Normal History Vol. 408: 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 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In December, Courtney Jaxon bought one of my paintings called No Hat #116 aka Shanny McIntosh. I don’t actually know Shanny, but there was something compelling about the photo I based the painting on.

Courtney is a musician and vintage clothing retailer in Arcata, Calif. Shanny is a curator and writer from Hudson, N.Y., who participated in a live art event at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, Ore., in October that included several of my paintings and a short documentary film I made about my work.

As far as I know, Courtney doesn’t know Shanny, but rather, the painting affected her in some way, which is what I intend to have happen. It is that response to the work—and not essentially the subject—that is very encouraging. Even when I take on commissions (which I rarely do), I am heartened by clients who express a particular point: The painting doesn’t need to look like the subject!

Most painters don’t connect with potential buyers as immediately as I do. I photograph paintings and post them on Facebook as soon as they’re dry. Response time is an integral part of the process. Some have sold within a few minutes, which is a phenomenon difficult to replicate in any pre-internet era.

Later in December, the Director of Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA (where the live art event took place) bought the second painting based on the same photo of Shanny.

These paintings are two of the more realistic ones I’ve done. When I started painting for a living almost a year ago, I assumed that the higher the degree of realism, the more popular a painting would be, but I have been very surprised to find out this isn’t true. Putting my paintings in front of what is primarily a Mecca Normal audience has allowed me to veer away from realism in the same way I make music. The degrees of divergence away from convention that the two disciplines maintain seem oddly hinged to each other. Maybe like two lines on a chart that reflects both daytime (audio) and nighttime (visual) temperatures (responses). They aren’t parallel lines, but they relate to each other.

“I Walk Alone” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Floating

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: The fantasy was to fly. The reality was more like most realities. Simple and unsurprising.

Floating. A few inches off the ground. A little faster than a walk but not quite a run.

I’d rehearsed in the basement for years after uncovering a dogeared copy of Flying Made Easy in the two-cent library sale. The first step is to empty the mind.

Easy. Back then, there really wasn’t all that much going on other than the curve of a field in spring, waving slowly as the timid sun sinks. Poorly hung barn doors and dirt road dust were plenty entertaining. The story was always changing.

The second step was belief. Even when the floater isn’t floating, the faith must remain.

All those nights, staring in the mirror, demanding that reality change course. Acute loneliness. But loneliness with a legitimate purpose.

And then it happened. The cassette player warbling, a poor teen’s taped, taped tape. “All I Want” by Joni Mitchell. Toes lifting up off the bathroom carpet, the basement refuge becoming a fully realized laboratory of the greatest non-science ever created.

That night, I drank Mickey’s Big Mouths and float-danced with my posters and my albums, empty sweaters, falling into bookshelves and shushing myself to the ceiling, as if anyone cared.

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MP3 At 3PM: Gregory Uhlmann

“Impulse” opens Gregory Uhlmann‘s debut solo record Odd Job, and although it saunters by slowly, it still breathes with the suggestive power of its title. The folk tune pops brilliantly with the help of a gorgeous duet and some shimmering strings, making for a charming, chamber-influenced introduction. Check it out below, and pick up Odd Job on February 10.

“Impulse” (download):

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Hal Willner And Lou Reed: Making Legacy Live On

Hal Willner’s Lou Reed (or Lou Reed’s Hal Willner)

Mention to Hal Willner that he’s a sort of keeper of the flame, and he grumbles. The producer has, since 1981, been an all-around music boss at Saturday Night Live as its sketch-music adaptor, coordinator and composer. Around this same time, he began to create and curate smart tribute albums to the esteemed likes of Nino Rota, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and other genre-busting geniuses who forged a blueprint for the art form. Willner also created sonic sound beds for Beat Generation literary godfathers William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and their beatnik comic cousin Lenny Bruce.

“No, they don’t need me to do anything with their flames,” says Willner. “I am happily associated with Bruce and the Beats and am always available to that crowd,” pointing to the 2016 Burroughs-released work Let Me Hang You.
When it comes to the late, great Lou Reed, however, Willner is happy to carry a torch.

Reed’s last producer—“in a humbling list of illustrious names: Bob Ezrin, Tom Wilson, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Richard Robinson, to say nothing of the guy who painted the banana,” he laughs, considering Velvet Underground associate Andy Warhol—is proud of tackling 2000’s Ecstasy, 2003’s The Raven and all original work and Reed compilations until his death in 2013. Their newest (but not last) collaborative production is the recently released The RCA & Arista Album Collection, which captures Reed fresh from leaving the Velvets up through depressive art rock (Berlin, Street Hassle), glam (Transformer), showy, silly soul (Sally Can’t Dance), swishy folk (Coney Island Baby), noise (Metal Machine Music) and more.

“It is a mammoth catalog that you think you know until you dig into it,” says Willner, mentioning how he and Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow, separated out Reed love songs for the early summer 2016 all-Reed spectacular outside of Lincoln Center, where a “misty rain never felt so mesmerizing.” To quote Donald Trump, says Willner, “This is huge.”

Willner first worked with the daring ex-Velvet on 1985’s Lost In The Stars: The Music Of Kurt Weill, with the guitarist/singer morphing the German theater composer’s most plaintive ballad, “September Song,” into an era-appropriate Reed rocker. “I had the first Velvets album, Berlin and Transformer but didn’t cling to everything Reed did,” says Willner. “Rock got stale for me by 1975, so I moved to NYC to become a jazz producer because of the innovative work of Sun Ra and such. By the ’80s, however, jazz got stale, and I drifted back to rock.” And Reed.

“Lou wasn’t told to have a producer like most artists are by the label, he chose to,” says Willner. “He wanted another voice—a buddy, a partner—and that other voice happened to be mine. I’m also not just a record producer but rather an all-around collaborator, a one-stop shop. But with him, you came ready to work. He taught me to focus, really focus. You did your job. Bear with him. Listen hard, then harder. Follow his lead and call the shots when they needed to be called.”

The same was even truer when it came to The RCA & Arista Album Collection. According to Willner, Reed knew he was “obviously” dying, as did those close to him (“We all lived in denial,” says Willner) and wanted this re-breathing of his ’70s and ’80s catalog to be brilliant, a true last will and testament to his powers as a poet guitarist and sonic elocutionist. “It was amazing watching and listening to him pointing to what needed to be enhanced and what to be left alone,” says Willner.

According to Willner, the new boxed set is not “remixed” but rather reconsidered for Blu-ray sound. With that, Reed could realize that which had long been stuck in his head, like the dynamic effect of binaural sound that was Street Hassle (“his headphone album”) or to bring out the nuanced background vocals of that same album’s “I Wanna Be Black” and the Bowie/Ronson harmonies of Transformer. “Lou really marveled at their vocal lines and wanted their dimensions to sound greater,” says Willner. “He relived everyone’s contributions to his work.”

With that, Willner sees The RCA & Arista Album Collection as a gift to rock, jazz, poetry, punk, noise and pop—like Miles Davis, an ever-shifting palette of sounds that had peaks and valleys, but always made the music his own and changed the culture.

“To go from the Velvets to Metal Machine Music—all before 1975 and often with great criticism —is something to behold,” says Willner. “Lou Reed changed the game and often.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Orchid Mantis

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: These mantes from southeast Asia perfectly mimic flowers in order to trap and consume their prey. The males remain small and plain, while females pose and posture their way to their lavish moth-meals.

Beautiful and evil. (Please pardon the inverted carnival mirrors, but I love the meaning of these bugs.)

Human beings. Our benevolent shimmers merely mask the primal motivations. Money and lipstick aren’t anything more than a superficial sleight of hand. Songs may merely be sad spiderwebs for the melodically inclined.

Look, I apologize for ever putting a scarf on a dog. Or for a cartoon lifetime of anthropomorphism. From now on, I just want to know what’s what.

If you’re gorgeous and hungry—you’re probably going to eat me alive.

I get it. I have a grilled cheese head. It’s cool.

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Film At 11: Joan Of Arc

It’s time again for another video from Joan Of Arc, which will finally release He’s Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands later this month. The mid-tempo, off-kilter “Two-Toothed Troll” gets a clip full of neighborhood fun and fireworks. Check it out below.

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Live Review: Liberation Music Orchestra At The NYC Winter Jazzfest

On Tuesday night in downtown Manhattan, the 13th annual NYC Winter Jazzfest concluded its massive music marathon with a conscious concert at the le Poisson Rouge nightclub featuring Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. The festival itself ran January 5-10 and hosted more than 100 different artists on Friday and Saturday nights. Complimenting the festival’s 2017 theme of social justice, the LMO provided a compelling live set that was powerful, politicized and poignant.

Originally formed in 1969 by late bassist Charlie Haden along with arranger/pianist Carla Bley, the Liberation Music Orchestra has existed as an outspoken vehicle of protest and resistance for five decades. Balancing ecological, humanist and political commentary, Haden’s LMO has released a recording every 10 years or so, usually coinciding with the prominence of a Republican administration. This includes the recently released Time/Life (Songs For The Whales And Other Beings) on ECM, which was recorded prior to Haden’s passing.

Although Bley did not take part in the NYC performance due to conflicting commitments, the oversized, virtuosic band used her distinctive arrangements throughout, including an authoritative version of Miles Davis’ “Blue In Green” and distinctive twists on both “Amazing Grace” and “America The Beautiful.” With the gifted Geri Allen substituting for Bley on piano, the LMO boasted a mother lode of excellent musicians including saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, trumpeters Seneca Black and Michael Rodriguez (who served as bandleader) and veteran trombonist Curtis Fowlkes.

The premise of music illuminating protest is central to the LMO, and the band persists in upholding the outspoken legacy of Haden’s insurgent vision. The group closed the show with a moving version of “We Shall Overcome,” which was also the final number on its first album back in 1969.

There were plenty of socially conscious performances during the Jazzfest. Composer/trombonist Craig Harris’s Breathe was another massive ensemble expressing discontent and hope, remembering the martyred Eric Garner and exploring themes of Black Lives Matter. Chicago wunderkind bandleader Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone showcased explosive rhetoric by clear-eyed poet Marvin Tate and provided bracing counterpoint with a hard-charging band that included saxophonist Greg Ward. Saturday’s ECM Stage at New School’s Tishman Auditorium hosted bassist Michael Formanek’s group with saxophonist Tim Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, as well as performances by Danish guitar phenomenon Jakob Bro, duets by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and pianist David Virelles, and guitarist Bill Frisell working in tandem with bassist Thomas Morgan.

Once again the NYC Winter Jazzfest was an unqualified success and its heightened attention to social justice was right on time. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or as they say in Portuguese, “A Luta Continua.” The struggle continues.

—Mitch Myers; photo by Dave Kaufman

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MP3 At 3PM: Miss Ohio

Miss Ohio recently put out a career retrospective called White Hot: The Best Of Miss Ohio. The collection features a track that clearly belongs on our website: “Magnet.” A lackadaisical tune that weaves a six-minute tapestry of mid-tempo rock, “Magnet” is a sweet and luminescent tune worthy of dark, snowy days. Check it out below.

“Magnet” (download):

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Essential New Music: Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions’ “Until The Hunter”

As it happens, there are many pop-savvier moves than opening your first solo-project album in seven years with a nine-minute meditation on a single, hypnotic organ chord while heartbrokenly repeating “I miss you” no fewer than 33 times. But there are probably none that are more Hope Sandoval. By now, whether fronting Mazzy Star, her Warm Inventions project or guesting on a particularly downcast Massive Attack or Psychic Ills track, you know what you’re getting from the Los Angeles chanteuse: an overflowing cup of hushed, sultry melancholy, which perfectly describes Until The Hunter, her third release with My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosóig as the Warm Inventions.

But it’s not all songs in the key of sad; “Let Me Get There” is a beautiful little bit of loping ’70s radio pop created in collaboration with Kurt Vile, “Treasure” invents a new codeine-country subgenre, and “Liquid Lady” weaves its black-magic woman-y vibe in a manner not entirely dissimilar from Janis’ finest moments with Big Brother (if sung at a totally different octave). It’s not all successful—I could do without Ren Faire sung/spoken-word tropes like “A Wonderful Seed” again—but as mood music for a particularly rainy series of months, it’s a perfectly bummed-out comedown.

—Corey duBrowa

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Elena Ferrante’s “The Days Of Abandonment”

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: There’s only one way to the top. And it sure ain’t down.

I’m looking up at a coffee shop full of strangers, and I can’t help but think that we seldom welcome people as they are anymore—including me. The curation of our profile and personhood is just about the slipperiest slope out there.

The Days Of Abandonment. There are some reviews that consider the descent of main character to be clichéd. After a lifetime of familial dedication, Olga is abandoned by her husband Mario. She goes down, disrupted and scouring the depths of sanity.

While the signposts may be similar to those that have already appeared, the description and intensity of the Olga’s dive are incomparable. It’s a palpable pain that brings me closer to a grief-case I’ve grown accustomed to hiding from everyone, including myself.

Both disturbing and real—from here on out, I’m on a treasure hunt for everything that matters. A quiet quest for all that beguiling dirt beneath our shuffling feet.

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