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.

Not long afterward, he invited the Reruns to his house to play.

Cole's mom greeted them from her lounger in front of the TV. She and Cole, they discovered, had worked out a system to control the noise level: When it got out of hand, Mom would come to the top of the stairs and flick the light switch. "We were coming in carrying a bass and amps, and his mom's, like, 'What are you guys doing?'" Jason recounts. "Bruce is, like, 'Oh nothing, nothing,' and we go downstairs. He flips on the twin reverb, hits one chord and the light starts flicking on and off."

The three set up, Jason on bass and Ann on drums. Bruce started in on guitar. "I said, 'Wait a minute, Bruce, I need to see what you're playing,' Ann remembers. "And he's like, 'No no no.' He wouldn't let me hear it first. The first time you ever hear it, you're recording."

Jennifer Silverberg


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

Finally she told Cole she wasn't in tune and asked to stop.

His response: "Who cares? Play."

As he got more comfortable around Cole, Jason Rerun began poking through the piles of tape and discovered gold -- or something.

Since the four-song "Live From the Basement" EP was released, the record had become something of an oddball legend in collectors' circles.

Author, publisher and archivist Byron Coley co-published the influential 1980s Boston fanzine Forced Exposure, which featured writing by, among others, Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, rock producer Steve Albini and rock critic Richard Meltzer. "I was lucky enough to find the first EP not long after it came out and was immediately struck by the insanely primitive garage and/or basement genius that it seemed to ooze from every pore," Coley recalls via e-mail from Boston. "The record was a complete anomaly for many years, and was filed next to other blasts of pure raunch madness that were kinda punk in a way but were really not definable in any kinda linear/temporal way -- they were just totally wild."

Coley calls "Live From," along with a few other obscure releases of the era, "timeless in [their] insanity, and also far enough outside any established 'scene' that they appeared to be complete enigmas." The disc now fetches up to $50 on the auction block.

When Rerun learned that the four songs on the disc represented only a small part of a much more extensive session, his eyes lit up.

Cole was resistant, or unenthusiastic, or lazy. "It took going over there several times and him chain-smoking and listening to old tapes at full volume while I dug around while he wasn't looking, basically," Rerun recounts. Finally he unearthed a box. "It was under one of the speakers, and the box was all moldy on the bottom," he says. "There was this car stereo in there."

He held up the stereo: "Bruce, what's this?"

"Ah, I had that in my '76 Nova."

Underneath was a cassette case. "There were three tapes that he had been listening to in his car, three of the Holy Grail tapes," Rerun says reverently. "He was like, 'Where'd you find those?' We had gone through hours of reels."

In the end Rerun and Cole uncovered nearly 100 songs. Over the past few years, Los Angeles-based Slippytown Records has released a significant portion on six CDs. Another label, Gulcher Records, based in Orlando, Florida, pressed two collections of singles. Each release sells no more than a few hundred copies.

Translation: Combined, about 300 people on Earth think Bruce Cole is some kind of outsider genius.

A few years ago, Cole says, a band covered one of their songs. "Some Japs made a remake of 'Pull My Finger.' Why does anyone give a fuck what we do? Belgium? What the fuck do they know?"

Says Slippytown Records honcho Eddie Flowers: "Mee-Mees fans are scattered around the globe, although I've noticed a slightly bigger interest from people in the Scandinavian countries and in Japan."

Jon Ashline is baffled at the notion that anyone is hearing the stuff they laid down in the Basement. "What really shocks me is the stuff overseas -- in Japan, in Italy. I never thought it would go that far. Of course, it's a lot smaller world than it used to be. But hell, I never expected it to leave St. Louis.

"We weren't forcing the issue," Ashline adds, attempting to grasp the allure of his and Cole's efforts. "We weren't trying to make good music. We weren't trying to do anything except make Screamin' Mee-Mees songs. We didn't really put any effort into it. Sometimes you just overdo stuff and it doesn't work. For us, I think that would have been the issue. If we tried to write decent songs, we would have failed at it miserably. At this, we were successful. It was something we could pick up and have fun doing. Be as stupid as we want. And somewhere along the line people picked up on it and said, 'Hey, that's pretty cool.'"

Asserts Coley: "I think that music (at least most of it) would have appeal to anyone who really digs the idea that rock & roll should be out-of-control -- like a train speeding down the dark tracks towards a disaster that is certain, but as yet unknown. I mean, the Screamin' Mee-Mees make the White Stripes sound like a couple of professional French cheese slicers."

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