Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tower Records R.I.P.

We were in the midst of melting down our copper pennies for some easy cash (it was still legal then) when Kat decided okay, whatever, let's do the visit.

You could say Kat lived there, grew up there, and it was about to be no more.

Ever since she returned from Ireland, we'd tried to drag her there. We'd said, "Come on, you have to do that farewell visit."

She wasn't having any of it.

It had already said goodbye to her.

As far as she was concerned, Tower Records died months ago.

But then came the notion that maybe we'd enjoy "Long Live Our Love" and other songs by the Shangri-Lahs.



Was she serious?

She tossed out the Ronettes as well.

Turns out, she figured those would be the only things still in the store. Months before she left the country, she'd had her eye on a single disc collection of the Shangri-Lahs but didn't see how anyone could justify the $17.99 ($18.99 on some editions) cost for a group that's mainly known for one song ("Leader of the Pack").

But, hey, the prices had dropped. It was no longer 25 or 300% off, it was down to 50!

We didn't know, we didn't care.

We just knew that, whatever the reason, we were glad Kat was willing to go.

Nobody did Tower like Kat. She could go through the aisles and tell something was added since the week prior from about four feet away. She knew the inventory better than anyone who ever worked there.

So we pulled up into the half-deserted parking lot and wondered where everyone was.

Then we walked into the store. Suddenly it all made sense.

Jess and Ty had already noted that idiots were snapping up CDs like crazy when it fell to 30% (30% off list price, not 30% off the lower price Tower used to offer).

There was about a quarter of inventory in the store. The multiple DVD copies of Merv Griffith suggested that his idea of 'fascinating' people had been a hard sell. We weren't here for DVDs, it was just that everywhere we looked there were ten more copies of his set.

The CDs were 70% off.

We attempted to go to the soul section first. It was now sharing an aisle with soundtracks, gospel and odds & ends (which included more Merv DVD sets).

There was no one you'd heard of.

We ventured into pop/rock. Suddenly we grasped the need for arresting cover photos. When there's no 'name' to the artist, you're pretty much left with a cover that grabs you. From A through D, the only name we saw was Bob Dylan. How does it feel . . . to go unsold at 30% of list price?

At C.I.'s orders, Jim and Dona were shadowing a young, White male in low slung jeans. If anyone in the near empty store shared Kat's tastes, it was him. Watch him, see what he picks up, holds for a second and puts back.

We moved on to F through M and found . . . nothing.

Jim and Dona were excited for a second, shadowing Low Slung had paid off -- sort of. He'd picked up a Carole King CD. The only one in the store. They brought it back to the rest of us.
1983's Speeding Time. Which Kat already had. She reached for it anyway but Dona and Jim refused. The point wasn't to buy something you already had.

We were getting antsy, we were getting nervous.

We had no interest in anything for ourselves, this wasn't our home.

But this was the farewell (purchase) for Kat and we were starting to wonder if she might have to purchase the second most still-stocked item (Whitney Houston's version of the national anthem).

We went through the whole pop-rock section and there was nothing but Soul Asylum -- hard to believe they were once big.

C.I. said, "We're doing this all wrong. Someone has planned. He or she has staked out the store and hidden the good stuff in another section."

We were off! To the rap section.

"I thought 50 Cent was supposed to be popular?" someone said.

The rest were too busy flipping through the CDs madly. Some were cursing C.I. in their heads, some were doing so openly.

There it was.

The motherload.

Ava saw it and hollered, "Here!"

We all moved close but stood back so Kat could have the sense of discovery.

Artic Monkeys. Pass.

The Stereophonices' Live From Dakota -- double disc set.

Paul Katner/Jefferson Starship's Blows Against the Empire.

The Rolling Stones' Singles Collection: The London Years. Three disc set!

Phil Ochs' Live At Newport.

The latter was a CD Kat had thought about getting many times when it first showed up at $13.99. Then it got jacked up (long before Tower announced it was closing) to $16.99. It's not that Phil Ochs wasn't worth it, it was the whole bang your hand against your forehead ritual of "Why didn't I get it then!"

She was getting it now.

The store speakers kept announcing the store was closing. Not for the business day, but for good. Ticking off the days left. It was like watching the casket being lowered.

To really bad music.

Or really old music.

I know he used to do nice stuff for you --

Got nothing against Ms. Jackson, but this was how Tower Records was going out in 2006? Playing Janet Jackson's Control? Hadn't Jackson just noted, on her latest CD, how long ago that was?

We made our way to the line. Only there wasn't one. Just two White clerks who Tower wouldn't have hired in better days and who kept talking about how Janet was better off when she was working with "Timmy Jam and Morris Day."

No, they weren't joking.

These were the last guards. The ones who'd be closing the store, closing the door on Tower and they didn't even know that (a) Jackson never recorded with Morris Day, (b) "Timmy Jam" is not the name of either Jimmy Jam Harris or Terry Lewis, and (c) both Jam and Lewis contribute to 20 Y.O., Jackson's latest CD.

The duo wasn't too concerned about waiting on paying customers. We doubted we'd be either if we were temp workers in a job that had no chance of promotion and would be gone shortly. So we waited for them to stop talking about how, other than Elvis, Garth Brooks was the only 'rock star' who ever mattered.

We noticed one did most of the talking, Middle Aged Pony Tail, and the other just nodded a lot and grunted. A low-rent version of Dante and Randall.

When the first one ran out of steam, the second one suddenly grew animated, talking about how, if there were any left, he'd be snapping up that "hot" En Vogue CD when it was time to shut down for the night. That would be Soul Flower and, unless he was expecting a huge influx of customers, we thought quite a few of the forty-plus copies would still be in the store.

He was talking about how it was so cheap, it was almost like stealing. Then he emphasized "stealing" again.

We might have thought he was suggesting that we walk out of the store without paying; however, in the nearly five minutes we'd been waiting 'in line,' there'd been no indication that he or his partner had seen us.

With a heavy sigh, the more talkative one, Middle-Aged Pony Tail, suddenly called out, "Next in line!"

"So they had seen us, " Ty said as the rest of us wondered what "next"? There was just the seven of us.

As they rang up Kat we saw that the store was also attempting to sell off various posters that artists had autographed in store. We'll be kind and not mention any names but we will note that fifty dollars would have been too much for any of the posters -- let alone the hundreds being asked for. We wondered if they were giving discounts on those as well? 100%?

While Middle Aged Pony Tail rang Kat up and got her to sign the charge slip, the En Vogue fan shoved her CDs at her.

"Woah, woah," Jess was saying, waving his hands. "I think you've got a sack for her."

With a heavy sigh, apparently those plastic sacks were heavy, the En Voguer reached for a white plastic sack.

Tower Record sacks are yellow with red writing.

We all knew that.

We also knew the store was no more.

But surely they had one sack in the store with Tower on it?

Just the paper ones.

And could we get one of those?

"We're supposed to get rid of the plastic sacks."

Ten more dollars later, we were walking out of the store with Kat's four CDs in the paper sack.

It wasn't a last goodbye because Tower was no more. It was more of a paying respects to the dead.

In its day, there was no one like it. You could walk the aisles for hours with a good chance of finding something you'd heard of but no one stocked or discovering something new all on your own.

You could roam freely in a way you can't online. Sure, you can search at Amazon but don't expect to accidentally come across anything that they aren't pushing ("Customers who bought . . . also bought . . ."). You also miss out on that moment in the store when suddenly something comes over the speakers that you don't know and you rush to find out what it is.

Most of all, you miss out on the excitement of seeing something, purchasing it and being able to open it immediately.

Death by technology or just another casualty of a Bully Boy economy?

R.I.P. Tower Records. We'll miss you.
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