Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 418: 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 1989, on the return leg of a West Coast tour, we drove the 640 miles from San Francisco to Olympia, Wash., and played two shows in one day. We opened in Eugene, jumped back in the car, my 1972 Impala, and made it to the Portland show, after which we drove a couple more hours to Olympia to sleep.

Back in the ’80s, we toured various sections of North America three and four times a year, but this crazy plan was an anomaly. Typically we steer away from super long drives—and we make tours enjoyable by including interesting stops (art museums, thrift stores, the Tabasco Sauce factory) and good food (olive tasting at Granzella’s in Williams, Calif.)—so I’m not sure how a 640-mile drive ever got booked, since we do all our own booking.

I’m also not sure whether the two album reviews below appeared before or after this particular tour, but considering Calico was our second album (and our first on a label other than our own), it was truly exciting to read these. I don’t think we’d heard of Gerard Cosloy yet, and we certainly didn’t know we’d be moving from K Records to Matador Records within a year or so.

“Jean’s the one with ‘that voice,’ a completely riveting presence that’s only more powerful when backed solely by Lester’s guitar. Zero star potential, they’d sound totally incongruous coming out of your radio, but so would Woody Guthrie, so don’t worry about it.” –Conflict, 1989, by Gerard Cosloy, who joined Matador Records the following year

“This is quite powerful stuff. Jokers like Bono and Bruce could certainly learn a few lessons from this.” –Vicious Hippies From Panda Hell, a Portland zine

“Don’t Shoot” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 417: 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.

After a woman named Beth saw Facebook photos of the studio visit with Tom Anselmi (formerly of Slow, Copyright and MIRROR) and a painter friend of his buying my paintings, she wanted to come over, too. She messaged me in the middle of a convo with another interested party, an entrepreneur who, along with Tom, has ideas for selling my paintings in L.A.

I decided to schedule both studio visits on the same day. The entrepreneur at 11:30 a.m. and Beth and her husband Bob at noon. I figured half an hour would be almost enough for the entrepreneur and then Beth and Bob would arrive, and if the entrepreneur was a serial killer, I’d grab the intercom and buzz Beth and Bob in and they would save me. Right? Fiction writer here.

But then the entrepreneur messaged asking if a little after 1:00 p.m. was OK. I said sure, but not without wondering how I was gonna avoid being killed since now Beth and Bob were scheduled to arrive first. I wondered about telling Beth (who I’d never met) that I was a bit concerned about the entrepreneur arriving and maybe she and Bob could stay a bit longer, to make sure he wasn’t a serial killer, but then I got a message from her saying they were canceling because of the snow! At that point it seemed like the three of them were working together to make sure I was dead by dusk. One way or the other.

Shortly after the cancellation message, Beth messaged again saying they’d take the bus, but, as it turned out they were somewhat late and then we got talking about punk shows from a million years ago. By 12:55 p.m. Beth had only looked at half of the paintings. I realized that the entrepreneur was going to arrive before she’d made a decision. All three people were going to be in this small room at the same time.

The buzzer rang. I encouraged Beth and Bob to take their time and everything would be fine. I went downstairs to open the door for the entrepreneur, to explain that the noon customers were still here. Once we got up to the deck, he said he’d wait outside. I stood out there for a few minutes, periodically looking in at Beth’s progress. Paintings in each hand, paintings being set down, picked up, piles being made, but there was one painting that seemed to be staying in her right hand. The entrepreneur looked in the window and said, “Is that the one I want?”

“Shit,” I said, recalling that he had in fact mentioned a particular one, but because he was originally coming over first, I didn’t pull it. Damn. I explained this to him and we waited. The painting didn’t leave Beth’s hand. Damn.

When the entrepreneur and I came inside through the sliding glass door, Beth had three of them propped up in a chair. It appeared to be her final decision. Including the one in question. No Hat #124, which was painted and posted for sale two months ago.

I apologized to Beth for not taking it out. I explained how the switch in appointment time affected this error. I felt the painting was being held for the entrepreneur and it was my mistake for not pulling it.

Beth found another painting, making an even stronger group of three, and they left happy (after I’d invited myself over for dinner to deliver the one painting that still needs a layer of gloss on it). She has since contacted me wanting to buy three more for a total of six, which ties the record of paintings sold to one buyer!

“Fight For A Little” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 416: 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.

Thomas Anselmi—former singer in Slow (circa mid-’80s, cited as an influence on grunge)—came over with a painter friend to look through about 125 paintings in my $100 USD series.

“I haven’t actually seen you since … well … ” I said, walking ahead of them on the stairs.

Tom filled in the blank. “Since I was a teenager?”

Slow was made up of what at least one Vancouver media outlet called out-of-control teenagers. Tom messaged me briefly in late 2016 saying that he was moved by the paintings I was posting on Facebook. What transpired a couple of months later wasn’t just a studio visit resulting in three sales, it was an energy-infused meeting with ideas for showing my paintings in L.A. in situations not unlike the How Art & Music Can Change The World events we’ve presented since 2002. An art exhibit, Mecca Normal songs and a lecture connecting our history to that of riot grrrl and the PNW DIY movement of the ’80s and ’90s.

This is pretty exciting stuff in my otherwise quiet life. In fact, it got a bit too exciting near the end. After Tom had paid me for Girls Dominated The Landlines AKA The Phone, he brought out his wallet again and wandered, all eyes on him, to where the painter had made a pile of the ones he was interested in buying. Suddenly Tom was holding No Hat #138 and the painter was saying, “Hey, that was in my pile!” and Tom was saying, “I showed you this one before we even got here,” and I’m saying, “Settle down fellows! Have some of that Tension Tamer Tea I poured half an hour ago!” (even though it was Bengal Spice).

In the end Tom managed to pay me for No Hat #138 before the painter could get it back off him. Crikey, selling paintings IRL is pretty heightened stuff. I could get used to it!

“My First Love Song” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 415: 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.

“One Woman” is David’s favorite song on Calico Kills The Cat, K Records’ third album release (1989).

“Musically, it revolves around two chords,” David explains. “One rises, one falls. The struggle between the two worked perfectly with the lyric content: one person’s efforts for change.”

Calico is filled with similar stories—various unique individuals’ efforts for change. Like the K Records site says, “This one’s got it all: love, murder, hate, frying pans, jealousy, prison, bullets, bonfires and a blue TV behind the iron curtain. Wordsmith Jean takes on the world.” And rather than simply being text in an advertising campaign (circa 1989), it’s evidence of the way I tend to infuse the music David creates with lyrics that are explicitly political.

The painting series I started a year ago isn’t always, painting by painting, overtly political, but since I’m known as a cultural activist, I feel a lot of support for what I’m doing, yet I feel pressure to make the paintings more political. Part of my project includes making a living selling the paintings in order to create, exhibit and perform my “more political” work as Mecca Normal, but I feel a sense of guilt at not having political art ready for every injustice as it happens—which is implausible at the current rate injustices are being hurled.

On Thursday I made and posted “political art” out of my “not always overtly political” paintings of women using an animated music video featuring my paintings in a Devo cover band. This got me to thinking about how art can be used after it is created to make “more political” statements later on. Also … political art can be funny. I don’t know what other people’s paintings have done recently, but mine have formed two cover bands and made music videos.

Sometimes people ask me why I don’t paint celebrities. Maybe it’s going to be more interesting to use non-famous subjects and see what happens to them after I paint them.

“One Woman” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 414: 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.

Back then (in my teens), I was crazy about rock, alcohol, boys, In Concert, The Midnight Special, and I may have been what my mother called “over-sexed”—who knows? I was interested in skinny musicians with incredible hair and all their carry-on about women. I wasn’t really thinking about the exact meaning of their lyrics. It was the intensity of their proclamations and accusations—the pain of love and the lust pouring out of them whilst they were wearing rather girly garb. I suppose I learned about who I might become through their reaction and response to invisible girls whose whereabouts and proclivities I didn’t know much about. One thing was for sure: The girls they sang about elicited powerful reactions in these guys. And, for all I knew, all those girls had their own bands with better lyrics and louder guitars that I simply hadn’t heard yet.

Like, what did Jackie Blue‘s band sound like? And what was the name of Angie‘s band anyway?

“Blue TV” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 412: 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.

Maybe I got it wrong. I thought the teenage albums list-making exercise on Facebook was designed to create a sense of tactile community through the act of sharing something quintessential about ourselves while considering that others had shared something about their origins and were contemplating ours. That it was based on music from our teenage years was smart because it diversified the input through different eras. Those who were teens a long time ago were confronted with lists made by people who were teens more recently, and that made “us” realize that our formative years were differently lived through in terms of music and the limitations that surrounded getting the actual music and finding more music. Perhaps people with bands like Fugazi, Hole and the Breeders on their lists were struck by something fundamental when they saw the lists of older people. I’m not sure about that. Maybe that part was more obvious.

I thought the list-making exercise intended to point out that the number of hours spent formulating lists could well be applied to future endeavors with other objectives that perhaps had more significant results. I thought that was a clever way to imply and expose a mobilization process and its potential.

“Fight For A Little” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 411: 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.

Last month, when that Facebook list was going around, I worried about “spending my time” listing albums I had as a teenager that left an impression. After all, I’m a hard-nosed cultural activist, not a dabbler in internet games. I took the opportunity to show what the actual male-dominated lay of the land looked like. I listened to, and was impacted by, male rock bands (implying that there weren’t many women in rock, which is why I started a band some years later).

1. Led Zeppelin IV
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival Willy And The Poor Boys
3. Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?
4. V.A. American Graffiti
5. Neil Young After The Gold Rush
6. Ethel Merman Annie Get Your Gun
7. Rush Rush
8. Nazareth Razamanaz
9. Deep Purple Machine Head
10. Bee Gees Best Of Bee Gees (1969)

I don’t see any women-fronted bands on the American Graffiti double album. I don’t recall noticing this as a young teen, seeing the movie and buying the album to then study how soundtrack material functioned within fictional storylines. Like, in the original trailer (and probably in the movie itself) when radio DJ Wolfman Jack asks, “Where were you in ’62?” and the answer comes 14 seconds into Danny And The Juniors’ single “At The Hop.” Somebody had thought to sync that up. That was worth thinking about. But then again, my dad was in advertising and I’d already been in a sound studio in Vancouver where jingles were recorded.

When you think about it, American Graffiti—both the movie and the songs on the double album—were largely about women and girls. The standard stalking, tricking and getting of them, set in the early ’60s, when cars were perhaps the equivalent of cell phones today. When a guy wanted to talk to another guy, he had to drive around town to find him. I have an idea that girls dominated the landlines.

Only one album on my list was made by a woman. I positioned her in the middle, surrounded, as it were, by the men, and she’s singing, “Anything you can do I can do better!” in the role of Annie, from “Annie Get Your Gun.” This is significant to who I was then and who I became. I’m not sure how I came to own that album, but I liked the competitive rivalries in the storyline. Annie the marksman and Ethel the singer: the weapon, the voice. Right in the middle of this song, Ethel proves she can hold a note longer than the man she’s sparring with who boastfully claimed he can hold a note longer than her. These things made an impression! That voice. For the win!

When I finally did hear female rock bands that I related to, I immediately wanted to be the band—or at least half a band! Having said that, when I was 10 or 11, the photo on the cover of CCR’s Willy And the Poor Boys inspired me to make and play a washtub bass that resulted in a short-lived CCR cover band with Heather and Leslie. I included that album on my teenage list because it was still a favorite into my teens and to this day. What’s not to like? Other than that there are no women in the band.

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

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Normal History Vol. 410: 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.

More than 30 years later and my phone is still unplugged, and neither David nor I have ever had cell phones. Having said that, he and I have great phone conversations every week during which life and art are discussed with a heightened enthusiasm for all that has happened and for all that is yet to occur. Then, beyond that, we immerse ourselves in our projects without the derailment that telecommunication results in.

“Phone’s Unplugged” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 409: 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 mid-December, I used an unreleased Mecca Normal song (one that we’d kind of forgotten about) as a soundtrack for my currently available $100 paintings. I’d been looking through random sound files when I came across “Critical,” which turned out to be from the same sessions as our most recent album, Empathy For The Evil, which we recorded with Kramer in Miami Beach in late 2012.

After editing and posting energetic live videos of our shows with the Julie Ruin in October, it was a great departure to find such warmth and clarity in Kramer studio production on a song we’d forgotten about. Also, after so much scrutiny and evaluation of the meaning of recently performed material, trying to keep the political and especially feminism front and center, “Critical” hangs on the one word with very few other lyrics involved, most of which I’m not sure what they are as it was totally improvised. The song features our recording engineer Frank Falestra (a.k.a. Rat Bastard) on guitar near the end.

We performed this week’s song “Beaten Down” in our set opening for the Julie Ruin in Portland, where we had a slightly longer set. It’s a strange sort of nose-thumbing poetic prophesy that I always find particularly satisfying to sing live. “Maybe some of us will and maybe some of us won’t all grow up to be beaten down.” —Jean Smith, 1984

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

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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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