Normal History Vol. 49: The Art Of David Lester

LesterNormalHistoryVol49Every 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 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“The Caribou And The Oil Pipeline” is the last download from The Observer album. It falls under the heading of political, and it brings up the idea that political art is difficult to make for a number of reasons, one of which is the feeling that it isn’t going to change anything—but, as the lyrics say—I didn’t think I could write a hit about the caribou and the oil pipeline, but I had to try.

I left this song until the end of the downloads because Dave doesn’t play guitar on it. I mean, he did play guitar in the studio and then I added piano, but when we went to mix it, we took the guitar out to get a sense of what was there, as a way to re-calibrate our listening, and Dave was pretty excited about leaving the guitar out. The piano was to be my usual sort of accent work. In a way, I kind of regret not having the guitar there, but as it stands, it is symbolic of one facet of the way we work as a creative team: responding, evaluating and removing framework. In this case, making the song even less likely to be “a hit” foists intention to the fore. It is our intention to get results from what we do, but what happens to a song once it is released is essentially unpredictable. Trying to accomplish one thing or another isn’t the only thing; being involved in the creative process with other people is where much of the satisfaction and pleasure come from. Take the lyrics “It’s easy if you try” and “All we are saying”: simple, direct and powerful. The words are directed at the listener, encouraging us to step out of the shadows, into the sphere of action and change.

After 25 years of releasing music, I can fairly accurately predict what will happen to Mecca Normal songs. That they are not gobbled up by loads of people turns out to be OK. I see this as stepping away from ego-driven consumer antics; the essence of what I do is hinged to a framework within which I exhibit, understand and evolve through various skills, emotions and proclivities. Less clamoring, more engagement with the ever-extending process—overlapping all aspects of funneling, filtering and ruminating.

I’m including a live version—one of the first times we played it—but Dave’s amp didn’t sound that great.

“The Caribou And The Oil Pipeline”
You’re in your car
You’re running out of gas
You pull in to get the gas

3,000 miles north of here
100,000 caribou are heading for the sea
Bears and ravens follow

This is where the U.S. wants to build an oil pipeline
It will disrupt the caribou migration

You see it on TV—there’s nothing you can do
You can’t change the world, so you change the channel
But in your mind, one fact stands alone:
A six-month supply of oil versus 20,000 years of migration

In a dream, you see the caribou crossing an icy river, exhaling steam
They dream themselves up and over steep and barren hills

I didn’t think I could write a hit
About the caribou and the oil pipeline, but I had to try

You’re in your car
You’re running out of gas
You pull in to get the gas

What if?
What if?

Normal History Vol. 48: The Art Of David Lester

LesterNormalHistoryVol48Every 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 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I have watched Seth laugh and flirt at literary events for years. Women gravitate to him—I gravitate to him, and when I’m laughing and flirting with him I don’t feel like I’m those other women, but I do wonder if somewhere in the room other women are watching me laughing and flirting with Seth thinking the same thing. Seth laughs at what women say, and women get funnier when men laugh. Seth, a publisher of ribald male-generated literature, is attending in a professional capacity. One of his authors is reading tonight. He’s standing under a spotlight, holding a book, talking with three women wearing sundresses. I’m leaning on the bar—one foot on the brass foot rail—sipping tap water. I’m sure the conversation is very funny and witty. Seth is charming. I wait until one of the women drifts away and the other two are talking to each other. I walk over to Seth and set my glass on his table.

“Jean, thank god you’re here. How do you handle these things without a drink?”

“It gets easier. I’ve been watching you. You’re doing great.”

“I’m sweating like a wiener, and I’m having heart palpitations. I’m not doing great. I’m having a conniption fit.”

“Conniption fit—I haven’t heard that expression for years,” I say, giggling.

“It’s much like having a bird or a big hairy,” Seth says. He is sexy in a weird way—very deep voice for a short guy.

“Here,” I say, sliding my water glass across the table. “Have some water.”

“Things have gone from bad to worse since I last saw you. I’m not allowed to drink on doctor’s orders, and my wife has left me.”

“A single and sober Seth,” I say. “How very interesting.”

“God Jean, sometimes you can be so … ”

“So what?” I ask, laughing.

“Yes, you’re right—so what indeed. It doesn’t matter.” Seth takes a swig of water. “Actually, maybe you’re just the person.”

“Maybe I am. Maybe you’re right about that,” I say, in a flirty way.

“Let’s hang out sometime. Catch a movie or something. Do something non-drinkers do. What do non-drinkers do anyway?”

“We sit alone in our rooms and write novels.”

“And where are you at with it?”

“Basically it’s finished.”

“Are you going to show me?”

“If you want to see it—sure.”

“Do you have a publisher?”


“You should submit it to us to publish,” he says. “Let’s meet tomorrow after work. Can you bring the manuscript?”

Seth is already at the coffee shop on Main Street. He looks unhappier than the night before, and smaller. He has a fancy bottle of fizzy fruit drink and a half-eaten bran muffin in front of him—lots of crumbs. An inordinate amount of bran muffin crumbs—on the plate and all over the table.

“The doctor says I have to get more fibre,” he says.

“Are you basically OK, Seth?” I ask, sitting down and hanging my bag with the manuscript over the back of my chair. I brush away some of the crumbs.

“Basically no. Basically I’m all fucked-up. This is a nightmare. Basically.”

“This being what? The not drinking or your wife leaving?”

Seth takes off his glasses, sets them gently on the table and rubs his eyes. He looks up and says, “Can we start again? I promised myself I wasn’t going to whine to you.”

“Sure,” I say laughing. “Shall I go back out and come back in?”

“You know I think you’re swell Jean. I don’t want to blow this by suggesting anything before I’m ready, but I’ve always really liked you—you know that, right?”

“Yes and you’ve always been extremely married and now you’re extremely fucked up and you’re right, now isn’t the time to be thinking about starting anything with anyone.”

Seth reaches across the table and takes both my hands in his. “Gosh you’re good looking.”

“Thanks, but maybe you should have your glasses on when you deliver that line.”

Seth laughs and lets go of my hands. He rubs his eyes again. “OK, you’re right. I have to slow down. Let’s change the subject—tell me about the novel.”

“It’s about my experiences online dating,” I say, reaching behind me to pull out the manuscript.

“Great, so I’m going to have to read about you having sex with a million guys when you won’t go out with me?”

“Yes, I’m afraid you are. More like two million guys, but who’s counting?”

*       *       *

I’ve suggested, somewhat timidly over the two months we’ve been seeing each other, that things escalate sexually. I’m attempting to be sensitive to his anxious nature. It feels like we’ve been a couple for years—not in a good way. He acts as though we are together—involved. I’m wondering if we really should be planning to go away together for the weekend. I keep feeling like I should break up with him.

Seth phones from his car to ask, “Do you have anything other than water to drink?”


“OK. I’ll pick something up. Something fizzy.”

“Great. See you soon.”

He arrives an hour later. The sun is down. I have changed out of the black dress with the plunging neckline into jeans and a T-shirt. I open the door and ask, “Did you walk from downtown?”

“Oh. Did I take a long time?”

“You phoned from your car an hour ago. It’s a 15-minute drive.”

“I had to go to Safeway and I phoned my daughter. Sorry.”

Sitting on the deck after the sun has gone down, a seagull flies over us. “Strange to see a bird flying at night,” Seth says.

“Do you like birds?” I ask.

“I do. Before I was separated, we used to watch a lot of documentaries on the nature channel. My favourite bird is the sparrow. We used to climb trees and look in their nests. Unfortunately, I had to kill a few of the babies to see how they worked.”

“My mother inadvertently taught me the names of all the local plants and birds,” I say. The night air is cool on my bare arms. The mountains are purplish-black silhouettes like half a Rorschach ink blot. “Did you just say separated? Are going get back together?” I say, sitting up in my chair.

“I don’t foresee getting back together with her,” Seth says calmly, savouring my agitation. “There haven’t been any moves toward reconciliation, but I still have a place in my heart for her.”

In bed, after a long bath and no sex, I close my eyes, ready for sleep.

Seth says, “You look like a baby sparrow.”

My mind returns from pre-sleep drifting to Seth’s comment about sparrows. Sparrow, baby sparrow, kill it to see how it works.

Normal History Vol. 47: The Art Of David Lester

LesterNormalHistoryVol47Every 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 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Fabricland/Curves: Wed 3 — 10:15-6:15; Thurs 4 — 9:30-5:30; Fri 5 — MN rehearsal; Sat 6 — 9-1 Curves; Sun 7 — 9:30-5:30; Mon 8 — 10:15-6:15; Tues 9 — 10:15-6:15; Wed 10 — OFF; Thurs 11 — 10:15-6:15; Fri 12 — 3-7 Curves; Sat 13 — 10:15-6:15; Sun 14 — 9:30-5:30; Mon 15 — 10:15-6:15; Tues 16 — 10:15-6:15; Wed 17 — OFF; Thurs 18 — 9:30-5:30; Fri 19 — 3-7 Curves; Sat 20 — 10:15-6:15

It takes about an hour each direction to get to FabLand. Gotta lose some of those hours and get a regular schedule. They want employees to be available seven days a week so they can cobble together seemingly random groupings of days to work. When I started, I wanted three days, but at $9 an hour, I needed to work four; then she put me at three days a week, so I took a couple of shifts at Curves, and then without saying anything, she put me at five days a week. I still want my Curves shifts. My life is in tatters. Shattered.

Each FabLand employee is expected to, on her own time, sew an apron to wear in the store during the Olympics. An apron made from fabric in the zany Canadiana section: beavers on ice skates, provincial tartans, hockey pucks and figure skaters. Do I need a fleece apron with Canadian flags all over it? No, I do not.

Me, I like a good plaid, more the Madras than the Scottish—even though I am Scottish and Welsh on my father’s side (and mystery history on my mother’s). I checked out (pardon the pun) some of the least offensive ones (PEI and BC) and settled on (pardon the attempt at a pun … settlers settling) a brown tartan that, damn, wasn’t part of the provincial collection. Giovanna cut it for me, and when she looked at the bolt end to see which province I’d chosen, of course it was revealed that I hadn’t followed the instructions. I’d picked an ineligible fabric for my Olympics apron project. “It’s Saint-Pierre and Miquelon,” I joked. She shrugged and wrote something on my receipt, and I am here now wondering when I’m going to sew this apron.

It is actually great to be back at Curves. I’ve only done a few four-hour shifts, but, my god, compared to the lugging and hauling at FabLand, it is paradise. FabLand customers are insane. Yesterday, first question, “Do you have any bag material?”

“Yes,” I replied and walked away.

Next question—and this is regular query—”Do you have any material for a table cloth?” What do they think? Are they concerned that some fabrics, if laid flat on a table, will slowly creep upwards to the ceiling?

As for the Olympics, Brian and I went over to the pool at Brit on Saturday and saw the ice rink behind three layers of metal fencing with about 15 street cops positioning themselves, hands on hips, to discuss logistics. It is very strange to see our little recreation centre—rink, gym and pool at the high school on The Drive—part of this crazy international event. It’s a practice facility for skaters. Ice time, man. It’s all about ice time.

At Curves, I’m two blocks from where they’ll be doing the figure-skating events. Streets are closed, Olympics lanes are open (closed to local traffic), parking is heavily restricted. Luckily I ride my bike to Curves: seven minutes. FabLand is a block and a half from one of the three bridges that go from Vancouver to Richmond, where they built the facility for speed skating, I think. I have no idea how long it will take me to get to work on the bus if there are events scheduled near my shift time. I’ve heard there will be hour long waits for trains. I don’t think anyone really knows what is going to happen.

Something about the fences and the cops standing around was very unsettling. I mean, this is an area between two buildings at a high school, an area the size of a Starbucks. This is the neighbourhood in which many potential Olympic protesters live, so I’m wondering if the security is related to that, or if this is standard Olympic security. Are all Olympics facilities behind three layers of fencing?

Saturday was a good day at Curves. Two older women on the circuit were talking about the Resistance in France. Judith (English) was asking Jeanne (French) if her husband (86) was part of the Resistance. “My father was supposed to be shot a 2 o’clock in the morning,” I heard Jeanne say. “He had to be out of the country … ” Her voice became inauible beneath the Black Eyed Peas. After her work-out, Jeanne used the phone to call her husband to come and get her. “Tout suite,” she said. I took the phone back and said, “Merci.”

“Do you speak French?” she asked.

“Mais non,” I accidentally replied.

Brian and I had a loose plan to bump into each other at Donald’s grocery after my shift at Curves, then carry on with our individual obligations like responsible citizens, but that didn’t quite work out. Brian got to Donald’s at 1 p.m. and hung around, waiting for me, but I couldn’t get there until 1:30. I’d sent an email that he didn’t get, saying I needed more time because I wanted to stop at the drug store on the way. I wanted to buy Brian a bath brush.

Earlier in the day, before work, he’d said he was going swimming at 2:30 and would I like to go. I thought I’d be too tired after work so I didn’t bring my swim suit. But I felt great, so I figured I’d buy a bathing suit at the Salvation Army and surprise him, ready to go for a swim, casual-like. I bought the bathing suit without trying it on, noting that the yellow top was maybe slightly too big and the non-matching brown bottoms were slightly too small. I checked again at Donald’s—no Brian. I unlocked my bike and rode over to his place about six blocks away. I don’t normally drop by people’s places, but it seemed OK since we had a basic plan to meet. I bumped down the lane of many potholes, put the bike on its kickstand on the path at the back of the building and walked up to the waist-high cinder-block wall of his patio. He was sitting at the computer. “Hello,” I said through the open door.

He came out onto his tiny patio and said, “I just hit send on an email to you when you said hello.” He was happy and very surprised to see me standing outside his apartment.

I could feel heat on my back through my down jacket. I gave him the bath brush with a nice long handle—part of Valentine’s Week. He had a new haircut and a story to go with it. “Noon. Nancy not available. New girl. Too long. Too short.” A haircut story. I was happy standing there in the sun. It was very nice to be there, even if there was a wall between us.

I brought the bike inside and tried on the bathing suit in the bathroom. I came out, and Brian said, “That’s a bit revealing isn’t it?” which resulted in me going to another thrift store on the way to the pool to look for something less revealing. I figured “hubba-hubba” would have been a better response. The thrift store didn’t have any bathing suits, so I wore the revealing one, and it was basically fine.

Brian swims lengths—something I’ve never done, but I thought I’d give it a try. Man, that’s hard work. Crikey. I mean, I was tired—I’d worked out in the gym upstairs before the swim, worked-out at Curves, ridden my bike here and there. I was tired when I started and very surprised at the intensity of the cardio and the general sense of sinking like a stone as my energy rapidly decreased.

I think the top of the bathing suit did come off my left breast as I crossed the whirlpool heading for a better set of jets. I’m actually very modest, but somehow I didn’t really care if anyone saw my left breast or not. I’m just a female human. Being.

Normal History Vol. 46: The Art Of David Lester

lestNormalHistoryVol46Every 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 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

The host of the film festival is standing in front of the screen on opening night. There are only about 20 people in attendance, mostly art-student types and one older guy, a big fat guy with a beard and long slicked-back hair wearing a sweatshirt with a logo across the front. He looks like he got lost on his way to a tugboat captains’ potluck.

“We are very pleased to have one of our directors here tonight,” the host says nervously into the microphone. “Jean Smith’s film Attraction Is Ephemeral will be second in the program. Jean? Can you can give us a wave?”

People turn to see where I am—at the very back. I wave and smile. Lights out. People laugh at my film and clap loudly at the end. Half way through the third film, I elbow David, and we start to move slowly from our back row seats as planned. We’re sneaking out for a few hours before our performance. My glasses case drops and clunks on the wood floor, alerting anyone who cares to turn around that we are leaving. I’m giggling and David is shushing me.

Returning well in advance of our one-hour set, the first band is holding off on playing until more people to arrive. David and I take turns sitting at our merch table: CDs, singles, LPs, books, t-shirts, postcards.

I am taking a close look at the gallery’s very old electrical outlets when the tugboat captain arrives. I guess he wasn’t in the wrong place. I watch him looking very carefully at a short stack of our promotional postcards, which feature a rather scantily clad me. Intending to set the postcards back on the merch table, he accidentally drops them and they swish across the floor. He crouches to pick them up and, in this position, he opens his jacket and slides about a dozen postcards into his pocket. He stands up and puts the remaining postcards back on the table. I get a sort of creepy feeling, and I’m curious. I wander over to the table and listen to him joking around with one of the event organizers—he’s flirting with her, teasing her. Maybe she’s his girlfriend. His name is Glen. He’s a painter.

“When is the music going to start?” Glen asks me. “It’s past my bedtime.”

“Mine too.” I laugh. “I hope they start soon.”

“I want to buy this CD,” he says. “How much is it?”

“It’s $10, but have you heard our music before?”


“Why don’t you wait until after we play before you buy it?”

“I may not be here then.”

“Maybe you won’t like it,” I say.

“Well, then I’ll return it. I live nearby. I’ll go and listen. If I don’t like it, I’ll bring it back.”

“I’ve never had a return before,” I say. “You should stay, listen to our set and then decide if you want to buy the CD.”

Glen buys the CD and sticks around. During our set, Glen is sitting with the organizers, positioned behind a post. As I’m singing, I’m wondering why he is hiding and what he thinks of these songs about guys I’ve gone out with. The audience laughs in all the right places—and in a few new places. After our performance, I make my way to our merch table where Glen is standing looking at the CDs.

“So,” I say. “Do you need to return the CD?”

“No,” he says. “Actually, I need to listen to your lyrics again. I missed some of the words when you were singing.”

“Some of the words to my dating adventures?”

“Yes, I need to study more about the details of what was so wrong with each guy,” Glen teases.

“Ah ha. A little bit of research, eh?” I say.

“Which dating website do you use?” he asks.


“A friend of mine suggested I try Lavalife. I looked at it, but I just felt very sad.”


“The photos of women revealing themselves to get a date. It just felt sad to me. Here’s a question for you: When you meet these guys, are they worried that you might write a song about them?”

I start to answer, but we are interrupted by a few people wanting to buy CDs. Glen waits a while, then waves good-bye and heads down the stairs.

I wake up in my crisp, clean motel sheets thinking about Glen’s question: Do guys I meet think I’m going to write about them? David and I go for coffee and pastries in a nearby café. We make a plan to pack up our stuff and go to a couple of festival events before heading home.

I am happy to see Glen at the noon event in a small gallery.

“Hey,” I say. “Last night you asked me if guys are concerned that I might write a song about them.”

“Oh—I forgot about that. Has it ever come up?”

“It has, in fact. I mean, after last night, after listening to my songs, would you go on a date with me?”

“A date?”

“Yes, a date,” I say. “If I asked you out on a date.”

“If you asked me out on a date?”


“Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Sure. We could go for steak and lobster at the Keg And Cleaver,” I say.


“Yes. Steak and lobster.”

“Steak and lobster?”

“Yes, steak and lobster,” I say. He’s a big guy. He probably doesn’t want to go out for a salad.

“At the Keg And Cleaver?”

The woman Glen was joking around with last night is standing with us. “Just say yes Glen. Just say yes.” I guess she’s not his girlfriend. Glen looks confused—or maybe he’s teasing me again.

“It could just be steak,” I say, starting to wish I hadn’t said anything. “It doesn’t have to be steak and lobster.”

“Now you’re taking the lobster out of the deal?” he says.

“No it can be steak and lobster, but it doesn’t have to be a date.”

“Now it’s not a date?”

“It’s two artists going out for dinner. We’ll have a fun time,” I say and move away to look at the photos in the gallery, wondering why Glen is making this into a bigger deal than it needs to be, wondering if he thinks this is funny. I’m wishing I hadn’t said anything.

Glen comes up beside me and says, “I’m not sure I know what a date is. What if the date part doesn’t work out? Can we still be friends?”

“I’m unclear on what a date means, too. I think we can be friends either way.”

Normal History Vol. 45: The Art Of David Lester

LesterNormalHistoryVol45Every 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 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.



The driver of the truck—CHAD, a well-built, 40-year-old man with curly blonde hair sticking out beneath his cowboy hat—reaches in front of VERONICA—an unhappy-looking woman in her 40s with long straight brown hair—and tosses an empty Budweiser beer can out the passenger side window. CHAD impatiently turns left before the light turns green. He pulls up in front of VERONICA’s building, beside an orange-juice factory, slams the truck into park and continues to look straight ahead, engine running.


It’s late so I’m not going to invite you in.


(hands gripping the steering wheel tightly)
OK. It’s late. Fine.

CLOSEUP OF VERONICA LOOKING AT CHAD. Two beats. VERONICA opens the truck door, gets out, closes the door and looks at CHAD through the open passenger window.

VERONICA’s POV. CHAD keeps looking straight ahead.

Good night.

VERONICA’s POV. CHAD pulls a U-turn, tires chirp.

SHOT OF VERONICA walking across the parking lot. VERONICA stops and turns.



(VOICE OVER with echo)|
A gentleman doesn’t just drop a lady off my dear; he walks her to her door.


(under her breath)
What an asshole.

SHOT OF VERONICA walking to the door of her building.


If you want to say that you don’t drive a baby-blue truck, that you don’t wear a cowboy hat, that I don’t live in a warehouse district—that it wasn’t like that, that you weren’t irritated when you dropped me off—you would be right, but some tiny part of you dropping me off after the opera on that icy winter night informs this scene. I know you were concerned about driving slippery streets in your sports car, and that you were pre-occupied with getting home—that’s why you didn’t wait to make sure I was safely to my door. You were thinking about getting yourself home safely, but I can twist and turn that incident however I want and make it part of a whole other scope of meaning.

Are you beginning to accept that I can write a screenplay that is not simply a thinly veiled version of me? It is insulting that you persist in assuming that I simply change “I” to “Veronica” and call it fiction.