All Things Must Pass

(USA 2015)

Record stores! From maybe age 12 until they all just about disappeared, record stores made me cream my jeans. Not the lame corporate mall chains like Camelot, Record Town, and Sam Goody; I’m talking about the special ones that carried stuff you couldn’t get just anywhere—like imports, limited editions, gatefold sleeves, picture discs, promos, and music you didn’t hear on the radio or see on MTV. It was sensory overload: colors, shapes, sounds, and even smells (if the place carried incense or the staff smoked dope). Record stores were crack to me.

The good stores weren’t hard to find, and it seemed like each one had its own thing. Some were small, like Record Runner in New York City, Wax Trax in Chicago, and Shattered in Cleveland. Others were huge, like Peaches, Amoeba Music in Berkeley, and Sam the Record Man in Toronto. These are just a few, of course; I can rattle off a ton of record stores from my youth, and I can also say that I’ve forgotten the names of many others. A few are still around. I loved getting lost in record stores, and I still do.

All Things Must Pass is about one of these places, Tower Records, which was the first of the aforementioned huge record stores. From humble beginnings as a department in a Sacramento drug store in the 1940s, Tower became a worldwide chain. We didn’t have Tower where I grew up, so I discovered it a little later; I’m not sure whether it was Los Angeles or San Francisco. I loved it because it had everything: collectibles, merchandise, books, and oh yeah magazines! It was different from other chains because each store had its own flavor. When I moved to Chicago, I spent a lot of time at both Tower locations in the Loop and in Lincoln Park. I even met Cyndi Lauper at Tower Records.

Colin Hanks, son of Tom (probably the actor I find most unwatchable), does a fine job telling the history of Tower through Russ Solomon, who purchased it from his father in 1961 and made it what it was; celebrities like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and David Grohl (who did a stint as a clerk at Tower in Seattle); and others who worked there through the years. He shows what vision can accomplish. All Things Must Pass is, not surprisingly, heavy on nostalgia, but it’s not entirely sweet: Hanks ties to Tower’s fall that of the entire record retail industry and explains the factors that brought everything down. There isn’t much finger pointing, but it’s apparent that Tower itself was instrumental in its own demise.

With a title borrowed from George Harrison, All Things Must Pass probably has limited appeal to pre-MP3 kids: Boomers and Gen X, basically. I found it interesting, but it could’ve delved deeper into the circumstances of the downturn. Solomon asking whether his interviewer ran out of questions at the end is an amusingly appropriate finish.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

http://www.towerrecordsmovie.com

 

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