Normal History Vol. 9: The Art Of David Lester

davidlesterv9366Every 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.

On the Black Wedge Tour in 1986, Bryan James and I decided to write a zine to distribute in San Francisco at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens; the Mab was just about to close after years of punk bands playing there. We knew we weren’t part of the great wave of punk that had already happened; we were just out there, part of nothing, until that—our nothingness—became what others seem to feel is the thing they missed out on. Bryan and I made our zine and surprised our tour mates when we handed it out at the show. The zine was called Bus Tokens—me being the only woman on the bus and Bryan being a black guy (back then people were black—or maybe Black—and not yet African-American). By San Francisco, Bryan and I each had some beefs about traveling with a pack of white guys, white guys with political ideas. In 1989, for one reason or another, Calvin Johnson was with Mecca Normal for the drive back to Olympia from San Francisco. We left early to get to Eugene, Ore., where Mecca Normal played an opening set with Vomit Launch. Immediately after playing, we drove to Portland, where we headlined a show after which we drove to Olympia, arriving around dawn. One day, three states, two shows, more than six hundred miles. I did an interview recently with a guy asking me what it was like to meet Calvin the first time, if the earth moved or something (no, it didn’t), if there was an energy that foretold of the impact we would have on of a bunch of bands, and I said, “It wasn’t like that.” The interviewer wanted to know what it was like to trade LPs with Calvin: the first Mecca Normal LP for the first Beat Happening LP. (It was Calvin’s idea to trade.) I slid the Beat Happening LP under the seat on the bus, and we headed south to the California heat, and when I got it home, it was a bit warped, but I didn’t really care because it wasn’t my cup of tea. It became my cup of tea later, after I started to see that a political community could be created without focusing on overtly political ideas. Community, I discovered, was also baking pies and swimming at the lake.

From The Desk Of John Wesley Harding: Popover Records

jwhlogofJohn Wesley Harding knows when he gets an email, phone message or a piece of postal junk addressing him as “John,” it’s coming from someone who’s never met him. He’s known to friends as “Wes,” since his real name (the one he uses in his second career as an award-winning author) is Wesley Stace. Harding’s 15th album, Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, depicts an artist well aware of what he does best: marvelously witty lyrics delivered in an emotion-wracked singing voice. Harding will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with him.

popoverLogoJohn Wesley Harding: What can I say about Popover Records that hasn’t already been said? (Sure, I’m implicated, because they released my new album, but leave me out of it.) Taking a lead from Light In The Attic and The Numero Group, Popover—with its wondrous A&R staff (including Robyn Hitchcock, Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Nick Hornby, Vendela Vida and so on)—has unearthed some excellent forgotten music for you. The website is here, but more importantly, Moody’s influential Rumpus article is here. A major interview about the lunacy of starting a label in the current financial climate, including remarks from Hornby as a representative of the A&R department, is here. And an erroneous-yet-amusing claim that Popover is being investigated by the Feds is here. Popover? Oh no it isn’t!

Live Review: Fleetwood Mac, San Jose, CA, May 21, 2009

fleetwoodmac320The last time I saw Fleetwood Mac in San Jose, there was a near-riot—and it wasn’t because people were trying to get in. When the U.K./American outfit played the half-empty, three-thousand capacity San Jose Civic Auditorium in January 1974, somebody must have thought the local residents were pretty stupid. The band that followed warm-up combo Silverhead (fronted by Michael DesBarres, husband of famed tell-all author/groupie Pamela DesBarres) onstage was definitely not Fleetwood Mac. We’d seen their photos, bought their records, and these were five guys named Moe. Patrons immediately stormed the box office, demanding their money back and were told that the band’s manager, Clifford Davis, who owned the name “Fleetwood Mac,” had fired the original members and hired an all-new lineup. Sign this list, kid, and you’ll be mailed a full refund. Still waiting for that check.

The itch was finally scratched last night when Fleetwood Mac played to a near-capacity crowd of more than 20 thousand at cavernous H.P. Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks. Lindsey Buckingham and Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks climbed onboard the Mac express in 1975 and shepherded the group through its superstar period during a 10-year run. Buckingham and Nicks reminisced onstage about their local connections. Both attended Menlo-Atherton High School in Menlo Park in the late ’60s, San Jose State in the early ’70s, then cut their only Buckingham Nicks album in 1973. “When we played the Fillmore West opening for Quicksilver Messenger Service,” said Nicks, “Bill Graham screamed at a guy who was heckling me, ‘Get out of my Fillmore and don’t ever come back!’ That’s when I knew we were going somewhere.” Dressed in her trademark, free-flowing ensemble, Nicks spoke warmly of the boyfriend/girlfriend days she spent with Buckingham, dedicating the band’s ’82 hit “Gypsy” to “the paper roses, the house we had in Los Gatos and the gypsies that we were.” Nicks, who just turned 60, tentatively tried a pirouette on ’76 smash “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)” but gave up about halfway through. With her voice as strong as ever, it’s probably time to think about switching from playing Ophelia to a long run as Lady MacBeth.

Buckingham, a year younger than Nicks, proved especially feisty, reeling off a juicy guitar break on “Dreams” (“Thunder only happens when it’s raining”) and a solid vocal turn on a re-tooled version of “Oh Well,” a searing, stop-and-start blues number first cut by the 1970 version of Fleetwood Mac that featured guitartists Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. It was also a treat to hear Nicks perform onetime Mac singer/keyboardist Christine McVie’s showcase number “Say You Love Me.” A hired keyboard player did his best to replace the USC marching band, the original accompanist (recorded at Dodger Stadium) for stirring 1979 number “Tusk,” a revered highlight of the Mac’s masterpiece double album of the same name.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (the band’s original namesakes) remain in place, with the stork-like Fleetwood, dressed in black knickers and red shoes, particularly nimble on a gavotte-styled bow that followed big hit “Go Your Own Way.” Everyone knew what the encore would be—the only ace in the deck they hadn’t dealt. 1977 classic “Don’t Stop” gained a second life as the campaign theme song for Bill Clinton in 1992. It sounded every bit as exciting in the first term of Barack Obama.

—Jud Cost

Film At 11: Del The Funky Homosapien

Lots of nerds (like us) appreciate Del The Funky Homosapien for his sci-fi Deltron 3030 project with Dan “The Automator” Nakamura or his early, funny material like “If You Must.” We’re not sure “Get It Right Now”—a typical boast about his rhyming supremacy—is the apex of his creativity, but it’s decent, and it’s on the Funk Man (The Stimulus Package) album, which you can download here for free.

TiVo Party Tonight: Green Day, The Decemberists

tivodecember3Ever wonder what will happen during the last five minutes of late-night TV talk shows? Here are tonight’s notable performers:

Late Show With David Letterman (CBS): Green Day
Late Late Show (CBS): The Decemberists

CBS has all your divergent musical tendencies covered. Green Day’s got a 21st Century Breakdown; the Decemberists have the 19th century on fetishized lockdown. Colin Meloy? Doing the ’60s-folk revival. Billie Joe? Reviving ’70s punk since the ’90s. It’s Dookie-ness followed by bookishness.

The Decemberists’ “The Rake’s Song” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/TheRakesSong.mp3

From The Desk Of John Wesley Harding: Derren Brown

jwhlogofJohn Wesley Harding knows when he gets an email, phone message or a piece of postal junk addressing him as “John,” it’s coming from someone who’s never met him. He’s known to friends as “Wes,” since his real name (the one he uses in his second career as an award-winning author) is Wesley Stace. Harding’s 15th album, Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, depicts an artist well aware of what he does best: marvelously witty lyrics delivered in an emotion-wracked singing voice. Harding will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with him.

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John Wesley Harding: Derren Brown is a genius. Who is he? Well, he’s a mesmerist and a magician. That doesn’t sound very promising, I know, but he is extremely good at his job. I recommend his probably downloadable, definitely purchasable shows: 2008’s The System (in which he predicts a woman’s winners a day before each horse race, so she wins six races running—and then tells her how he does it, just after she’s put all her money on the horse) and 2005’s Messiah (in which, traveling under a variety of aliases in the U.S., where he is less well-known, he attempts to win the endorsement of various leading figures who claim to have psychic or mystical powers in one way or another—alien abduction, contacting the dead, dream-reading, old-school Christian conversion, etc.—leaving the “experts” in the awkward position of having to either proclaim him as gifted as they are or admit that he’s doing precisely the same magical tricks). Apparently, an American version of his TV show, Mind Control With Derren Brown, was shown on the Sci-Fi Channel, but please, please, do not muddle him with Criss Angel Mindfreak. Brown’s 2007 book, Tricks Of The Mind, is very informative (about neuro-linguistic programming and how to develop a very good memory, among other things) and charmingly written; his live show is stellar. But the best thing about Derren Brown is that, despite being purely a great magician and a wonderful showman, he is using his magical techniques to a good purpose, to explain humanity to itself. None of these programs are purely stunts; they all have valid, important points to make about why we believe what we believe and how easily we fall prey to superstition, because something works “for us.” It is Brown’s mission to show us the bigger picture. And he does this in an extraordinarily entertaining way. Next time I’m asked that interview old-favorite, “Who would be your favorite dinner guest?” I should remember to say Derren Brown. There’s no competition, really. YouTube video after the jump.

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MP3 At 3PM: The Low Anthem

the_low_anthem390A possible contender for official summerband ’09 is the Low Anthem, which is set to appear at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, the Newport Folk Festival and elsewhere. The Providence, R.I., outfit is seeing its 2008 album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, given a wide release via Nonesuch on June 9. The group generally kicks up a bit of a kitchen-sink Americana racket with zither, clarinet, pump organ and the rest of the music-room closet, but the title track below is a placid showcase for Ben Knox Miller’s Garfunkelian falsetto vocals. (It also has a hint of the Sarah McLachlan song that plays during the ASPCA commericials, but that’s neither here nor there, and no, we’re not crying, there was just something in our eyes.) Change of subject: This year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

“Charlie Darwin” (download):

Welcome To The Dollhouse, Scumfuc

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Rock ‘n’ roll collectibles company Aggronautix has debuted its GG Allin “throbblehead” doll, a limited-edition (2,000) effigy of late gross-out punk legend Allin. At seven inches tall, your li’l GG is accurately covered in tattoos, fecal matter and blood (not real blood or feces) and portrays him circa 1991.

Also available is a throbblehead doll of Meatmen frontman Tesco Vee making two obscene gestures, which is an amazing feat for an unposable figurine. Vee himself had this to say about being cast in polyresin: “My nipples are still vibrating and my scrotum glows red hot … a boiling cauldron of man seed … as I gaze upon me, Tesco Vee, nodding in agreement to every fuckin thing you say, flipping off the world and all of its inhabitants most notably god fearin’ Republicans (I’m sodomizing Ann Coulter as we speak …with my Throbblehead of course!) and the French!”

The throbblehead dolls are $14.95 each. I know what you’re thinking: It’s a shame these things weren’t available in time for Mother’s Day.

From The Desk Of John Wesley Harding: ABBA

jwhlogofJohn Wesley Harding knows when he gets an email, phone message or a piece of postal junk addressing him as “John,” it’s coming from someone who’s never met him. He’s known to friends as “Wes,” since his real name (the one he uses in his second career as an award-winning author) is Wesley Stace. Harding’s 15th album, Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, depicts an artist well aware of what he does best: marvelously witty lyrics delivered in an emotion-wracked singing voice. Harding will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with him.

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John Wesley Harding: Surely the biggest news for pop-pickers everywhere is that the songwriting geniuses behind ABBA—Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus—have unveiled their first pop collaboration for many years. The song, “2nd Best To None,” is sung by the staff of a hotel in Stockholm owned by Andersson. What is wrong with this song? Absolutely nothing. If you like pop music. It sounds exactly like a great ABBA song, despite the fact that—or perhaps (note to Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad) because—it is sung by the employees of a hotel. (Only the employees of the Royalton in NYC are better looking than this bunch, but I bet they can’t sing as well.) The verse is fantastic, marred only by some flamenco guitar, and the only thing I’d change is the thudding Euro-disco drum, but almost all ABBA songs had a thudding Euro-disco drum, so it’s perfect even down to this detail. Not to mention the contorted English of the title—great hook, until you think about it. Hmm. Maybe. Second best? Second to none? Oh, I get it. But you can’t be both at once. Being “second to none” doesn’t redeem being “second best.” I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to be “second best to none”; it’s like when there’s a competition with a prize that none of the entrants is deemed good enough to win.

I saw ABBA conquer Europe on the Eurovision song contest in 1974. I was in a holiday home in Cornwall, aged eight. It was very exciting, and I’ll never forget it. This is exactly what I saw. This was, for sure, my Beatles moment. (I liked the dark one best.) I then saw them live on a TV show for which I happened to be in the audience: There were two bands miming to their songs, and they were one of them. Since then, it hasn’t always been easy being an ABBA fan, unlikely though that now seems. When I started making music and told people I liked Bob Dylan and ABBA, people assumed I was being a smartass. It wasn’t what politically correct people liked back then. Bronski Beat, maybe, but ABBA, not so much. Nowadays, we live in a post-ABBA world: Muriel’s Wedding, Mamma Mia (the musical, the movie, the cereal). But for ABBA purists, I suggest the small purchase of the soundtrack of Chess the musical: music by Andersson and Ulvaeus, lyrics by Tim Rice. And a listen to “2nd Best To None,” which ABBA never was. Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Dexateens

If you listened to David Lowery—and you should always listen to David Lowery, because he had a dream last night but forgot what it was—you took his advice about Alabama roots-rock band Dexateens, who recently released Singlewide (Skybucket). It’s a double feature tonight; here’s a promo video for the album and the clip for leadoff track “Down Low.”

Promo video for Singlewide:

“Down Low”:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjE26jJFnUQ