Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 383: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Attraction Is Ephemeral” gets more laughs than any other Mecca Normal song. We wrote it a few days before we went into the studio to record the album it was on. Dave had the music ready to go, and I picked up a poem I was working on. I hadn’t thought of the poem as song lyrics, because it was long and involved. We recorded it in our rehearsal space as we wrote it—something we’ve done since we began playing together in 1984—and it was perfect! When we write like that, we have to try and replicate arrangements in subsequent versions. On this occasion,, our strategy was to stop working on it for fear of taking it too far away from its initial greatness. I listened to it over and over, and then, by the time we were recording it in the studio, it was only our third or fourth time through it.

Because of the graphic nature of a couple of the scenes, I was pretty nervous about performing it live, but it turned out better than I expected because the audience at most shows laughed in all those spots—albeit, a nervous sort of empathetic laughter. Sometimes I actually had to stop and wait for them to finish laughing before continuing to sing. That people laughed at most shows made the ones where they didn’t easier to do. Those people stood there quite grumpily with their arms folded, not laughing. No, not at all. And yes, I guess there are some circumcisions where it is inappropriate to sing about a man having trouble putting on a condom.

“Attraction Is Ephemeral” from the album The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 382: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In 2015, music critic Jessica Hopper included her review of Mecca Normal’s album The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) in her book The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic. Originally written for the Chicago Reader, Hopper began the two-page spread by saying the album was “so mercilessly honest and personal it’s hard to believe it can exist in the pop-music marketplace.”

Hopper calls “I’m Not Into Being The Woman You’re With While You’re Looking For The Woman You Want” self-explanatory, adding that it is “a glowing example of the interplay between vocals and Lester’s guitar, which is equally distinctive and powerful.” Other than that, she doesn’t spend much time on the sound of the music. Which, when forming Mecca Normal in the early 1980s, was part of an overarching strategy to limit what could be said about the music because it’s typically one electric guitar. It has always been important to David and I to read what critics say about the various types of injustice that Mecca Normal elaborates on, and I knew I’d be hitting a nerve with an album about a middle-aged feminist’s online dating experiences. And indeed, it was cringe worthy to the no doubt, young, male critics at Pitchfork who added it to their list of Top 25 Worst Album Covers of 2006. It’s actually a really good cover, but they wouldn’t be equipped to know any such thing.

The line in Hopper’s piece that has stuck with me is near the end, after she references the book Are Men Necessary? In the 10 years since the album came out, I have, from time to time, wondered about her assertion that I was suggesting that “independent women wind up alone.” I don’t believe I was, although there is a built-in, unavoidable truth to the statement.

If I had met a man with whom life was more fun, that would have been fine, but now, 10 years after I wrote those songs, being alone feels pretty much like winning the lottery.

“I’m Not Into Being The Woman You’re With While You’re Looking For The Woman You Want” from the album The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 381: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

London-based artist Hew Locke was at the Miami artist residency while I was there for the month of February in 2013. He was in town on official Art World business, and I was painting fiendishly in the main room of the house with all these professional, Art World artists coming and going. Lovely people, but it was somewhat terrifying to be exposed like that. All in all, it was a grand time!

It’s great listening to Hew speak about how he designed the London Tube Map cover. It’s a beauty!

I had a very interesting exchange with Hew at the artist residency. There I was, day after day, painting the No Coal series while various artists walked past my table and out the back door to talk, eat, smoke and/or drink in the back yard. Other than art school (in the late 1970s), I’ve always painted alone. To me, it’s a private thing best done in solitude—let alone that these were all professional artists with gallery representation, accountants, etc.—their work is collected by actual museums, for God’s sake!

I just kept painting.

There was an open studio event planned where various Miami collectors and art lovers would arrive to meet the Art World artists. I decided to participate, even though it was basically for the Art World artists, but there I was in the middle of things with a bunch of finished paintings, so I decided to hang them on the wall for the open studio night. At some point, Hew came through the room, and we got to talking. I explained that the paintings were done by Martin Lewis, a character in my novel The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art and that I’d also just recorded an album with segments from that novel turned into songs that I sing. Hew was quite excited by all this, saying he’d never heard of anything like it—paintings by character in a novel and an album, all connected. It was a thrill for me that he was genuinely intrigued by the additional information I gave him. It’s complicated to explain—especially when I start talking about my imaginary friends, etc. Plus, it has been years in the making; the culmination of which has not yet arrived.

Update on the elements: After several rounds of revisions, my literary agent decided the novel wasn’t for her, but it has been submitted to other agents and is being considered by an independent publisher. I’m hanging onto the dozen or so No Coal paintings I did in Miami for exhibition events when the novel is published. The album Empathy For The Evil came out in 2014 … 2015, really. The Black Dot Museum of Political Art itself functions online, but I am still trying to figure out how to launch a bricks-and-mortar version of it based on the novel and my time in Miami.

“Convince Yourself” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 380: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Ice Floes Aweigh
The queen mother calls to mother west wind.
“Let’s be nice, alright? Bless the castle, and the titles, and protocol.”
Dad asks if there’s anything I’d like to ask, like, before he dies,
anything I’d like to know.
I ask, “Dad, where did your dad come from?”
But what I’d really like to ask is,
“Why did you throw that huge glass of chocolate milk at me
when I said I was moving out, at 17?
And did either of you read my last book?
And why do you tell people
you’re going to kill the man in the trailer next door?”

I’m waiting here alone, drinking tea instead of gin, I’m respectable!
My brother tells me, on the phone,
“Civilized people do not leave their parents in their old age.”
I have ice floes in my mind, everywhere white.
Fur-trimmed mittens, arms linked.
The backs of hooded parkas. The mist whips between them and me.
Ice floes aweigh. I feel guilt and relief.
I should run after them, bring them back, and serve them tea.
The desire to run after them disappears.
I grab the door of the plane, hoist myself in.
I don’t look down.
Are they waving up at me?

Tea is at 11 and again at 3. Breakfast comes right after coffee,
which is at 8, with a muffin or a scone.
Breakfast is oatmeal and lunch is at noon,
dinner is at 6 right after the 5 o’clock news.

Dad talks too much, stories from 35 years ago;
something someone said at the office is still bothering him.
Or what about the time he threatened to throw the tax auditor down the stairs?
Or the time he turned the hose on the guy next door.
Or what big losers Margaret Atwood and Joni Mitchell are.

The queen mother calls to mother west wind.
“Let’s be nice, alright? Bless the castle, and the titles, and protocol.”
What I’d really like to ask is,
“Why’d you throw that huge glass of chocolate milk at me
when I said I was moving out, at 17?”
The queen mother calls to mother west wind, to mother west wind.
“Bless the castle, and the titles, and protocol.”

“Ice Floes Aweigh” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 379: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In late February, I was beyond thrilled when an artist whose paintings were exhibited in the 2014 Whitney Biennial bought a painting from my ongoing series of $100 portraits, and soon thereafter made this bold comment on my Facebook page.

“Jean Smith is a fucking genius. She is one half of the long running avant garde band, Mecca Normal and she is a published novelist and lately she is writing and posting lengthy tender reports on the banality of aging, living, loving, working. She is unsentimental, but her work always leaves me with my own bruised longing exposed.”

—Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art Institute of Chicago; Visiting Critic, Yale University School Of Art

tag: art, labor history, tender reports

“No Mind’s Eye” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 378: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“The eight-minute title track finds father and daughter at each other’s throats.” —Franklin Bruno, Boston Phoenix, in a review of Mecca Normal’s album The Family Swan

Back in 2002, when this song was written, no one, least of all my parents, thought they’d still be alive in 2016! They have become physically more frail, yet mentally, at 91 and 96, they are pretty together. They live independently in a mobile home par, and I talk to them once a week on the phone. My rapport with both of them has changed drastically. For the better with my father, with whom I am now quite unfiltered. I’ve allowed him to see how amusing I am, and we laugh a lot more than we used to! With my mother, the elder of the two, I feel more distant as her hearing and memory fail her.

It is surreal to be doing and selling portrait paintings after quitting my most recent part-time job in mid-April. Surreal because I began painting self-portraits at age 13, and now I’m painting full time, reconnecting with what became a secondary practice for many years. Secondary to music and writing. Thirdary, really. Surreal because, so far, I’ve been able to earn enough to pay my bills painting! Also surreal because my parents (the semi-autobiographical subjects of the song “Family Swan”) were both professional painters, and now, suddenly, they’re very interested that I am selling paintings hand over fist from my Facebook page.

They are very critical and vociferous people who tend to express their negativity with a certain amount of glee. Having done some work on myself in recent years, I was only slightly nervous about showing them a silent video of all the paintings. Turns out they were very impressed! Years after I stopped wanting or needing parental validation, I got me some!

I recently added a monologue to the video of all the paintings that touches on my early introduction to the concept of quality, and my indoctrination into believing that paintings are about human interactions and, essentially, part of those same interactions.

“Family Swan” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 377: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

At the BC Book Prizes in Victoria on April 30, BC BookWorld publisher Alan Twigg received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. In his acceptance speech, he thanked David Lester and four other people who contributed to his life’s work as a writer.

“For the last 29 years, David Lester and I have been doing BC BookWorld. I could not have done this by myself, and the fact that Dave has been with me, not just as a friend but … his values are so high that he keeps me doing what I do.”

—Alan Twigg

My sentiments exactly! Congratulations, Alan! Well done (and thank you), David!

“I Hear You” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 376: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Excerpt from a letter of high praise, that reveals a comparison of David Lester’s artwork on the cover of the summer edition of British Columbia History magazine with that of Henry Moore, the seminal British sculptor.

“As much as I’ve benefited from listening to and experiencing your music, your visual art has struck me even more strongly. When I was in my 20s, I remember having a similarly strong response to the sculpture of Henry Moore. Until seeing your work, I thought for sure that that response (which I can’t yet describe adequately) would remain singular.

It shouldn’t go without saying thank you for that. You’ve put a lot of good energy into a world that sorely needs it.”

—John Brodeur, clinical instructor in education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Every Wrong Word” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 375: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

David Lester’s impeccably drawn “The Battle Of Ballantyne Pier” has been published in an anthology called Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories Of Working-Class Struggle. It’s fantastic that they got a quote from Noam Chomsky! “This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labor organizing should inspire us to ‘dream of what might be’ and to act to bring it about.”

On a different, but related front, David has posted some of the first drawings for his graphic novel in progress about Emma Goldman.

“In January” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 374: 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 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

After I cleaned out my locker at Home Depot and shoved everything in my packsack, I got two bags of soil and a few plants, and strapped them to the trolley-thingy. It was very heavy, but it seemed like the whole thing would hold together for the 30-minute walk uphill to my place. It was a fairly warm day—definitely in the high 60s—and, because I didn’t have room in my packsack for the ski jacket that had been in my locker since I was hired in February, I had to wear it. I’m sure this added a touch of the absurd to the image of a 57-year-old lady towing bags of soil across the quarter-mile long viaduct in shorts with windswept hair poking out from under her cap. I must admit I’d wondered if a fellow I met at a photo opening days before would take the hint and pick me up after work, but no. He’d messaged me on Facebook telling me to let him know if I wanted to go for a coffee, which, for some men is as close as it gets to actually asking a woman out. I know. I know. It’s tough. I told him I was working. He asked where and I told him: the garden center at Home Depot. Easy enough to find. I told him it was my last day, and I posted my plan to lug soil home after work, but no. He didn’t magically arrive. That would have been too much, and these things just don’t happen. Not to me. Not any more. I am one who lugs my soil home alone. Grumble grumble.

I made it through the busy intersection without the whole thing coming apart in some sort of cartoon implosion sequence with honking car horns and swearing motorists. I cut over to a quiet side street thinking that someone might, in a better world, stop their car and offer me a ride. I was about halfway up the hill when I heard a voice calling my name from inside a parked car. I ducked down to see who was in the driver’s seat. It was painter Joyce Woods! I told her I’d just quit my job—like, just minutes ago—to paint! The incredible thing is that Joyce bought the very first one in my $100 Paintings series!

It was very sweet of her to offer me a ride, but since I was already halfway there—and feeling much better about everything—I figured I’d continue on my own. Happily alone.

“Revolution#Pine” from the album The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

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