While perusing the last remnants of Tower Records’ inventory during my lunch break yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about the impending fall of retail music as we know it. When I was in high school, Tower Records at 2000 Penn Ave. (entrance on 21st Street) opened its doors and one of my four best friends secured a job as an evening clerk. Friday and Saturday nights frequently started with three of us heading down to 21st Street at 11:30 pm, just before closing, to join the fourth for a night out in Georgetown. On the way over to M Street, we’d listen to our latest purchases.
The store was a beehive of activity at 11:30 pm and there was something for everyone. Rock when you entered on the right and magazines on the left. Go up the curving rubber stairs and you entered another world. Top 40, urban and R & B greeted you. Take a left, walk to the end of the row, turn left again and you were in jazz alley. International and reggae were at the end on the right. One more world awaited through the double glass doors marked classical at the end of the hall. Throughout the store there was opportunity for music lovers to discover a new musical gem, band or style they hadn’t heard before. I made it to the Tower on Newberry Street in Boston, on South Street in Philly and the original on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and the experience was always equally awesome. I never made it out empty handed.
Now all that remains are picked over CDs, a few unwanted magazines and DVDs like Maxim’s Swimsuit Special, Volume 1. Upstairs is closed and even the racks are for sale. It is an undeserving end for a deserving enterprise. Maybe if the record industry had changed its business model sooner, ripples of retail bankruptcy wouldn’t have propagated through the industry. Everywhere I look, I see iPods and I see the future. It’s a shame that consumers put up with MP3s and iTunes. After all, the music is compressed and bears some but nowhere near the true fullness or resemblence of the original musician’s performance. The convenience and cost must be the equalizer.
No more Pulse magazine, no more Desert Island Disc (DID) lists, no more in store performances by artists and no more almost midnight music runs for this music fan. True to form, however, I lightened my wallet yesterday and discovered a new band called Los Mocosos (Latin ska, Afro-Cuban beats, urban hip-hop, and jazz-funk according to AMG). The last solace for downtown music lovers may be that Kemp Mill Records (1309 F Street) is still open. Check it out once in a while. You might find something new you like. Sadly, Tower goes dark tomorrow night. May she rest in peace.