Normal History Vol. 506: 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.

Great to see David Lester’s art show Onward up for a short time in Vancouver. He must be one of the hardest working illustrators in political art. To me, the highlight of the show was the model he made of Emma Goldman’s house in Toronto. Ingenious! He shines a light through the windows so he can draw shadows accurately at various times of day! Also fantastic to see a selection of the 500-plus cartoons he’s created for this weekly column!

“Excalibur” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 505: 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 recently heard a rather stodgy (white, male) musician say that music isn’t activism, that satire isn’t activism. And here’s me trying to decide whether to call something “social” and “cultural” activism. Wow! Turns out these things may not even exist! What about political songs that succeed in changing the world? What if words honed and delivered satirically do alter the course of history?

Actually, I consciously avoid asking questions to challenge men’s ideas. It puts me in the position of not knowing and gives them the opportunity to respond.

Paintings, songs, satire, stand-up comedy, films, cartoons, plays, novels (graphic and otherwise) and poems are all forms of activism, but we don’t have a Richter scale equivalent to determine their impact.

Rock Against Racism
punk – the Raincoats, the Slits, X-Ray Spex
Riot Grrrl
Rock for Choice
Pussy Riot
Riot Grrrl 2.0

I think what the male musician (a music professor) perhaps meant is that he hadn’t succeeded in changing anything with his music—therefore music isn’t activism.

Over our nearly-35-year history, David and I have considered our output to be activism. At this particular juncture, David’s work is very obviously political, with measurable success in terms of distribution and reaction. We can safely say that his work has an impact, but even when our work fails—or is categorically ignored —it’s still activism.

These days my work is not as overtly political (and is probably less a form of activism) than David’s work. In the ’80s and ’90s, I was a writer and performer of political songs that audiences found energizing and useful, but, for whatever reason, interest in my work dwindled. Then I wrote novels that intended to make a dent in important issues, but they were not published. After enduring a slew of stupid part time jobs, I now I paint portraits and sell them on Facebook while constructing ways to use my remaining clout to open a free artist residency where small groups of people inspire each other to take a chance on cultural activism, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the project as I’ve outlined it. A project of this magnitude requires patience and tenacity, but the fact is I don’t need the oodles of cash I’m making selling paintings, and I want to create an unconventional facility to bequeath to future generations of cultural activists.

“Who Shot Elvis?” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 504: 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.

“Over a low, sinister guitar line, vocalist Jean Smith growls, ‘If you know, if you know what a gun can do for you/You know that the knee can produce a reaction in a jerk/Who won’t shut up.’ Another guitar, barely perceptible, shivers beneath Smith’s words, like an electric eel flickering under the ocean’s glassy surface.” —Andi Zeisler, San Francisco Weekly, October 15, 1997

“Medieval Man” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 503: 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.

In September, I launched an IndieGogo campaign to fund a free artist residency off the west coast of Canada. Sure, the idea is far fetched. A bunch of people put in enough money for me to buy a facility that they can then use to work on various projects that specifically intend to change the world. Suffice it to say that I did not raise $20,000, but I did manage to adequately introduce the project to artists, writers and musicians, and those who support political art.

“When You Know” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 502: 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.

In early 2019, Mecca Normal’s only live album will be released as part of a series of performances recorded for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national radio program Brave New Waves. Unlike most of the other albums in the series, our session was recorded (in 1996) at a Montréal theater in front of a live audience and not at the CBC.

“Peach-A-Vanilla” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 501: 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.

Fantastic to see Dave the other day! He’s been sequestered high-pressure style, immersed in the Winnipeg General Strike (1919) longer then the actual strikers were (by some number of weeks)!

We met on the way to our sushi joint (both dressed in solid black—me with studded leather belt) where we ordered the usual. Dave had a giant art book with him that took up a lot of room on the table beside us.

Over tuna and salmon sashimi, gyoza and negitoro maki, I told him about all the crazy shit happening in my world (the for sale sign in front of my building, looking for property and school buses and how I figure I did too much for my parents and am now experiencing symptoms that I’ve been researching).

Back to the giant book. After all the plates were cleared, I flipped it open. Dave sat beside me and we leafed through, looking at portraits by a Russian painter neither of us had heard of. We made observations about the work, and it was just fantastic! I don’t think we’ve ever done that! Sat side by side and looked at an art book!

I googled the guy and saved some images to refer to. I’m interested in how that might play out. Having been introduced to a new painter in that way, seen larger reproductions in the book and then the jpgs. The brain will have collected data in ways that my conscious mind is unaware of.

Anyway, I mentioned some of this in an email to Dave and he wrote back. “It’s Sevro not Servo 😀.” And I replied, “He’ll always be Servo to me 😂.”

“Drive At” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 500: 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 cannot wait for the Mecca Normal live session in this CBC Radio Brave New Waves series. Somebody give me a release date! Plus, I’m really excited about the LP insert with about 30 of my paintings on it.

Someone PMed me on Facebook saying they didn’t know I co-produced the first Cub release. Keep up, people!

Cub’s live session on Brave New Waves is great! That was the thing. By the time Vancouver bands got all the way out to Montreal to play on Brave New Waves, they were really tight! Also, I was very touched by the nice things that got said about me in the interview with host Brent Bambury, who calls me the “international goddess of the rock indie scene … she’s like the oracle.” omg

“Cave In” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 499: 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 concept of a safe haven, utopia or that “little slice of paradise” takes many forms. The lyrics to “Kingdom Without Weather” might be somewhat dismissive of the idea of settling back into home ownership at the expense of broader involvement, but, as a person who doesn’t believe in either money or the mysterious marking of land to call one’s own, I’ve been trying to secure a place where artists can go to make art that rails against capitalism, the patriarch and injustice on all fronts! Won’t you join me or at least chime in?

“Kingdom Without Weather” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 498: 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.

Back when I wrote this song, “here” was specific, and the general dissatisfaction expressed was about a relationship. Fast forward 25 years (to now), and although I still live “here”—in the same room, where I pay the same rent—I’m pretty sure I’m done with relationships.

The “here” back then was more about my life than this room. Now that you’re in my life, this is how things are gonna be, etc. Well, now that I’m still here (both in my own life and this same room), it seems to me to be a pity that so many songs have been written about relationship strife—which is actually one of the reasons I want to set up an artist residency program to focus on music and art that intends to create progressive social change.

“Now That You’re Here” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 497: 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 loved school! I loved my teachers, but I did find it a little weird that my first-grade teacher was the same as my third-grade teacher. I think I assumed there would be progress, not repetition. I’m sure I loved Mrs. McGillvary the first time around, but maybe twice was once too many. Plus, she pronounced the “d” in Wednesday and insisted that we do the same and I knew she was wrong. It held the door open for her to be wrong about other things, too. Who knows? Maybe that’s why she did it. Was she pointing out the fallibility of authority and mass acceptance of rules? Wed-nes-day. Funny. The fact that she also pronounced the silent “e” never bothered me. Indoctrination.

“Mrs. McGillvary” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):