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):

Normal History Vol. 529: 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.

Excerpt from possibly the longest song I’ve ever written. “Fallen Skier” is about a first date jammed packed with what I thought was comedy gold, but the song ended up being interpreted (in reviews) as sad if not profoundly pitiful. I think one reviewer asserted that I, as an intelligent feminist, would never find a man. She was right, but that’s beside the point. Isn’t it? Regardless, it was a downer at the time. While I was still looking. 

Near the end, out on the pier, after the sun has gone down, he asks me about this music of mine, “Is it ever all-out punk?” 

He seems concerned that it might be hardcore punk. I stand, a middle aged woman in a fantastically subtle silk jacket all the way from Japan. Hush Puppies. Curly hair blowing in the wind, and this guy is fretting over the possibility that I’m actually Henry Rollins.

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

Normal History Vol. 528: 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.

A male poet friend of mine recently told me how much he liked this song. Weird. He doesn’t usually like our songs. So I had a listen and tried to figure out what he liked. It’s about art being historically dominated by men, so that wouldn’t be it. It asks where women’s art is. I doubt that would be it. It’s pretty overtly feminist and this particular friend isn’t. I considered various turns of phrase like “I couldn’t be an overachiever if I tried” which I think is funny (for a feminist) or “History reminds me I’m a man. I’m important. Yes I am.” None of my quips seemed like the kind of thing he’d go for. Not really. So I asked. 

“What do you like about the song?”

“The piano!” he said. “It sounds like something I’d play!”

“1922” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 527: 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.

In March, Mecca Normal’s iconic anthem “I Walk Alone” was included in the feminist TV show Better Things.

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

Normal History Vol. 526: 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.

Ever wonder who this David Lester guy is? Even I learned a thing or two about his radical origins in this incredibly one-sided audio interview (and I’ve known him more than 35 years).

“I’ll Call You” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 525: 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.

Over on Facebook, it was a thrill to have Bikini Kill Records share a video snippet of “I Am Here” on International Women’s Day.

“Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment. We are here!” 

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

Normal History Vol. 524: 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.

Mecca Normal began touring soon after we released our first album in 1986. The urge to play live quickly evolved into Black Wedge Tours with like-minded poets and minimalist musicians, but by 1996, we felt like we’d been on the road a very long time. Music industry years are much like dog years. 10 equals 60. Which, regarding the new album: LIVE in 1996, translates to incendiary intensity by three veterans (David and I are joined by Peter Jefferies on drums) of a handful of overlapping scenes including PNW DIY, riot grrrl, poetry, feminist punk, grunge and NZ noise when we headlined this beautiful little theatre in Montréal. 

“I’m Not Into Being The Woman You’re With While You’re Looking for The Woman You Want” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 523: 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 love this pairing! David’s illustration of the quote by Martin Luther King Jr. and “Convince Yourself” with its simmering ambiguity. The image and the lyrics don’t intend to create a combined impact on a single topic, but the elements feel united against injustice and apathy.

Ambiguity in art can be annoying, but it’s also part of what makes art in any form resonate with an audience. I suppose that’s true of the portraits I’ve been painting for the past three years. For the most part, they’re not overtly political, but the historical context of my work as a cultural activist of the feminist variety is understood because I primarily exhibit them on Facebook, where either people already know me or they can get to know me. 

Convince Yourself
In a dream you’re swimming
Through a pool of wax
This night sky dazzles onward
Convince yourself that you’re awakening
Convince yourself you need not sleep

David: guitar that sounds like an organ
me: vocals and guitar “solo”

“Convince Yourself” from The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

Normal History Vol. 522: 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.

For a few years in the ’90s, Mecca Normal headlined (and sometimes sold out) shows, yet, until now, there hasn’t been a live album, let alone one from that era.

“Ice Floes Aweigh” from The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):