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 29-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
While the past year feels like it was very quiet, the arrival of David’s Year End Report (an annual occurrence since 1984) reminds me of work I accomplished in 2013. Maintaining the ability to function as a group doesn’t essentially diminish the longer we stick around, but there are times when it works out better to not attempt to be constantly in motion. Also, there are other things in life to put attention to that are beyond the realm of our creative partnership. Having said that, nearly every experience feels like fuel or material to me.
David’s Year End Report has, over the years, included reviews, tour notes, photos, playlists, milestones, personal successes and tour itineraries. It is as much a resource to draw from as it is a look at the past through collected memorabilia. I have started a Mecca Normal online archive that will house what we generate in a formal blog structure (as opposed to using blogs as websites, as I tend to do).
In September of 2013, I read a comment Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, riot grrrl, the Julie Ruin) made to Spin magazine about the erasure of female voices. She came very close to saying that Mecca Normal was an example of a band that no one talks about as an influence, that because I’m female, I’ve been erased from culture. I brought this up on my Facebook, disputing it in terms of recent accomplishments and preferences for how we engage in culture, and quite frankly, I do believe we continue to influence (or inspire) people, primarily women. It may well be that those we are influencing are far-flung and without a common moniker like riot grrrl, therefore any talk about said influence is not centralized in the documents that a group might produce and circulate.
What if I personally influenced 160 women in six countries between the ages of 15 and 57 in 2013 as opposed to influencing 70 women between the ages of 15 and 25 in 1993 who were connected through riot grrrl and therefore spoke of said influence and in fact took it and ran with it and that running had results that were documented, and what if the 160 women I influenced in 2013 created idiosyncratic work that did not overlap culturally and was not distinguishable by a common cultural denominator such as riot grrrl? Is my influence and their work less significant? No, not necessarily.
Being able to gauge or measure one’s influence is unusual and likely fraught with ego-related issues such as not believing one could have actually influenced people at all or, conversely, believing one had more influence than one actually had.
I spend a lot of time documenting and archiving my work, as well as making work—films, novels, various written texts, songs and albums, paintings and websites. Kathleen is actually one of my Facebook friends, but not everyone uses Facebook the way I use it, so maybe she didn’t know that I’d been making work all this time—much of which doesn’t get formally reviewed and that, in many ways, is interesting to me. I’m hardly erased. One need only to Google Mecca Normal to see what we’re up to, and so maybe she hasn’t done that for a while. Oh, if you’re hanging onto the edge of your seat to see if I’m gonna dis Kathleen, I’m not.
Isolating this sense of disconnect is interesting to me. If I was at one time important to her, it seems as though I haven’t been for a long time. Therefore, maybe in her mind, I don’t influence anyone any more. But this is based on a specific time in the past and the various people that were circulating in a particular place who were influenced. Influence is maybe a short-lived phenomenon, especially when it is a component in something that follows that takes on a life of its own.
I started writing this to illustrate that history is rarely within the control of the generators of that history.
Sometimes, when I consider writing a history of Mecca Normal, a memoir of sorts, I get derailed by what to include. I could tell readers that we were in the offices of K Records when the call came through that Kurt Cobain was dead, that we played Seattle that same night, that we got the last room at the Motel 6 at Boston’s Logan Airport on 9-11 when all flights were grounded, that when we played in London with Poison Girls they spelled the name of our band wrong on the poster, that a member of the Matador staff wore a bullet-proof vest to a private Mecca Normal show in NYC, that I appeared in court in Texas shackled in a line of prisoners after spending the night in jail, that I called the Butthole Surfers’ drummer to come and get me out of jail, that I used to go out with a guy who did five years for weapons, that I’m a recovering alcoholic … that … what? … I influenced a few women who went on to create something important and then eventually wondered why no one is influenced by me anymore?
“War Between The Neighbours,” from Janis Zeppelin (Smarten UP! 2003) (download):