Normal History Vol. 702: 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 39-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Beppo’s Room” is named after the guy whose apartment we stayed in before, after and sometimes during our tours of Europe in the ’90s. Beppo. Short for Joseph for Giuseppe, evidently. But the lyrics don’t seem to have anything to do with Beppo, who we hardly knew.

The song is about color and sound, which, as a subject, sounds downright hokey. Hopelessly folkie. We were recording in Augsburg and I was low on lyrics late in the session, so this became a set of words to work with in the same way whatever chord structure Dave came up with was what he went with. We were thinking in terms of an album, so something like this (fade in, fade out … keep it short) was fine. I didn’t feel under pressure to write a quintessential feminist anthem on the spot at whatever point of the tour we were at (very close to the end, as I recall). To be clear, any such pressure would have been internally generated.

Historically, we got great results musically by going into studios on the road, so I sometimes looked for available studio time on our scheduled days off. This album (Sitting On Snaps) is made up of several sessions in on-the-road studios, when stream of consciousness, fatigue and unfamiliar settings resulted in a heightened musical connectivity between Dave and I, bolstered by being mid-tour and therefore very fluent in our skills. Also, we have a longstanding ability to thrive in times of adversity.

In addition to Augsburg, we also recorded songs for this album similarly (on the road) in Massachusetts, Montreal and Seattle.

Back to Beppo. I’m not sure if that’s who Dave was thinking about with his drawing that becomes an illustration when I write something under it—not the only thing we do that is somewhat backward to the norm. I always get a kick out of footage from a mid-1990s show in Chicago when I’m singing “Joelle” over Dave’s loudest playing after which he brings it down, no doubt hoping I’ll add vocals in this quieter section, but I don’t seem compelled to sing at all, which would be the sensible time to sing, when there’s far less noise going on. Instead, we have a brief conversation that results in some hilarity … in front of a packed house at Lounge Ax.

The young Beppo we met seemed to be smiling all the time. Not a care in the world, it seemed. If this is Beppo now, there are stories to be told about what he has endured since then.

Beppos Room” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):