IFFBoston: I Need that Record!

26 April 2009, 11:47 am

I Need that Record! seems to arise from the best D.I.Y. tradition. Director/cinematographer/editor/producer Brendan Toller got fired up about the death of some of his favorite independent record stores. So he made a movie about it. (Ace cut-out-style animations from Matt Newman prevent it from being strictly a one-man show, and add welcome visual variety.) He interviewed staff from stores that closed. He got several of the usual punk documentary interview subjects (Thurston Moore, Glenn Branca, Legs McNeil, Ian MacKaye, Mike Watt. . .) to do more-or-less their standard interviews (I love those guys, but if you’ve seen as many punk documentaries as I have, what they offer here is a brief and pleasant, but certainly not revelatory visit with old friends). But Toller scores a few real coups. Mike Dreese, CEO of Newbury Comics, the Boston-based local music and alt.culture chain that has survived where HMV, Tower, etc. failed, is just jaw-droppingly candid. (Bloodshot Record’s Rob Miller also pulls no punches — but he doesn’t have to buy product from anybody he demonizes.) Lenny Kaye tells an anecdote about how an indie muisc store was integral to the formation of the Patti Smith Group that I’d never heard. Noam Chomsky offers more-or-less one of his standard anti-corporate shticks — comparing the death of the indie music store to the rise of the supermarket — but it’s the first time I can recall seeing him in a punk movie.

I Need that Record! has a very clear agenda, and makes no pretense to presenting alternate viewpoints. Although I agree with Toller about 99.5%, I thought it skirted the edge of “preachy.” It also maybe tried to cram in a little too much music-biz-related content. The rise of the big box store and the advent of internet downloading hurt indie stores directly, and get deserved screen time. The Telecommunications Act and the resultant media consolidation by (mostly) Clear Channel certainly made a ghastly homogenized mess of radio, and it’s now next-to-impossible for a band to have success through regional commercial airplay — but I think it’s arguable how much that directly hurt indie stores that mostly sold music that hardly got commercial airplay even before Clear Channel’s Borg Assimilation. I’ve heard claims that RIAA/Big 4 tactics like larding CDs with spyware and suing filesharers have actually pushed people away from corporate music product and toward indie labels, which presumably isn’t a negative for stores that mostly carry indie releases. One topic I was surprised that Toller didn’t address was corporate attempts to undermine first-sale doctrine, the principle which allows the sale of used recordings — which has been under near-continual legal attack since the mid 1980s.

But these are quibbles. Toller’s film has a tremendous amount of heart, and I hope it will inspire some folks to support the indie music stores they have left. It certainly made me sad for the indie stores gone from own life.

One last note: The title I Need that Record! made me think this was going to be a film about music collectors, like Alan Zweig’s terrific and horribly-underexposed Vinyl. It’s really more like “I Need (a place to hang out and hear) that record.” But the song of the same name that plays under the opening credits is purely awesome. Some research on the Internets suggests that it’s by The Tweeds, and, well . . . I need that record!

2 comments on “IFFBoston: I Need that Record!”

  1. 2fs

    My favorite underplayed what’s-killing-the-music-industry meme is The Death of the Single. The industry essentially forced people to pay fifteen, eighteen bucks for the one song they wanted - and then when they could get that one song for nothing, well…

  2. villain

    Yah, that got screentime, too. Again, that seems like a goofy thing for the majors to do coincident with the rise of a large market that sells single album tracks directly — but I’m not sure I see a direct impact on indie stores from that. I mean, most of the indie stores I frequented in the first half of the decade barely stocked major label singles to begin with.

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