“A quietly impassioned elegy”: Brendan Toller’s “I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store”

By on April 23, 2018

Since this past Saturday (April 21, 2018) was the annual official Record Store Day, we thought Night Flight fans might enjoy seeing Brendan Toller’s heartfelt 2008 feature-length documentary I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store.

Watch I Need That Record! — in which the first-time filmmaker examined why over 3000 independent record stores have closed across the U.S. in the past decade (and likely many more have closed since the film was released) — on Night Flight Plus.

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In the summer of 2007, Toller traveled across the United States, dropping in on occasionally crestfallen indie record store owners to talk to them about their struggles and the passion required to keep the lights on at their labors-of-love, be they “Mom ‘n’ Pop” stores or boutique-style shops devoted to specific genres.

Toller also talked with the head honchos at several record labels, and employees and patrons of indie stores across the U.S., as well as interviewing quite an interesting and eclectic mix of cultural heroes and role models, including:

Danny Fields (legendary music biz icon), Ian Mackaye (Fugazi/Minor Threat and founder of the Washington D.C.-based Dischord Records record label), Mike Watt (Minutemen), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith), Chris Frantz (Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club), Pat Carney (Black Keys), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), guitar composer Glenn Branca, punk journalist/author Legs McNeil, the Late BP Helium (that’s the solo recording project & stage name of Athens, GA-based Of Montreal guitarist Bryan Poole), and Night Flight contributor and all-around super nice guy, celebrated NYC photographer Bob Gruen, among others.

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We have to admit we were also a bit surprised to see that Toller talked with progressive activist/author/linguist Noam Chomsky, who offers up interesting bon mots about how larger major retailers and chain stores are replacing smaller indie-owned stores and other Chomsky-esque factoids.

Chomsky also admits his own musical taste “terminated around the 1940s.”

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Toller also provides visually-arresting animated segments which delve into practically everything you’d need to know about why indie record stores are shuttering their front doors, including the Internet, radio monopolization/homogenization, and “big box” stores are undercutting their pricing.

Toller provided a spate of pertinent facts and statistics about record stores, album sales, album prices, the rise of mp3s, the Telecommunications Act and lots more.

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In August 2007, Toller — ranting on his film’s blog — said “the music industry has always been a unique marriage of art and commerce,” and further detailed how these companies were concerned mainly with “turning the clocks back to preserve old business models,with only one thing in mind, THE BOTTOM LINE.”

He further details how the major labels, in particular, have in the past handful of decades, gone out of their way to, among other things, “squash new ideas, new innovations, and new possibilities as the future of recorded music, a commodity that supports the artist, vanishes.”

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Read more about I Need That Record! below.

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Brendan Toller

Toller’s documentary — which Pitchfork began promoting even before he’d completed the film for his Hampshire College Division III advanced independent study project — began promoting the forthcoming project and sharing the trailer, which engendered a lot of interest in I Need That Record! before it had been theatrically screened.

I Need That Record! would have its premier at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, on May 3, 2008.

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I Need That Record! ultimately has been screened at more than sixty film festivals and won the lauded Audience Award at Melbourne International Film Festival, beating out Davis Guggenheim’s It Might Get Loud.

The film has received a lot of outsized praise from glossy music mags like Rolling Stone and Uncut UK, who said that Toller “manages to provide a rounded and quietly impassioned elegy for the kind of self-supporting yet fragile communities which independent stores bring into being.”

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Jonathan Perry, writing for the Boston Globe‘s online hub, said the film “began as a modest way to mark the departure of his favorite local record store in Middletown, Conn. It turned into an elegy for a vanishing subculture…a lively, bittersweet film that examines — with caustic humor, brutal candor, and, ultimately, great affection — why roughly 3,000 indie record stores have closed across the nation over the past decade.”

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In a 2016 Billboard article about Toller’s second film, writer Lyndsey Havens said that Toller’s first feature documentary “went on to help shape the ‘vinyl resurgence’ in the 2000s, as it chronicled independent record stores and their importance in the digital age.”

Toller and Fields had developed a friendship after their first interview, which led to Toller’s second documentary film, Danny Says.

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“Record Store Day” — the celebratory event-filled day was created in April 2007 to help spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently-owned record stores in the U.S. (and thousands of similar stores internationally) — and over the years “RSD” has evolved to become many things to the hundreds of thousands of participants, many of them record collectors who seek out specialized releases that can only be purchased in actual brick ‘n’ mortar store locations.

Here at Night Flight, we like to think that every day is “Record Store Day” (we even mentioned it in one of our previous posts), but another great way to show your support for independently-owned record stores (and the stories that go along with the people involved) is to watch I Need That Record! — and similarly-themed music documentaries, including Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop and Records Collecting Dust — on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.