In this essay for We Are the Mutants, Michael A. Gonzales describes his experiences in the ’80s as both a patron and an employee of the Tower Records on Fourth and Broadway in New York City. The details in his piece immediately transported me back to my favorite summer of my youth, in 1998, when I worked at my local Tower in San Mateo, California, alongside a bunch of cool, creative, and rebellious teens and young adults. We were all so different from each other, steeped in various musical tastes and subcultures, yet all came together inside our store to sell records, CDs, cassettes, and VHS tapes — and to talk about and share a collective passion for music.
My Tower Records experience is vastly different from Gonzales’ — famous artists and celebrities didn’t come into our store, for instance, and our Bay Area suburban strip mall location pales in comparison to the bustling, legendary location in the Village. But still, I appreciate the small moments he recounts, like his interview for the job, or running the register, or how employees raced to the stereo to change the music. I have similar fond memories from that glorious summer, when music became really important to me, and — with the encouragement of very expressive, interesting coworkers-turned-friends — when I embarked on my own journey of self-discovery.
Though I lived in Harlem and Jerry dwelled in Brooklyn, we often met in front of Tower when we planned on “hangin’ in the village.” We’d flip through racks of records for an hour or so, which was usually followed by smoking a joint in Washington Square Park while watching comedian Charlie Barnett. Back in those days, I had a bad habit of running late and, on one occasion, he befriended a guy begging for change in front of the store. An aspiring playwright, Jerry wrote a one-act about the encounter. Years later, I heard how fallen Grandmaster Flowers, a pioneering DJ from Brooklyn, used to shake his coin cup on that spot and I just knew that’s who Jerry had met. That same year I hung out with Jerry as he waited in line overnight to buy tickets for The Police’s Synchronicity Tour. That year we both worked as messengers in Manhattan, but we were ready to splurge our minimum wages on Sting.