Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

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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Normal History Vol. 398: 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.

Portland was such a great show for us! At the end I almost cried. OK, I cried a little. To be on a huge stage with great sound and a strong set opening for the Julie Ruin was utterly incredible!!

On each of the three nights Mecca Normal played, keyboard player Kenny Mellman and Kathleen Hanna said amazing things about us from the stage. In Portland, it was quite surreal to listen while we were standing in the audience. Particularly funny: Kathleen suggesting a TV pilot idea: me working at Home Depot!

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but after the Vancouver show we were basically invited to play the remainder of the West Coast shows. This came about because I wanted to make sure Kenny knew we had originally told the booker way back whenever that we were up for all the shows, but evidently that wasn’t possible.

As I locked the door to my apartment, ready to hit the road, I wondered how many 57-year-old women left their home not knowing if they’d be back in a few days or a few weeks. Very exciting! Adventure ahoy!

On the drive to Seattle, Dave and I talked about continuing south. I was actually a little bit surprised that he was up for it. I mean, he has an actual job and a wife. He said he’d have to fly home from L.A., but otherwise he was in. That left me to drive the rental car back alone, which was fine, actually. I had my video camera and 40 hours of blank miniDV tape that I’d had sent to our U.S. HQ south of Seattle. I figured I’d take the coastal route home and make a film on the way.

The one thing that seemed problematic was that neither of us have cell phones, and I opted not to bring a laptop because the two I have are a bit sketchy at the moment. So it would have been difficult booking motels and flights etc. without technology. All workable though.

In Seattle I didn’t get a chance to talk to Kenny. I tried to read his body language, but couldn’t come up with anything conclusive. I dunno, maybe he cries at the end of every show and invites every opening band to continue playing at shows where they’re not even on the bill. Kidding. Yes, I heard him say we’re his favorite band. Who knew?

Everyone in TJR seemed busy getting ready for the show. I didn’t really want to go barging up to Kenny to ask if he was serious or what. I got no sense whatsoever if we were continuing on to San Francisco and beyond or turning back after Portland, so we started to think it wasn’t happening.

At some point at the Wonder Ballroom, I cornered Kenny and said, “I need closure on this thing!” I didn’t want to never know what happened with the idea. Incredibly, Kenny said it was still in the works, that the booker was trying to add us to the remaining shows. I was shocked! It wasn’t until the very end of the night that we learned we weren’t going. Contracts had been signed months in advance and it just wasn’t possible. I think it was difficult for Kenny to tell us, but really, for us, it was OK. We were basically fine with it either way.

It’s a long way with only one driver in the band and we both like to be a bit more prepared for adventures of this magnitude. We absolutely would have gone for sure, but it’s always good to leave them wanting more and we’re hoping there will be other shows and tours with them. It’s a great combo!

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

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Normal History Vol. 397: 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.

Prelinger Archives
Over the years, various filmmakers have taken an interest in making a feature-length documentary about Mecca Normal. One Montreal-based director made it as far as a National Film Board Of Canada meeting, but that’s where the project ended. We have a fair amount of usable footage from a variety of sources and several good stories to hinge things on.

The video I put together for “Between Livermore And Tracy” (from our 2014 album Empathy For The Evil) reminds me of all this. I suppose because the lyrics and the music feel cinematic, it works beautifully with the degraded black-and-white footage of outings near a body of water that I found in the Prelinger Archives.

The film I want to make has a lot of potential for collaboration with the right filmmaker. Maybe it isn’t a documentary at all. Maybe it’s a story that uses the Mecca Normal story within it. Very creative—possibly non-linear—imaginative and beautiful as opposed to a standard history of a band.

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

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Normal History Vol. 396: 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.

Wasn’t Said
Look ahead to the time
when you’ve forgotten all that was said
when you look behind
and it doesn’t matter anymore
 
Look ahead—it’s hard to want to go there now
that’s where you’re heading
that’s what you’re waiting for
it’s what you’re waiting for
that time, when you’re looking behind you
 
and none of this will matter
all of this confusion
will be so far in the past
it won’t matter in the now
 
In the now that’s still ahead
 
Looking ahead to when
none of this is gonna matter
how it went
and what was said
and what wasn’t said
 
To make this void of no communication
no communication
no communication now
there’s nothing now
 
There’s nothing now
but to look ahead
when none of this will matter
what was and wasn’t said
 
It wasn’t said

“Wasn’t Said” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 395: 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 2013, at the point when I was making videos for songs on Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s Records, 2014), David returned from a trip to Cuba with his wife, experimental bass player Wendy Atkinson. He showed me this great video he made of Wendy walking through the streets of Havana. It’s mostly one long shot—which is one of David’s specialties. He makes great videos!

We recorded the album in Miami, so the Havana visuals resonated for “What’s Your Name?” which intends to make empathy a personal responsibility. With me on sax and Kramer playing something that sounds like a vibraphone, there’s a kind of community band feel that fits right in on the streets of Havana.

“What’s Your Name?” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 394: 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 words are directly out of my yet-to-be published novel The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art where they provide background to the protagonist’s parents, a pair of artists who met in the 1950s. While the protagonist and the art she makes are not me and the art I make, I’ll cop to this description being very much like a description of my own parents.

Art Was the Great Leveler

They met at a party given by mutual friends—people named Fortune. She always liked that part of the story. They were both painters who loved nothing more than to pack up their watercolor gear and hike into the local mountains to paint landscapes. She was young and captivated by his charm and impressed with his brash, unschooled talent. Which side of town they were from wasn’t a big enough issue to keep them apart.

Art was the great leveler and an emotional connection formed.

Art was the great leveler long before it was common to assess personalities, long before people were talking about other people’s personalities in terms of why such attractions developed. It would be rationalized based on their mutual interest in art, art and hiking.

Art was the great leveler.

There was something else there. A dance. A dance, of sorts. A dance. They were doing a dance—one in which it was difficult to tell just by looking who was leading and who was following.

Art was the great leveler.

They regularly heaved out an arsenal of verbal weaponry to defend and protect the mysteries of their deficiencies from possible detection. Impossible detection was their goal. Art was the great leveler. They hid as much as they exposed.

“Art Was The Great Leveler” from the album Empathy For The Evil (M’Lady’s, 2014) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 393: 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.

Hi Michael (Scholar, theater director),

Yes, the Angry Woman In Rock series is basically self-portraits. There are seven, but I may do more. I’m glad you’re getting one!

Would Friday at 4 p.m. on The Drive work for you? Dave and I are rehearsing until 3:00, then I figured we both come—if he can make it. We sent out a media version of the Mecca Normal Newsletter Update last week and I sold seven paintings in one day, and I’m getting quite a few interview offers that I need to schedule in. Crikey. I’m trying to fit everything into my normally extremely quiet life.

We’re excited to be doing three shows with the Julie Ruin (Vancouver, Seattle and Portland). We haven’t seen Kathleen for years, but strangely enough there’s another “fan” in the band! The keyboard player, Kenny Mellman, is half of Kiki And Herb who split up some years ago with a final show at Carnegie Hall. Actually, they got back together recently for a short run of sold-out shows in NYC. I missed the whole Kiki And Herb thing at the time. It’s basically cabaret with political commentary. Wikipedia: “drag cabaret duo. Bond portrays Kiki DuRane, an aging, alcoholic, female lounge singer. Mellman portrays her gay, male piano player.”

So, Kenny is evidently a fan of ours—he recently bought one of my paintings (very much like the one your wife is buying). Back in his younger days (in the early ’90s, I guess) in San Francisco, he was in the audience calling out my name while we were playing!! I’d forgotten about all this until he recently told me about it (on Facebook). We haven’t met in person yet, but I want to talk with him about some ideas I have for The History Of Mecca Normal as a theatrical production—to include the origins of riot grrrl, DIY, trying to change the world, etc. Not sure how to frame it—the set could be a classroom where the main characters are imparting some punk-rock history to students. Simple—something that can be replicated on a two-person tour.

We’ve done quite a few classroom presentations in the past 15 years with our event How Art And Music Can Change The World, and more recently, I wrote an adaptation of a few chapters of Dave’s graphic novel The Listener (about Hitler’s rise to power), which we presented on a Vancouver-to-Toronto tour when his book came out in 2011. I “played” a couple of characters, and we relied on a PowerPoint backdrop, integrating related Mecca Normal songs.

Anyway, I’d like to run some of this by you when we meet—just for 10 minutes or so, on the off chance that it resonates with anything you’ve got happening.

Jean

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

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