by John M. Borack
Art Gods: An Oral History of the Tower Records Art Department
November Fire Recordings
California-based Tower Records was one of the world’s go-to chain music stores for many years until their bankruptcy and closure of most all of their retail stores in 2006. Beginning in the late ‘70s, the brick-and-mortar stores featured uniquely artistic promotional displays designed to catch the eye of record buyers. ArtGods: An Oral History of the Tower Records Art Departmenttakes an in-depth look at the stories of the men behind the artwork and how one of them – Steve Pollutro – inadvertently led the charge.
The 72-minute documentary includes interviews with a handful of the artists who pioneered Tower’s visual style, with Pollutro (aka the boss) getting the most screen time. He explains how his artwork (which began with foam board displays) created a fresh, new look within the store environment, “but I was unaware I was even doing it.”
Along with the interviews that make up the bulk of the film, there’s along with plenty of vintage photos and archival video of Tower Records stores and, of course, the artwork itself (there’s also a record display sideshow included as a “DVD extra”). Much of the art involved utilizing portions of album covers (or a band’s logo) for the displays, with the artists then adding their own touches.
To a man, the artists recall their Tower experience fondly, with some wild and wooly stories that speak to their camaraderie back in the heady days of the late ‘70s and ‘80s. As one of the artists says, “Sometimes it was like the artistic version of Lord of the Flies-lite and other times it was like Animal House.” To that end, it would have been nice to see a few of the artists interviewed together, rather than each one speaking separately.
Art Gods also features a brief look at some of the artists who made in-store appearances at Tower Records in the San Francisco Bay-area back in the day, including such disparate acts as John Lee Hooker, Laurie Anderson, the Bangles, Beverly Sills, and Joe Montana (?). The doc is well-produced and engaging, albeit a work that’s extremely limited in its scope. Available from www.novemberfire.com .