Tehee: Fresno Tower Records a legacy worth remembering

The Fresno BeeSeptember 11, 2013 

Tower Records

Here's a scary thought: An entire generation is growing up having never stepped foot inside a proper record store. Such places still exist — even in Fresno — but their retail relevance has vanished since the '90s, and today they exist only as niche.

The website for National Record Store Day, which celebrates independent record store owners and employees, says there are just over 700 such shops in the whole country.

So, putting Tower Records in the Center for Sacramento History seems apropos.

The Tower Records Project, which launched in July of last year, seeks to "promote the legacy of an American retail icon," by creating and maintaining an official archive of the store, more than 200 boxes of Tower-related history — artwork, photographs, memorabilia, awards, business records and correspondence, office furnishings and even the neon signs from the first stand-alone store.

Music fans of a certain age (those older than 30, let's say), will understand the nostalgia that bubbled up when I looked at the project's website.

For many people like me, the Fresno Tower Records store was the place we first discovered real music (music that wasn't what our parents listened to). Inside, you could find the top 40 hits, but also the stuff that wasn't on mainstream radio, the dark and dirty punk rock and metal music you loved.

It was the place where you stood in line to buy concert tickets in the days before Ticketmaster.com.

The store also housed a massive collection of magazine and underground books. It's where I learned the term 'zine (low budget, hand-made magazines often produced on a photocopier). It's where I saw an actual copy of "The Anarchist Cookbook" that all my friends kept talking about.

I bought my first CD at Tower Records. It was Ozzy Osbourne's "No More Tears," in a cardboard long box.

My high school band played one of our first shows on the store's loading dock out back, and my current band played the store's farewell show in 2006.

When the store closed, it was a sign of times. Recorded music was moving out of the physical realm as brick-and-mortar stores became unnecessary. For Tower Records, they became a burden. The company still exists online.

The upshot is that things only got better for music fans. Now there is more access to more music in every conceivable genre than ever before. Websites like Bandcamp allow direct, almost instantaneous buying of music without the need for distribution. A band from Fresno can have music up and available to fans anywhere in the world. With Spotify, users can browse an almost endless amount of new music, without even putting down their phones. Still, losing Tower Records was a major blow to musicians and music fans who had spent so many hours hanging out at the store. The real legacy of Tower Records was — and it's in the project's tagline — more than music. The store was a gathering place for those hardcore fans and music nerds, for those curiously looking and those who would never find what they wanted in the aisles of Target or Walmart.

I accept that records stores don't have much place in the world of digital music. It's just odd to think someday we will only see them in museums.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com

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