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'All Things Must Pass' is a paean to glory days of record stores

I think I finally understand how dudes in cheesy hair-metal bands must’ve felt when “This is Spinal Tap” was first released. It just hit a little too close to home. They probably felt like the whole world was laughing at them.

If you worked at a record store for any length of time - as I did, for the entirety of the 1990s, moving from the shipping/receiving warehouse into management, eventually - then Colin Hanks’ “All Things Must Pass” is, in some ways, your own “Spinal Tap.” It’s a documentary, not a “mockumentary,” a la “Tap,” but still – if you lived it, then man, this thing can’t help but hurt a little.

Hanks has made a stirring film, one that simultaneously acts as a love letter to the mighty Tower Records and its owner, the affable, irreverent and pleasantly rebellious Russ Solomon, and as a requiem not just for record stores, but for the way of life they represented and encouraged for folks who worked there, shopped there, hung out there, and generally behaved as if the place was their personal clubhouse. (You all know who you are. I probably cashed you out more than once.)

It’s a beautiful, smartly-paced, and finely detailed documentary. It’s also sad. Because, no matter how many millennials and hipsters continue to buy vinyl; no matter how many Record Store Days seek to celebrate the independent music retailer; and no matter the number of young bohemians who fill out an application hoping to land their dream gig – “Listen to music all day and sell records??? I’m in!” – something is gone, and it ain’t coming back.

Hanks - with the help of interview subjects including Solomon, Chuck D, Chris Cornell, Dave Grohl, (of course!) Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and a bunchy of former Tower employees – lets us know what’s gone. It’s that elusive magic, that state of grace that has as much to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time, as it does with hard work and dedication.

Tower went from world-wide boom to last-gasp bust in what seemed like the blink of an eye. At its peak, in 1999, Tower pulled in $1 billion. Seven years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. What happened in between? Hanks will tell you.

“All Things Must Pass” is not so much simply another recounting of how the internet destroyed the music industry. That’s old news. Rather, it’s an even-handed exploration concerning what we decide to keep, and what we throw away.


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