Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

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):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

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):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

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):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

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):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

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):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

Normal History Vol. 300: 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.

Sean Michaels, the winner of the 2014 Giller Prize (Canada’s most lucrative literary award at $100,000) recently reviewed a song on Mecca Normal’s new album, calling it “a masterpiece of story and manifesto, a lesson in life.”

The lyrics for “Odele’s Bath” are directly out of my recently completed novel, The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art,  in which a museum curator discovers her uncanny ability to cure narcissism.

“Odele’s Bath,” Michaels continues, “ … doesn’t need me to scatter it with glitter. Shut the blog down, fire the staff, bin the servers. Light the house on fire, in an empty lot, with Mecca Normal on cassette and a boombox turned to high.”

Sean Michaels writes about music for Said The Gramophone, named by Time magazine as one of the 25 best blogs of 2009.

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

Normal History Vol. 299: 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.

What was the first song you wrote?
It’s a pretty basic angry punk-rock song called “Conform” that has never been released, but it’s strange how its validity has been circling back over the years, getting closer and reminding me of its purpose.

Which was what?
To illuminate the pressure of being directed away from who I was becoming. By 1986, I’d left my husband, quit my job and started responding to various economic and social philosophies—including feminism and anarchism. The lyrics itemized specific comments that intended to manipulate me towards a more conventional life. We recorded it for the first album, but there wasn’t room for it.

How is it getting closer to its original purpose?
Its purpose was to amplify and rail against the experience of being a young woman who wanted to express various emotions, sentiments and ideas—and by express I mean loudly in words, music and art. I wanted my experience of being actively thwarted to be known by other young women, because that’s when things start to change; when we know that we’re not the only one experiencing some injustice or another.

Where was the concept of conforming coming from at that time?
The husband I ended up leaving and from my family. There are subtle and not-so-subtle ways of directing and distancing. When the first album came out, my mother was happy that I hadn’t used the family name on it.

So she’s not a fan, eh?
I have never understood how anyone can write angry punk-rock songs with their mom and dad cheering them on.

What are the songs on the new Mecca Normal album about?
The new album is largely about power and power exchanges with most of the lyrics coming directly out of two recently completed novels. In “The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art,” a museum curator discovers her uncanny ability to cure narcissism. In “Obliterating History—a guitar-making mystery, domination and submission in a small town garage” a powerful woman with a sexually submissive side enters into a BDSM relationship to explore trust. By complying with her version of intimacy, the man is able to get what he needs to, which involves being respected and trusted.

“20 Years/No Escape” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

Normal History Vol. 298: 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.

Mecca Normal Tour Diary
NYC
Oct. 1, 2014

First thing in the morning we drove our rental car from our hotel in Newark, N.J., to the Manhattan studios of Democracy Now!—a TV program hosted by journalist Amy Goodman—to be interviewed about American war-protester Malachi Ritscher who, in 2006, self-immolated.

We were in the middle of a tour in the northeast when we got word that a senior producer for the  show would have time to pre-record a segment for later broadcast. This was perfect because an exhibition about Malachi was about to open in Chicago (running until December 14). Mecca Normal has a song about Malachi, and some of our art and writing is in the exhibit, which was created for the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

I’m absolutely a morning person so I was unfazed by the 5:45 a.m. alarm. I made David—who is less of a morning person—a decent espresso on the hotplate I carry around on tour and we drove into NYC, succeeding at beating rush hour and finding parking.

We found a spacious café to settle into with the amp and guitar. I went over to Whole Foods for supplies (sandwiches, nuts and coffee beans) while David changed his strings. Once we were at Democracy Now! it was a bit other-worldly sitting in the reception area watching Amy doing the show through the sound-proof glass. We met various staff members, including a guy who said he was both a fan of ours and a friend of the guy who runs the record label we’re on.

A panicky sound technician arrived and introduced us to Amy. He tried to convince us that performing live would be problematic because they didn’t have any monitors.

“David can turn down the guitar amp,” I said calmly. “It’ll be fine.”

He continued to discourage me, telling me that they didn’t have a hand-held mic; that I’d be singing through the clip-on lapel mic.

“It’ll be fine,” I said.

“But you won’t be able to hear yourself,” he said.

“I have a loud voice,” I said.

Amy, frowning deeply, explained the issue further. “What he’s saying is that you won’t be able to hear yourself over the guitar.”

“It won’t be a problem,” I said warmly, trying to instill confidence. “We’ve been doing this for 30 years.”

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

Normal History Vol. 297: 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 acquaintance asked me for feedback on an article he wrote in which he claimed that misogyny and sexism are mental health issues. “Everybody has to deal with the mental illness that is misogyny and sexism,” he wrote.

I emailed back: “I don’t think people who hate women are necessarily mentally ill. Misogyny and mental illness are, in my opinion, two distinct issues.”

He replied with: “So are you saying misogynistic tendencies can be a product of a healthy mind?”

Never really liking assertions disguised as questions that start with “So you’re saying …  ” I nonetheless proceeded to outline my thoughts on the matter:

“A healthy mind is more subjective than mental illness. People who believe in God might not think I have a healthy mind because I don’t believe in God. Does that mean that I’m mentally ill for not believing in God? Are racists mentally ill? Are homosexuals mentally ill? Are conservatives mentally ill? Are liberals mentally ill? Are all people we dislike mentally ill? Mental illness is a catch phrase referring to specific, diagnosable behaviors and afflictions like depression, narcissism, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, etc.

A healthy mind has more to do with exposure to various types of stimuli and how any given person processes information. Is that person fearful of exploring outside cultural and religious boundaries, empathetic, illogical in their methods of deduction, lazy, curious, etc.? Mental health can be impacted by physical factors including psychological trauma, physical injuries and chemical levels in the brain. An unhealthy mind seems more about how easily a person is indoctrinated into belief systems that stem from family, religion, peer pressure and a cultural landscape that includes advertising, video games, music and movies.

Then there’s good old fashioned intelligence, which is evidently measurable by testing across various cerebral functions for the ability to deal with data. Can intelligent people be mentally ill? Yes, they can. Can misogynists be intelligent people who do not fit any criteria for mental illness? Yes, I believe they can. I believe misogynists have been affected by cultural stimuli and personal experiences that encourage them to believe and act as though women are evil, inferior, untrustworthy deviants to be hated and or feared.”

“I Know A Little Bit” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

Normal History Vol. 296: 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.

Mecca Normal Tour Diary
NYC, Sept. 26, 2014

Walking along Bleecker Street after John’s Pizza (where I asked for the same booth we sat in back in 1984), we stopped at Starbuck’s to replenish the coffee supply for the stovetop espresso pot I’m using on a hotplate at the motel. I was informed that they don’t sell half pounds. Idiots. We continued along Bleecker until we both slowed at a storefront of some intrigue. What caught my eye were the burlap bags in the window into which a guy was plunging a metal scoop and extracting something that was then put onto an old-fashioned scale. Porto Rico Importing Co., established in 1907. It was a coffee bean store! Inside, coffee in burlap sacks dominated the floor space. I asked the guy for a half pound of the darkest decaf and then a half pound of Sumatra for Dave—both ground for espresso. And now, today, outside Boston, we’re enjoying coffee with Boston cream donuts from the Dunkin’ Donuts next door to the Motel 6 where they stuck us on the third floor directly below the construction they are doing on the roof. With four hours sleep, we’ll drive to the Providence Motel 6 where we’ll sleep some more before a lobster dinner and then before the show in Providence! Tonight, it’s the Thalia Zedek Band and 75 Dollar Bill.

Great to see Thalia Zedek with her new project E last night. Haven’t seen her since we did the Suffragette Sessions tour together with the Indigo Girls in 1998 when her band Come released Gently, Down The Stream on Matador Records the year after Mecca Normal released its final album on the same label.

“Will He Change?” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed