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This Obit of the Tower Records Founder Will Leave You Loving Life - March 5, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

This Obit of the Tower Records Founder Will Leave You Loving Life

Screenshot from the Tower Records Project.

On an episode of the last season of Mad Man, ad executive Bert Cooper dies peacefully on July, 20, 1969, seemingly of natural causes, just as astronauts land on the moon. Not the worst way to go, really.

But it’s nothing compared to the founder of Tower Records, who died last evening in Sacramento. According to the Sacramento Bee, Russ Solomon died at 92 while drinking whiskey and watching the Oscars. In what reads as a previously prepared obituary with a freshened lede and a devastatingly good headline slapped on, the Bee quotes Solomon’s son Michael as saying, “Ironically, he was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked [his wife] Patti to to refill his whisky.”

“When she returned, he had died,” the Bee adds.

It’s entirely possible Solomon’s commentary could have pertained to Sac native Greta Gerwig or Lady Bird, which takes place in the California capital.

Tower Records has been gone for more than a decade, but virtually everyone over 25 remembers browsing through CD racks in the mall. Having been founded in Sacramento in 1960, Tower expanded to San Francisco eight years later, opening up in a former grocery story in North Beach after nursing a hangover at a nearby diner. At its peak, it was the original megastore, with international locations — including one in the Castro, in a spot that later housed now-defunct locations of CVS and Radio Shack. 

For a long time, the Sunset Boulevard location in L.A. was a genuine celeb hangout, too. In the obit, Solomon’s colleagues and underlings remember him as a pretty casual boss, one who didn’t pay attention to what time people clocked in and liked grand opening parties where the corks just kept getting popped. Solomon made it into the Forbes 400 at one point, but of course, the industry kept changing and Tower filed for bankruptcy not once but twice. It looms large in the cultural imagination, though, in places like the Tower Records Project.

It is very much worth your time to read the whole obituary, and smile a wistful smile to the guy who may have sold you you very first cassette (in this writer’s case, R.E.M.’s Out of Time).