All Things Must Pass

A Tower Records in Los Angeles, June 1988 ALAN LIGHT PHOTO

A Tower Records in Los Angeles, June 1988 ALAN LIGHT PHOTO

Today I did something I rarely get to do: take a few hours out of my day to physically shop for music. It’s something I’ve been missing out on a lot because I’ve been too busy as of late just working, running errands, and catching up on more work, which means I spend a lot of time in front of my computer.

But today I stepped out of my comfort zone (which is basically anything outside of sleep and the office) and spent a few hours rummaging through 45s and LPs at both Jelly’s locations (in Kaka‘ako and Aiea). The act of browsing stacks of music items reminded me of the trips I would take with my older brother and father to the now-closed Tower Records that used to be in Aiea. It would be a special occasion to drive there from Mililani and flip through aisles of plastic jewel cases to find some new tunes to call my own. Those times brought forth a stronger bond between us as a family and the music we loved.

I also love discovering music online, whether it’s Spotify’s spot-on recommendations or Bandcamp’s up-to-the-minute Discover feature. But in a recent interview about his documentary All Things Must Pass, which chronicles the rise and fall of Tower Records, director Colin Hanks (Tom Hank’s son) states, “When I look at a certain album, I don’t remember like, ‘Oh, I remember where I was when I downloaded that, it was so great!'” He continues, jokingly, “‘I was at home, I was in my underwear, it was great. And then I just danced the night away.'”

I’m sure this is a familiar story — romanticizing the past, the way things used to be, the good ol’ days. But I’m also pretty sure my generation (I’m 28 on the 28th this month) was the last generation to grow up without a computer in the home. Our family’s first computer arrived when I was maybe 11 years old. Ever since then, technology has been on an exponentially upward progression. So, it seems only a matter of course that the algorithms behind Spotify can suggest to me such a wonderfully blissful album such as Tommy Guerrero’s latest effort, Perpetual, after tracking what else I’ve been listening to lately (like Express Rising’s new album, Fixed Rope). I really enjoy that.

I also feel like my generation has a unique opportunity to experience both worlds — when it was still the norm to spend a couple of hours browsing the racks at Tower, and then a few years later, downloading music via Kazaa or Napster, and now today, where we have countless options to enjoy music at our fingertips.

Hanks goes on to say that All Things Must Pass — which, unfortunately, isn’t scheduled to show in Honolulu yet — is “a very human story. It’s not so much about the music industry so much as it is about this misfit family that came together and took over the world.”

That sounds a lot like the world we live in today, where individuals can start companies that rapidly turn the world (see: “disrupt”) on its head. Snapchat’s an excellent example, with its platform now commanding as many daily views as major cable television stations. Yet whereas Snapchat launched just four years ago (and Spotify was introduced in 2008), the story of Tower Records feels much more gradual, starting in 1939 when founder Russ Solomon started selling used records in his father’s California drugstore, later evolving it into a Tower Records store in 1960 and expanding it — until bankruptcy in 2006.

In today’s instant gratification world where what happens now is everything (Snap-chat’s CEO deleted all of his tweets because he “prefers to live in the present”), I’m hoping we can remember that while all things must eventually pass, all things also leave an impression with us and influence our life’s narrative.