Tower Records reemerged on Saturday, in case you missed it. Nonprofit group No Longer Empty is behind the art exhibit/90s throwback, which runs until February 13. According to a press release, the Tower Records project “recreates a fantasy version of the now defunct” record store, which before the Internet served as “sales central for indie and contemporary music, as well as a gathering place for musicians and music lovers.”
Ah yes, the halcyon days of the record store. I loved visiting my mall’s Sam Goody and paying fifteen dollars for a filler-heavy CD while chatting it up with my worldly, GLBT-friendly fellow East Brunswick High School students! You’re right, NLE, the Internet has turned the music-buying world into “a virtual landscape without architecture, sales staff, and community traffic.” I miss the friendly record store employees and respectful customers who greeted me each afternoon as I pretended to “browse for something interesting” while really looking for the latest Third Eye Blind single.
I don’t want to sound too harsh; after all, it’s pretty cool that this nonprofit group has put together such a vast exhibit, complete with free admission and actual works of art (though Zombie Tower Records will not, sadly, function as an actual record shop). Admittedly, my mall’s Sam Goody had (R.I.P.) little in common with, say, a record store in the East Village. And NLE has done some awesome stuff in the past. But let’s not forget that the reason fewer record stores exist–and those that remain have a much smaller role in promoting and selling artists and songs–is because a cheaper, more egalitarian system came about in the form of online music transactions both legal and, um, slightly less than legal.
I can’t help but wonder whether this record-store nostalgia is for the stores themselves or rather the simplicity and sense of belonging such stores cultivated. In other words, maybe we just miss the days before regular ol’ listeners like you and me were sued for millions of dollars in the time of uncertain, tradition-busting shifts in the music industry during which we have been so fortunate live. Recreate a fantasy record store if you’d like, but remember that in the age of torrents, the industry model that includes even the most “indie” of record stores has proven to be far removed from a fantasy—for both artists as well as their listeners.
Movie still via.