Agony Shorthand

Friday, July 29, 2005

Gotta say, the debut of St. Louis’ basement geniuses the SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES on CD is well past time, and to say a bit ironic would perhaps be understating the case. The band’s 1975-76 recordings that came out in ’77 as “Live From The Basement” are an all-time benchmark for how tuneless and out of time a “band” can sound while still kicking the proverbial ass of virtually other act surrounding them. That four-song EP has been long held dear to the bosoms of countless fans of low-fidelity home-studio inepto-punk, or, as many called it in subsequent years, “lo-fi” or “DIY” (if you will!). But if that was all there was, then that wouldn’t be all that much, right? Eddie Flowers, in his liner notes to this recent-vintage, complete non-LP discography Gulcher CD, puts it this way:

“….Dig them long enough and you’ll eventually realize they’re much better musicians than a quick listen indicates. They just have no respect for the musical rules that even most punks lived by for way too long. An important factor is that the Mee-Mees had been doing this craziness since 1972, and were in fact older than the typical 1977 punk rocker. They had already digested things like Amon Duul and the Godz long before the Ramones happened”.

Tracks like the insta-classics “Hot Sody” and “Pigs” will always have a spot in that era’s limited pantheon – there’s just no getting around how dead-on these guys were in creating a distinct musical tongue out of their own relatively limited abilities. “Max Factor” is even tastelessly written and sung from the point of view of a harelip. All children and adults must hear this. 1978’s four-song “Home Movies” EP is only slightly less great. “Vacation” sounds like a distant US equivalent to bizarre British DIY crudities like “I Don’t Want To Work For British Airways” by THE SCISSOR FITS, I JOG & THE TRACKSUITS’ “Red Box” or “Please Don’t Make Another Bass Guitar, Mr. Rickenbacker” by DANNY & THE DRESSMAKERS. And that’s saying something. The band went into something of a hibernation through the 80s, emerging in the early 90s with a meatier sound & a slightly more improvisational outlook (at times). That “Clutching Hand Monster Mitt” album from 1992 was a real hairy beast, and of course it disappeared quickly. But the Mee-Mees still played fuzzed-out raw guitar punk in keeping with the times, and a cool 1993 45 called “Pull My Finger” was the result (always dug this one – now it’s on CD). After this point, aside from a great detour playing a cover of the SILVER APPLES’ “Oscillations”, they lost me a bit....I think they took their own wacky/retard ethos to heart a bit too much & put out a dud 45 called “Answer Me! / Arthritis Today” and a so-so LP on Bag of Hammers, yet at that point I reckon the DIY punk angle had been played out by the band anyway, & they were more keen on the sort of improvisational searching & droning displayed on the four 1997 BRUCE COLE solo tracks that close this out. Those somehow straddle this strange Maginot line between well-conceived space-out drone & pointless random bleating. You will hear what you want to hear. Despite living in two different Midwestern states, the pulse of The Screamin’ Mee-Mees beats to its own defined rhythm to this day. If you feel like getting involved with it, and I think you should, then drop everything and start clicking here.