Directed by Colin Hanks (2015)
If you're big on stories of wonderfully benevolent corporations and CEOs who can do little wrong, you'll probably cotton to Colin Hanks' Tower Records documentary/love letter "ALL THINGS MUST PASS" in a major way. If I sound a little snarky and dubious, it's because I am. There's no question that the Tower Records chain played a big role in my life as a music fanatic. I even documented how, and where, Tower entered my life in this blog post twelve years ago, as they were going out of business. Nor am I an anti-corporate rabble-rouser. If there's a chain store not called Chipotle that I've actively rooted on in my lifetime, it's Tower. I'm, at a minimum, at least mildly saddened that they're no longer with us.
This doesn't excuse this lazy 90-minute elegy to Russ Solomon, who founded Tower in the early 60s in Sacramento. Solomon - who seems and acts like a great guy whom you'd likely want to clink a glass with, and who truly seems to love music and records - is vaulted to canonical status in this film. Not one talking head brokers any dissent with Solomon's decisions, tactics nor personality. In fact, the talking heads in "All Things Must Pass" are made up of Solomon's inner circle of Tower Records VPs - therefore, uh, being not precisely representative of the greater Tower Records employee base over forty-some years. Oh, and there's Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl as well, each with well-rehearsed, misty water-colored memories of shopping at various Tower stores around the world.
It might have been nice to hear more about the skirt-chasing, blow-snorting 1970s antics alluded to in the film from more than the corporation's upper echelon. The documentary follows a tried-and-true "rise and fall" motif, from the highs of 1960s rock and roll ubiquity and the then-daring attempt to open "the largest record store in the world", to the lows of the Napster-driven near-death of LPs and CDs. Tower was over-leveraged by expanding rapidly around the world in places like Buenos Aires and Mexico City at exactly the time the music industry was being rendered irrelevant by the internet, and while I can't say I feel good about this turn of events, the film could have been served by more tut-tutting and second-guessing and by fewer paeans to "ol' loveable Russ, whose heart was always in the right place" from his inner circle.
I was probably the most excited about this quick shot of the Campbell, CA Tower Records where I spent so much time and money during the early 1980s, so I screen-grabbed it from the streaming version of this film that I watched on my laptop:
That might even be me walking in the right-hand door, ready to buy another Siouxsie and the Banshees album or perhaps a nice Simple Minds shirt to replace that awful yellow polo I'm rocking.