The Other Basement Tapes

"I Drink Sody." "Disco for Drunks." "Pull My Finger." Pearls from the overlooked oeuvre of Bruce Cole and the Screamin' Mee-Mees.

When Bruce Cole doesn't want to do something, he offers a noncommittal grunt. Right now, he doesn't want to go down to his basement. Forty years' worth of unfiltered tobacco having taken their toll, what comes out sounds like an engine being dragged along concrete.

He attempts to change the subject. "I coulda gotten my dick sucked yesterday if I would have had a can of ravioli," he announces. "This girl will suck you for a can of ravioli. But I don't want no broad like that in my house."

He's sitting at the kitchen table in the tiny Ferguson bungalow where his parents raised him and his two older brothers, rolling a butt from loose-leaf Bugler tobacco. A Playboy centerfold adorns one kitchen wall. His dad died about fifteen years ago. His mother is in a nursing home. His brothers moved out long ago.

Jennifer Silverberg
The Screamin' Mee-Mees as seen through the eyes of 
Bruce Cole (from the 45 "Life Never Stops")
The Screamin' Mee-Mees as seen through the eyes of Bruce Cole (from the 45 "Life Never Stops")


Listen to Screamin' Mee-Mees mp3s:
"Hot Sody"

It's noon. Cole's been up since 4 a.m. Until recently he was up early scrubbing a couple of north-county bars in exchange for Busch later in the day. That revenue stream, however, dried up, and now he relies on the occasional TV or stereo repair to augment the meager allowance he gets from his mother. He can revive nearly anything that lands in the alleys surrounding his domain, be it a karaoke machine, DVD player, tape deck or VCR. Most mornings it's the same routine: Get up, pull on some clothes, walk out to the garage, flip on the fan, plant his ass in a recliner and turn on Cops, his favorite show. After a little a.m.-news coda, he shuts it down, returns to his kitchen and bakes a batch of muffins, which he'll share with friends and neighbors. At 6 a.m. Howard Stern comes on the radio. On Tuesdays his older brother Michael picks him up and takes him to the grocery store. (The 54-year-old Cole surrendered his driver's license about five years ago after a string of DUIs.)

His freezer is filled with TV dinners and generic Steak-Ums. The fridge contains milk, cheese and can upon can of A&W Root Beer, RC Cola, Squirt and orange soda. The refrigerator door is peppered with phone numbers: for "Slimy" and for "Dirty," for "Albino Broad," "Bitch Face," "S___ with big tits" and "Big tit S___." There's a photo of Cole's friend Eldridge Moore Jr., who died a few years back. Cole was a pallbearer. ("The heaviest corpse I ever carried. We had six guys on it, and it was still heavy.")

Cole walks to the living room. His profile makes it clear beer has taken a firm hold of his belly. Where once he was tall and skinny, he now shares Foghorn Leghorn's physique. Like a more ragged version of Neil Young: stringy black hair, carved face. But where Neil's chasing cowgirls in the sand, Bruce is still contemplating that ravioli trade. "I wouldn't mind getting my weenie wet," he concedes, "but I don't want her in my fucking house." He gave up brushing his teeth a couple years ago, he says: "It wasn't worth my time anymore." A front tooth's missing, to boot.

Cole pops in a CD and hits "Play."

His voice booms out of the speakers, like Howlin' Wolf with a hangover. A rare live performance, from Philadelphia, 1996: "It's time for a recitation," he declares, but it comes out resuscitation. "I got all kinds of words and stuff. Some hot poetry." A woman hoots, and Cole dedicates a poem to his "partner in crime," Jon Ashline, who's unable to attend because as a McDonald's manager he couldn't get time off:

Daddy's work people work all day long,

Singing working-on-the-railroad railroad songs.

Real hamburger flavor and true fried fries,

Cooking deep-sea fish sandwiches and frying apple pies.

Biscuit and breakfast grease lingers in the air,

Saturating daddy's tie and getting in his hair.

Getting up early every day and coming home late,

In the whole hamburger chain daddy's link is first rate.

One day off and working six days a week,

He's so tired when he gets home that he can't even speak.

Fishing for relaxation is what daddy likes the best,

And daddy's workpeople put daddy to the test.

Daddy's hiring and firing people all the day long,

Only good hamburger flippers keep the work force strong.

Keep the customers happy, treat them like a human bein',

That's why daddy's work people are the best you've ever seen.

The audience cheers. Cole and crew rip into a song called "Garden of Earthly Delights."

Bruce Cole is the rockingest motherfucker in St. Louis.

Down in his basement, along with a shitload of his mom's old crap, is the makeshift recording studio where he and Ashline, a.k.a. the Screamin' Mee-Mees, recorded hundreds of songs beginning in the mid-1960s when they were just kids. Much of the material never saw the light of day. A 45 was pressed back in 1977, an LP in 1992, followed by a string of 45s and a second full-length, Nude Invisible Foot Phenomenon. Another disc, entitled Plastic Hong Kong Doorbell Finger, is due out later this year. When it's released, a few hundred diehards from Boston to Scandinavia and beyond will rejoice.

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