Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sacramento Cool

All good things must end:
For the six months since Lady Bird first enraptured critics, then audiences, then members of the academy and other awards bodies, Sacramento has found itself riding an unprecedented surge of self-esteem. New walking tours of the city promise glimpses of landmarks and locations featured in Greta Gerwig’s love letter to her hometown. A new mural has emblazoned actress Saoirse Ronan’s face on a wall near the State Capitol. An East Sac bar featured in the film unveiled a Lady Bird cocktail. “I ♥ Lady Bird” pins are ubiquitous signifiers of local pride, and Gerwig’s Sunday night red-carpet shoutout to Sacramento dulled the sting of the film’s Oscar oh for.

It’s probably all downhill from here for my native city, as evidenced by the death that same night of 92-year-old Tower Records founder Russ Solomon—while watching the Oscars, no less, at his Sacramento home. The end came 77 years after Solomon first started selling vinyl albums in the back of his father’s drugstore on Broadway, and 14 years after his resultant music-store empire went bankrupt, crippled by the internet and ultimately doomed by corporate malignancy and ineptitude. The intervening decades at Tower Records were a wellspring of global growth, creativity, noise, glamour, and bohemian chaos. Solomon used to collect neckties that he would routinely scissor from the collars of music industry executives visiting Tower headquarters in West Sacramento. Across the river, the original Tower Records on Watt Avenue was notorious for a cocaine budget hid under a line item for “handtruck fuel.” Metallica once played a concert in that store’s parking lot, rocking out for thousands on a flatbed trailer.

Even Solomon’s demise befits his legend: According to his son’s comments to the Sacramento Bee, Solomon was drinking whiskey and snarking on Oscar fashions. His wife briefly left the room to refill his glass. Solomon was dead when she returned.

Growing up in Sacramento 25 years ago, I couldn’t conjure anything cooler about the city than Russ Solomon and Tower Records. Today, I still can’t. He and Tower were vastly cooler than anything in Lady Bird. And I loved Lady Bird! But let’s be honest: Lady Bird herself would have worked at Tower if she’d stayed in Sacramento in 2003 (at least until its last area store closed in 2006). It’s not difficult to imagine her hiding her Dave Matthews Band albums in a dorm drawer and applying to work at the Broadway store in New York City, or at least hanging out at the CD listening stations like all the other aughts-era NYU brats yet to be assimilated into downtown’s cultural fringes.

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