Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Music was on pieces of plastic, and we liked it!

Here's something I didn't get around to posting last week. It's something of an obituary for the Tower Records in Washington, D.C., which - like the rest of the chain - is closing down.

More than lamenting the loss of a particular record store, however, Paul Farhi's feature in the Washington Post notes the passing of record store culture, in general.

This is probably a ship that has long since sailed for most of us. I buy most of my music from iTunes these days by the single, not the album. And when I do get that occasional hankering for an entire CD, I end up at a place like Best Buy, rather than a true record store.

(And there's still quite a few good ones in Ann Arbor, like Wazoo, Encore, and Schoolkids. P.J.'s is a good used store - and the owner was a good friend of my dad's, so I'm making sure to mention that place, too. Forgive me if I've forgotten any other notable stores.)

I guess I've just joined the masses in sacrificing coolness for convenience. But Farhi's article still had some resonance with me because I've been talking about music purchasing trends quite a bit with my buddy Rob recently.

Actually, I'm quite indebted to Rob when it comes to music. I was a dry sponge when I arrived at Michigan State for my freshman year, and Rob was ready to soak me with all sorts of stuff I hadn't listened to before. Would I be such a fan of Paul Westerberg and The Replacements, if not for him? I'll never know.

But Rob is still an "album guy," and admiringly so. He still likes the deeper cuts, and the joy he gets from discovering something on his own. Unfortunately, it seems like the music industry is making guys like Rob work a hell of a lot harder to find good stuff these days. Or maybe it's as Bob Mould said in The Believer last year, and people aren't as ravenous about seeking out new music as they used to be. (There's definitely some truth to that.)

Of course, who has the time anymore? That's the conclusion Rob and I reached the last time we talked about this.

Still, I can't help but think about how I felt when the Tower Records in Ann Arbor shut down. During my twenties, I probably spent more time and money in there than I care to admit. There was no better place to kill an hour after work while waiting to meet friends at the bar.

It was sad to see the racks that were previously jammed full of CDs and LPs virtually bare. Instead of kaleidoscopes of album covers, there were just huge voids of grey space, littered with a few stray items. All the paintings had been taken down from the walls, leaving the store looking naked.

(And I've always wanted to know where some of those went. I would've loved a painting of the Clash's London Calling in my living room. Hey, as long as it ended up on someone's wall, instead of a dumpster.)

I don't think I'll be as nostalgic about spinning the click wheel on my iPod ten years from now. And bringing up a song or album after typing a keyword in a search window just doesn't bring the same sense of discovery than finding some British import EP you'd spent the last five years looking for. Sometimes, I just enjoyed the sound of CD jewel cases slapping against one another as I flipped through them.

Geez, I might as well be sitting on my porch, shaking my fist at those kids skateboarding on my sidewalk. But I will most definitely be savoring a trip to 52.5 Records in Charleston while visiting my sister for Christmas. And I'm bringing money to burn...