Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Last Days of Tower Records

While it necessarily conflicted with my weekend mandate to "just fuckin' chill, already," the Wife of DCeiver and I, lured by at least the spectacle of seeing Tower Records get pulled apart, headed out to Tyson's Corner to experience the venerable institution's last days. Despite the fact that Tyson's is an intractable hellhole with traffic galore, we elected to go to that particular Tower because, unlike the closer one in Foggy Bottom, it was the Tower of our youth. College brought us into the wonderful world of Plan 9 Records, travel to Amoeba and Other Music, the burgeoning hatred of analog browsing to the internet, and the need to reject the cold world of the internet to places like Now! and Orpheus and Crooked Beat. Tower, in the last ten years or so, was one of those places at which we just never thought to shop.

Hilariously, we did, at one point, consider opening a wedding gift registry at Tower, but when we finally saw the registry--a misbegotten trapper keeper with poorly photocopied and hole-punched forms crammed inside, presented with the typical customer-service flourish that we had come to know and, at least from a distance, admire, as a Tower Records trademark, we knew, right then and right there, that there would be no hope of anyone successfully obtaining the registry and getting us anything, and that thos efforts would be better channelled into getting us martini glasses and placesettings from Crate and Barrel.

This past Saturday, the going discount began at 70% off and basically ran just short of "Here, please: throw this away FOR us." Instantly, I regretted passing on the opportunity to come earlier in the firesale process--there were certainly some great deals to be had on their DVD collection. Now, only Spanish-language B-Movies remain, along with many, manu copies of the Newlyweds DVD sets--their shattering ubiquity on the shelves seemed like a great final statement on the marriage of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. And, remember, there are those who'll say that gay people threaten the institution of marriage.

Also: the books. Slept on picking up discounted books. Tower's collection was pretty much decimated, just a few forgettable titles remained. More than just about anything else, it was maybe Tower's collection of written materials that was most impressive to me back in the day. Maybe it was just because I was young and impressionable. But, for those of us out in our suburban enclave, Tower's bookshelves brought some positively alien ideas within our grasp: queer theory alongside Ferlinghetti and Bukowski, next to a reference guide on modern primitives or cult cinema, adjacent to conspiracy theory tomes and outre authors like J.G. Ballard. Plus: tons of periodicals and zines. It's funny to think of Tower as a place that grew, in my mind, more and more lame--years ago, it was a much needed pit stop if I wanted some of that essential strangeness.

Well, on the final Saturday of the Tower of our Youth, we didn't manage strangeness, but we did, nevertheless, make out like bandits. Mostly we loaded up on CDs that we meant to obtain this year but never did: Serena Maneesh, Sound Team, Ambulance Ltd's new EP, the Starlight Mints, Katherine Whalen. Yes, we made sure to take home a copy of Play Deep by the Outfield. Josie is on a vacation far away, after all. Wife of DCeiver found that, at fifty cents, it was impossible to pass on a 45 minute techno driving mix for Volkwagen enthusiasts from 2001. As the only remaining earthling who knows any of September 67's songs, I was happy to get a shiny new CD copy of Lucky Shoe. In short, there were good buys to be had.

At the same time, one couldn't help but feel embarrassed for some of these bands. Tower's quite literally getting to the point where they wouldn't mind you stealing from them, and it's funny and sad to see what bands people will pass on for pennies on the dollar. And we're not talking about the scores of people you've never heard of (Tower's devotion to the bands you've never heard of and their obscurest of import titles were the seeds of their undoing)--we're talking about bands that are in the cultural forefront, releasing new material.

This pretty much goes for any of the artists I walked out of Tower with, as well, but, really...there are some bands that need to go into Tower right now and actually see what America thinks of them. Radio 4, Twilight Singers, Annie, Rhett Miller...y'all need to take stock of what's going on with your inventory. And while we're not suggesting that the fact that America doesn't want your music for even the coins scattered beneath your sofa cushions means you should consider a change in avocation...well, let me put it this way: There's a WHOLE LOTTA MUDVAYNE left at Tower right now...yep, a lot of Mudvayne.

Plenty of emo, too, I'm afraid.


PK said...

September 67! Kick ass.

My copy of "three wishes" got scratched a while ago (right in the middle of the last song, my favorite) and when I searched for either Shannon Worrell or (out of mounting curiosity) September 67 on the 'nets, I completely struck out in a way that is getting extremely rare. It's like they were "disappeared". Pre-net local bands are maybe the final raison-d'etre of actual physical music stores. Once all of those consignment copies disappear, nobody will ever know Slackjaw or Big Red Engine existed...

Wish I could say the same for Mudvayne.

The Governess said...

my HS boyfriend worked at Leslie's Pool Supply a few doors down, and so I used to spend some serious QT in the Tysons store.

Last time I was there, there were 4 or 5 managers on duty who were the same managers I remember bossin' the joint back in '93 or '94 as well. I am concerned as to where these folks will find work after this.

The Governess said...

PS don't even think I don't have "cassandra on the dance floor" on at least 3 or 4 mixtapes. nice try.