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You can't take my memories of Tower Records

Ben Wener
The Orange County Register

So once-mighty Tower Records has fallen. How very sad.

Evolve or die, record-biz models are rapidly changing, I get it - but I suspect mismanagement and a clumsy inability to undercut swarms of online and Best Buy-type competitors had more to do with Tower's demise than a lack of consumer traffic. Whenever I'd go into a Tower in Southern California, the place was always packed.

That's what I'll miss, dropping into a busy Tower, stumbling upon some gem I meant to pick up ages ago, hearing some new tunes playing ... and, hours later, realizing I've once again been transported to an oblivion where time stops.

It's a vanishing feeling, I fear, though I still notice it lurking in younger music lovers.

Niyaz Pirani just moved down the street from me. He makes the most of my standing invitation to stop by and ransack my collection, rip whatever he wants. The "whoa, dude" reaction when he makes discoveries warms my heart - it reminds of how I used to be - though I'm usually too preoccupied or pseudo-cool to let it show.

He's a dozen years younger than me, but often it feels like the gulf is decades; it's widened by technology, references and slang that stop me short. He gets the same rush from downloading that I used to get just setting foot in Tower. I've never heard him speak of record stores, come to think of it. He seems to shop exclusively in an intangible world.

I suspect he's missing out - that glee I see when he peruses my Wall of Sound is a dead giveaway. He's like a kid in a candy store. But what do I know? Maybe I'm just old.

When Niyaz tries to convince me of the merits of file-sharing vs. CD collecting - with the same futile passion he conjures to convince me that Fall Out Boy is listenable - I certainly feel like I'm clinging to old ways.

It leaves me feeling alienated. And the danger of giving in to alienation is that it soon keeps you from exploring anything new. You just recede into your turtle shell with your hi-fi and your dusty records - and your memories.

Might as well nail the coffin closed from the inside.

But I just had a realization about the supposed mustiness of memories and the deepening dearth of shared experiences (like going to a record store) among generations. Unfortunately, it has little to do with the end of Tower's era.

See, this column was going to be about how I've reached my 25th anniversary of concertgoing. Then I remembered I'm bad at math: If Rick Springfield at Universal (my cousin Heather's request, not mine) and ZZ Top and Quiet Riot at Irvine Meadows (entirely my choice) in the summer of `82 were my first real concerts, then I've only just begun my 25th year - and the anniversary is next year.

So there goes that premise.

Anyway, I intended to waste this space relating quaint little anecdotes about my misspent youth: late nights with English imports at Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach, getting my skull rattled by a booted crowd surfer at a Toy Dolls gig in Hollywood, forgetting to call home the first night I was allowed (at 16) to drive to L.A. with a girlfriend to see Oingo Boingo at the Greek Theatre.

Like locals from Mike Ness to Mark McGrath, my Irvine Meadows memories are legion: Eurythmics wowing with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Adam Ant stripping to next-to-nothing in the rain, watching a buddy get socked in the face over a Siouxsie & the Banshees shirt.

Here's my favorite tale, other than the night I landed in the third row of The Wiltern to see an on-fire Stevie Ray Vaughan: All I wanted for my 14th birthday were concert tickets, and my choices were down to the Police at Hollywood Park when "Synchronicity" was storming MTV or the last show of the last tour Supertramp would ever do with vocalist Roger Hodgson. Which, as luck had it, was slated for this "Crime of the Century" fan's birthday.

So I selected Supertramp, thinking, "I'll catch the Police next time." And before I turned 15, they broke up.

Maybe you've amassed similar stories, regardless how old you are, how little you've seen.

That's my epiphany: Concerts, I figure, are the only mainstays now, levelers of age and upbringing and class, despite how high ticket prices get. They're spruced up with new gimmicks, new venue names, whatever. But the experience is largely unchanged. It's still exhilarating when the planets align just right; it's still annoying when you have loud talkers behind you.

It's the only thing I can truly share with people young and old. Acquiring those memories (and keeping them from fading) is the one bit of rock `n' roll fun that can't be liquidated or repurposed. Savvy designers may regurgitate totems of my youth for big cash - available at Urban Outfitters: "Tron" Adidas for $100 - but cataloging my musical past is all mine, as yours is yours.

And now it's a last refuge of sorts. How very sad.



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