from the employees that stayed through from starting as clerks to running the business to its heartbreaking demise. There’s quite a bit of film footage from over the years, which is always fun to watch. There’s commentary from several famous musicians who spent their time there or even worked there, such as Dave Grohl and Elton John. It’s quite simply one of my favorite documentaries I’ve seen. I would put it up there in the ranks with Sound City. It really speaks to me as a music lover and makes me ponder why we don’t do more to support our local music stores we have left. Every single one of those stores has stories and a family of people that consider it part of their lives.

I may not have had the chance for Tower to be one of those families, but I understand the feeling. It breaks my heart to see these record stores disappear as we move to the luxury of having everything available at the click of a mouse and sent to our door. And I’m guilty as well. Granted, most of Columbus’s stores specialize in vinyl now that it has made a resurgence, and I still focus my collecting on CDs with the occasional LP of one of my favorites. But there’s nothing like the feel of going into Spoonful Records with one of my good friends and being treated like family. I still try to make it to Orbit Music when I go back home to visit family. One lone mid-sized store survives, located across the street from its original Town & Country plaza location. If you’re ever in Mishawaka, Indiana – maybe there for a Notre Dame game or something – look up Orbit and stop in and say hi to Doug, the owner. Sure, it’s not a two-story warehouse of music. But you might find something special. And there’s something you’ll feel walking through those doors that you won’t ever get from opening a package from Amazon.

I am happy that someone has taken the time to get one of the biggest stories of the culture and the business surrounding record stores documented. All Things Must Pass does an excellent job of that. Maybe it can teach us a bit about the consequences of not paying attention to how we purchase the music we love.

Check out the trailer for All Things Must Pass HERE! You can also rent it through YouTube, which is how I watched it. Though I plan to purchase the Blu-Ray as this one warrants a spot in my collection.

You can pick up your copy of All Things Must Pass on DVD or Blu Ray HERE:

DVD | BLU RAY

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