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“All Things Must Pass”

Jerry Lucky Commentary October 2016

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2016 All Rights Reserved

 

This was originally going to be a commentary on the impending death of streaming music. Yes that’s right I said DEATH of streaming. I was going to go over a little bit of history, tracing how we went from no recorded music to 78 RPMs in the thirties and then to 33 RPMs in the forties and fifties and then 45 RPM singles in the late fifties and sixties and then back to 33 RPM vinyl in the late sixties through to the eighties. Then I was going to point out how things really started to move quickly in the worlds of music and technology. For a variety of reasons both good and bad, portability became an important element of our listening habits and we went from 8-tracks to cassette tapes so we took listening in the car to listening on the street. We could now think about taking our music everywhere and sure enough everything came together with the advent of the Compact Disc. And everything seemed to stabilize for a good number of years until technology intruded into our lives once again. The once vaunted CD started to give way as a new generation started downloading their music; both legally and illegally. The idea of purchasing or acquiring whole albums began to decline when iTunes created a platform that allowed individuals to pay .99 cents to download the song of their choice. I was going to write about how this worked well for a while until someone came along with the idea of simply streaming the music. You no longer needed to own music you simply connected online to stream what you wanted to listen to at that moment. Why bother purchasing all the physical stuff that just takes up space when you could just “access” it whenever you like. Then I was finally going to get to my point that now they’re saying the idea of FREE streaming is itself coming to an end as companies like Spotify and Pandora (and others) struggle with trying to come up with a model that provides revenue without scaring off the many millions of users who’ve come to like “Free”. It’s a tricky dilemma and one that is going to be played out over the next year or so.

 

That’s what I was going to write about. Until I watched the new documentary called All Things Must Pass; the story of Tower Records. And I wept!

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Tower Records was a record store established in 1960 in Sacramento California that then grew to over 200 hundred stores worldwide. I’ve always had a soft spot for Tower Records, from the first time I drove by their location on Sunset Boulevard back in the seventies. It became a regular stop for me every time I visited Los Angeles. In fact it was for many years a highlight of my visits to L.A.

 

This excellent documentary DVD traces the history of Tower’s origins as part of a family owned drug-store to the lofty status it came to be in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Bringing together many former employees in contemporary interviews along with video and photographs from over the years we learn a lot about what it was that made Tower Records such a great place to buy records. It’s fascinating to see how successful the store was. These interviews draw you into the magic that was Tower Records. The questions asked draw you into the soul of the place. You feel as if you’re drawing back the curtain and being afforded the opportunity to see what went on behind the scenes. The truth is, iIt seemed all they had to do was open their doors in a new market and the people just flocked to their location. Clearly Tower Records was the right store at the right time.

Sadly, the DVD also deals openly with the elements that led to its fall from grace and ultimate demise. It was actually quite painful to watch many who were involved in this grand enterprise reduced to tears as they explained or related their personal experiences. I don’t mind telling you I too was reduced to tears as I watched. The documentary is well crafted and not only manages to convey the story but also the emotions of those involved both on the way up and sadly on the way down.

 

Today, as explained briefly in the DVD, Tower Records exists on line and has a very successful operation in Japan. But while they use the name and even the trademarked font, they are not part of the original family run operation that started out of that drug store back in the sixties. In fact it’s interesting to note how the store in Japan seems to defy convention with its success given today’s penchant for buying music on-line in digital form.

 

I have to tell you this, last year while on holiday in Ireland I remember looking around Dublin and was literally stunned to see the familiar Tower Records sign. I thought the company has totally disappeared and yet here before me was that venerated familiar type style and colours…it was indeed a Tower Records store, all be it one that is now run independently   I had a grand time in the store, especially seeing that they had a whole section devoted to Progressive Rock and Psychedelic, full of new releases and classic reissues. It was a highlight of my trip.

 

It’s in my nature after watching a documentary such as All Thing Must Pass, the story of Tower Records to ask myself; is there something we’re supposed to learn from this? Is there something that could have been done differently? And you know I don’t have the answer to that. I wonder if, just like Tower Records was in the right place and the right time to become so successful, it also was in the wrong place and the wrong time to continue that success?

 

In my life time I’ve experienced the growth of the record store and I’ve seen its demise. I’ve seen the growth of CD technology and its demise; I’ve seen the rise of downloading and now its demise. Am I now seeing the demise of streaming as well?

 

Time marches on, doesn’t it? What’s next? Can we shield ourselves from the march of time and technology? Those are mighty big questions that people with brains far bigger than mine are I’m sure trying to figure out. For me…I’ll stop now and go listen to some Progressive Rock music.

 

Jerry Lucky

(10/3/16)