Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 310: 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.

Of all the songs on the new Mecca Normal album I’d say “Between Livermore And Tracy” bears KRAMER’s mark of sonic ingenuity most in its soaring conclusion.

You may recall me writing about my father’s health in late 2012 after he had a series of heart attacks and strokes. “Between Livermore And Tracy” is about leaving for Miami to record the new album while he was still in the hospital with acute delirium.

Not wanting to be a downer, I wasn’t going to tell KRAMER about my father, but a pal of his had already seen my posts on Facebook (where ideas for this column sometimes arrive) so he’d been briefed on my possible state of mind. I was afraid telling KRAMER about my father might make recording too emotional (it’s hard to sing when you’re crying), but, as it turned out, it was all OK. Funny how interacting with other humans can sometimes be such a good idea and at other times, not helpful at all. It’s often difficult to tell which is going to be the better course of action. To stifle or spill.

“Between Livermore And Tracy” is really the first thing we did when we got into the studio. I didn’t set out to explain the situation. It was spontaneously created from my writing at that time. I’d never heard the music David started playing. I added piano as he played guitar, and then I sang, opening up what had been deeply felt. KRAMER added his part at his studio in Fort Lauderdale after we’d flown home, whisking what David and I had created together in a way that has come to symbolize the entirety of the recording project and how writing was very helpful to me while my father was literally not himself. And when I say writing, I mean the readers for whom I write—including myself.

“Cherry Flowers” from Dovetail (K, 1992) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 309: 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.

Most of songs on the new Mecca Normal album, Empathy For The Evil, are about narcissism and the abuse of power—concepts we’ve heard quite a bit about in recent months. Much has been said about the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby situations, and, in Ghomeshi’s case, how the term BDSM (interpersonal activities of dominance and submission based on consent) can be exploited and used to imply consent where none was given.

Lyrics on this album are directly out of my two most-recently completed novels. In Obliterating History – a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage a 54-year-old woman carefully selects a partner to explore BDSM. Trust is paramount in their relationship.
 
In my other novel, The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art, narcissist Martin Lewis explains, “It isn’t that I enjoy hurting people, but I do enjoy the reaction to pain. The surprise. The fear. The confusion. It’s very empowering to make people react. It’s as basic as that.”
 
The song “Odele’s Bath” provides back-story about Lewis’ mother—who grew up poor on a potato farm in New Brunswick. In the song “Maisy’s Death”, we go back farther to the death of Odele’s mother, to gain some insight into how that may have impacted Odele in her formative years, when her father basically treated her as a stand in for her mother.
 
While reading about Ghomeshi, I found a very thoughtful article by Gabor Mate, in which he too illuminates possible scenarios in which narcissism might develop in formative years.
 
In researching novel-writing, I kept hearing that readers—especially women—want female characters to do important and exciting things, so I figured I’d go ahead and have my protagonist cure narcissism, which is actually an incurable personality disorder. The song “Normal” illuminates the background of the woman who ends up curing narcissism.

“Held” from Dovetail (K, 1992) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 308: 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.

Facebook is great for my cardio. I’m almost always leaving home late for work because I just want to post or read one more comment. This means I have to run most of the way to work.

Three blocks from work yesterday, I stopped to unclog a storm drain beside a large park. There was a giant pool of water on the street with a short and sturdy stick beside it, on the grass—no doubt a toss-and-fetch stick for the dogs that frequent the park on less rainy mornings. I started poking around in the water, looking for the drain, flinging semi-rotted leaves out into the middle of the street. What fun! The water began flowing as I freed up the grate from my crouching position on a slight incline on the muddy grass. This is when I slipped and went down right on my butt. Happily my foot didn’t go into the freezing water. It was quite funny, really. Fifty-five-year-old lady on her ass at the side of the road. It took me back to when I was about seven years old—playing in the mud after school with a boy named Danny Dennett, re-routing streams in a section of the school playing field that was mostly clay and horsetail. We stayed way too long, and my mother came looking for me in the car. Kids teased me at school the next day, saying Danny was my boyfriend. I was mortified. I don’t think Danny and I ever spoke again, but I still remember pushing that smooth, grey clay around with our sticks and boot heels.

Anyway, I ran faster than usual to make up the time, but I was totally smiling—still feeling like a little kid. When I got to work, my hands were all dirty from the stick and I had mud on the back of my jacket and my packsack. My shoes were soaking wet, but luckily I brought dry socks!

“Throw Silver” from Dovetail (K, 1992) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 307: 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.

The new Mecca Normal album, Empathy For The Evil, is finally out. A full three months after we completed our Boston-to-D.C. tour in October, CDs and LPs are finally available online and, ideally, in record stores.

The album has already charted number one at WNYU (New York University) and CKUT (McGill University, Montreal) and number two at CITR (UBC, Vancouver), KAOS (Olympia) and CJSR (Edmonton).

Quite a few reviews and interviews have already appeared.

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

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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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Normal History Vol. 305: 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.

That our new album, Empathy For The Evil, was not available while we were on tour in September—and won’t be available until some time in January—is problematic in many ways. I can only think of one other time when this happened. In 1989, we did a cross-country tour before Calico Kills The Cat was actually released, and while we were definitely not happy about that, there were many good things that happened as a result of that tour.

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

“Listening is the gateway to understanding what it’s like to make music. One might imagine that there’s a lot of emotional release, there’s a cohesiveness with the people you’re playing with and this intense sort of structure and adherence to various … you know, it’s like a culture … its own individual … your band is a Petri dish and things have to coalesce in certain ways or things are out of whack. It is a truly great experience.”

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

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Normal History Vol. 304: 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.

Two weeks before Christmas, I received an email inviting me to my brother’s for Christmas, but not on Christmas Day. It was an invitation to dinner on Christmas Eve and it wouldn’t be turkey. OK. Whatever. As usual, it would be my parents, my brother and his partner, and me. My brother suggested I phone him to work out the details. It sounded simple, but there are oh so many ways this could get screwed up. Once, I was uninvited from the whole thing and I sat in this room alone on Christmas. Which was weird, but OK. I made a film about a movie I watched on TV.

I phoned my parents before calling my brother to confirm this plan and found them to be in the initial stages of a revolution. “If there isn’t going to be a turkey, we’re not going!” They had decided that the three of us could get a turkey into the bloody oven and have a proper dinner on Christmas Day at their place. I started to do what I am best known for in my family: getting things back on track. I didn’t want to have a hand in derailing my brother’s Christmas plans by swooping in and making turkey dinner with my parents, but then my mother told me that my brother told her that I could “make my own way” to his house way out in the fucking boonies and suddenly I was talking turkey about joining their revolution. “If he can’t pick me up at the SkyTrain, I’m not going either!”

I calmed down and decided to ask my brother to reconsider the turkey. I phoned him and left a general message. He phoned me and left a message about wanting to talk to me before he talked to the parents. “I’m around, but I’m working in the backyard until dark.” I decided not to call him until after dark to allow him to enjoy such a mild December day, but when I did call, the line was busy. Too late, I thought. The parents are probably already on the phone telling him they’re not going to Christmas.

When I finally got him on the phone he said Christmas hadn’t even come up with my mother. She was threatening to leave my father because he’d discovered pay-per-view on their relatively new big-screen TV and he was watching Planet Of The Apes and he wouldn’t turn it off when she told him to. My brother reminded her that she should have gotten onto leaving him sometime before 95 years-of-age. She told my brother to tell his partner to phone my father and get him to stop watching Planet Of The Apes. I told my brother that his partner didn’t have to do any such thing and really, they should set some boundaries with these parents of ours.

“You don’t have to hear about all these crazy things,” he said.

“Remember when Dad and I stopped talking for three years?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, after that, they treated me a lot better. They don’t want to jeopardize our relationship.”

I was dreading calling my parents for our regular Friday night phone call. I didn’t want to get into the Planet Of The Apes thing. I talked to my dad about this and that, and then he passed the phone to my mother who wanted to tell me about Christmas lights in the neighborhood. No mention of leaving my father or pay-per-view or men dressed up as apes taking over her living room. She asked when I’d last spoken to my brother and I said earlier that week. She said she couldn’t recall the last time she’d spoken to him, but she was definitely looking forward to turkey dinner on Christmas Eve.

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

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Normal History Vol. 303: 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.

Some years ago, I met a man through online dating who lived in a fancy house on one of the Gulf Islands. I went to visit him there a couple of times. He basically bossed me around, tried to fatten me up on cheese (which I wasn’t opposed to) and acted like an entitled jerk. By the end of it, I’d learned that he was a hate-filled Zionist with a personality disorder who wanted me to sever my connection with Dave because he had created a poster of Mordecai Vanunu for his Inspired Agitators series.

He also wanted me to stop making art. He explained that if my art wasn’t making enough money to live on, then my art was no good, and within the construct of our capitalist system, I would have to stop making it and accept that I was better suited to a menial job. I think he suggested washing floors in the cafeteria we were sitting in. He was convinced that the value of art was in its ability to generate an income.

Which reminds my of another fellow I dated who, while I was unemployed, suggested that I could go door-to-door in the neighborhood asking residents if they needed the ashes swept out of their fireplaces. I didn’t take his advice—or internalize his lowly opinion of me—instead, I wrote a novel and this novel is currently being submitted to major publishers by my literary agent.

While I’m deliriously happy to be single and free of running commentary from jackasses, I find that random philosophies of conventional thinkers return to me when I attempt to evaluate responses to Mecca Normal. And by responses I mean financial returns. It is hopeless, of course. But to me, it doesn’t compute that I need to stop releasing albums because I cannot make a living selling said albums.

I feel very fortunate to have made a life out of emotional and intellectual ephemera—songs and shows and the conversations on the long drives between those shows during which David and I spend a lot of time strategizing. We come up with ideas for new work and for making an impact with our existing work. This scheming is something we consider part of the Mecca Normal oeuvre (if you will). Left to our own devices, we can make a lot of things happen without much in the way of resources. We are very cautious about how we proceed. Trouble tends to arrive when we need other people to follow through on their part. The trajectory of this new album has been extremely arduous in many ways—from flying to Miami to record while my father was lying in a hospital bed suffering from acute delirium, to finding out that the LPs and CDs were not available while we were on tour in September, and that they will not be available until the middle of January—three-and-a-half months after their official release date.

How did this happen, and will it derail sales potential of this album?

“Dead Bird’s Feet” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 302: 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.

Remember back in September when we went on tour to promote our new album? Perhaps you looked at some of the articles and interview content that I have linked over the past few months. Would you then be surprised to learn that the album—the physical CDs and LPs—have not yet arrived in stores? The LP is still at the record pressing plant, and the label is waiting to put both the CD and LP into distribution at the same time.

As a basically DIY group, it’s difficult not to become immersed in all the aspects of making and releasing an album. Once you’ve started booking tours and scheduling interviews, the content—the words and music—starts to fade. I’ve said a lot about the songs on the album, but now I find out that the physical album isn’t even out yet. Should I start my promotional campaign again, at the beginning, describing the songs and the overall idea behind the album? I feel like an idiot for having said everything I wanted to say about this album on a schedule that didn’t relate to its release.

Now what?

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

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Normal History Vol. 301: 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.

On Sundays at work it’s my turn to do Product Knowledge at the morning huddle. Sometimes I talk about pots and pans, sometimes food. Recently I held up a bag of sesame seeds, pointing out that they have high levels of both iron and calcium, which is utterly uninteresting at out store because nutrition is not what we’re about. At all. It’s all cookies, cakes and pies … and duck fat. It’s actually been pretty weird coming from the fitness industry to gourmet food.

This past Sunday I spoke about Dr. Bronner’s soap, which is new to us and somehow we’re selling it for $12.49 when other stores in the area (large and small) are selling it for between $9.99 and $10.99. So I asked, “What’s the protocol when customers ask why our prices are that much higher?”

A very nice older lady (a longtime friend of the owner’s) slowly explained the concept of buying in bulk for cheaper and that’s how … blah blah blah … I had to interrupt her because she was cutting into my performance time with her boring answer. I wasn’t finished with the fucking soap, which, you may recall, has all that religious mumbo-jumbo all over its label. With my fingertips lightly pressed to my chest, I addressed the 15 staff members assembled with a straight face. “As you may or may not need to know, I myself am an atheist, so it’s all crazy talk to me.”

No one reacted. OK, maybe one or two people chuckled.

The store manager said he’d take my question about overpricing to the Operations Manager. I had time for one more shot before we all headed off to our various functions.

“Maybe customers expect to pay more when they come to our store!”

No one disagreed.

At the end of the day, another nice lady offered me a ride home. Very nice of her—plus, we get a chance to talk a bit about work. Once settled in her car, I asked how she liked my Product Knowledge segment and she said, “Were you raised atheist?” To which I did a sort of double-take because being raised atheist is simply a matter of not being dragged off to church or being told strange and implausible stories about someone named God and his kid Jesus. Being an atheist is normal.

“My mother was more into nature,” I said. “How the seasons impact plants and animals and … ” 
”So … ” the nice lady interrupted, looking at me over the top of her glasses. “More like Native people.” And for the life of me, I felt she was on the cusp of calling me a heathen. 
”Well,” I said. “She did have black hair and she was adopted and she doesn’t know her ethnicity and some people are convinced that I’m indigenous to South or Central America … ”

By then it was time to get out of the car. In the darkness I walked across the orange maple leaves to my doorway. With each step, I reconnected with who I am when I’m alone. I saw my reflection in the glass of the door. Hat, coat, scarf, glasses. I am not a downtrodden middle-aged lady who runs around a store for eight hours serving the general public. The next day I wrote an email to the Operations Manager asking to be laid off after Christmas. That didn’t go over well at all. She said that no, she would not lay me off, which reminded me of the punch line of the only joke I know.

“Mary,” the boss says to his employee. “I have to lay you or Jack off.” 
And Mary says, “Can you jack off? I have a bus to catch.”

Now I’m not at all sure where things are at. I feel like a snake-oil soap salesman trapped within a community of very nice cake-decorating church-goers.

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

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