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.
In this week’s column, I continue to compare songs on Calico Kills The Cat with songs on our new album, Empathy For The Evil, from start to finish. See notes from Sept. 6, 2014.
8. “Joelle” (Calico Kills The Cat, 1989) This is one of my more compact story narratives. It came directly out of a chapbook called Hot Pink, which is sub-titled “the history of a situation” and on the back cover “the history of the frying pan” (fiction, Smarten UP!, 1987). The song and the book are based on my own history and opinions on the male/female dynamic . When I was about 18, my parents went away for a week or so and my boyfriend stayed over. I’d already lived on my own for some time, but moved back in with my parents to return to art school. In the morning I made my boyfriend pancakes and then, there I was washing the frying pan while he was in the living room watching TV. “With all the history and the energy of the situation” I brought the pan out of the soapy water and smashed it on the edge of the counter, thus denting it just enough so that the lid wouldn’t fit on it. My mom made me buy her a new pan. It was a copper-bottom Revere Ware piece: a 12-inch pan that seemed to cost rather a lot to replace. Anyway, that part isn’t in the song. When Mecca Normal was touring around the time of that album (Calico Kills The Cat), I recall buying fry pans—cheap ones—at thrift stores along the way and chucking them out into the audience from the stage during the part in “Joelle” where I’m singing about the history of the situation. Once, when we were playing the black box theater at the Washington Center for the Performance Arts in Olympia, they had the place lit so that I couldn’t really see the audience beyond the people directly in front of us. I remember waving the pan, working up to the part I was going to throw it and I was thinking. “This is sort of crazy, just throwing it out into the darkness and potentially hitting someone in the face.” I tossed it into the darkness, heard it land and carried on with the song. Many nights I forgot to go and find the pan, but I always savored losing it—letting go of it mid-song and then forgetting about it due to being involved in packing up equipment and talking to feminists, anarchists, librarians, writers, scientists and all the other interesting people along the way.
8. “Maisy’s Death” (Empathy For The Evil, 2014) The lyrics are directly out of my novel The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art, in which various characters’ backgrounds are examined in an attempt to explain their adult proclivities including, in this case, a narcissist named Martin Lewis. In next week’s column we will look at Martin’s mother Odele, who grew up poor on a farm that she fled at 17 years of age. Here we have Odele in her formative years, taking over the chores at age 14 after her mother’s death. In the absence of his wife’s presence, Odele’s father switches gears and starts ranting—”hurling his high-pitched railings”— at Odele, just like he did to his wife when she was alive.
It’s interesting how, with 25 years between Joelle and Odele (and I’m just now seeing the similarity of their names!), I’ve moved away from narratives based on my own history towards entirely imagined scenarios, yet both songs are solid examples of patriarchy on the home front. A sort of relentless repetition of male oppression saturates both tales.
“Joelle” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):