Normal History Vol. 635: The Art Of David Lester

Every week, 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 37-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Protest songs might be about very specific situations or more general concepts. Bob Dylan’s “Only A Pawn In Their Game”—about the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers—is very specific, but refers to the overarching injustice of racism. The song remains a vital document because racism still exists, but also because the story’s barrage of details renders it cinematic. It becomes universally accessible because of its unique details, not in spite of them. This would have been the kind of thing I was thinking around the time of writing “Don’t Shoot.” I didn’t want to rely on platitudes about protests, but neither did I want to create a character-driven story, so I focused on a place. A park down the street from where you live, where cigarette smoke rose and beer bottles were passed. Where some of us couldn’t stand up, wouldn’t stand up or couldn’t be bothered to stand up in various states of apathy and denial. By bringing in the “don’t shoot” phrase attributed to American officer William Prescott at the Battle Of Bunker Hill in the American Revolutionary War, I intended to connect past and present with a familiar line describing distance between oppressor and protester. A distance, horse speed and gunshot equation. In the case of my song, distance is physical, but it could also be philosophical.

The song is populated by loosely sketched characters in a setting that can be easily imagined. A galvanizing order has been uttered—both solid advice and a challenge. Pick your battles, engage strategically, but before that maybe examine the way culture immobilizes potential threats to the status quo.

Dont Shoot” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1988) (download):