Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

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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Normal History Vol. 373: 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.

This blurb has been a mainstay in the Mecca Normal press kit since 1993, when Gina Arnold wrote it for the San Diego Reader. I had no idea that she had to deal with ongoing vitriol and harassment for 10 years while writing her column for Planet Clair.

I don’t think I’ve ever thanked Gina for this review! It was definitely fuel for us along the way!! Thank you, Gina!

“Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith would be a heroine in any age: her beautiful harsh voice, her uncompromising lyrics, her sheer performing dignity guarantee her that. But until you see her face down a crowd of hypocritical and uninterested punk rockers, you don’t know what true heroism is. Smith’s music is dissonant, deeply felt, feminist, courageous.” —Gina Arnold, San Diego Reader, 1993

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

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Normal History Vol. 372: 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.

Nice response to my resignation letter from the HR guy at Home Depot:
Hi Jean,
I am sorry to hear that you are leaving us. Can I do anything with your schedule to retain you? I enjoyed having you here. Thanks for letting me know.
HR guy

My reply.

Hi HR guy,

Thank you very much for trying to accommodate me. I really appreciate the gesture.

Here’s what happened. In February, while I was somewhat desperately looking for a job, I started painting a series of $100 USD portraits. I posted them on my Facebook page with the hope that I could sell a few to pay part of the rent. The first one sold within five hours, and then a couple of hours after that, someone offered to pay me in advance for the next one! The series is called The Hat—basically, it’s a woman wearing a floppy black hat. I painted about 30 of these (11″ x 14″) in February and sold more than half of them!

I started painting self-portraits when I was a teenager (both my parents are painters, and I’ve always painted, which is why I applied for a position in the paint department), but it never occurred to me that there’d be a market for general portraits. I’ve had two painting instructors (including one from the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago) buy them, as well as a painter whose work was in the 2014 Whitney Biennial (one of the most important art exhibits in the world). An art critic who writes for Artforum magazine bought two! I’m really quite in shock over all this!

I think I recall you saying you play music, so maybe you can relate to my history. I’ve been the singer in a band for 30 years (with 16 albums out on excellent U.S. indie-type labels … one with a four-star review in Rolling Stone), and while things were good in the 1990s (with bigger shows and advances from record companies), it’s currently tough to make a living in music—or the arts. I also write novels. I have a literary agent submitting one of them to big publishers in the U.S., but it’s been more than a year now. I keep all these things going because it’s what I do. Occasionally, I present a classroom event or we play a show that pays OK. As an artist (and a single person), a part-time job takes the pressure off the art, but I can’t let that job destroy the creative balance I maintain.

Back to the painting. In March, I painted half as many as I did in February and half of those sold, but working at Home Depot in March was disruptive to both my early-morning writing schedule and to having enough time to paint.

If I wasn’t having this current success with painting, I would have stayed on and worked out the schedule with you. I need to see where the painting is going while there is interest in what I’m doing! I hope you understand.

Out of respect for the way you approach your position at HD and the kindness you have shown me, I wanted to tell you the back story. I hope it isn’t too long or too much.

All the best, HR guy!

—Jean

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

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Normal History Vol. 371: 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.

A while back, I went down to Horses Records to see a couple of bands play. It was an early show, but it was already dark as I walked alone down a quiet side street. I saw a guy ahead of me who looked like he might be going to the show, too. Maybe it was the across-the-body strap of his bag and the set of his woolly hat—and I took into consideration that I was probably totally wrong because that whole area has had an influx of young people and it seemed more likely that he was just one of them going to a cafe along the same stretch of East Hastings that Horses occupies.

Before we got to the corner, he crossed the street and went into the bank to use the ATM. At that moment, a 1970s muscle car—an orange and black Charger—pulled up at the light with “Smoke On The Water” playing through a rolled-down window. It was great! And the guy driving looked a lot like Burt Reynolds. The light changed to green, the Charger drove on and the guy with the hat and bag came out of the bank not having seen or heard any of it. I thought to myself, “If that guy is at the show, I’ll tell him about the small incident that he missed.” You know, just for fun. I crossed the road and walked past a slew of sandwich boards outside restaurants and coffee shops that weren’t there five years ago when this was … what do you call a neighborhood before hipsters move in? Working class? I dunno. Unpretentious? Not that I actually have anything against pretension.

I go into Horses, wander to the back and talk to Dan of the fantastic band Lt. Frank Dickens. There are only a few people in the store, but the guy with the hat and bag is among them. Eventually, while we’re standing around waiting for the replacement PA to show up, I tell him my story. He immediately uses a sentence that has the phrase “my girlfriend” in it and I’m thinking, “Oh yes, I get that. Don’t worry young bearded man with glasses, I’m not hitting on you.” I continue talking, referencing changes in the neighborhood, and he responds by saying that his father brought him here in the ’90s—when he was a teenager. Yes, yes, I understand young man. You have a girlfriend, and I’m 30 years older than you, but don’t worry, I’m not hitting on you. Really really really, I’m not. I’m just talking to you. Good lord.

Later, while he’s engrossed in examining LPs in the bins, I notice his head snap around when someone I’m talking to asks about my music. Still holding up the LP, he’s staring at me as if his assumptions about an old lady hanging around a record store chatting up young dudes such as himself has been blown out of the water. Quite a lovely moment. Not nearly as lovely as the Burt Reynolds look-a-like cruising E. Hastings with “Smoke On The Water” blasting from his muscle car, but still quite good.

“In Canada” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 370: 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.

Back in late January, when I filled out my application for Home Depot I put “unstable owner” as my reason for leaving the Gourmet Warehouse. I’m sure they’d know what I was referring to.

I would have liked to contribute to a small business where my work ethic, skills and ideas were respected, but working at the Gourmet Warehouse was nothing like that at all. Working for Home Depot makes me realize what being involved with the lunatics at Gourmet Warehouse was doing to me. I am so much happier now even though it’s a dollar less an hour.

I’ve been told that some of the folks at Home Depot “bleed orange” but I think it’s going to be OK to come in, do the work and maintain a healthy work and art balance. I don’t want to “move up” or get too involved. It all starts to unravel when people want to play the game.

“Don’t Heel Me Like A Dog Just To Break Me Like A Horse” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 369: 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’m not sure if it was late last night or early this morning. Either way, it was dark and my eyes were closed when teeth popped into my head. Painted teeth.

This morning, before I saw the “memory” that Facebook was prompting me to “share,” I did a little sketch of an idea I had for a new series. Then I chatted with a couple of guitar players—both women—about the possibility of forming new bands. This was very exciting, but it was getting later and later and I wanted to have time to paint the first in what I hope will be a new series. The “Angry Woman In Rock” series: teeth and tongues in passionate mouths singing loudly, intense women with furrowed brows holding a Shure 58.

“OK Here We Go” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 368: 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.

My father has a character he draws for my mother, a beagle called Mild Dog. It’s a simple line drawing of a dog with a couple of spots on him, but I think he’s quite important in their relationship. I see evidence of Mild Dog when I visit them. Christmas cards from Mild Dog, little notes from Mild Dog on her breakfast tray. I don’t say too much about it, because it’s their private thing. Just like when my brother and I used to kill ourselves laughing when my dad called my mom by her maiden name initials. In a tender moment, he might for instance say: “I love you IC.” And this sent my brother and I scrambling off, covering our mouths, to the other end of the house where we could laugh without them hearing us. Imagine your father calling your mother ick! Oh, it was grand. As were the beautiful canned asparagus sandwiches on white bread with mayo that my mother made—rolled up sandwiches with the crusts cut off—that were left-over in the morning after whatever kind of party I’d basically slept through the night before. Seems to me the sandwiches were somewhat better for having sat out all night on the kitchen counter. My brother thought they were gross, so I got to eat them all.

This reminds me that I woke up this morning hearing a crow pecking at the roof above me and I thought I was back in my childhood bedroom. I lay there with my eyes closed and put everything into place—where my bed was, the color of the curtains—and I stayed there, in childhood. For quite a while this morning, I was 10 years old again.

“All About The Same Thing” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 367: 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’ve been posting old photos on Facebook, which has more to do with moving stuff around my apartment to make a bigger space to paint in than any sort of nostalgia. I found a box of old letters last night, including one addressed to me, sent from my dad in 1966 when he was in NYC working as an art director for a Vancouver ad agency.

The drawings (cartoons, really) were part of an ongoing situation while I lived at home. My dad would walk up to me and hand me these things, and I’d laugh. It seems like it happened all the time over the years. I should have saved them all. No idea why I didn’t, but I kept my favorites. In what other conditions is daily life turned into a personalized cartoon? He still makes things like this for my mother, but her reaction has never been as good as mine.

“The Way Of Love” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 366: 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.

Continued from Vol. 365

I shop in small grocery stores where the doors never close, and I’ve often wondered how those poor cashiers can stand it in the winter. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but the December wind did blow in from the street, and although I didn’t have my glasses on, it seemed to me like the guy on the sidewalk with his hand out asking for money from customers leaving the store, was staring straight at me, smirking. And, at that moment, it did seem like he had the better gig.

On day two, a supervisor told me he’d be moving me to another till.

“Thank god!” I muttered. I’d heard they took turns to avoid having one person stuck at the coldest till all day. I was ushered from till number one to till number two and told that the conveyor belt had broken, so I’d have to ask customers to push their groceries forward—and I’d have to reach for them. While reaching may seem like a simple enough action, doing it for six hours is not good. Plus my wrists were now hurting a lot from the twisting to scan the barcode action that the trainer had warned us about. I didn’t go back after Christmas. I sent them a farewell letter that included some recent news I’d received about an L.A.-based film producer who wanted to make a documentary about … well, my life. I told Whole Foods that I needed to go to L.A. immediately to begin working on the film. No reply. Since then, the L.A. filmmaker has stopped communicating entirely, and I’ve been hired at two other places. I left a kooky dress store with a terrible shoplifting problem after the first day, knowing I just didn’t have it in me to defend the garments with the same intensity the owner demonstrated. Furrowing my brow at crackheads with an unwavering glare that intended to prevent them from trying to slide hoodies down the front of their pants was not going to take me to retirement. On that same day, I was hired at Home Depot, but they weren’t offering me enough hours to live on. They’d only scheduled for between six and eight hours a week to work in the garden center. But none of this bothered me, because I was on an upswing with my real work. I was painting a lot, and some of it was selling!

“Step Into My Sphere” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 365: 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.

Continued from Vol. 364

The eight-hour shifts punctuated with strictly monitored breaks dragged on. My back ached, my wrists hurt and evidently, I wasn’t memorizing the 100-plus codes fast enough. This particular Whole Foods had previously been a quirky, neighborhood grocery store. It didn’t have a fancy conveyor belt for groceries after they’d been rung in. There was a walled-in area the size of a shoe box where the cashiers (who for some reason rang through groceries as fast as they possibly could, then stood there picking their fingernails or whatever) piled everything, meaning that baggers were constantly swamped.

We were periodically moved from till to till, and some cashiers ended up as baggers during the day, which I could see was how the staff conducted their socializing. Of course no one would want to do my bagging because they wanted to talk to their friends. Plus, I was new and a lot older and whenever anyone did bag for me, I asked them the produce codes rather than looking them up. I’d hold up a chunk of turmeric root or whatever and try to engage with them in a variety of ways.

“Any idea what the code is for this little baby?” I might ask. Or maybe I’d use an English accent. “Say old chap, in your vast experience, have you ever bumped into one of these little beggars?”

Yes, I can understand why I did my own bagging. And I can see why they put me on the till closest to the door that was almost never closed. I was new. To be fair, there was a small heater at by my feet, and I was allowed to wear my coat and hat.

Continued in Vol. 366

“The Orbit” from the album Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1996) (download):

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