Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 408: 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.

In December, Courtney Jaxon bought one of my paintings called No Hat #116 aka Shanny McIntosh. I don’t actually know Shanny, but there was something compelling about the photo I based the painting on.

Courtney is a musician and vintage clothing retailer in Arcata, Calif. Shanny is a curator and writer from Hudson, N.Y., who participated in a live art event at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, Ore., in October that included several of my paintings and a short documentary film I made about my work.

As far as I know, Courtney doesn’t know Shanny, but rather, the painting affected her in some way, which is what I intend to have happen. It is that response to the work—and not essentially the subject—that is very encouraging. Even when I take on commissions (which I rarely do), I am heartened by clients who express a particular point: The painting doesn’t need to look like the subject!

Most painters don’t connect with potential buyers as immediately as I do. I photograph paintings and post them on Facebook as soon as they’re dry. Response time is an integral part of the process. Some have sold within a few minutes, which is a phenomenon difficult to replicate in any pre-internet era.

Later in December, the Director of Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA (where the live art event took place) bought the second painting based on the same photo of Shanny.

These paintings are two of the more realistic ones I’ve done. When I started painting for a living almost a year ago, I assumed that the higher the degree of realism, the more popular a painting would be, but I have been very surprised to find out this isn’t true. Putting my paintings in front of what is primarily a Mecca Normal audience has allowed me to veer away from realism in the same way I make music. The degrees of divergence away from convention that the two disciplines maintain seem oddly hinged to each other. Maybe like two lines on a chart that reflects both daytime (audio) and nighttime (visual) temperatures (responses). They aren’t parallel lines, but they relate to each other.

“I Walk Alone” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 407: 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.

I recently switched email programs. The new one gave me the option to upload audio notification, so I added part of a song I created a few years ago. As it turns out, this wee bit of audio fits into almost every film or whatever music I might be listening to when an email arrives.

It’s me telling me, “It’s OK,” a few times. I mean … I know it isn’t actually OK, but I feel better hearing it. If anyone wants it for their email program, let me know and I’ll send it to you.

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

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Normal History Vol. 406: 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.

I have to admit it was a bit difficult to settle back into the very quiet life of the painter after playing a few very exciting Mecca Normal shows in October. It always feels like a great luxury to be in front of an audience, especially ones that might know something about our history.

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

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Normal History Vol. 405: 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.

It was a real thrill performing “I Walk Alone” at our recent shows opening for the Julie Ruin. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a big show or a small show, moving through the audience, singing at the top of my lungs, is a powerful and empowering experience.

We now have a handful of new, unrecorded songs that put forth similar sentiments. It feels great to have performed them in front of such appreciative audiences. Now we’re officially looking for a record label to release our next album!

“Not With You” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 404: 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.

Are You Hungry Joe?


The guy said, “Are you hungry, Joe?”
And Joe said, “Yes sir, yes I am.”
The guy said, “When’s the last time you ate, Joe?”
And Joe said, “I don’t quite remember when.”
The guy said, “What’s the worst thing about being hungry, Joe?”
And Joe said, “Almost worse than the pain in my stomach, is knowing that nobody loves me. I could live or die and nobody loves me. Scares the hell out of me. Can’t talk no more. Can’t talk when I cry.”
“Are you hungry, Joe?”

“Are You Hungry?” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 403: 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 first song on Mecca Normal’s first album (1986) questions where we get our information. At that time, Reagan had been in the White House since 1981. News sources were limited to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.


Who Told You So?
What do you think?

What do you know?
Who told you that?

Who told you so?

“Who Told You So” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 402: 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.

Odele’s Bath
Their cast iron clawfoot tub, raised up on bricks to make room for the fire beneath it. After supper, the bath regime began with Odele’s father climbing in first to soak for the better part of an hour, after which, when her mother was alive, she’d be next, but she tended to make it quick. After her—the boys, one at a time. Finally it was Odele’s turn. Frequently she had to chop more kindling to stoke the fire and wait until the water warmed up again. She pulled the sash of her pink chenille bathrobe tighter and swung the axe more accurately than any of her brothers, splitting wood like she was slicing bread.

Truly alone, she sat on her thinking rock, poking embers, vowing that one day she’d take baths twice as long as her father’s and soak in bubbles until the cows came home. When she had a child she’d spoil it. It could eat cake all day long for all she cared. Odele shifted the wood with a twisted iron rod so familiar in her right hand that it was invisible to her. All week the iron rod hung beside the leather strap in the shed, next to the soap, until bath night when, individually they held it like a mediaeval weapon, jabbing it into the heart of the fire as heat flushed their faces and alone, they allowed themselves to imagine episodes of liberation—and even retribution—as they prepared to bathe their scrawny hillbilly bodies in murky water beside an unnamed stone on which the soap sat. Unnamed by everyone except Odele. It was her thinking rock, although she’d never said it out loud to anyone except herself. It was here that the term run through with an awl played over and over in her head and she blamed the rock for making her think it. This was what happened when she sat on the thinking rock. It made her think awful things about her father. She blamed the rock for putting things into her head and she thought it best to say them, to let them out, rather than save them, in her head, fearing that she might blurt out run through with an awl instead of please pass the potatoes at dinner.

Odele kept her small bottle of bubble bath in the pocket of her chenille robe. As she dribbled it across the dirty water she repeated her chant, run through with an awl. Naked, one foot on her thinking rock, she used the soot-blackened poker to agitate the bubbles, and she laughed at how she must look, the real Odele, and she added to her chant—if all eyes were on me now.

The saving grace of her otherwise woefully lacking existence was that her father was not a man of god. Unlike her schoolmates traipsing off to church, Sundays were her own. Not to run through fields of buttercups, but to catch up on her chores. Odele sometimes found herself glancing skyward while she squeezed dirty water out of a mop, thanking god that her father was not a religious man, thus cracking herself up enough that she twigged onto how humour worked—it split apart the dark tendrils tightening in her gut and around her heart, soothing her like a slug of moonshine, but laughter didn’t burn and make her cough. Odele tried to find external sources to make herself laugh, to reduce the internal grumbling in what she knew was not her soul—nor was she hungry, unless what she felt could be called a hunger to express herself. If she laughed or cried her father got angry. He was a man who was staunchly confused about most things, but in his role as the head of the household, he felt compelled to have strong opinions. Anger was the only emotion he let his family see. He pontificated wildly, combining nuances of opposing stances, putting on a show. All bluster. Odele tried to follow his logic, but when she was nine she heard the word irrational uttered by her mother while they were going through the remnant bin at Hester’s Dry Good Store.

Irrational. She made the word her own.

By the time she left the farm at 16, Odele had eaten enough green beans to last her a lifetime. Emancipation from what she regarded as emotional tyranny came by way of the SMT Eastern bus line and her overwhelming determination to never again eat anything green.

“Odele’s Bath” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 401: 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 the name of the history of large gatherings with feminist orators, I’m boldly pairing David’s incredible drawing for his graphic novel about Emma Goldman with a message we got on the Mecca Normal Facebook page after we opened for the Julie Ruin in Portland on October 9

“Saw you all perform in Portland last night and I cried. I’ve never heard a band sing about anguish // misogyny, and right after watching the presidential debate, I was feeling it really hard. Us younger folks need this music! Feminism hasn’t infiltrated everywhere yet, but us young people (of all genders) need to hear your perspective. It gives historical context and gives me strength for the future. So happy I came to the show, so happy you two are still fucking rocking it. Thank you thank you.” –Kale

“Maisy’s Death” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 400: 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.
Dave and I were in our green room in Portland before the show. Kathleen came in and told us that she personally dealt with my vocal-mic issue during our set the night before at the Showbox in Seattle. The fact that it was cutting out was annoying, especially in a song like “Attraction Is Ephemeral,” which has a lot of words. I dealt with it by gripping the mic farther down where the cable meets the hardware, but it was uncomfortable and really distracting to have to think about while singing. I had no idea she’d gone over to the board and asked them if they were going to fix it. I was shocked! No wonder the sound tech guy arrived so fast and replaced the mic and cable so quickly!!

But before that bit of conversation, when Kathleen walked in I said, “You were totally lit in Seattle!” and without missing a beat, she pointed at me and said, “You were totally lit!!”

This was my inaugural use of the word “lit” so I was very happy with the occasion and the results. A high school teacher from Puyallup had taught me a few bits of current teen lingo the night before.

“Naked And Ticklish” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 399: 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.

I don’t think I’m crossing any lines here. All pretty innocent stuff. And it isn’t indicative of how Mecca Normal is as a band and maybe it doesn’t reflect anything at all about the Julie Ruin either.

When we got to the Showbox—Seattle’s iconic 1,100-capacity rock venue—there were four or five big, burly, bearded guys (BBBG) waiting out front for us. Our friend Jack kindly drove us to the show, and he was very impressed with this treatment at the front doors, after which he was directed to park his car for free in the lot next door.
 Jack went somewhere for dinner, and we went inside. While we were sitting at a table waiting to soundcheck, the promoter (the umpteenth BBBG I’d seen and really only a small percentage of the staff was on site at that time) came over and introduced himself.

After a few pleasantries, I said something awkward like, “How is your payment protocol scheduled?”

And he said something like, “What???”

So I stood up and said, “When and where do I get paid?”

He said I’d go to the front desk after we played and one of the guys would take me into the back office. So, after we played I went to the front, leaned across the counter and yelled over the music to BBBG #46 that I wanted to get paid.

“For what?” he asked.

I motioned towards the stage and said, “I just sang in the last band.”

He asked me my name, motioned for me to wait and disappeared into the back. When he reappeared, he let me in through a side door and I followed him into the office to meet the woman who was going to do the paying. BBBG #46 left and we got down to business, but before we’d gotten very far, BBBG #46 was back, standing in the doorway, saying, “They need two mugs.”

He had one hand on his headset, still receiving details about this situation. The woman paying me straightened up from the paperwork she’d been bent over. She put one hand on her headset. It appeared she was getting more information from another source. She told whoever was on the other end they were working on it. Payment ground to a halt as they tried to figure out what to do about the mugs.

“They want coffee,” BBBG#46 said with just the slightest nuance of reaction to such rock ‘n’ roll extravagance.

“Check the kitchen,” the woman said, who showed the same teeny-tiny touch of frustration that the band wanted something. Just a smidge. Not really even worth mentioning, but they let me see it without any hint of awareness that maybe I know the band or that, at the very least, I am of that same ilk. An artist playing their venue and hey, I’m sure all sorts of crazy stuff happens around riders—what needs to be backstage, etc. This was all really nothing, but I was intrigued to be behind the administrative front lines for this minor interaction. I just stood there quietly.

BBBG #46 said, “I could just go next door to Target and buy two mugs.”

“Check the kitchen first,” the woman said again.

BBBG #46 left and payment resumed.

It really wasn’t anything. Maybe I’ve even entered the realm of creative non-fiction here.

When I got a chance to tell Dave the story I suggested that, on our way home, we stop at Target and buy two mugs as souvenirs. Here’s mine!

“One Man’s Anger” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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