- Cheese Borger, heading for the mountains of Busch.
To get a sense of the role that cheap beer has played in the development of the Cleveland punk scene over the years, you need look no further than the basement of Scott "Cheese" Borger's Painesville home. In addition to the microphones and amplifiers strewn across the space where Borger's band, the Pink Holes, has been practicing, there's a table covered with empty Busch cans and two large barrels filled with empties. And even though it's still early in the afternoon, Borger, a stocky guy whose curly black hair is showing hints of gray, has just cracked open a fresh one and lights a cigarette to accompany it.
"I got a six-pack of Chinese beer up in the fridge that costs eight bucks," he says in defense of his affinity for watered-down domestic brews. "I'll bring it out, if you want one of them."
Borger's drinking habits haven't changed since the '80s. "All the Cleveland bands have been hard drinkers," he says.
His point is amplified on the message board at Clepunk.com, a website that he and Mark Vocca (formerly of the Cleveland punk band the Generics) developed to serve as a resource for Cleveland punk bands of both yesterday and today. On its message board, appropriately dubbed "the bathroom wall," visitors to the site debate the virtues of Milwaukee's Best, Schaefer, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and share their stories of debauchery. The launching of the website, along with the release of a compilation called Cheese Borger's Pie & Ears: Cleveland Then and Now, will be celebrated in a concert on March 24 that will feature performances by 12 local punk bands, two of which -- the Defnics and the Easter Monkeys -- haven't performed in 20 years. Borger, the guy behind the website, concert, and compilation, works as a product manager at a heat treating plant. But he's kept his punk rock credentials intact -- every few years, he brings the Pink Holes back together for a reunion (the last one was in 1997 at the Grog Shop).
Growing up in a working-class environment in Painesville, Borger discovered punk rock when a friend introduced him to the Ramones. Frequent visits to Nemeth's, a Painesville bar with a jukebox stocked with songs by the Cramps and the Sex Pistols, also provided an early education.
"And then I saw the Pagans, and I was just blown away," Borger says, making reference to an early Cleveland punk band. "I took all my old crappy WMMS shit albums down to Record Exchange on Coventry or whatever and traded like 300 albums for Patti Smith, the Damned, and stuff like that. That totally changed everything."
In 1981, Borger started the Pink Holes, which were active until 1990, when their guitarist, Bob Richey, relocated to Los Angeles. At that point, Borger started to wean himself away from music altogether. In the early '90s, he was "just sorta drifting" and became attached to "the dead routine of life." But when he started to sell his collection of Cleveland punk records on eBay, he discovered an enthusiasm for the items that convinced him it wasn't time to throw in the towel just yet.
"Here's the weird thing," he says. "I was getting a hundred bucks for old Pagans records, and [the Pagans' single] 'Six and Change' goes for like 500 dollars. There's a hardcore following out there that loves all the Cleveland stuff. I was trying to get out of it almost, and then I met this ex-Clevelander in Reno [Frank Mauceri] who owns Smog Veil Records, and now he's going to release anything I put together."
Although the Cleveland punk scene of the late '70s -- when Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys were active -- is the one that's best remembered, the '80s also produced its share of bands. That period forms the main thrust of Pie & Ears.
Borger says the criterion for Pie & Ears was "anything cool from Cleveland that's original." In addition, he says that the material had to be previously unreleased (only the Revolvers' "At the Border" was issued before -- and that was only in a limited pressing of 200 copies). Borger intended the compilation to be a collection of both old and new punk bands -- something that would show where key figures had been and where they ended up. Singer Chris Yarmock, for example, contributes a track with Friends of God from 1982, as well as a song with his new band, St. Jayne, that was recorded last year. And guitarist Jim Jones plays on an Easter Monkeys song from 1982, as well as a Speaker/Cranker track from last year. Borger, who maintains it won't be difficult for him to issue two compilations a year, says he already has enough material for another record.
"Look at this box I just scored," he says, walking toward a blue metal box filled with reel-to-reel tapes and fingering through its contents. "I got this from a friend of mine who moved away a long time ago. This is [a recording of] the Dark from November 22, 1981. This is a gold mine. I found a Revolvers tape here, too. A lot of homemade stuff. This one here is from Jim Jones playing guitar and Mike Hudson singing at the Cat City House."
In addition to Pie & Ears, Smog Veil has also released We're Glad We Are What We Are (Revisited), a Pink Holes album recorded at a show played on New Year's Eve in 1984 at the Lakefront. It comes with nine bonus tracks that are previously unreleased and features a raucous cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Borger hopes that compilations and reissues will work to unite a scene that he says has splintered due to age and territorial differences.
"For me, in the early days, it was more of a single unit," he says of Cleveland's punk scene. "You could almost name everyone. There were like 50 people. But I think it's cool to be the pioneer. I heard Joey Ramone bitch about how Green Day got all the fame, but the cooler band for me to have been in would have been the Ramones. We had something like a punk family when everybody knew each other, but what I see now is that it's a lot more fractured. I don't know the West Side scene and what's going on at places like the Blind Lemon. I'm hoping those people are interested in what I'm doing. I want these younger guys to take advantage of this."