Normal History Vol. 411: 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 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Last month, when that Facebook list was going around, I worried about “spending my time” listing albums I had as a teenager that left an impression. After all, I’m a hard-nosed cultural activist, not a dabbler in internet games. I took the opportunity to show what the actual male-dominated lay of the land looked like. I listened to, and was impacted by, male rock bands (implying that there weren’t many women in rock, which is why I started a band some years later).

1. Led Zeppelin IV
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival Willy And The Poor Boys
3. Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?
4. V.A. American Graffiti
5. Neil Young After The Gold Rush
6. Ethel Merman Annie Get Your Gun
7. Rush Rush
8. Nazareth Razamanaz
9. Deep Purple Machine Head
10. Bee Gees Best Of Bee Gees (1969)

I don’t see any women-fronted bands on the American Graffiti double album. I don’t recall noticing this as a young teen, seeing the movie and buying the album to then study how soundtrack material functioned within fictional storylines. Like, in the original trailer (and probably in the movie itself) when radio DJ Wolfman Jack asks, “Where were you in ’62?” and the answer comes 14 seconds into Danny And The Juniors’ single “At The Hop.” Somebody had thought to sync that up. That was worth thinking about. But then again, my dad was in advertising and I’d already been in a sound studio in Vancouver where jingles were recorded.

When you think about it, American Graffiti—both the movie and the songs on the double album—were largely about women and girls. The standard stalking, tricking and getting of them, set in the early ’60s, when cars were perhaps the equivalent of cell phones today. When a guy wanted to talk to another guy, he had to drive around town to find him. I have an idea that girls dominated the landlines.

Only one album on my list was made by a woman. I positioned her in the middle, surrounded, as it were, by the men, and she’s singing, “Anything you can do I can do better!” in the role of Annie, from “Annie Get Your Gun.” This is significant to who I was then and who I became. I’m not sure how I came to own that album, but I liked the competitive rivalries in the storyline. Annie the marksman and Ethel the singer: the weapon, the voice. Right in the middle of this song, Ethel proves she can hold a note longer than the man she’s sparring with who boastfully claimed he can hold a note longer than her. These things made an impression! That voice. For the win!

When I finally did hear female rock bands that I related to, I immediately wanted to be the band—or at least half a band! Having said that, when I was 10 or 11, the photo on the cover of CCR’s Willy And the Poor Boys inspired me to make and play a washtub bass that resulted in a short-lived CCR cover band with Heather and Leslie. I included that album on my teenage list because it was still a favorite into my teens and to this day. What’s not to like? Other than that there are no women in the band.

“Women Were King” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):