Normal History Vol. 306: 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 30-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

An excerpt from “Behind The Scenes Of Empathy,” my audio notes on the making of the album:

There is such a thing as supporting the things that you appreciate. If that support doesn’t come, are we then hinged to an inevitable stopping our project, our group, our output because we can’t get enough support in terms of record sales? That’s kind of unlikely, but yet, in another way, our time is limited of course because now that we’re in our mid-50s—how many more albums are we going to do? How many more tours are we going to do? If people don’t want to buy the album because they already know about Mecca Normal—do we then say, well we don’t need to make another album. Is that what we have to accept? Or do we remove ourselves from what people think of us? How little people think of us. And not base our value on the evidence of the economy that there just aren’t enough people who want us to exist, so therefore we must stop. I would be inclined to resist that in the same way we resisted forming in a traditional way. I believe it’s possible that we continue with very little interest or support—that’s never been what is has been about for us, but it does feel awkward that maybe nobody else is looking at it that way, that they think, “Oh, these people, unless they’re independently wealthy, must have to survive somehow with their very unlikable band that doesn’t sell enough.”

“The Dogs” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Mary Hampton

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

MaryHampton

Roberts: I’d like to draw the attention of MAGNET’s readers to the work of the English musician Mary Hampton. I think she’s one of the most interesting songwriters currently working in Britain. There’s a singular grace, wit and intelligence to her work, which goes deep into the history of song and into her various other interests and preoccupations, which are demonstrably wide-ranging. She sings her finely wrought lyrics in a beautifully nuanced voice with a combination of fragility and confidence, usually accompanied minimally and tastefully by tenor guitar and her own distinctive instrumental arrangements. As well as her own songwriting, Mary is a fine interpreter of traditional song—both her own songs and her versions of older ones can be heard on albums such as My Mother’s Children and Folly.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Singer/songwriter Will Oldham, better known by stage name Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, released his latest album, Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues, last fall and now has a new video for the song “Blindlessness.” The clip shows Oldham blindfolded in an empty room playing the somber track on an acoustic guitar, while the video slowly presents hallucinatory imagery. Check it out below.

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MP3 At 3PM: The Fleas

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New wavers the Fleas ready for the release of their new album, Telling Tales, due out in April. Now, they’ve released a single from the LP for free download. “Born To Run” is an energetic mess of soul, electronics and perfection. The music appears as odd at first listen, but when you hear what all the different instruments are doing together, it all makes sense. Download the track below.

“Born To Run” (download):

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Vintage Movies: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, 133 minutes)

It’s funny how things can fall into your lap just because you write for various indie-rock magazines—MAGNET being top of the heap. In 1994, I got a free pass into an all-star benefit concert for storied San Francisco rock promoter Chet Helms, the Texas transplant who ran the Avalon ballroom back in the ’60s, in competition with Bill Graham’s Fillmore auditorium.

While sipping a beer in the dressing room of Big Brother & The Holding Co., 25 years after their lead singer, Janis Joplin, flew the coop, a grizzled, muscular guy walked up to me and introduced himself. It was Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, as well as the former leader of a loose-knit entourage calling themselves the Merry Pranksters, a vital part of the early SF rock scene, before LSD was declared illegal. I didn’t think to ask Kesey if he liked Jack Nicholson’s performance in Cuckoo’s Nest, but I can’t imagine he didn’t dig it.

In an opening sequence, parodied five years later by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining, a car is seen in the distance far below, winding its way through rugged, dew-soaked Oregon back country early in the morning. Instead of a luxurious ski resort, the car pulls up in front of a mental hospital just as the morning shift is reporting for work, and the driver opens the door for a handcuffed man in a knit cap. “OK, my friend, let’s go,” says the driver, leading the man inside.

A sugary female voice over the hospital PA announces, “Medication time,” as if instructing a kindergarten class. The stupefied inmates line up to take their morning meds under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). A crazy half-laugh reverberates from the rotunda stairs above as a few of the inmates observe the new arrival, J.P. McMurphy (Nicholson), as he’s signed into the joint for what he believes will be a short stay. One of the uniformed guards removes the manacles from McMurphy who promptly jumps up and down, screeching like a baboon, then grins at the other guard and kisses him squarely on the cheek.

McMurphy is brought to the office of Dr. John Spivey (Dean Brooks) for evaluation. “What a pleasure it is to meet you,” says Mac. “Sure, pull up a chair and let’s talk,” replies the doctor. “That’s a helluva fish, there, doc,” says Mac, noting a photo on Spivey’s desk. “It took every bit of strength I had to hold it while they took the picture,” says Spivey, reviewing McMurphy’s rap sheet. The doctor says, “You’ve got five arrests for assault. What can you tell me about that?” Running his fingers through greasy hair, Mac answers, “Five fights, huh? Rocky Marciano’s got 40, and he’s a millionaire.”

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Sorley MacLean’s “Dàin Do Eimhir Agus Dàin Eile”

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

Sorley

Roberts: I thought I should choose something—an individual and/or and a particular piece of work—to represent Scotland’s rich Gaelic history. The sad fact is that I don’t speak Gaelic myself, although I find the language, the music, the culture all beautiful and hugely appealing; I suppose in part it’s the mystery of it that adds to that appeal—the sense of its foreignness to me as a non-Gaelic Scot of half-German parentage. Sorley MacLean was a major figure in Gaelic poetry (not to mention in Scottish, European and world poetry, more generally) of the 20th century. One thing that interests me about his work is that he’s definitely a modernist yet is also harking back to something very ancient. Of course, poetic modernism doesn’t necessarily imply a complete break from the literary past—consider the influence of the so-called “metaphysical” poets on Eliot, or of the Mabinogion on David Jones, or the mediaeval trouvère tradition on Pound. What’s different in MacLean’s case, I think, is that he has a genuine ancestral connection to an age-old Celtic culture of a heroic, bardic nature. Dàin Do Eimhir Agus Dàin Eile (or Poems To Eimhir And Other Poems) was his first published collection. It is a sequence of 48 poems, written throughout the 1930s and first published in 1943; broadly speaking they are “love poems,” but they also touch on contemporaneous European sociopolitical affairs and happenings such as the Spanish Civil War.

Video after the jump.

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MP3 At 3PM: Cariad Harmon

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Cariad Harmon, an NYC-based singer/songwriter with a soothing, angelic voice, released her self-titled sophomore album in November and now offers a track for free download. “Like You” seems more hopeful and happier than her other songs, which shows how brilliantly Harmon can move around the LP’s themes of hope, loneliness, the human condition and relationships. Download “Like You” below.

“Like You” (download):

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Film At 11: Elliott BROOD

Elliot BROOD is not a person, but rather a Canadian alt-country trio. They released Work and Love last year, and they now have a new video for “Jigsaw Heart.” The clip is comprised of pieces, puzzle pieces if you will, that when put together shows a night at an Elliott BROOD show with frequent hallucinatory imagery. We are proud to premiere the video today on magnetmagazine.com. Check it out below, and check out the band’s tour dates after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Carl Gustav Jung

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

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Roberts: My next choice is a towering figure of 20th century thought, and one whose ideas have had a big influence on me artistically in various ways over the years. Such is the breadth of Carl Gustav Jung‘s work and the scope of his achievements that it’s difficult to single out one particular concept that has been especially important for me—it’s more the fact that certain Jungian notions resonate with one more at certain periods of one’s life than others. For instance, his alchemical conception of the “lapis” or “wonder-working stone”—which in my interpretation is a sort of grail-like object, emerging from complete psychic integration, found or revealed at the very end of the Quest—led to me entitling a record of 10 songs I recorded with a bunch of musician friends a few years back, A Wonder Working Stone. In that instance, I envisioned the pursuit of the wonder-working stone as very much a communal thing. By contrast, the concept of “individuation” has been on my mind more recently, in part because I understand that it’s supposed to happen to a person at around the age that I currently happen to be … and this is the main reason that my new Drag City release, which I’d now like to take the opportunity to plug, is self-titled.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Sleater-Kinney

If you don’t know who Sleater-Kinney is, you probably aren’t very up to date with music at all. These woman created an explosion when they appeared on the scene in 1994, and their legacy still impacts many bands today. After breaking up in 2006, they reformed last year and announced that they would be releasing new music. Now, they share a new video for “No Cities To Love.” The clip features MAGNET cover star Fred Armisen, as well as a surprising cast of other celebrities, belting out the tune. Some scream into their webcams as others dance in public, and it’s an extremely clever and original idea for a video. Check it out below

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