ALL THINGS MUST PASS (2015)
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Personal Note: It’s difficult for me to view this documentary completely objectively as I was an employee of Tower Records for nine years during the 90s. I started out as a clerk and then moved up to receiving clerk and then made video department manager in just two years in Tower’s Paramus N.J. store. It was probably the most fun ‘job’ I ever had and I met a lot of unique people there, some I am proud to still call friends. It is a time of my life that I miss and will never forget. -MZNJ
My former place of employ, the long- gone Tower Records, Paramus N.J.
All Things Must Pass is a documentary from director (and actor) Colin Hanks and writer Steven Leckart about the rise and fall of one of the most recognized names in the retail music industry. The documentary follows the start of this legendary retail music chain from it’s humble beginnings in Sacramento, California at the pharmacy owned by founder Russ Solomon’s father. It then traces it’s illustrious history from Solomon opening the first Tower Records store on Watt Avenue in 1960 and then over the years as it became one of the largest and most unique music retailers ever to grace the planet. It then sadly unfolds a series of events and changes, both within the company and in the business itself, that caused it to ultimately close it’s doors in 2006.
As a history of this legendary store, Hanks’ documentary is very informative choosing wisely to let Tower’s story be told by Russ Solomon himself, as well as, a number of his former upper management team, who all started working for him as clerks in his first stores. They present a fun tale of a simple dream growing into something special that attracted the attention of the entire world. We get these reflections mixed with film, video and photos from former staff, as well as, from TV commercials and news coverage. Add to that some celebrity input, too, from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, David Grohl and Elton John, who were also loyal customers…or employees as in Grohl’s case…aside from having their music sold there. It almost plays out like a fairy tale, as soon Tower’s success spread across the country and then internationally, to Japan and other parts of the world…and that’s also part of it’s comeuppance, which is regretfully detailed by Solomon and his former managers. A sad tale of a changing market and a company spending money faster than they could make it. The testimony is quite frank and honest about how this once iconic retailer basically derailed it’s own dream and couldn’t keep up with the times.
If Colin Hanks makes any mistakes it’s in two ways. One, his documentary is very by-the-numbers and rather somber, even in the beginning stages when Tower was in it’s glory. He never really catches the true spirit of the place in the telling. We don’t get a real feel for what made this place truly special which is also in part due to the second mistake…never interviewing some of the former store employees. Having worked there, I experienced first-hand the wonderful and eclectic assortment of people that were Russ Solomon’s soldiers in the trenches. By not getting a more store level view from some of the wonderful variety of employees that graced Tower’s aisles, Hanks leaves out a vital part of what made this chain special…the unique individuals who worked there. His focus remains on the upper management and record company executives and celebrities, but never touches on the delightful diversity of the employees that made each individual store a unique experience. He only touches on it briefly when the upper management are telling about their beginnings, but never sought out testimony from those who made Tower their life and formed Russ Solomon’s loyal crew. As a former employee, this was a large part of what made the Tower Records experience what it was. A serious misstep by the first-time filmmaker, restricting the perspective solely to the corporate level.
Overall, this was an informative documentary and a very personally nostalgic one. It does provide a vivid history of this legendary music chain’s rise and fall, but does so a little too by-the-numbers considering the subject matter. Hanks also leaves out one of the most important details about what made this place special, aside from it’s deep catalog and that’s the diverse and passionate music and movie lovers who were Russ Solomon’s employees…and it’s that omission that left this documentary a little hollow despite the richness of the tale to be told.
3 Tower Tags… scanned from MonsterZero NJ’s own personal collection.
Hey, we are doing a story on Tower Records in the July issue of (201) Magazine. I would love to use the image you have of the Paramus location in the article. Please email me if that is OK and if you have a larger version…thanks — firstname.lastname@example.org