Normal History Vol. 539: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Between Livermore And Tracy
He’s got the white coat, no stethoscope
Cause the movement to die out
Several times over
Walking the walls
A cardiologist, white coat, no stethoscope
Between Livermore and Tracy 

On rotation
Uneventful, one uneventful night
Just one uneventful night 

In the hall, he wouldn’t know left from right
He’s got the white coat, no stethoscope
Between Livermore and Tracy 

In rotation
Just one, just one uneventful night
Just one night of sleep
Between Livermore and Tracy 

Can you hear delirium with that machine
or is it just me?

Between delirium and quick clarity 

Delirium

“Between Livermore And Tracy” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

Normal History Vol. 538: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Wasn’t Said
Look ahead to the time
when you’ve forgotten
all that was said

when you look behind
and it doesn’t matter anymore

Look ahead
it’s hard to want to go there now
that’s where you’re heading
that’s what you’re waiting for
it’s what you’re waiting for
that time, when you’re looking behind you

and none of this will matter
all of this confusion
will be so far, so far in the past
it won’t matter in the now

In the now
that’s still ahead

Looking ahead to when
none of this is gonna matter
how it went
and what was said
and what wasn’t said

To create this void of no communication
no communication
no communication now
there’s nothing now

but to look ahead
when none of this will matter
what was and wasn’t said

It wasn’t said

“Wasn’t Said” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

Normal History Vol. 537: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

What’s Your Name?
When you’ve taken your hands away
from your eyes
from your face
from your mouth – what do you see?
What do you say?
What is your name now?
What is your name now that you can see, that you can speak,
not looking, not at me, now that you can see?
What is your name now that you can speak?
When you’ve taken your hands away from your eyes,
from your face, from your heart – what do you feel?
What do you say now that you feel?
What is your name?
What is your name?
Now that you see?
Now that you feel?
Now that you speak? What do you say? What do you say?
What is your name?

“What’s Your Name?” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

Normal History Vol. 536: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Sook-Yin Lee, film director, actor, TV and radio host, discusses Mecca Normal on The Strombo Show (CBC Music).

“Mecca Normal, led by Jean Smith, who was considered the godmother of the riot grrrl movement. She was always somebody onstage, it was her and David Lester playing this very urgent and energetic beautiful but rusted passionate music that was very political and artful. Both of them are visual artists as well, and I think they were part of the Black Wedge Tour, that was a very political movement of art and culture, and resistance, activism. Activism was key in that community growing up, and so yes, she was always onstage. And she was one of those people who half of the punks hated her and couldn’t stand the singing, “What is that noise?” and so many people loved her. They did feel to me in the very early days that they were kind of, you know, on their own path. Not necessarily of the crowd and completely full of conviction. This song is a beautiful song, it’s called “Throw Silver,” and there’s something in Jean Smith’s voice that is like an injury, it’s like a wound, but it’s a wound that is healing, that is like a shard of glass that is beautiful. She encompasses these paradoxical gorgeous elements and she’s a real powerful, dynamic woman of words and painting and song.”

“Art Was The Great Leveler” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

Normal History Vol. 535: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

One of the things that comes up in this comprehensive (two-hour) radio interview that David and I did recently on CKUT (McGill University, Montréal) is that when we tour, we typically go to a college or university radio station on our way into whatever city we’re playing. We do our own booking, so we’re free to structure events to make time for radio, which, we typically use to focus on topics (feminism, grassroots organizing, poverty) other than selling albums (which is perhaps atypical). 

I’m pretty sure we also talked about Smarten UP!, the zine I started in the early-’80s, with the tag line: A How To Change The World Publication, and that’s still the course we’re on. The zine became a label. Onstage, I spoke a lot between songs. We sought out print media, radio and TV interviews to illuminate the idea of women forming bands that focused on their experiences in culture and society, and the idea that it is possible to change the world. I figure we’d have gone on being a band without the riot-grrrl energy, but it definitely re-vitalized our role and purpose, blasting feminism into the future as the New York Times states.

“The Message” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 534: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Where are the legions of older women who want to start punk-rock bands?

There’s systemic disdain for women who don’t look young, who aren’t young. 

We’re so defined by what we look like—what a bizarre idea—but then again, how brilliant, because women will step aside, back down and be quiet when we no longer feel the confidence of youth and beauty. It’s imperative that women push all that aside and make ourselves known! 

Now is the time of the older woman!

“The Observer” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 533: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

The Return Of Bikini Kill And The Long Tail Of Riot Grrrl

Three-minute Mecca Normal segment of the New York Times popcast about riot grrrl

“The Caribou And The Oil Pipeline” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 532: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Thrilled, inspired and grateful for the inclusion of “I Walk Alone” in the recent New York Times feature on riot grrrl. As cultural activists, it’s encouraging to be part of history in this way, and to be regarded as creators of work that is meaningful 35 years later. 

“Because of their geographic, sonic and political proximity, the Vancouver duo Mecca Normal got swept up in the categorization of riot grrrl, but in fact, Jean Smith and David Lester had helped inspire Hanna to pick up a microphone. They have also survived the moment, still collaborating to this day. ‘I Walk Alone,’ from their first album, set the tone for much of what was to follow. It’s the anthem of a woman staking her claim to independence, solitude, home, safety, the streets and freedom. Bold, blunt, raw and feminist, it remains timely and necessary.” —Evelyn McDonnell

“Arsenal” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 531: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I listened to this song today and admired its humor and narrative trajectory. Exchanges with co-workers during my online-dating years. Honing those stories, turning them into novels and songs, elevating the mundane nature of plodding through experiences that would otherwise have dampened my enthusiasm. My passion for editing, writing and adding tasty bits to our songs became infrastructure I hung onto in the early aughts, soon after I’d quit drinking (in 2000) and returned to the work force after 15 years self-employed in music. And then, lo and behold, after 15 years of part-time-joe jobs, I popped out the other side to become self-employed again. This time as a painter.

“The Dark Side Of Maria” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 530: 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 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

This is one of those songs that at various stages of writing, rehearsing and recording I wondered if it was political enough. 

Following a fairly unremarkable exchange with a friend while he made dinner, I took a nuanced stab at setting the scene in the kitchen to convey a specific emotion—the sadness of a man who thought it might be better if he disappeared and started again with a new identity. I guess if it was a dating situation this would be called a red flag.

“His Own Madness” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):