Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tower Tumbles

When I was a teenager and in my early twenties in the South Bay, there was a Record Factory and a Wherehouse Records on Bascom Avenue and a Rainbow Records on Stevens Creek Boulevard. The only place to go to buy your records and tapes, though, was at the Tower Records on Bascom, across from the Pruneyard in Campbell. The place was big, the selection was bigger, and the prices were usually the lowest in town. I spent countless hours flipping through LPs there (the soft "flumpf" sound as you flip through a stack of LPs in their jackets is so much more peaceful than the clicking of CDs in their cases) and almost never left empty handed. I recall running into one of my co-workers, Jim, who I barely knew, striking up a conversation, and kindling a friendship that continues to this day, a friendship still largely based on the love of music.

I first went to the Tower in San Francisco, at Columbus and Bay, on an outing with my family in 1972 (I bought the cassette of Sgt. Pepper). It became a ritual for my family that we'd stop there on our visits to the city, a ritual that I revived and have continued through this year with my own daughter. We stumbled into the Santa Monica store a couple of years ago while she was searching for Elijah Wood. Her search was severely sidetracked as she was unable to pull me out of the store for a couple hours. I've been impressed that a chain that big could maintain that level of gritty funkiness at its individual stores. I don't know if that was a bug or a feature. Is that what comes from employing the kind of people who want to work in record stores? Even the town of Sonoma gets into the story, having opened the only record store in town (and the only one between Napa and Santa Rosa) about ten years ago. It was there that I finally picked up the CD version of "Giants of the Blues Tenor Sax," the double LP I'd purchased in Campbell in the late 70s and worn the grooves off of.

So now the place, the whole chain, is closing its doors. It's a shame, but I suspect it was inevitable. For all the time I still spend in record stores (Amoeba and Rasputin records are still standing) flipping through the new CDs and used LPs, I spend more money on music online. I still buy the physical product; I like to have something to hold in my hand and read while the music is playing, while my daughter downloads most of the music she buys. I hope we'll always have record stores, though I suspect as time goes by they'll become more of a novelty and counterculture thing. And I'm going to miss Tower. As much for what it came to represent to me as what it was.
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