Have you ever been obsessed with a hobby? I became a record collector in 1968. My very first record, a 45 RPM, was Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady.” I had to hide it from my mom because it was musica de jipi (hippie music). I wore that 45 out until she discovered it and trashed it, along with the other 45s I had (“Light my fire,” the long version, by The Doors, one or two Beatles, and Janis Joplin. That little black platter was a most amazing thing. Place it on a table, turn the table on, place the needle at the beginning and, voila, music! Coming out of a compact 45 RPM player (or the big Grundig in the living room). I eventually graduated to LPs, spinning at 33 1/3 RPM, and giving me even more songs on one platter. My first LP was a gift to me from my mom (a piano teacher): “Chopin’s Greatest Hits” on RCA Red Seal with Van Cliburn on the Piano. It wasn’t Hendrix but I was fascinated by the music, nevertheless. That one LP started it all.
From there, I graduated to other classical music. I had an LP of Erich Kleiber conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam performing the 5th Symphony of Beethoven. If I recall correctly, it was on a budget American label, not the original British Decca (American London) release. I was stunned. It was, in the true meaning of the word, an epiphany. I was officially hooked. Leonard Bernstein and the Young People’s Concerts, Arthur Rubinstein, opera with Leontyne Price and Leonard Warren and Sherrill Milnes. I haunted the local record stores: Spec’s Music in Coral Gables, The Blue Note in North Miami. Whenever I had a few free bucks, and there was a new release I had read about in Gramophone or DownBeat, I was there. Music, represented by my collection, was my obsession.
In 1975 I bought a Kenwood turntable, a Scott receiver, and a pair of Altec loudpspeakers. It was my first bank loan: $500. From that moment on, my collection began to grow and grow and grow. Record collecting was not just a hobby. It was a way of life. Music revolved around me in many ways. I was a collector, but I knew that nothing could replace the live concert or opera or recital. I have had the great privilege to hear Vladimir Horowitz live, I heard Callas, the great Maria Callas in the worst period of her art, sing here in Miami, I went to great concerts with the Miami Philharmonic (yes, it really did exist). I went to the Metropolitan Opera House and heard Walküre and Parsifal (on a Good Friday in 1984), I heard Karajan conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall in a performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony that was almost religious in nature, I heard Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on a July 4th long ago playing great American music, Puccini and Verdi and Donizetti in Miami. Music, music, and more music. Of course, all of my concert-going was supplemented by LPs. LPs , LPs, and more LPs. When Compact Discs were introduced in 1982 I rejected them. I was (and still am to a degree) convinced that analogue sound was better. But LPs became scarcer and scarcer and I needed my fix.
All of these wonderful memories about music and record collecting were jogged tonight when I read some very sad news. You see, whenever I traveled to New York City, whether for musical reasons or not, I visited what I considered the mecca for record collectors, the place you had to make a pilgrimage to if you were truly serious about your hobby. That place was Tower Records.
Tower had two stores in New York City, one in the Village and the other on the Upper West Side a few blocks from the Met. Every time, my visit was not complete until I visited one (or both) of these stores. I always over-spent and I agonized (in those nostalgic pre 9/11 days) about how I would carry my booty on the plane. LPs are heavier than you can imagine, far heavier than CDs, especially if you bought big boxed sets like I did.
I think I made a little over a dozen visits to Tower Records in New York City, once to the Tower in Boston, and once to the Tower in San Francisco. I spent hours every time I went, going from bin to bin, searching for that certain LP (or CD) I wanted, or that cut-out that would make me gasp when I saw it. Tower Records was a special place and many, many collectors feel the same way I do. As Jerry Del Colliano of Audio-Video Revolution wrote today,
[n]othing really replaces the experience of physically going to a place where you’re surrounded by so much music you lose track of time as new worlds open up before you.
I know it was inevitable, the way of world. Tower records will soon close its doors forever, a victim of the 21st century’s brutal economic realities and beautiful new paradigms. I am as guilty as the next person for its demise, since I have enthusiastically embraced the new technologies that deliver music to me. But still, I feel a terrible pang of regret and sadness that, on my next trip to New York City, there will no longer be that highly anticipated side-trip I always made to buy music. One more thing from my youth is gone. But I still have the great memories. Thank you, Tower Records, for helping me feed my obssession.