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 crouches over a filing cabinet in the Basement, searching for copies of Sonic Youth's fanzine from the early '90s, Sonic Death, for which he drew comics. Guitarist Thurston Moore is a Mee-Mees fan. So is Beck, reports Cole. Ditto NRBQ.

The past few years have been rough on Cole. In 1999, he says, he started suffering hallucinations, and his mother had him admitted to a psychiatric ward. He was in for a week. "I was eating a lot of that Chef Boyardee crap," he explains, and drinking way too much Jim Beam. Now he sticks to beer.

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")

Ashline moved to Topeka shortly after Monster Mitt. Through the '90s, the Mee-Mees released a string of singles. (Full disclosure: In an earlier incarnation as a record-label tycoon, I released a Mee-Mees 45, "Pull My Finger," in 1993.) In 1996 Cole dug through the archives and released a second full-length, Nude Invisible Foot Phenomenon. But the Basement slowly gathered dust, and there haven't been many new recordings since then.

"We were pretty prolific even after I moved," says Ashline, who was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer in 2002. (It's in remission.) "Every time I came home, and even now, I still touch base with him. But I can't get him to play anymore. The last four or five times I've been home, he says, 'I don't feel like it.' We haven't done anything for probably the last six months. I just can't get him up off his butt. He's just too interested in drinking beer and falling asleep."

Cole says he has a handle on the drinking. "I have a beer every once in while and that's it. He's full of shit. I've got a problem if I don't have anybeer, but beer stays in the fridge overnight."

The main barrier to recording more often, he says, is the Stone Age setup: It's a pain in the ass, switching the reels and cassettes.

The place is a mess. He doesn't feel like it. He needs a new tape deck.

Leafing through his files, Cole finally locates the Sonic Youth fanzine he was searching for and flips to the full-page comic he created especially for the issue.

"Hey Kids!" it reads. "Here's how you can make yr guitar sound just like Sonic Youth! You don't even got to know how to play an' you can sound just like Lee an' Thurston." The comic goes on to sketch out the process, which involves pipes, hammers, screwdrivers and beer can tabs. Like Cole's music, the drawings are rudimentary, but they get the point across.

He leafs through another zine, then another.

"Oh God, there's still a ton of shit," he says, overwhelmed by the avalanche surrounding him. He closes the file drawer and stands up. "Do we gotta stay down here?" he implores. "It's depressing. I used to live down here. I don't know what it is about here anymore, but it's just depressing. I just don't like it down here no more."

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