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.

It was around this time that Cole found a kindred spirit in St. Louis music junkie Hot Scott Fischer, who was penning record reviews for Creem under the editorship of Lester Bangs. Fischer and the Mee-Mees bonded, and soon they were recording as a trio.

Cole calls them "experiments in racket" -- wild feedback freakouts captured on two volumes of Warp Sessions from 1972 and 1973. Songs like "I Am Nothing" and "Mommy I'm Falling," pure wails of despair that extend to ten and fifteen minutes apiece.

Fischer eventually moved away, and the Mee-Mees were back where they started: in the Basement with a lot of time on their hands. They went down to a local open mic where some of their friends were playing, with the intention of making their live debut. But just as they were starting, Ashline changed his mind. Cole sounds bitter to this day. "He's a chickenshit," he says, stamping the event with an infamy on par with the attack on Pearl Harbor: "It was at Florissant Valley, 1974." Then his voice softens. "Which is okay with me, because I wasn't really up for it either. It would have been fucking horrible."

KDHX host Jason Rerun can't believe the sound 
quality the Mee-Mees achieve.
Jennifer Silverberg
KDHX host Jason Rerun can't believe the sound quality the Mee-Mees achieve.
Bruce Cole in the Basement: "I just don't like it down 
here no more."
Jennifer Silverberg
Bruce Cole in the Basement: "I just don't like it down here no more."

To this day, he and Ashline have never played together live.


Bruce Cole has worked many jobs. "Selling papers and emptying trash cans at a bar on Chambers where I still go -- where I wish I was right now," he begins when asked to recount his employment history. "Caddied up at Norwood Hills golf course for a little bit. Worked at a pancake house one night, puked in the pancake batter and got fired. Didn't eat pancakes for 30 years after that. Worked at Hirschberg's House of Magnavox delivering TVs and putting up TV antennas, fixing record players, shit like that."

In the early 1970s he moved to Kansas City and went to electronics school and worked for a record distributor. "Came back here, worked at Stix, Baer & Fuller in the women's shoe salon stock room. That sucked. Then I worked for a United Artists record distributor, delivering records to record stores. After that I got a job driving out of town with Sun Classic Pictures -- used to carry the movies with me, take them to the theaters and drive-ins, run them, collect all the dough, throw it in the bank, go to the next town doing the same fucking thing." He ran movies at the Tivoli, showed Three Stooges flicks at the Varsity (now Vintage Vinyl) a few blocks up Delmar Boulevard, ran projectors at the North Twin Drive-In, South Twin Drive-In, Olympic Drive-In. Somewhere amid those dozen years he got married and divorced a couple of times, fathered a son and a daughter and, in the early '90s, landed back where he'd begun: living above the Basement.

The Basement looks like your average cluttered basement. Half the space is consumed by a laundry room, the other by piles of crap. A toddler's rocking horse sits at the foot of the stairs. An old recliner, Ashline's former base of operations -- sits next to a beaten-down drum kit, which faces the room's gear table, a jumble of recording and audio equipment. Nothing fancy: reel-to-reel recorders, cassette decks, a double CD burner, a broken turntable, a pair of solid studio monitors. ("I think they were hot," Cole says of the monitors. "The jukebox guy sold the pair of them still in the box for a hundred bucks, said, 'Don't tell nobody.'")

Piled on every flat surface in the vicinity are tapes. Scores of tapes. On shelves, on the floor, beneath old National Lampoonand Creemmagazines, 40-ouncers, bags of trash, records, cigarette butts, a Studebaker parts catalog and vintage copies of Heckle and Jeckle, Mr. Magoo and Cab Calloway flicks. On the wall is a framed sleeve of the Screamin' Mee-Mees' triumphant 1992 debut LP, the oddball tour de force Clutching Hand Monster Mitt. Below it is the band's business card: The Screamin' Mee Mees. "Music For No Occasion." Bruce, Guitar. Jon, Drums.

The first time Jason Rerun saw the Basement, he couldn't believe the Mee-Mees recorded amid that chaos. Rerun and his wife, Ann, collect rare punk records. They knew the Screamin' Mee-Mees' obscure gem "Live from the Basement," released in 1977 as a 45. While the Sex Pistols were calling for anarchy in the UK and the Ramones were blitzkrieging New York, the Mee-Mees were bemoaning the state of their beverages: "Left my sody out in the sun/It got warm, it tastes no fun/Hot sody in the sun/It ain't no fun." The couple befriended Cole when he turned up at an open-mic night at Frederick's Music Lounge in 2001, one of precious few local live appearances. Thrilled to be able to see him, they bought him a beer before the show. "He wasn't going to get up onstage," recalls Jason Rerun, who hosts the punk program Scene of the Crime on KDHX (88.1 FM). "He brought along a guitar, but he didn't have an amp. He was real nervous and we had to really cheer him on. He started to play the first couple chords of a song then said, 'No, no, no,' unplugged the guitar and started to walk off." It took more nudging before he finally got up and performed.

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