When I was in high school, there was an enormous Tower Records store on 66th Street and Broadway, right in front of the subway station I used to get home from school. I spent a serious amount of time in Tower Records, learning about Jimi Hendrix and Depeche Mode, Prince and The Replacements, browsing the racks of LPs and reading liner notes, which were their own metaliturature.
No, I’m not going to spent the next 500 words mourning the death of the record store (though I could) or comparing the slow death of Tower Records to what appears to be a similar death spiral of retail Barnes and Nobles stores (again, I could). But I am going to discuss, somewhat wistfully I suppose, another aspect of the Tower Records experience that is gone and which I miss: The Ticketmaster line.
I was talking to one of the guys I share my office with the other day, and mentioned that tickets for a particular concert I wanted to see had sold out at the price I wanted to pay. And I said, in a kind of throwaway line, that pressing refresh on the Live Nation website was nowhere near as much fun as it had been to wait on line for tickets to, say, Jethro Tull or Rush or the Kinks in eighth or ninth grade.
Actually, it wasn’t that much fun to wait. You had to line up around the Tower Records store up Broadway to 67th Street, then around toward Amsterdam, and couldn’t get in until the store opened at 9 in the morning. It was cold and boring and the smell of stale weed gets old. I didn’t do it often. But there was still a shared sense of community with other teenagers to wait to get tickets to a show, and you’d talk about how you hoped they’d only play Old Stuff because the new album sucked and did you see them the LAST time they were in New York—no, not the Friday night show, I heard that was terrible, but the Saturday night one when Joey Ramone came onstage for the encore and, well, looked like he was going to fall over but he was SO COOL!
And then the door would open and you’d go in and wait some more (but warm, now) and you’d hold each other’s places to (finally) go to the bathroom and talk about how you hope that they would just open the stupid register already because last time they sold out the first show in 11 minutes, but you’d get it and pay the cash you collected from your friends and get your tickets and bounce out and start the countdown to the actual show (and maybe buy the new album and see if it really did suck).
Then the next week, you’d walk past Tower Records and see another line of teenagers, for another concert, maybe dressed more metal or punk or new wave and you’d ask some tired kid “who’s coming?” and either nod approvingly or shrug, and get on the subway.
Look, it’s way more efficient to buy tickets (or books or albums or…toothpaste) on line than it is to wait all night on Broadway or shlep to the grocery store. Tower Records is out of business (a whole other column), replaced by Raymour & Flanagan, and nobody is waiting up all night for a new sofa. Teenagers meet on YouTube and Instagram to talk about whose songs suck, and take videos on their smartphones when they’re actually at the concerts. There are great advantages to our virtual world. But somehow that conversation the other day brought me back to the excitement and enthusiasm of an adolescent community experience which has gone the way of Joey Ramone sightings and liner notes.