- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2015


It was the place to shop for records — yes, records. For three decades Tower Records, the forerunner of such names as Amoeba, schooled California youth in rock ‘n’ roll as it eventually expanded out to points east and south to become a do-drop-in touching point for the musical Zeitgeist.

Directed by Colin Hanks, “All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records” chronicles the music store powerhouse from founder Russ Solomon’s humble beginnings in a Sacramento location before expanding into — and becoming a part of — San Francisco’s hippie culture and south to protest era Los Angeles and beyond.

In the personage of Mr. Solomon, Mr. Hanks has found a compelling character: the all-American oddball who, through hard work, tons of luck and an outsize personality, found himself at the top of the ivory tower of music retail. Much of the film is devoted to Mr. Solomon, as well as his former staffers and associates, waxing nostalgic on the good ol’ days when clerks were happy to work for a pittance just to be involved in the musical conversation. That drinking parties and listening room orgies occurred at the shop comes as little surprise, nor that Mr. Solomon decreed only that store personnel not smoke pot at the store (the parking lot was another matter).

Mr. Hanks, son of actor Tom Hanks, has fashioned a familiar, if not precisely amazing, prototypical three-act procedural of American success and failure as epitomized by the record store giant, enjoying decades of near-universal appeal and profitability until the digital era, Amazon, Napster, iTunes and illegal downloads liquified the concrete beneath such 20th century brick-and-mortar shops. Nothing that occurs in the 93-minute doc comes as particularly surprising or startling to a 21st century audience reading this very review on a digital screen instead of in print, but Mr. Hanks successfully applies the tropes of the rise-and-fall paradigm into focusing on a segment of the culture that fomented the early minds of such rockers as Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl — both of whom are interviewed in the doc.

Mr. Hanks has enjoyed a decent acting and film career on his own, even if one cannot help but feel the yoke of nepotism giving the progeny of the ultrafamous a leg up. His directorial hand is both sure and to-the-point in “All Things Must Pass,” wasting little screen real estate in the tight running time and avoiding as much cheap sentimentality as possible in the closing chapters of the Tower saga. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Hanks tackles deeper subject matter as his career as a director continues.

Just as the title — borrowed from the most famous of all Beatles’ solo records — promises, all in this life is ephemeral, be it fame, cash or an empire of CDs. Even Tower, the Rome of records, fell to Mr. Solomon’s own hubris and a marketplace that effectively made both he and his shop obsolete.

Neither cautionary nor a requiem, “All Things Must Pass” provides a slice of Americana that few who click to enjoy their music would pause to contemplate, but who might be wise to do so before their own children show them the next wave of the present.

“All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records,” is now playing at the District’s Landmark E Street Cinema. 

Rated NR: Contains the occasional salty word and a few vintage photos of topless hangers-on 

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