The rise and fall of Tower Records and how the music industry screwed the pooch in the late ‘90s
08.26.2016
08:33 am

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Music

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I just finished watching Colin Hanks’ impressive documentary on the rise and fall of Tower Records, titled All Things Must Pass.

While I’d recommend the film to anyone who was ever a frequent Tower shopper, I’d say it’s a must-see for anyone who has ever worked music retail, particularly those who worked during the late ‘90s to early ‘2000s, which saw the decline of physical media sales.

The film centers on Russ Solomon who founded Tower Records in Sacramento, California in 1960, and traces the path he took in building the Tower brand from a single “supermarket of music” to a worldwide mega-chain. The documentary does a fair job at assessing the “perfect storm” that caused the ultimate collapse of the chain, culminating with the closing of their last company-owned store in 2006.
 

Tower Records head-honcho, Russ Solomon
 
Interviews with David Geffen, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and the obligatory Dave Grohl documentary appearance (is there some rule that says Grohl has to appear in EVERY music-related documentary?) give some insight to Tower’s cultural significance, rounding out the insider interviews with Tower’s top brass who detail the company’s rise and fall.

While the film offers a poignant homage to the Tower concept, brand and its larger-than-life captain, Russ Solomon, where it really shines is in its deconstruction of how the music industry as a whole dropped the ball in the late ‘90s. It was interesting to see Geffen offer his theories on how the industry screwed the pooch, leading, along with over-expansion, to Tower’s eventual demise. 

In the ‘90s I worked at a regional chain record store that modeled itself after Tower and I watched a lot of this stuff go down first-hand. Though the industry likes to point to the advent of Napster as the magic bullet that killed retail music, it was, in many ways, their own greed and shortsightedness that worked in conjunction with “illegal” downloads to kill retail. All Things Must Pass highlights the fact that the industry intentionally killed the single in order to force consumers into paying fifteen dollars for a full-length CD. I worked during the “golden age” of the CD single and “cassingle,” and those were beloved by a die-hard customer base. When the singles disappeared, we lost many customers to GAS STATIONS because the gas stations sold pirated “mixtapes” that contained all the songs our customers wanted without having to buy a hundred bucks worth of other songs that they didn’t want. Soon thereafter, these very same customers would be downloading those very same songs.

I can remember working at the shop in 1993 when Garth Brooks became the voice of major labels looking to crush the used CD market. Brooks had pledged to withhold his latest release from any record store that sold used merchandise. He eventually backed down and WEA, UNI and Sony Music Distribution were investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and were the target of several antitrust lawsuits related to their policies against stores that sold used CDs. The labels had attempted to withhold co-op advertising dollars from shops that sold used CDs, asserting that those sales were unfairly cutting into their profits.

I remember when one major electronics chain started its nation-wide expansion and its strategy was to open shops near existing record stores, and to sell all of their CDs for ten dollars each—and to stock damn-near everything. In many cases, they were selling CDs below actual cost as a loss-leader to get people in the doors to buy washing machines and refrigerators. But what they were also doing was destroying their competition by offering CDs at a price that could not be matched. When they effectively ran the other record stores out of business, they stopped stocking all of the deep-catalog titles and only reordered “the hits.” And then the prices magically went up—a shrewd business practice that destroyed several mid-sized music retail chains and made it impossible for music fans in many markets to buy anything, outside of the mainstream, locally… pushing them to search for music—ahem—online.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
ONO covers the Velvet Underground on an art museum loading dock
08.25.2016
11:55 am

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Music

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This blog has covered the legendary Chicago underground psych/performance group ONO before but a recap is in order anyway: musician P. Micheal Grego and mononymous singer/shaman Travis formed their theatrical anti-rock band in 1980, toiling in arty obscurity until throwing in the towel in 1986. Two decades later, they re-formed the band after interest in their two LPs Machines that Kill People and Ennui unexpectedly boomed. Since 2012, they’re released three new albums, and they finally toured outside Chicago in 2014.

They continue to tour today, with a greatly expanded membership that includes connections to other quality Chicago concerns like Tiger Hatchery and even Ministry. Travis has swapped his trademark dreadlocks for a clean-shaven dome and a brilliant white beard, and sports luminous white clothing to match—often wedding dresses. He’s a captivating sight; there a pitifully few frontmen as engaging and just plain watchable as Travis.

Last week, the band appeared in a concert on the loading docks of Cleveland, OH’s Museum of Contemporary Art, part of a far-too-short concert series that ends tomorrow night with a performance by concrète masters Form A Log. They shared the bill with a marvelous interactive dance performance by Space Beach and some jaw-dropping microtonal math rock from Baltimore’s Horse Lords, but ONO can’t really help but completely steal any show they appear on. Please enjoy my phone-cam footage of a delightful surprise they unleashed, a wonderfully droney nine-minute cover of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” an apt choice for a band whose singer favors hand-me-down gowns.
 

 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
This ‘Street Trash’ diorama of the infamous toilet ‘meltdown’ scene can now be yours!
08.25.2016
11:44 am

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Art
Movies

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Behold the one-of-a-kind ‘Street Trash’ diorama based on the famous toilet ‘meltdown’ scene.
 
Available for sale over at the aptly-titled Curious Goods (via Big Cartel) is this eight-inch-scale diorama depicting one of the most memorable (or impossible to forget) scenes in cult movie history—the infamous toilet ‘meltdown’ scene from the 1987 “film” Street Trash.
 

 
Standing fifteen-inches in height the DIY diorama shows “Wizzy” (played by actor Bernard Perlman) taking his last dump after guzzling a bottle of “Tenafly Viper” and was hand painted using the various dayglo colors that were used throughout the film to enhance its gore. The unapologetic, decadently gross film was to be director J. Michael Muro’s film school thesis but was rejected for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has seen Street Trash. And as if this isn’t enough good news for anyone who adores this flick, this one-of-a-kind piece of cinema tragedy is currently ON SALE for the low-brow price of $150.

The film (which has been praised by horror directors Wes Craven and George Romero) was also the subject of a two-hour documentary in 2006 which you can get in a specially packaged Blu Ray from 2013 Street Trash: Special Meltdown Edition.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Fashion designer pierces meat, fruit and flowers for sexual still life arrangements
08.25.2016
10:51 am

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Amusing
Art
Fashion
Food

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Victor Barragan’s first fashion line combined some simple pieces with high-impact accessories—think leather gloves, denim sack dresses, and massive hoop earrings, but accented with an actual eggplant toted around as a purse. The clothes are fun, but it’s Barragan’s Instagram that I really like. He styles produce, meat and flowers with piercings—studs and hoops—for a distinctly “Retro S and M Centerpieces” vibe. Barragan’s work is very tongue-in-cheek, and he doesn’t shy away from the whimsy of his pierced still lifes, saying:

“I started working with food a while ago, creating still lifes, using diverse elements – like gold, diamonds and piercings. My work on Instagram has a sense of humor; it’s always something weird but not creepy. I had this idea to make organic accessories that could feel like they were alive.”

The Instagram itself isn’t actually SFW—unless you’re lucky enough to work in a gay porn friendly office?—but I’ve compiled some of the best food and floral piercings below—technically safe for work, but one or two is still a little visceral. Scroll with caution.
 

 

 
More pierced meat and things, after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment