Normal History Vol. 288: 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 30-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In this week’s column, I continue to compare songs on Calico Kills The Cat with songs on our new album, Empathy For The Evil, from start to finish. See notes from Sept. 6, 2014.

4. “My First Love Song” (Calico Kills The Cat, 1989) I think this is the only song of ours with the word “love” in it. It was awkward to sing a song about writing a song about love. I opted never to do that again.

4. “Between Livermore And Tracy” (Empathy For The Evill, 2014) This is the first song we recorded once we got set up in the studio. David played a piece of music he’d worked on, but I’d never heard. I played piano to this and then sang sections from six pages I’d compiled about my father, who was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack when we left Vancouver. Actually, his heart wasn’t the problem at that point; it was the delirium that had set in during his hospital stay. The song’s title is the second reference to the Rolling Stones after the album’s title. Altamont Speedway—the site of a free Stones concert where an audience member was killed by a Hell’s Angel in 1969—is between the towns of Livermore and Tracy in Northern California. The film Gimme Shelter documents the concert and, of particular interest to me, Mick Jagger’s reaction to the murder as he watches film footage at some point after the show (keeping in mind that, in those days, film had to be processed). I found there to be something very ominous about the way the hyper-reality of a killing collides with and alters the intensity of an ego-based exercise in rock showmanship. I suppose I drew a parallel between my father’s temporary dementia—a completely unexpected reality that seemed like it could change things forever—and the sense that Mick had perhaps noted his own mortality on that day between Livermore and Tracy, and then again while he watched the film footage of the disconnect between his persona and a murder right in front of him.

In comparing these two songs, I look back at what seemed like two monumental turning points at the time—love intensifying and madness looming—but these eventually softened and fell into place within a continuum that can be examined from many different vantage points in an ever-expanding past. Specific love ends, sanity returns. Life goes on, albeit somewhat differently.

“My First Love Song” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):