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Quick Take: I Need That Record!

I Need That Record

I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store is filmmaker Brendan Toller’s love letter to those indie record stores and investigation of what brought about their downfall. Given the amount of time and money I spend in record stores, this documentary would seem to be right up my alley, but there’s a curious disconnect in the film’s intended audience. If you’ve followed music for the last 15 years, it will come across as a tedious mix of preaching to the choir and beating a dead horse. If you haven’t followed music for the last 15 years, you’re less likely to check out a documentary called I Need That Record.

Let me run through some of the major topics of discussion from the first hour of the film: major radio stations are bad, Clear Channel is bad, big box stores are bad, major-label executives are bad (and dumb), manufactured pop is bad, MTV is bad, indie record stores are good, and the old “Is Napster / file-sharing good or bad?” debate. The well-trodden “why” of indie record stores’ downfall is considerably less compelling than the reasons for their success, which usually come through interviews with musicians like Ian MacKaye, Glenn Branca, Lenny Kaye, Mike Watt, and Thurston Moore (who, like Chunklet mentioned, is obligated to appear in every documentary). Noam Chomsky even appears, giving the film a rare moment of critical insight when he expands on the film’s emphasis of the community appeal and value of the stores. I feel for the (mostly former) record store owners interviewed for the film, but only Newbury Comics’ Mike Dreese recognizes that such stores need to adapt their business models to survive. The others are exasperated and angry, but not proactive.

I’m not surprised I Need That Record has garnered enthusiastic praise. Toller’s heart is in the right place, and few music lovers will argue against the premise that independent record stores are a good thing. My final point may come across as overly harsh—perhaps like Dreese’s indictment of the tired business models of his brethren—but I Need That Record feels like a student paper. It recaps the major developments, pulls quotes from primary and secondary sources, and makes some conclusions from its findings. Sure enough, I Need That Record started out as Brendan Toller’s senior thesis at Hampshire College. By itself that’s an astonishing achievement—I certainly never interviewed Noam Chomsky for a paper—but I’d be more intrigued by a graduate-level film, one that contributes something new to the discussion instead of just recapping it.