Normal History Vol. 513: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Things went missing, things got replaced, and a few people struck down the law of the land with only a butter knife in hand in Canada.

“In Canada” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 512: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

This is probably our longest song title and, considering it’s loaded up with two analogies (like a dog and like a horse) when, as a writer, I steer clear of such things in general, it was somewhat distressing when in several written reviews at the time the title appeared as “Don’t Heal Me Like A Dog Just To Brake Me Like A Horse” when I felt that peddling (not pedaling) commonly used phrases was supposed to be safer (as far as being understood) than inventing one’s own original language.

“Don’t Heel Me Like A Dog Just To Break Me Like A Horse” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 511: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Late last year I got a Facebook notification that someone had mentioned Mecca Normal. The beauty of the faint cultural presence we enjoy is that we see and savor any and all references to our history, whether it’s radio play (a station in Newfoundland recently played all of Flood Plain—what a thrill!) or inclusion in historical overviews that alter our legacy. I bet bigger bands regard a near-constant flow of commentary on their doings as something of a burden to keep track of. Maybe even boring or irritating. And what about those bands that get so big that they’re trapped within their own infrastructure with employees who depend on regular output (albums and tours)? Mecca Normal has always been more of a group (than a band), I think. I regard this weekly collaboration as the work of Mecca Normal as much as any song or show.

It was very early in the morning, and when I clicked on the FB notification, I really did wonder if I was still in dreamland. The video snippet showed a band in London rehearsing “Strong White Male” (“a cover by the amazing Mecca Normal” for a fundraising show two days hence). The band description: “non-binary and female people of colour taking up space. We make DIY punk music.”

“OK Here We Go” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 510: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

When Melody Maker (U.K.) called Mecca Normal “a two-person guerrilla campaign against apathy” it’s likely they were referring to the music and lyrics, but Mecca Normal has always been a group whose visual output has run concurrently, augmenting philosophies of resistance, feminism and culture with varying degrees of success and attention. 

We were on tour when we got the news from the label that the cover art I created for Who Shot Elvis? had been rejected by the printers. To be fair, the label gave me the option of moving forward with it as it was (I forget what that entailed) or opting for an extended run on a poster of the original image. I decided to go for the poster and turn the cover art into an ear to avoid distribution issues. 

“All About The Same Thing” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 509: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Who Shot Elvis? simmers with captivating parables that knowingly portray regular folks and their deepest passions.” —Ray Gun magazine

“The Way Of Love” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 508: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Step Into My Sphere”
“Step into my sphere,”
said the lady to the guy. 
“Don’t send your sphinx my way. 
Don’t send your sphinx to town.” 

It’s a confusing thing
when you believe in someone
because you trust them. 
Fire comes with fire. 

“Are we always drawing backwards?”
said the lady to the mirror.

“Ruby-Lucille,
don’t send your sphinx to town.
Ruby-Lucille,
you picked a fine line to wheel.” 

It’s noon now and it feels like 7:00 a.m.
Got another whole day
on that tiny little stage
you call your town.
We’re not following you around. 

“Ruby-Lucille,
don’t take your sphinx to town.
Ruby-Lucille,
you picked a fine hand to deal.” 

“Step into my sphere,”
said the lady to the guy.
“Come into my sphere,”
said the lady to the guy.

“Step Into My Sphere” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 507: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Every now and then Mecca Normal sends out an email newsletter. Typically it’s when we have exciting news, which, considering we’ve been making music and art for 35 years, the concept of excitement can be pretty exciting! To us it’s exciting that we’re still working together, collaborating on art projects, ready to perform as Mecca Normal as necessary, but sending out an email announcing these subtle successes seems weird. The focus of the recent newsletter is the live album, David’s art show and my 600th painting selling from my personal Facebook page

“The Orbit” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 506: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Great to see David Lester’s art show Onward up for a short time in Vancouver. He must be one of the hardest working illustrators in political art. To me, the highlight of the show was the model he made of Emma Goldman’s house in Toronto. Ingenious! He shines a light through the windows so he can draw shadows accurately at various times of day! Also fantastic to see a selection of the 500-plus cartoons he’s created for this weekly column!

“Excalibur” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 505: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I recently heard a rather stodgy (white, male) musician say that music isn’t activism, that satire isn’t activism. And here’s me trying to decide whether to call something “social” and “cultural” activism. Wow! Turns out these things may not even exist! What about political songs that succeed in changing the world? What if words honed and delivered satirically do alter the course of history?

Actually, I consciously avoid asking questions to challenge men’s ideas. It puts me in the position of not knowing and gives them the opportunity to respond.

Paintings, songs, satire, stand-up comedy, films, cartoons, plays, novels (graphic and otherwise) and poems are all forms of activism, but we don’t have a Richter scale equivalent to determine their impact.

Rock Against Racism
punk – the Raincoats, the Slits, X-Ray Spex
Riot Grrrl
Rock for Choice
Pussy Riot
Riot Grrrl 2.0

I think what the male musician (a music professor) perhaps meant is that he hadn’t succeeded in changing anything with his music—therefore music isn’t activism.

Over our nearly-35-year history, David and I have considered our output to be activism. At this particular juncture, David’s work is very obviously political, with measurable success in terms of distribution and reaction. We can safely say that his work has an impact, but even when our work fails—or is categorically ignored —it’s still activism.

These days my work is not as overtly political (and is probably less a form of activism) than David’s work. In the ’80s and ’90s, I was a writer and performer of political songs that audiences found energizing and useful, but, for whatever reason, interest in my work dwindled. Then I wrote novels that intended to make a dent in important issues, but they were not published. After enduring a slew of stupid part time jobs, I now I paint portraits and sell them on Facebook while constructing ways to use my remaining clout to open a free artist residency where small groups of people inspire each other to take a chance on cultural activism, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the project as I’ve outlined it. A project of this magnitude requires patience and tenacity, but the fact is I don’t need the oodles of cash I’m making selling paintings, and I want to create an unconventional facility to bequeath to future generations of cultural activists.

“Who Shot Elvis?” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 504: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Over a low, sinister guitar line, vocalist Jean Smith growls, ‘If you know, if you know what a gun can do for you/You know that the knee can produce a reaction in a jerk/Who won’t shut up.’ Another guitar, barely perceptible, shivers beneath Smith’s words, like an electric eel flickering under the ocean’s glassy surface.” —Andi Zeisler, San Francisco Weekly, October 15, 1997

“Medieval Man” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):