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.


Cole has a story about every machine in the Basement. He points to a Fender amp. "I traded a '64 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia for it. I seen the guy I traded the Volkswagen to a couple weeks later, said, 'How's that VW running?' He had two words to say to me: 'Fuck you.'" Ashline too swapped a car, a beat-up AMC Javelin, to acquire his drum set.

Cole bought an Alvarez acoustic guitar in 1975. It has never been out of the house. "There's a little Silvertone amp that electrocutes you every time you try and use it," he says. Then he points to his reel-to-reel recorder, the one that captured many of the early songs. "That thing cost me nothing. Jim Scheff at Audionics called me, said, 'Come up and get it or it's going in the Dumpster.' Zoom, I'm up there." Scheff gave him the stereo amp he still uses upstairs, ditto a pair of Bose speakers, which he sold. He also sold his favorite guitar, nicknamed the Green Monster. ("I got it from a nitwit who couldn't play shit -- chiseled him down to $250.") He found the cassette decks next to Dumpsters, which he scours regularly. The Yorx speakers were sitting in a Shop 'n Save parking lot. All the gear is still hooked up in the Basement. Cole has named the process by which he records "Hi-Fido." Each record comes with a written tip: "Play Loud on Cheap Stereo."

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")

Rerun can't believe the sound quality Cole coaxes out of the rudimentary technology. "It just seems so accidental. It's not like he's using good equipment at all. The tape he uses is atrocious. Everything is on tapes that have been used 80 times and listened to 400 times. After he's dumped the tapes to the twelfth generation, how does it sound that good? The tape decks he's using are out of the trash. They were worn out to begin with, and he's fixed them. It's not like he put any money into them replacing the heads. How did you get it to sound like that?"

Simple, Ashline explains: "It's a two-mic setup. We started with Realistic plastic microphones. He'd set one on the tabletop by where he was playing, and he'd set one as far away as he could, near the drums. Most of the time he was taping on reel-to-reels."

They eventually graduated to better microphones, but the process remained the same. Because of the nature of the music -- voice, guitar, bass, coffee cans -- most of it required few overdubs or additions.

After going dormant through much of the '80s -- both had families -- Cole and Ashline reunited out of boredom when Cole moved back home in the early 1990s.

Clutching Hand Monster Mitt was released in 1992. Cole had polished Hi-Fido, employing a daisy-chain system of reel-to-reel and cassette decks. By piling sound upon sound onto a tape and overdubbing the accumulated sounds onto other tapes, Cole -- or rather "Miroslaw Fernandez" and "Horace Bimly" (along with "Oral Sturgeon" on Monster Mitt) -- created unlimited space for noise. Monster Mitt features toy laser guns, sped-up Chipmunks vocals, feedback, wah-wah, static. These layered dubs, in the form of three-minute snippets of revelation, consume countless reels in the Basement.

Cole doesn't like visiting the time machine, and when he does agree to sift through tapes, says Rerun, it's time-consuming. "Going through tapes with Bruce, even if it isn't the final take of a song, he still wants to listen to the whole ten-minute tape. He's like, 'This is where I let my guitar feedback for fifteen minutes while Ashline laughed in the background.' He wanted to play us the noisiest, most-broken-up, out-of-tune stuff. He wanted to play it as loud as possible -- and then he would just laugh and laugh the whole way through."

The best music on Monster Mittstruggles to retain a sense that the two musicians are in control of what they're playing; it sounds as though the music is making the decisions. Like "Mudflap," a work of feedback rock that features Cole on Green Monster and Ashline attempting to harness his drums. But when the record hit the shelves, a tiny segment of the rock world rejoiced.

The British magazine Ptolemaic Terrascoperaved that the disc "somehow sucks you in and spits what's left of your brain across the floor." Others described the Mee-Mees as "fuck-all, beer-blather glug...'psychedelia' by people too 'challenged' to care.'"

"American Genius at its finest," crowed Forced Exposure.

"The re-emergence of Cole was something greeted with astonishment and joy throughout the true international knucklehead-collector community, and it's pretty clear that all of his releases (both new and archival) have been 'of a piece,'" says Byron Coley. "I've never had the pleasure of meeting the guy, but obviously he marches to a rhythm that only he truly understands."

Thirteen years later Monster Mittsounds like a recording out of time and space, an obscure, unique, genuine scream. "Your face looks like the surface of the moon," sings Ashline.

Who wouldn't want to party with these guys?

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