Friday, January 18, 2008

Alas, Poor CRAM... I Knew It Well.

I love traditional old record stores. Especially more so in these times of mega-conglomerates churning out the same stuff, the same “must have” back catalogues, or slashing prices, or god forbid, setting a fashion trend. It’s now become just as important where you buy your stuff as it is what you buy in order to define who you are. Not so the old record stores. And I’m not talking about trendy inner city ones, with their carefully crafted High Fidelity-esque ambiance. I passed one on Glenferrie Road recently that had removed a huge chunk of stock space to make way for the most pretentious little cafĂ© setting I have seen. Littered with intense young tertiary types, and rich kids with their Judy Is A Punk hand written t-shirts, I’m sure they feel their street cred has been hugely elevated. “And hey, doesn’t this serious vinyl, make a seriously great photo back drop for a seriously casual “in the moment” photograph? Oh but can you move it to the left a little, just to capture the filtered light and thereby exposing a hint of my complete duality. No, no, just a little further. There. Great. Awesome. And so natural. Amazing.”

But, I digress. I’m talking about your unpretentious record store. They sell some new stuff, sure, but mostly second hand records, tapes and cd’s. And books. There are stories to be told just from the way the book looks, how it has been used over the years, let alone the tales of what is inside. See, the wannabes mentioned earlier buy some of these books, too. Maybe some read them. Most of them toss a few on the coffee table, because that pre-loved worn out look adds so much depth to their individuality. (Cough). A friend of mine borrowed my copy of High Fidelity and it came back in a terrible state. I quizzed him about it, so I know he never bothered reading it. I suspect the way he wore out the book was premeditated, so that it looked wonderful casually placed on top of an equally unread and artfully positioned copy of The Dark Stuff.

Still…I digress again… Used vinyl, tapes, and cd’s. Like a kid in a candy store. In the last few years they’ve become my playground, my refuge, a place to get away from work. Browse. Think. Listen. Sometimes a quick chat to the owner about what is playing at present, or do a quick price check. “How much would Trout Mask Replica cost?” Or: “What would you pay for the complete vinyl collection of Zappa?” By and large they are helpful, but they also want to make a profit or pick up up a cheap bargain. So, I’m led to believe Captain Beefheart’s Opus will cost me a fortune and Zappa, well, Zappa isn’t worth much apparently…but they’d be happy to take them off my hands, anyway. I think I’ll hold on to both a while longer….

I must confess, I don’t but that many vinyl records anymore. For my purposes, cd’s work best. But I still keep a look out. And you will always find something, somewhere that is no longer on the artist’s cd catalogue. Funny…you go there with the sole purpose of picking up one particular album but may leave with several others instead…and if you are lucky, some gems you have never heard of before.

One such place was CRAM, Camberwell Records And Music. Inside, you could peruse music from all nations, and all inclinations, as well as cd’s, books, and clothes – you know the type, retro pit crew and auto workshop shirts? Why is it so? I still regret to this day not purchasing the ‘whiskey-styled’ Neil Young tour t-shirt. Ho hum.

I remember getting into Ryan Adams before discovering Whiskeytown. The same goes for Wilco before Uncle Tupelo. I discovered several relatively rare albums from both bands at CRAM. The one that eluded me, though, was Son Volt. To complete my new found obsession with alt-Country, etc, I felt it was only right to include works by this seminal band in my compilations: skunkfolk (vols 1 to 3). I recall going to CRAM with the sole purpose of picking up a Black Eyed Susans album that my friend, Jason, had put me onto, when lo and behold three Son Volt albums were sitting there in the rack. Just waiting for me. Trace. Straightaways. And Wide Swing Tremolo. After searching for several years, I couldn’t believe I picked them up on a quiet stroll at lunch, not more than three blocks from work.

That’s how CRAM worked. Always a surprise. Sometimes the odd disappointment. “But, wow, the cover looked really, really good!” The bargains are too many to mention. A Tim Rogers double album for $4.00 (Sorry, Jason). Old Lemonheads singles. Jerry Jeff Walker. Leo Kottke. Paul Weller. Lambchop. Bonnie Prince Billy. The list goes on.

Sadly, CRAM is no more. I moved offices and couldn’t get there as often as I liked. I remember telling the owner that he’d last 6 months without me propping up his business. I was only kidding…Sorry, okay?! I’m not sure what happened to CRAM. It’s now a florist. I don’t know what the reason for departure is but I guess it’s just not as viable to run a store on passion. I guess there’s more appeal to purchasing the complete discounted music/fashion experience from (insert mega store franchise here).

So, farewell, CRAM. There may not be enough of us out there to sustain you, but there are enough to remember you.


These blogs usually have a song or two to capture the flavour. I can’t really think of any, but for some reason it is the version of Miss Otis Regrets by The Lemonheads that keeps echoing in my mind. It’ll do.

ps: of course, you know I ended up eventually getting the Black Eyed Susans album, too. Gold.

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