Normal History Vol. 34: The Art Of David Lester

lesterHistoryVol34Every 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 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

David’s illustration is about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) currently headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio — just down the road from Dayton, where Swearing At Motorists played a song-by-song run-through of Number 7 Uptown last night with original drummer Don Thrasher. dave doughman is back in the USA for one show only.
We met dave in Toronto, in 2001. He was Unwound’s excellent live sound man. Mecca Normal was joining the tour to open shows from there to Atlanta. This was a few days before 9/11 — we lost our Boston and Manhattan shows, but play on 9/13 in Hoboken, at Maxwell’s, where Unwound’s music is profoundly soothing. dave starts doing Mecca Normal’s sound too, because he likes us. He wants us to sound good.
In Philly, Mecca Normal stays the night at the huge space dave shares with his drummer Joseph. dave puts on a Swearing at Motorists CD, the incredible Number 7 Uptown. I love this album — the sound of it, the sound dave gets — and I know I want to work with him in some way. Mecca Normal leaves the tour in Atlanta, driving north to Toronto to fly home to Vancouver.
dave and I hatch a plan to record at Unwound’s studio outside Olympia. I rent a car and drive four hours south to hear what our voices will sound like together. At Farm No Heat I am given a room with a mattress on the floor, a room where they put all the stuff they took out of the basement — piled it in, worse than random. Going to sleep is a matter of putting on a jacket, hat and gloves, to lie in my sleeping bag, waiting for warmth. Come on warmth. Just enough to fall asleep.
dave sleeps in the living room, where tomatoes are ripening on a blue tarp over the bright green shag carpet. On day two, dave makes a geometric shape with the ripe tomatoes, to see if anyone notices. No one does, because none of the residents stay at Farm No Heat. They have gone to their girlfriends’ places in town where there is heat.
Tally of furniture in the living room — three big couches, two matching chairs, and an oddly stylized painting of Muhammad Ali. One of the chickens in the yard is called Cassius Clay.
In the basement, the recording studio control room eventually gets warm. We stay in there, inventing guitar tracks, passing my 1960-something Martin 0-18 between us, over-dubbing vocals, deciding to call our duo Transmarquee because we’d both owned 1980-something Grand Marquees as touring vehicles.
On day three, Justin, Vern and Brandt of Unwound come to see how we’re doing. Vern asks about the white powder laid out in the control room. It’s baby powder. I use it on my hands, for playing guitar. OK, so I made it look like a bunch of coke. Hey, I’m straight edge, man — gotta get my thrills somehow.
dave comes to Vancouver to record and produce the next Mecca Normal album — The Family Swan — the songs he mixed night after night on tour. Who better to record them? dave gets great guitar sounds and we love working with him. Finishing the album in three days, dave gets on a bus to the airport — LA, Dayton, everywhere — touring until we meet in San Francisco where Mecca Normal finally sees Swearing At Motorists play at the Bottom of the Hill. dave’s great warmth is matched by giant leaps in the air that look as necessary as barré chords, crucial to guitar playing.
Out of all this action and chaos, two gestures stick in my mind, describing dave. 1.) Standing outside at Farm No Heat, waiting for Unwound to do something in the studio, waiting to get back in there, dave’s cell phone rings. He puts a finger in his ear. It isn’t a good connection. A  friend asks dave how to do something, how to set something up to record. dave is incredibly helpful and patient, giving her information and encouragement. 2.) After losing the show in Boston, Mecca Normal didn’t have a place to stay. dave hands me his Red Roof Inn guide from the window of their van. 9/11 crisis all around us, it’s more than a list of motels; he is extending the universal map of help.
“Give me ten minutes and we’ll be friends.” — Hex or No Hex, Transmarquee
“I have a plan. I’ll draw a map when I get to where I’ve been. For now, I’m not lost — I just don’t know what things mean.” — Don’t Be Another Double String of Fake Pearls, Transmarquee

As a kid in the ’60s, we had a big orange portfolio type-thing—photos from Life magazine. My father was an ad-agency art director, and I think this came to him through his business. The photos were divided into sections related to themes, and I forget the themes other than the photographs of people in concentration camps.

Other books in the brightly colored modern cubes that housed both books and LPs, were Future Shock, Marjorie Morningstar and a paperback about Picasso—it had blue pages. I found the photos in this book mildly disturbing. He had a sort of jester’s costume on—tights and a funny hat—and goats. My parents were both painters, and I was quite happy that, while they were definitely a couple of weirdoes, at least they didn’t wear costumes and keep farm animals. There was a great book called Private View, about painters in Britain, photo essays about studio spaces. The Life Cookbook revealed to me that everyone wasn’t having pot roast with boiled onions and mashed potatoes for dinner. Somewhere people were adding anchovies and freshly grated parmesan cheese to much livelier fare than we were being presented. Although I did have more butter clams than probably any other kid in Vancouver at that time. I think we had the same small bottle of Tabasco sauce in the cupboard for my entire 15-year stay in that house. I thought it was a brown sauce until I moved out in 1978.

My parents were born in the 1920s. My mother was 19 in 1939, when Canada entered World War II reluctantly, to support Britain. When the war ended in 1945, there were 46,998 Canadian soldiers dead. I believe, but I don’t know for sure, that my mother might have had a beau who was killed in the war. I think he was a fellow from her neighborhood—Kerrisdale, the right side of the tracks, in Vancouver. There is a photo somewhere of her standing next to a tall, handsome man; I think my mother was waiting for him to come home from the war. I don’t think my brother and I were supposed to know this.

While I was a kid, my grandfather lived in the house my mother grew up in. When my mother told me how families on the street were notified of a son’s death in the war, I looked at the front steps of a house down the street and imagined soldiers, hearts in their mouths, preparing to knock on the front door. I remember touching the smooth leaves of ivy in that garden, imagining passersby snipping bits to transplant in their own yards. This was a compliment to the gardener, I was told.

My father enlisted in the navy and went by train from Vancouver to the east coast. He was an artist, and he did cartoons of the other fellows on the train across the country. In Nova Scotia, they had him carry rocks from one end of the beach to the other and back again. The war ended before he’d finished carrying rocks. I guess he took the train back home. Maybe he sketched landscapes from the train—he’s never said, that I remember.

He quit the ad agency in the ’70s to paint fabulous abstracts in his studio in the backyard. My mother had her own studio in the other half of the building. They had separate doors, side by side, but whoever designed the building thought it would be groovy if they both had access to their art books, so there was a wall with an open section of shelves between them. My father, while being incredibly eloquent and interesting, does have a propensity to talk. Maybe it’s even a compulsion. He talked through the bookshelves, and my mother—I can see her exasperated look—would have benefited from solitude in her studio, while she painted.

It was not too easy to support a family on painting, and soon my father was doing a lot of freelance work—commercial art jobs—and then there was a period of time when he went in with two brothers—two German guys about his age—Jurgen and Joff. I’m not sure of my father’s exact status at their new creative agency, whether he was a full partner or what. I remember that when the brothers, two big guys, started speaking German to each other, my father stood there with a weird look on his face. I thought he thought they were discussing the war, or saying things like, “Look at the silly little runt. He has no idea what we’re up to. We will certainly be screwing him over big time, and he won’t even know what hit him.” That’s what I thought my father thought—that’s what I thought. Seemed pretty obvious to me; I’d seen Battle Of Britain (accidentally, at the Twin Theaters at Park Royal), and I’d read All Quiet On The Western Front.

At one of my parents’ parties—loud jazz on the hi-fi and lots of laughing, right outside my bedroom door—I heard my mother sobbing. I got up to look at whatever scene was being played out in the living room. The German brothers and my father were standing. My mother was sitting in a Danish modern chair with orange cushions. I guess she was a bit drunk, making comments that seemed be along the lines of, “How could you?”

I was probably ordered back to bed, but I added the sounds and images together and in my mind, my mother was confronting the Germans about killing her boyfriend. I mean, maybe they were talking about the little canned asparagus spears that were wrapped in soft white bread and held together with tooth picks. Maybe my mother was saying, “How could you eat the last one, Joff? Jeannie loves those, and she didn’t even get one of them, you bastard.”

I went back to bed thinking about the possibility that my mother’s intended husband had been killed in the war, that my father was her second choice, years later. And yes, I was hoping there would be some bits and pieces left over to nibble while watching Saturday-morning cartoons, including those asparagus thingies.

Normal History Vol. 33: The Art Of David Lester

Lesternormal33Every 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 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

David’s illustration is about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) currently headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio — just down the road from Dayton, where Swearing At Motorists played a song-by-song run-through of Number 7 Uptown last night with original drummer Don Thrasher. dave doughman is back in the USA for one show only.
We met dave in Toronto, in 2001. He was Unwound’s excellent live sound man. Mecca Normal was joining the tour to open shows from there to Atlanta. This was a few days before 9/11 — we lost our Boston and Manhattan shows, but play on 9/13 in Hoboken, at Maxwell’s, where Unwound’s music is profoundly soothing. dave starts doing Mecca Normal’s sound too, because he likes us. He wants us to sound good.
In Philly, Mecca Normal stays the night at the huge space dave shares with his drummer Joseph. dave puts on a Swearing at Motorists CD, the incredible Number 7 Uptown. I love this album — the sound of it, the sound dave gets — and I know I want to work with him in some way. Mecca Normal leaves the tour in Atlanta, driving north to Toronto to fly home to Vancouver.
dave and I hatch a plan to record at Unwound’s studio outside Olympia. I rent a car and drive four hours south to hear what our voices will sound like together. At Farm No Heat I am given a room with a mattress on the floor, a room where they put all the stuff they took out of the basement — piled it in, worse than random. Going to sleep is a matter of putting on a jacket, hat and gloves, to lie in my sleeping bag, waiting for warmth. Come on warmth. Just enough to fall asleep.
dave sleeps in the living room, where tomatoes are ripening on a blue tarp over the bright green shag carpet. On day two, dave makes a geometric shape with the ripe tomatoes, to see if anyone notices. No one does, because none of the residents stay at Farm No Heat. They have gone to their girlfriends’ places in town where there is heat.
Tally of furniture in the living room — three big couches, two matching chairs, and an oddly stylized painting of Muhammad Ali. One of the chickens in the yard is called Cassius Clay.
In the basement, the recording studio control room eventually gets warm. We stay in there, inventing guitar tracks, passing my 1960-something Martin 0-18 between us, over-dubbing vocals, deciding to call our duo Transmarquee because we’d both owned 1980-something Grand Marquees as touring vehicles.
On day three, Justin, Vern and Brandt of Unwound come to see how we’re doing. Vern asks about the white powder laid out in the control room. It’s baby powder. I use it on my hands, for playing guitar. OK, so I made it look like a bunch of coke. Hey, I’m straight edge, man — gotta get my thrills somehow.
dave comes to Vancouver to record and produce the next Mecca Normal album — The Family Swan — the songs he mixed night after night on tour. Who better to record them? dave gets great guitar sounds and we love working with him. Finishing the album in three days, dave gets on a bus to the airport — LA, Dayton, everywhere — touring until we meet in San Francisco where Mecca Normal finally sees Swearing At Motorists play at the Bottom of the Hill. dave’s great warmth is matched by giant leaps in the air that look as necessary as barré chords, crucial to guitar playing.
Out of all this action and chaos, two gestures stick in my mind, describing dave. 1.) Standing outside at Farm No Heat, waiting for Unwound to do something in the studio, waiting to get back in there, dave’s cell phone rings. He puts a finger in his ear. It isn’t a good connection. A  friend asks dave how to do something, how to set something up to record. dave is incredibly helpful and patient, giving her information and encouragement. 2.) After losing the show in Boston, Mecca Normal didn’t have a place to stay. dave hands me his Red Roof Inn guide from the window of their van. 9/11 crisis all around us, it’s more than a list of motels; he is extending the universal map of help.
“Give me ten minutes and we’ll be friends.” — Hex or No Hex, Transmarquee
“I have a plan. I’ll draw a map when I get to where I’ve been. For now, I’m not lost — I just don’t know what things mean.” — Don’t Be Another Double String of Fake Pearls, Transmarquee

He’s there, standing in the bamboo section of the garden store, heavier than I thought he’d be. He’s very nervous. We walk up to the Drive for a coffee at Calabria. Fred talks a lot, telling me about his childhood and things he did before he got married, had a kid and divorced. After an hour, I want to get going. I am sad about not being attracted to him. I try to recall how I came to have a different image of him.

I log on to Lavalife to look at his photos. I see how he has carefully cropped them, selecting poses that are most flattering—as we all do. He has ticked the box “fit” as opposed to “a few extra pounds.” I update my profile, ticking boxes “slim” and “muscular” rather than having no preference.

Thinking about successful relationships over the years, I add a comment to my written section: “Seeking someone who is actively involved in culture rather than passively waiting for a big break.”

Several days later, Fred arrives unannounced at a Mecca Normal performance: an art auction to benefit books for prisoners. I’m very surprised to see him since we didn’t really click over coffee. The place is full of punks and artists, Vancouver’s impressive crossover contingency of underground musicians and political activists. Fred looks out of place in his white button-down shirt and Dockers. He stays for our set and leaves without saying good-bye. The next day I am lying in the sun, thinking about the art auction; my painting was bought by a guitar player I really like. I step inside to get water and check the computer. Fred has sent an email:

Jean,
I am certainly a green light on this “relationship” thing. It was hard to get any signs from you in the weird atmosphere of a poorly ventilated room packed with prison activists. I was way more nervous at the art gallery than our first meeting. The few words I exchanged with you were delightful, and further cemented my promise that I shall like you no matter what.
I am sorely tempted, like some chump from Shakespeare, to win your heart. Thank god I am attracted by your talent. I really am. You recall an old fire in me. A punk thing. You meld your clear intellect with feet planted on the ground. No pyrotechnics, you are completely there in the moment. I would leap at the chance of directing you in a play. You are true and have a broad range of expression and skill. I could go on and on and on.
I’ve been writing on silk since meeting you. My project has a whole new energy. I haven’t felt this good in ten years. The timing of your arrival is significant. It won’t be a setback if you say the magic just ain’t there for you—I will be sad, but life will pick up again. Do let me know as soon as you can whether you wish to continue.
Meantime, great show, thanks so much, you rock.
Fred

Lying down in the sun again, eyes closed, thinking—I don’t feel like responding. I don’t have to tell him yes or no on demand. I don’t know. I wasn’t attracted to him physically last night, but I was in performance mode. One coffee meeting and him appearing unannounced at my show and he needs to know if I want to start a relationship with him? Crikey. I try to imagine him being romantic or sexy. How would that be? Do I want to see him again? I’m not sure. He’s not even asking me out. Why doesn’t he just ask me out for dinner?

10 p.m., email from Fred:

Jean,
So I deserve finding out how you feel by a revised Lavalife profile? Such hostility. I made a point of warning you I was stocky with a spare tire. Was I wrong to presume that a woman of your age would have grown beyond letting surfaces be quite so important? For the record—like you give a fuck—I fight the war constantly.
Re: passively waiting for a big break. I’ve had huge achievements working with major talent. So sorry I erred on the side of modesty in our Calabria meeting. I’m not waiting for a big break because I’ve had mine baby. The rest is gravy. You don’t know anything about me. I deserved a bit more investigation. I can tell you I sure as hell never sold my achievements in a ratty old suitcase at the end of any of my shows.
An established riot grlll? What a calling card. Riot grlls are expected to behave badly. You are only doing what you are expected to do.
You perpetuate the Lavalife disposable syndrome, judging me this way. Good luck with your shopping list. I was more than content overlooking your imperfections to instead explore your inner beauty. That short story you sent me was staggeringly incomplete—I could not understand how you would show that to anybody, let alone send it out to magazines. I was simply astonished at your idea of structure.
I came to your show in good faith. I even bought your CD knowing this might happen. Were you always such a drama queen?
Fred

Normal History Vol. 32: The Art Of David Lester

LesterHistoryVol32bEvery 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 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

David’s illustration is about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) currently headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio — just down the road from Dayton, where Swearing At Motorists played a song-by-song run-through of Number 7 Uptown last night with original drummer Don Thrasher. dave doughman is back in the USA for one show only.
We met dave in Toronto, in 2001. He was Unwound’s excellent live sound man. Mecca Normal was joining the tour to open shows from there to Atlanta. This was a few days before 9/11 — we lost our Boston and Manhattan shows, but play on 9/13 in Hoboken, at Maxwell’s, where Unwound’s music is profoundly soothing. dave starts doing Mecca Normal’s sound too, because he likes us. He wants us to sound good.
In Philly, Mecca Normal stays the night at the huge space dave shares with his drummer Joseph. dave puts on a Swearing at Motorists CD, the incredible Number 7 Uptown. I love this album — the sound of it, the sound dave gets — and I know I want to work with him in some way. Mecca Normal leaves the tour in Atlanta, driving north to Toronto to fly home to Vancouver.
dave and I hatch a plan to record at Unwound’s studio outside Olympia. I rent a car and drive four hours south to hear what our voices will sound like together. At Farm No Heat I am given a room with a mattress on the floor, a room where they put all the stuff they took out of the basement — piled it in, worse than random. Going to sleep is a matter of putting on a jacket, hat and gloves, to lie in my sleeping bag, waiting for warmth. Come on warmth. Just enough to fall asleep.
dave sleeps in the living room, where tomatoes are ripening on a blue tarp over the bright green shag carpet. On day two, dave makes a geometric shape with the ripe tomatoes, to see if anyone notices. No one does, because none of the residents stay at Farm No Heat. They have gone to their girlfriends’ places in town where there is heat.
Tally of furniture in the living room — three big couches, two matching chairs, and an oddly stylized painting of Muhammad Ali. One of the chickens in the yard is called Cassius Clay.
In the basement, the recording studio control room eventually gets warm. We stay in there, inventing guitar tracks, passing my 1960-something Martin 0-18 between us, over-dubbing vocals, deciding to call our duo Transmarquee because we’d both owned 1980-something Grand Marquees as touring vehicles.
On day three, Justin, Vern and Brandt of Unwound come to see how we’re doing. Vern asks about the white powder laid out in the control room. It’s baby powder. I use it on my hands, for playing guitar. OK, so I made it look like a bunch of coke. Hey, I’m straight edge, man — gotta get my thrills somehow.
dave comes to Vancouver to record and produce the next Mecca Normal album — The Family Swan — the songs he mixed night after night on tour. Who better to record them? dave gets great guitar sounds and we love working with him. Finishing the album in three days, dave gets on a bus to the airport — LA, Dayton, everywhere — touring until we meet in San Francisco where Mecca Normal finally sees Swearing At Motorists play at the Bottom of the Hill. dave’s great warmth is matched by giant leaps in the air that look as necessary as barré chords, crucial to guitar playing.
Out of all this action and chaos, two gestures stick in my mind, describing dave. 1.) Standing outside at Farm No Heat, waiting for Unwound to do something in the studio, waiting to get back in there, dave’s cell phone rings. He puts a finger in his ear. It isn’t a good connection. A  friend asks dave how to do something, how to set something up to record. dave is incredibly helpful and patient, giving her information and encouragement. 2.) After losing the show in Boston, Mecca Normal didn’t have a place to stay. dave hands me his Red Roof Inn guide from the window of their van. 9/11 crisis all around us, it’s more than a list of motels; he is extending the universal map of help.
“Give me ten minutes and we’ll be friends.” — Hex or No Hex, Transmarquee
“I have a plan. I’ll draw a map when I get to where I’ve been. For now, I’m not lost — I just don’t know what things mean.” — Don’t Be Another Double String of Fake Pearls, Transmarquee

David’s illustration is about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), currently headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio—just down the road from Dayton, where Swearing At Motorists played a song-by-song run-through of Number Seven Uptown last night with original drummer Don Thrasher. dave doughman is back in the USA for one show only.

We met dave in Toronto, in 2001. He was Unwound’s excellent live sound man. Mecca Normal was joining the tour to open shows from there to Atlanta. This was a few days before 9/11—we lost our Boston and Manhattan shows, but play on 9/13 in Hoboken, at Maxwell’s, where Unwound’s music is profoundly soothing. dave starts doing Mecca Normal’s sound, too, because he likes us. He wants us to sound good.

In Philly, Mecca Normal stays the night at the huge space dave shares with his drummer Joseph. dave puts on a Swearing At Motorists CD, the incredible Number Seven Uptown. I love this album—the sound of it, the sound dave gets—and I know I want to work with him in some way. Mecca Normal leaves the tour in Atlanta, driving north to Toronto to fly home to Vancouver.

dave and I hatch a plan to record at Unwound’s studio outside Olympia, Wash. I rent a car and drive four hours south to hear what our voices will sound like together. At Farm No Heat, I am given a room with a mattress on the floor, a room where they put all the stuff they took out of the basement—piled it in, worse than random. Going to sleep is a matter of putting on a jacket, hat and gloves, to lie in my sleeping bag, waiting for warmth. Come on warmth. Just enough to fall asleep.

dave sleeps in the living room, where tomatoes are ripening on a blue tarp over the bright green shag carpet. On day two, dave makes a geometric shape with the ripe tomatoes, to see if anyone notices. No one does, because none of the residents stays at Farm No Heat. They have gone to their girlfriends’ places in town where there is heat.

Tally of furniture in the living room: three big couches, two matching chairs and an oddly stylized painting of Muhammad Ali. One of the chickens in the yard is called Cassius Clay.

In the basement, the recording-studio control room eventually gets warm. We stay in there, inventing guitar tracks, passing my 1960-something Martin 0-18 between us, overdubbing vocals, deciding to call our duo Transmarquee because we’d both owned 1980-something Grand Marquees as touring vehicles.

On day three, Justin, Vern and Brandt of Unwound come to see how we’re doing. Vern asks about the white powder laid out in the control room. It’s baby powder. I use it on my hands, for playing guitar. OK, so I made it look like a bunch of coke. Hey, I’m straight edge, man—gotta get my thrills somehow.

dave comes to Vancouver to record and produce the next Mecca Normal album—The Family Swan—the songs he mixed night after night on tour. Who better to record them? dave gets great guitar sounds, and we love working with him. Finishing the album in three days, dave gets on a bus to the airport—L.A., Dayton, everywhere—touring until we meet in San Francisco, where Mecca Normal finally sees Swearing At Motorists play at the Bottom Of The Hill. dave’s great warmth is matched by giant leaps in the air that look as necessary as barré chords, crucial to guitar playing.

Out of all this action and chaos, two gestures stick in my mind, describing dave: 1) Standing outside at Farm No Heat, waiting for Unwound to do something in the studio, waiting to get back in there, dave’s cell phone rings. He puts a finger in his ear. It isn’t a good connection. A  friend asks dave how to do something, how to set something up to record. dave is incredibly helpful and patient, giving her information and encouragement. 2) After losing the show in Boston, Mecca Normal didn’t have a place to stay. dave hands me his Red Roof Inn guide from the window of their van. 9/11 crisis all around us, it’s more than a list of motels; he is extending the universal map of help.

“Give me 10 minutes and we’ll be friends.” —”Hex Or No Hex,” Transmarquee

“I have a plan/I’ll draw a map when I get to where I’ve been/For now, I’m not lost/I just don’t know what things mean.” —”Don’t Be Another Double String Of Fake Pearls,” Transmarquee

Normal History Vol. 31: The Art Of David Lester

LesterHistoryVol31Every 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 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

There’s a lot going on in David’s illustration. A lot going on in my mind. I haven’t asked him about his drawing, but clearly it is me reaching an extra long way up to pluck a black wedge off the family tree before it turns into a poison apple and rolls not far.

In 1986 we organized the first Black Wedge tour with anti-authoritarian musicians and poets. Earlier that same year, we’d released the first Mecca Normal LP, which, like 2002’s The Family Swan CD, had songs on it about family. Writing—songs, novels, stories—is how I think and understand more. Creativity is the essence of the lecture David and I present. How Art & Music Can Change The World intends to inspire self-expression, and typically I add something about political content. Most of the writing I do is about human interactions between men and women and within the family structure. Like they used to say back in the ’60s, the personal is political.

When I quit drinking 10 years ago, I wanted to figure out why I drank, so I looked back into childhood and family concerns and wrote about them. One thing I learned about humans is that we can’t change anyone other than ourselves, but sometimes the changing of self will go a long way toward altering how others behave. For instance, I made all these great changes in myself and my dad didn’t speak to me for three years.

I was on the phone with him, instigating a conversation that intended to show him that I was helpful and responsible. I’d asked him what he was going to do when he and my mother got too old to live on their own. I hadn’t got to the part in my evolution of realizing that fear manifests as anger in some people. He yelled at me and we didn’t speak for three years. He’s a guy who yells and can’t apologize; he feels terrible for yelling, but he can’t do anything about it. I was no longer available to be yelled at. He has not yelled at me since. Everything has been fine for years.

I couldn’t speak when he yelled. My brother, as a little boy, wrote him a note: “Please stop yelling at Mom.” Poor little kid. Both of them—all of them.

They are changing, too, going into survival mode as they subconsciously realize that they may need me at some point. I change in relation to how they change. They are old, and I hope I am here if they need me.

I phoned my mother on her 89th birthday. I was staying in a basement in the Bronx. The connection was terrible. I spoke loudly, repeating things slowly, very aware of the Colombian speech therapists who lived upstairs. I kept the call short and felt sad hanging up.

When I got back to Vancouver, I heard about her birthday dinner at my brother’s place. My father brought the cake and after dinner, my brother’s partner took charge of lighting the candles. Recently, my mother has decided that she would like to be called Isabella rather than Isabel, which doesn’t impact me because I call her Mom and I call my father Dad, although, for some time in childhood, I called him John, which I don’t think Isabella liked much, which is perhaps why I did it.

My brother’s partner brought the cake to the table and the singing began. “Happy birthday, Isabella,” sang my father and my brother’s partner stopped and looked down at the cake, at the icing he’d smoothed over to remove what he thought were extra letters, a mistake in the waves and curls of sweet lettering. I guess he hadn’t heard that Isabel was now Isabella. My dad, miffed that his good intentions had been erased, asked me, “Did they think I didn’t know what was written on the cake?”

On the phone, my mother tells a story about when she was a girl, how she made the chicken coop in the backyard into a playhouse, getting bits of wallpaper from the hardware store. One day her father decided to take down the chicken coop. “I came home and it was a shambles.” She’s had several lower teeth removed and some words now sound like she’s five years old. “Shambles” is all lispy, but she doesn’t seem to notice, in the way a five-year-old plows ahead with her story. “It was my playhouse,” she says and I can see her motioning with her hands—how my hands will look in 40 years and my hands now look like her hands did 40 years ago, when I was a little girl collecting up all that flew around, all that would go into songs and novels and paintings. Into trying to solve it all.

I’m thinking about the missing letters on the cake, the day I phoned her from the Bronx, the Colombian speech therapists. She’s telling me she wants to grow her hair long. “Down to my shoulders,” she lisps, and I see a little girl who looks very much like me, standing beside a busted down playhouse, singing the icing letters that were smoothed off her cake. “La la la la la la la la.” Isabel, Isabel, Isabella. Is this you needing me?

There’s a lot going on in David’s illustration. A lot going on in my mind. I haven’t asked him about his drawing, but clearly it is me reaching an extra long way up to pluck a Black Wedge off the family tree before it turns into a poison apple and rolls not far.
In 1986 we organized the first Black Wedge tour with anti-authoritarian musicians and poets. Earlier that same year, we’d released the first Mecca Normal LP, which, like The Family Swan CD (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) had songs on it about family. Writing — songs, novels, stories — is how I think and understand more. Creativity is the essence of the lecture David and I present. “How Art & Music Can Change the World” intends to inspire self-expression and typically I add something about political content. Most of the writing I do is about human interactions between men and women and within the family structure. Like they used to say back in the 60s, the personal is political.
When I quit drinking ten years ago I wanted to figure out why I drank, so I looked back into childhood and family concerns and wrote about them. One thing I learned about humans is that we can’t change anyone other than ourselves, but sometimes the changing of self will go a long way towards altering how others behave. For instance, I made all these great changes in myself and my dad didn’t speak to me for three years.
I was on the phone with him, instigating a conversation that intended to show him that I was helpful and responsible. I’d asked him what he was going to do when he and my mother got too old to live on their own. I hadn’t got to the part in my evolution of realizing that fear manifests as anger in some people. He yelled at me and we didn’t speak for three years. He’s a guy who yells and can’t apologize, he feels terrible for yelling, but he can’t do anything about it. I was no longer available to be yelled at. He has not yelled at me since. Everything has been fine for years.
I couldn’t speak when he yelled. My brother, as a little boy, wrote him a note — please stop yelling at Mom. Poor little kid. Both of them — all of them.
They are changing too, going into survival mode as they subconsciously realize that they may need me at some point. I change in relation to how they change. They are old and I hope I am here if they need me.
I phoned my mother on her 89th birthday. I was staying in a basement in the Bronx. The connection was terrible. I spoke loudly, repeating things slowly, very aware of the Colombian speech therapists who lived upstairs. I kept the call short and felt sad hanging up.
When I got back to Vancouver I heard about her birthday dinner at my brother’s place. My father brought the cake and after dinner, my brother’s partner took charge of lighting the candles. Recently, my mother has decided that she would like to be called Isabella rather than Isabel, which doesn’t impact me because I call her Mom and I call my father Dad, although, for some time in childhood, I called him John, which I don’t think Isabella liked much, which is perhaps why I did it.
My brother’s partner brought the cake to the table and the singing began. “Happy birthday Isabella,” sang my father and my brother’s partner stopped and looked down at the cake, at the icing he’d smoothed over to remove what he thought were extra letters, a mistake in the waves and curls of sweet lettering. I guess he hadn’t heard that Isabel was now Isabella. My dad, miffed that his good intentions had been erased, asked me, “Did they think I didn’t know what was written on the cake?”
On the phone, my mother tells a story about when she was a girl — how she made the chicken coop in the backyard into a playhouse, getting bits of wallpaper from the hardware store. One day her father decided to take down the chicken coop. “I came home and it was a shambles.” She’s had several lower teeth removed and some words now sound like she’s five years old. Shambles is all lispy, but she doesn’t seem to notice, in the way a five year old plows ahead with her story. “It was my playhouse,” she says and I can see her motioning with her hands — how my hands will look in forty years and my hands now look like her hands did forty years ago, when I was a little girl collecting up all that flew around, all that would go into songs and novels and paintings. Into trying to solve it all.
I’m thinking about the missing letters on the cake, the day I phoned her from the Bronx, the Colombian speech therapists. She’s telling me she wants to grow her hair long. “Down to my shoulders,” she lisps, and I see a little girl who looks very much like me, standing beside a busted down playhouse, singing the icing letters that were smoothed off her cake. “La la la la la la la la.” Isabel, Isabel, Isabella. Is this you needing me?

Normal History Vol. 30: The Art Of David Lester

I was in New Zealand when Mecca Normal’s album Sitting on Snaps came out on Matador in 1995. I was working at a record label called IMD, as the EP (Exotic Publicist) while Peter Jefferies was A&R. I didn’t know I had a job until I landed in Dunedin and was met by Geoff, the label’s owner. I had been talked up big time by Peter, whose specialty is enthusiasm. I set to work faxing letters to labels and media contacts in the US, to get IMD into a better position overseas. My one big success was securing US distribution through Matador (I think I can say I worked out that deal). Oh, and I had the rubber stamp made that said “disturbed by IMD”. Peter was bringing in a lot of great music from the US, getting it around NZ—into shops and reviewed in magazines. He did an amazing job. I believe Sitting on Snaps sold more in New Zealand than it did in Canada—my own country—based on Peter promoting it.
I was merrily stamping everything on the shelves “disturbed by IMD” instead of “distributed by IMD” and Geoff blew a gasket over this. Often businessmen can’t understand creative genius—especially when she is in their employ. Some years later they put out an IMD compilation called “Disturbed by IMD”—so, I guess it was OK after all.
The IMD office was in a basement pretty much around the corner from the Empire—a pub with a pool table, Mecca Normal on the jukebox and a non-stop line-up of wild shows. The Empire was the place to be.
Peter and I met in 1994, in Nijmegen, a small town in Holland, at the Fast Forward Festival, appropriately enough, and from then on, we were definitely fast forward. Peter and Mecca Normal had a mutual tour manager – the incredible Dirk Hugsam. The start of our tour collided with the end of the Peter Jefferies and Alastair Galbraith tour. When we got to Nijmegen with minutes to spare before we went on, Peter came rushing into the street to greet us. He was a Mecca Normal fan.
I had successfully pitched an interview with Chris Knox (Tall Dwarfs) to Raygun magazine, but I decided to write an article about Peter instead. “Tape Hiss is A Sign of Life” was finished on a manual typewriter in the front room of our house south of Dunedin. It was my work room—with a view of the sea. The house was a short walk from a beautiful beach, but this was after a lot of other things happened. After Fast Forward, Peter got on a train and came down to Bavaria where Mecca Normal was going into the studio, so he played piano on a few songs. At the very beginning of “Vacant Night Sky” you can hear me uncrumpling the lyrics, which didn’t start with “this is not what it’s supposed to be” but that’s what I started singing. Nothing was what it was supposed to be. In a really good way.
Mecca Normal and Peter Jefferies toured in the US, then I moved to New Zealand. After that Peter and I moved to Vancouver—in between, Mecca Normal and Peter Jefferies solo toured in New Zealand and Europe and then 2 Foot Flame–the band Peter and I started with Michael Morley (Dead C)—released the first of two albums on Matador, followed by tours in the the US, New Zealand and Australia. It was all fairly extreme. Peter was in two bands with me—on drums in Mecca Normal and playing piano and drums in The Flambé, as he used to call us, and he was doing his solo set. On tour, the guy barely had time to smoke.
Peter had different skills than David and I, and, as it turns out, when partnering up with collaborators it is important to have different skills. I learned a lot from Peter in terms of sound and recording, listening and enthusiasm, but after three years of intensity—touring, recording, moving—nothing was what it was supposed to be in a more usual way.

LesterHistoryVol30Every 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 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I was in New Zealand when Mecca Normal’s album Sitting On Snaps came out on Matador in 1995. I was working at a record label called IMD, as the EP (Exotic Publicist) while Peter Jefferies was A&R. I didn’t know I had a job until I landed in Dunedin and was met by Geoff, the label’s owner. I had been talked up big time by Peter, whose specialty is enthusiasm. I set to work faxing letters to labels and media contacts in the U.S., to get IMD into a better position overseas. My one big success was securing U.S. distribution through Matador. (I think I can say I worked out that deal.) Oh, and I had the rubber stamp made that said “disturbed by IMD.” Peter was bringing in a lot of great music from the U.S., getting it around N.Z.—into shops and reviewed in magazines. He did an amazing job. I believe Sitting On Snaps sold more in New Zealand than it did in Canada—my own country—based on Peter promoting it.

I was merrily stamping everything on the shelves “disturbed by IMD” instead of “distributed by IMD,” and Geoff blew a gasket over this. Often businessmen can’t understand creative genius—especially when she is in their employ. Some years later they put out an IMD compilation called Disturbed By IMD, so I guess it was OK after all.

The IMD office was in a basement pretty much around the corner from the Empire: a pub with a pool table, Mecca Normal on the jukebox and a non-stop lineup of wild shows. The Empire was the place to be.

Peter and I met in 1994, in Nijmegen, a small town in Holland, at the Fast Forward Festival, appropriately enough, and from then on, we were definitely fast forward. Peter and Mecca Normal had a mutual tour manager: the incredible Dirk Hugsam. The start of our tour collided with the end of the Peter Jefferies & Alastair Galbraith tour. When we got to Nijmegen with minutes to spare before we went on, Peter came rushing into the street to greet us. He was a Mecca Normal fan.

I had successfully pitched an interview with Chris Knox (Tall Dwarfs) to Raygun magazine, but I decided to write an article about Peter instead. “Tape Hiss is A Sign Of Life” was finished on a manual typewriter in the front room of our house south of Dunedin. It was my work room—with a view of the sea. The house was a short walk from a beautiful beach, but this was after a lot of other things happened. After Fast Forward, Peter got on a train and came down to Bavaria, where Mecca Normal was going into the studio, so he played piano on a few songs. At the very beginning of “Vacant Night Sky,” you can hear me uncrumpling the lyrics, which didn’t start with “This is not what it’s supposed to be,” but that’s what I started singing. Nothing was what it was supposed to be. In a really good way.

Mecca Normal and Peter Jefferies toured in the U.S., then I moved to New Zealand. After that, Peter and I moved to Vancouver—in between, Mecca Normal and Peter Jefferies (solo) toured in New Zealand and Europe, and then 2 Foot Flame–the band Peter and I started with Michael Morley (Dead C)—released the first of two albums on Matador, followed by tours in the the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. It was all fairly extreme. Peter was in two bands with me—on drums in Mecca Normal and playing piano and drums in the Flambé, as he used to call us, and he was doing his solo set. On tour, the guy barely had time to smoke.

Peter had different skills than David and I, and as it turns out, when partnering up with collaborators, it is important to have different skills. I learned a lot from Peter in terms of sound and recording, listening and enthusiasm, but after three years of intensity—touring, recording, moving—nothing was what it was supposed to be in a more usual way.