Normal History Vol. 486: 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.

“Don’t let her words completely overshadow their deeds.” —Illustrated Amateur essay arguing that Mecca Normal ought to be discussed amongst the avant-rock greats

“Alibi” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 485: 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.

Trapped Inside Your Heart
Trapped inside your heart
You’re trapped inside your own heart

I am a swarm of possibility
That make him feel good or bad
That’s what he needs to know

Trapped inside your heart
You’re trapped inside your own heart

Invoking passion with false memories
A publically manufactured code

Trapped inside your heart
You’re trapped inside your own heart

The movie runs between my fingers
There’s always trouble when you have to invent yourself

It’s not love that I don’t feel
It is the loss of something that never was

Trapped inside your heart
You’re trapped inside your own heart

It is the loss

“Trapped Inside Your Heart” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 484: 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.

It seems like the type of work I was focused on as a cultural activist in the ’80s and ’90s is again at the fore, but I’m not included as a current figure because I’m regarded as being from a previous era. This is in part how the capitalist music business has functioned from the get go. Bring in the new and the young. Get rid of the old.

And, as a society, we’re not all that interested in women beyond looks and sexualized nuances. We’re still in a “hot or not” mentality, which feels like an accepted tactic to avoid having to give depth to women’s emotional, intellectual and artistic concerns.

Older women who did not achieve a fairly high level of celebrity in their youth are typically not afforded a platform to either continue their work or reinvent themselves.

“Only Heat” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 483: 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.

A poster in the elevator at the hospital caught my eye. One can send a patient an email, and it will be delivered to them by the amazing staff! I had no idea!

Dear Mom (98 … 3 weeks in hospital),

I did not bring you grapes so you could throw them at the nurses.

Yours,
Jean

“Frozen Rain” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 482: 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.

Mystery and secrecy seem very important in celebrity culture. As a band, Mecca Normal has always been very earnest and maybe even overly transparent about our motives. We’ve explained many things about why we do what we do, perhaps to our detriment. Then we look at someone like Jandek, and I don’t recall him explaining himself at all. He made a bunch of albums and took a bunch of photos that were on the same level of quality as his music and inadvertently(?) created intrigue. I’ve noticed that men seem very curious about other men’s lives. The art they make, their sexual conquests. When I see top-10 lists for literature, art or music made by men, it’s rare to see women represented. 

Is there a female equivalent to Jandek? Where a charming ineptitude and mystery swirl together to create cult status intrigue?

“Crimson Dragnet” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 481: 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 believe most artists want their art to speak for itself without it requiring extraneous explanation. Men seem more likely to grant themselves this creative freedom, whereas women seem to end up defending their artistic viability in terms of whether what we create should be called art at all. Look out! Maybe it’s a craft or, god forbid, a hobby. Maybe a man helped us with it! Definitely, before we advance to any secondary stage in The Arts, we’re going to be asked about gender. Something men are rarely subjected to.

“So tell us Mr. Dickswing,” the interviewer says. “What’s it like being a male artist?”

“Something To Be Said” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 480: 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.

Follow-up phone call with my dad (93) this morning after a long talk last night about how he’ll get to the hospital today to visit my mom (98). I registered him with HandyDart—public-transit short bus for otherly abled. I booked the trip, got the details and waited (semi-patiently for an hour) while he struggled to write everything down. I’ve seen what his notes look like, and it’s not too good.

Telephone number, account number, fare. Gong show.

So, this morning when I phone, he’s re-writing everything. The time, the automated 10-minute warning call, the fare ($2.85). We go over (and over and over and over) everything again.

I ask him if he has change for the fare, and he said he does.

“Good. You can even let the driver take it out of your hand if you want.”

“They’ll take a two-dollar bill won’t they?”

“There hasn’t been a Canadian two-dollar bill since the mid-’90s, Daddio.”

“Oh.”

“If it was me,” I say, “I’d give him $3 and forget about the 15 cents.”

“Have one yourself, chum,” he says, without missing a beat.

I laugh. “Go ahead and say that! Maybe he’ll get it about half way through the trip.”

“Vacant Night Sky” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Normal History Vol. 479: 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.

Shake this land
raised up to wait
without windows

Shake this land
Shake it

Muttering about a strength to ignore all tools
rasp, chisel and oil

Shake this land
Shake it

Red proud eyes
born on a shadow of a legend

Shake this land
Shake it

Muttering about a strength to ignore everything
all tools
rasp, chisel and oil

It’s a truly uncivilized nation
that treats medical care
as a commodity to be sold

Take it
It’s yours

“Museum Of Open Windows” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):

Normal History Vol. 478: 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.

The oblique nature of the lyrics here are a kind of fortress against saying too much—or anything, it seems. In the late 1980s, five people were convicted of several high profile actions including damage at a factory in Ontario, Canada, where U.S. cruise missile guidance systems were being manufactured and tested. Interestingly enough, at one time, the Tomahawk missiles fired in Syria in April employed this system. Maybe they still do.

To a certain extent, these events were the backdrop to my politicization. Because one of those arrested was a high-profile musician in the punk scene, there were constant updates and speculation, as well as benefit shows for legal funds, and an introduction to what trial by media looked like as it unfolded. There were also charges of fire bombing a video store that distributed violent porn. Snuff films.

Years later I went out with one of the people (for about six months) convicted (after he’d served time). I’ve never said much about this association, but these lyrics were written during (or shortly after) that relationship, and they reflect my very uncomfortable filtering of expression, leaving a sketch of my personal curiosity about what happens to a person after they’ve been through something like that—a profound loss of freedom—and how that might change a person.

Somebody might tell you
how to say it
“You’re wrong.”

You’re going down
Whatever happened
to your own life?

You’re going down

Better catch it
somebody might tell you
you’re going down

Whatever happened to
what you say?

“Texada Warns Me” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):

Normal History Vol. 477: 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 alcohol-doused slither through a spontaneously combustible improvisation (at least, on my part) is somewhat cringe-worthy to listen to after being sober for almost 20 years, but, at that time, I took the luxury of recording a song that built itself lyrically around the simple idea of the voice being a valuable tool to push through progressive social change. Not saying this song is any kind of success in that regard, and, in fact, I look back at the era as being a failure of sorts.

Yet, there will always be artists, who, while tending to be less capable of articulating and achieving specific results, take cracks at using public art to protest, and perhaps influence those who use their voices more directly.

With the lines shooting through
the break
it didn’t come
pushing through

The voice took it
the voice pushed it through

The voice was taken
through

And the giver took to taking
And the giver took to singing

And the given took to singing
too

“On The Row Of Dials” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):