Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 278: 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.

[continued from last week]

He says, “You could have just emailed back to say that I was too good looking or something.” This is supposed to be funny. I come around out of the twist and make a gesture as if to say, “Right, I could have done that.” But he isn’t handsome. He’s pudgy with white hair and he’s quite old and I’m not attracted to him—plus, I’ve seen him in his saggy swim-trunks and he’s covered in thick black hair. Arms, shoulders, back, etc. Regardless, I’m not attracted to him, and he’s selfish and rude.

I was thinking, “It isn’t my job to make sure you feel OK about being rejected.” When women do this, it is typically to avoid further problems—threats, intimidation—guys blaming them for what they feel.

I said something about it not being much fun on my side of things—writing an email saying I don’t want to go out with him.

I said, “Not answering you is how I chose to handle it.”

At this time, I started to get up, which I wasn’t planning on doing because I was in the middle of my 200 crunches and he was interrupting me. I wasn’t comfortable having a man standing over me, complaining about my behavior while I was sitting on the floor.

He said it was fine (again), but clearly it wasn’t fine and he’d come over to let me know this. I remained calm and said something like, “Oh well, these things happen when we’re all part of the same community.” Meaning: We are not alone here. I’m not isolated. I know people. People know who I am. There are avenues of resolution and accountability available to me.

He frowned and gave me his “I’m baffled by that comment” look. Again, I decided not to respond to him. Clearly, this guy was used to getting women to react.

[to be continued]

“Tolerate Me” from Mecca Normal (Smarten Up!, 1986; re-released by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 277: 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.

[continued from last week]

He was at the gym today on the elliptical running thingy wearing large headphones. He waved. I waved and got on with my work out. He had long enough to figure out how to behave appropriately, but he decided not to. I was in the middle of 200 crunches when, as I always do, I sat up and went into a yoga twist on the floor before doing the next 100 crunches.

I saw him in the mirror, coming up behind me. I closed my eyes to indicate that I was actually doing something. I was busy. Unavailable. I mean, I’m not even facing the guy and he starts talking to me.

“Oh, hello, Jean, I just wanted to say that it’s fine that you didn’t want to go out with me, but you could have at least replied to my email.”

I stay in my yoga pose on the floor. He’s standing above me, and basically it doesn’t sound like it was fine that I didn’t want to go out with him and now I’m getting a lecture on what I should have done to make him feel better.

[to be continued]

“Not With You” from Mecca Normal (Smarten Up!, 1986; re-released by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 276: 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.

There’s a guy at the gym who talks to me. He’s a newly retired school teacher. I guess he’s in his 60s. I’m 55.

I’m not crazy about having long conversations when I’m in the hot-pool relaxing or when I go to use the water fountain. I’m in my bathing suit for god’s sake. I’m not crazy about standing around in a bikini on the pool deck talking to this guy. I’m not interested in him other than he’s a teacher who plays music. Celtic music. I see him there every now and then. I forget his name.

He came into the store I work in several months ago. That was fine. Whatever. Next thing I know he’s asking me out for coffee on the dating website. I’m not crazy about guys asking me out for coffee through that avenue of communication when I see them around and they don’t ask me in person. I mean, I’d prefer he hadn’t asked me at all, because I’m not interested in going out with him. But suggesting “coffee” in an email from the dating site seems cowardly.

Sometimes he talks to me while I’m working out. I’ll be on the stationary bike and he’ll come up and just start talking. I’m sweating, breathing hard, checking my pulse, maintaining a specific speed and heart rate, etc. Working out. And he just assumes I’m going to enter into a conversation with him. Which, I have done, but it bugs me. Not everyone wants to have a conversation while they’re working out—he doesn’t even vaguely acknowledge this. He’s finished his work-out, so he just comes and talks to me. This is a heightened degree of selfishness and an abject lack of self-awareness. I should tell him I’m busy, but I haven’t done that. I should have, but one doesn’t always want to end up with a negative situation that may then be even more destructive to one’s state of mind. One endures the intrusion and tries to maintain the level of output; not letting someone else ruin what one was doing. Plus, some people just don’t seem like they are going to react very well to being given a hint, and then they’re going to blame one for whatever negative emotions they have. One wants to avoid this.

Anyway, so he asked me out for coffee through the dating site and I spent too long trying to think of what I could say to the guy. I got frustrated with myself and let it slide. I didn’t respond. That was months ago. I don’t actually enjoy rejecting men or having to make some excuse or another. I used to write nice notes back to men, and then I’d get a nasty message saying I was a piece of shit or whatever. So, in recent years, I don’t spend time trying to write a nice rejection. I don’t reply unless I’m interested and I know this bugs some men (and likely women; hell, it has bugged me, but I recognize that it’s totally my problem). It isn’t any fun to write to someone and get nothing back, but “nothing back” is the reply. It is the “no”—deal with it. If you contact someone and they don’t reply and you feel bad, that’s for you to deal with. It doesn’t have anything to do with the person you contacted.

[to be continued]

“Are You Hungry Joe?” from Mecca Normal (Smarten Up!, 1986; re-released by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 275: 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.

Much of what I do on a daily basis has more to do with re-contextualizing what I’ve previously created than making brand new art. I love finding patterns and connections that occur when I combine aspects of current work with the past—this includes curating Normal History: The Art Of David Lester (which we view as a Mecca Normal collaboration), making videos for songs we recorded in the 1980s or turning interviews into performance pieces.

David and I present a classroom event—most recently, it has been an adaptation of David’s graphic novel The Listener that utilizes our own history to reiterate themes in his book. We use our art, songs and band history as examples of our claim that art and music can change the world.

Both of my recently completed novels feature painters as protagonists. Without planning to do so, I created several series of paintings “by” those characters as they were described in the novels, and when it came time to write new songs, I used text directly out of the novels. We seem to keep finding ways to extend longstanding themes into new disciplines, including the internet.

“Who Told You So?” from Mecca Normal (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 274: 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.

As we approach the release date of Mecca Normal’s new album, Empathy For The Evil, it is quite satisfying not to be experiencing inappropriate expectations of our place in the world. I personally enjoy savoring the excellence of an existence that not being famous contributes to. In many ways, our longevity has become political to the degree that it is not hinged to what many people would consider success. On our own terms, I feel we’re successful at staying the course while continuing to evolve in music, writing, visual art and, for myself personally, to be living with a less self-destructive nature.

In our early years as artists, plain-speak about issues seemed appropriate. Now, in our mid-50s, we have this unique history to work within. It’s all so exquisitely positioned within our tiny realm. We call the shots, dipping and diving away from the limelight as necessary.

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

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Normal History Vol. 273: 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.

As a self-managed group, Mecca Normal spends a certain amount of time dealing with how to engage with audiences in terms of album releases, promotion, booking events and tours. We both have part-time jobs that are just flexible enough to accommodate time away for tours.

With both of us working on book-length fiction for the vast majority of our time, I’ve noticed that we have individually become more focused on research. David is currently working on a graphic novel about the anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman, while I’m putting the final touches on a novel set in Nazareth, Pa.: home of the Martin guitar factory. There’s something very fortifying about researching what can be known before fictionalizing for the purpose of creating a compelling piece of art.

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

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Normal History Vol. 272: 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.

2014 marks 30 years as Mecca Normal, but prior to that, David and I met in the production department of the WestEnder Newspaper in Vancouver in 1981. Once we got rolling on self-managing our music project, we discovered that we have very different strengths and skills. The division of labor seems to fall quite naturally to one or the other. For instance, I do all the driving on tour and David does all the lifting. We motivate each other by understanding our propensities while encouraging each other to do our best work. The general sense of partnership and accountability create structured methods that working entirely independently wouldn’t provide.

After an intense decade or so of putting out a record every year and touring regularly in the U.S. and periodically in Europe, we needed to find better ways to keep everything in balance, ways to step back from the chaos to work on evolving on a number of fronts simultaneously. When we’re not doing Mecca Normal, David is a graphic designer, and I am a writer and painter. In 1994, I rented the apartment that I live in to this day. After sharing the rent as part of two relationships over a six-year period, I needed to live alone. Within those relationships, I realized that I was drinking wine to tolerate the living situations. I calculated that I could pay the rent myself if I stopped drinking and carefully returned to the work force after 15 years of scrambling to survive playing music and writing. I discovered that part-time and seasonal work allowed for, and sometimes encouraged, creativity. Plus, living alone I was free to go to bed at 8 p.m. and get up at 3 a.m. to write without bugging anyone.

From 2000, I feel like I’ve exiled myself in this room to soberly work on writing. Sure, I gave online dating a try and remained happily single after figuring out enough about myself and how I selected romantic partners. But even working through the dating experiences occurred in writing, and those episodes found their way onto one album and into two (unpublished) novels.

“The Caribou And The Oil Pipeline,” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 271: 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 29-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

The music and art of Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester) are part of the 2014 Whitney Biennial (March 7-May 25, 2014) in New York City. The exhibit, Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher, was organized by Chicago-based artist Marc Fischer, who recently moderated a discussion about Malachi Ritscher’s incredible audio documentation of Chicago’s music scenes.

Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher will be exhibited in Chicago in September.

Free poster: Malachi by David Lester

Free download: acoustic version of Mecca Normal’s “Malachi” released on Nov. 3, 2013, the seventh anniversary of Malachi Ritscher’s war protestation in Chicago. Jean Smith vocals, David Lester acoustic guitar, Kramer on bass and keys. Produced and mixed by Kramer.

While on tour in September, Mecca Normal will be interviewed by Democracy Now! about Malachi Ritscher.

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

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Normal History Vol. 270: 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 29-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Malachi Ritscher (1954-2006) was an anti-war activist who made high-quality recordings of musicians—often free jazz and experimental—performing live in Chicago. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, he became a vocal opponent of the war. Like monks opposing the Vietnam war, his final act of protest was self-immolation.

“If I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country. I will not participate in your charade—my conscience will not allow me to be a part of your crusade.” —Malachi Ritscher

Mecca Normal, “Malachi,” lyrics by Jean Smith

And the camera goes click as you press record
and you hand the document to the jazz musician
after they perform

And you talk and you listen
and you protest this war

And there is pain and it instigates change
And there is frustration that your voice is not heard
when you protest the war—
with a sign above your head—in words

And your camera goes click as you press record
and the can of gasoline is there on the ground
for this final document—your protest against the war
and some of us understood
you know the history well

And your camera goes click as you press record
and you pour the gasoline
and Malachi you light the match
that ends your life
in this final statement
and some of us heard your final words

and Malachi you light the match
that ends your life
in this final document—your protest against this war
and some of us understood
and some of us heard

your final word

“The Dark Side Of Maria,” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 269: 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 29-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

The music and art of Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester) are part of the 2014 Whitney Biennial (March 7-May 25, 2014) in New York City. The exhibit, Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher, was organized by Chicago-based artist Marc Fischer.

A Mecca Normal set at Chicago’s Empty Bottle was one of more than 4,000 performances Malachi Ritscher recorded during a roughly 20-year period. He recorded the Mecca Normal set on Nov. 11, 2002, while David and I were artists in residence for the better part of a week upstairs at the Bottle Cap. Our two-person art exhibition featured David Lester’s Inspired Agitators poster series and my Pint Glass series of paintings referencing my then two years of sobriety. The event was one of the first in our ongoing classroom and art-gallery presentation called How Art & Music Can Change The World.

The 40-minute recording is available at a listening station at the Whitney. Most of the songs are from The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002)
1. What About The Boy?
2. Every Wrong Word
3. Revolution#Pine
4. In January
5. Family Swan
6. No Mind’s Eye
7. The Glasman
8. Ice Floes Aweigh

David Lester’s Malachi poster and the back and front covers of Mecca Normal’s seven-inch record with the song “Malachi” are also part of the exhibit.

“His Own Madness,” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

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