Normal History Vol. 111: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 27-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

You arrive at the Media Club in Vancouver on a warm spring evening. The Corin Tucker Band is soundchecking. One by one, band members notice you sitting along the side wall. They smile and wave at you from the stage. You wave back, happy to see them. Your soundcheck is good. You go home to get changed. While you are sitting on the floor in the middle of your room, tying pairs of dollar store shoelaces together to make them long enough for a pair of boots you want to wear to the show, you think about being alone. You like to be alone. You wouldn’t want anyone else to be here right now. The TV in the bedroom tells you that bin Laden is dead. Strange, in a totally self-referential way, that you and Corin Tucker Band drummer Sara Lund were just talking about a tour you did together during 9/11 when she was in Unwound.

You tell Sara that, after playing at Maxwell’s, you walked to the Hudson River in the pouring rain to see the glowing vapors rising off the south end of Manhattan. Ground Zero. You tell Sara about listening to Thrones that night. Music never felt this way to you before. You experience something entirely new. Sound feels good. Tones stabilize your jittery nervous system.

The laces on your boots are too long, but you don’t really care. You go to the show. The show is good. People laugh at your jokes. You like that. You make a video during the Corin Tucker Band’s encore. Corin sings while Seth plays keys. You put this on the Internet the next day before you head off to play Bellingham at the Shakedown, an excellent new club with very friendly staff and an attentive soundperson. You are not hungry when you get to soundcheck, but you look at the menu. Deep-fried peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. You wonder if they could do that on whole wheat. The show is good. You are in the balcony when Corin asks you to join them on stage for “1000 Years.” You run downstairs, push through the crowd to do the song, and then conveniently, when you step back into the audience, you are right at the front. You take some photos that won’t turn out, and then the band launches into a riff you know. Solid bass, a catchy melody from long ago. “We’re equal, but different, we’re equal, but different, we’re equal, but different.” Au Pairs. You love this band, this album, this song. You look across the room at your guitar player leaning against the wall. You are smiling and dancing. He sees you and smiles back. He gave you this album nearly 30 years ago. He gave you a lot of great albums. “It’s obvious, so obvious,” Corin sings, beautifully. This, and X-Ray Spex were your favorites. You drove your 1974 Toyota Corolla to the warehouse district and sang along to “Warrior In Woolworths” on a cassette tape. You recorded yourself. You don’t know that the band you just started will last at least 27 years. You don’t have a name for the band yet. You have not written your first song, but you love to sing. You are self-conscious even though no one can hear you. You sing loud, but not loud enough or strong enough, and you are irritated with yourself. Poly Styrene is so good. You want to be that good. You swear at the end of the song.

You have an appointment at 8 a.m. at the hospital. You are having a mammogram and an ultrasound. You are genetically pre-disposed to breast cancer. It’s 7 a.m. You must get ready and go. You are 51. You live in Canada. The cost of these tests is covered. You wonder about women in the U.S., where health care is regarded as a commodity to be sold. You want women—musicians, writers, artists and activists, women you’ve met along the way—to have mammograms. You still have the tape. Thirty years later, you listen to yourself swearing after singing along with Poly. You rush to write about it, but you are crying as you type. Poly died last week. An advanced form of breast cancer (in the U.K., where they have nationally socialized health care). She was 53. You have to catch the bus. You have to get to your appointment. You have more goddamned songs to swear at the end of. “It’s obvious, so obvious.”

Economics 101. National health insurance programs work. Canada spends 10 percent of its gross domestic product on universal health care. In the U.S.—where thousands of lawyers are being paid to deny care—16 percent of the gross domestic product is spent on health care. This is attributed to multi-level administration costs and because a single-payer system can negotiate much lower prices.