Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 422: 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.

Every now and then, an unmistakable arc positions itself from the song in question to a more recent song. In this case, “Smile Baby” calling out street harassment 30 years ago connects to “Anguish / Misogyny,” an unreleased song I wrote about the sense that not much has changed.

“There’s a desperation. Tell me you don’t feel it.
This hopelessness coming down, coming down.
These times demand a reprieve from the anguish.
These times like no other before us. Like no other to follow.

In the anguish of uncompleted missions, disappointment and futility.
I knew you then and I know you still.
The anguish of nothing being resolved. It didn’t get resolved at all.
And I call this anguish—misogyny.

We hide the anguish not too well at all—not too well at all.
Why should we hide the anguish of misogyny.
The disappointment of all that’s unresolved.

All those times we thought there was a future built on words and actions
swept away.

I call the violence, malicious behavior, anger and misogyny
that rules the streets, rules the days and rules the nights—misogyny.
l call this lack of empathy my personal anguish.
Your violence and aggression—this misogyny.

The perpetration of aggression against all women.
I call our failure and disappointment—anguish.
I’m electrified, repulsed and angry at all that’s unresolved.
I call our failure—this misogyny.
For all the time we put into everything we ever tried to do,
to accomplish, to resolve, to make better, to happen.
We failed.

I call it a hidden anguish—this misogyny.
Anguish I share with you—misogyny.
Misogyny.

“Smile Baby” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 421: 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.

It used to be that print media interviews were conducted in person or over the phone. Then email interviews took over. This is where a well-meaning journalist sends some questions for you to answer, and while that sounds reasonable, it can often go wrong—often because each question is jammed with a dozen or so sub-questions, and you end up feeling like you’re setting aside way too many hours to answer questions that took the journalist a few minutes to ask. All of which is fine, until you see the final version and they’ve only used a few quotes from the answers you gave.

Late last year I had the luxury of doing a phone interview about my painting with a journalist in Chicago who usually writes about art, but she’s a Mecca Normal fan, so the fact that I’ve been painting for the past year was interesting to her.

Because I’m not going to a job, I don’t talk to people much, so I went long on everything, trying to keep in mind that she was going to have to transcribe it, but I had a lot to say. I wasn’t sure what form her transcription would take. Maybe she’d just write out the sections she wanted to use for the piece. A month later, before the piece appeared, I decided to ask if I could get a copy of whatever she wrote out, and it turned out to be the entire conversation. Totally one-sided, but a document of where things were at the end of 2016.

“12 Murders” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 420: 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.

On International Women’s Day, I edited, uploaded and shared a snippet of a new song on Facebook. The key phrase in the middle of the song is, “Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment. We are here!”

Mecca Normal performed “I Am Here” at the three shows we opened for the Julie Ruin in October, 2017.

“Joelle” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 419: 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.

I’m never crazy about reviews and articles that say no one knows who Mecca Normal is just because the journalist writing the piece doesn’t know who we are. Granted, she’s into Alanis Morissette, so I can see how we weren’t on her radar. Although, some people quietly asserted that Alanis basically swiped my look and stage moves, but whatever. I’m happy to be included in the appendix of CBC radio personality Andrea Warner’s 2015 book about Canadian women in music in the ’90s within which she claims that our two key songs from that era are “Vacant Night Sky” and “Waiting For Rudy.” Good choices, yup, but neither is about feminism, so, that kind of bugs me, too.

“I’m ashamed to admit that up until last year, I barely knew them either. They’re a hometown band and I’m a feminist who writes about music and still I never came across Mecca Normal until someone alerted me to their existence after I wrote an essay about how much I missed the political fire of music from the ’90s. Mecca Normal were riot grrrl and DIY before those movements existed, and they were tireless in their commitment to their art, releasing seven records in the ’90s alone. In fact, Mecca Normal were basically doing the ’90s in the ’80s.” —Andrea Warner appendix excerpt from We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled The ’90s And Changed Canadian Music (Eternal Cavalier Press, 2015)

“I’m A Bit Confused” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 418: 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 1989, on the return leg of a West Coast tour, we drove the 640 miles from San Francisco to Olympia, Wash., and played two shows in one day. We opened in Eugene, jumped back in the car, my 1972 Impala, and made it to the Portland show, after which we drove a couple more hours to Olympia to sleep.

Back in the ’80s, we toured various sections of North America three and four times a year, but this crazy plan was an anomaly. Typically we steer away from super long drives—and we make tours enjoyable by including interesting stops (art museums, thrift stores, the Tabasco Sauce factory) and good food (olive tasting at Granzella’s in Williams, Calif.)—so I’m not sure how a 640-mile drive ever got booked, since we do all our own booking.

I’m also not sure whether the two album reviews below appeared before or after this particular tour, but considering Calico was our second album (and our first on a label other than our own), it was truly exciting to read these. I don’t think we’d heard of Gerard Cosloy yet, and we certainly didn’t know we’d be moving from K Records to Matador Records within a year or so.

“Jean’s the one with ‘that voice,’ a completely riveting presence that’s only more powerful when backed solely by Lester’s guitar. Zero star potential, they’d sound totally incongruous coming out of your radio, but so would Woody Guthrie, so don’t worry about it.” –Conflict, 1989, by Gerard Cosloy, who joined Matador Records the following year

“This is quite powerful stuff. Jokers like Bono and Bruce could certainly learn a few lessons from this.” –Vicious Hippies From Panda Hell, a Portland zine

“Don’t Shoot” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 417: 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.

After a woman named Beth saw Facebook photos of the studio visit with Tom Anselmi (formerly of Slow, Copyright and MIRROR) and a painter friend of his buying my paintings, she wanted to come over, too. She messaged me in the middle of a convo with another interested party, an entrepreneur who, along with Tom, has ideas for selling my paintings in L.A.

I decided to schedule both studio visits on the same day. The entrepreneur at 11:30 a.m. and Beth and her husband Bob at noon. I figured half an hour would be almost enough for the entrepreneur and then Beth and Bob would arrive, and if the entrepreneur was a serial killer, I’d grab the intercom and buzz Beth and Bob in and they would save me. Right? Fiction writer here.

But then the entrepreneur messaged asking if a little after 1:00 p.m. was OK. I said sure, but not without wondering how I was gonna avoid being killed since now Beth and Bob were scheduled to arrive first. I wondered about telling Beth (who I’d never met) that I was a bit concerned about the entrepreneur arriving and maybe she and Bob could stay a bit longer, to make sure he wasn’t a serial killer, but then I got a message from her saying they were canceling because of the snow! At that point it seemed like the three of them were working together to make sure I was dead by dusk. One way or the other.

Shortly after the cancellation message, Beth messaged again saying they’d take the bus, but, as it turned out they were somewhat late and then we got talking about punk shows from a million years ago. By 12:55 p.m. Beth had only looked at half of the paintings. I realized that the entrepreneur was going to arrive before she’d made a decision. All three people were going to be in this small room at the same time.

The buzzer rang. I encouraged Beth and Bob to take their time and everything would be fine. I went downstairs to open the door for the entrepreneur, to explain that the noon customers were still here. Once we got up to the deck, he said he’d wait outside. I stood out there for a few minutes, periodically looking in at Beth’s progress. Paintings in each hand, paintings being set down, picked up, piles being made, but there was one painting that seemed to be staying in her right hand. The entrepreneur looked in the window and said, “Is that the one I want?”

“Shit,” I said, recalling that he had in fact mentioned a particular one, but because he was originally coming over first, I didn’t pull it. Damn. I explained this to him and we waited. The painting didn’t leave Beth’s hand. Damn.

When the entrepreneur and I came inside through the sliding glass door, Beth had three of them propped up in a chair. It appeared to be her final decision. Including the one in question. No Hat #124, which was painted and posted for sale two months ago.

I apologized to Beth for not taking it out. I explained how the switch in appointment time affected this error. I felt the painting was being held for the entrepreneur and it was my mistake for not pulling it.

Beth found another painting, making an even stronger group of three, and they left happy (after I’d invited myself over for dinner to deliver the one painting that still needs a layer of gloss on it). She has since contacted me wanting to buy three more for a total of six, which ties the record of paintings sold to one buyer!

“Fight For A Little” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 416: 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.

Thomas Anselmi—former singer in Slow (circa mid-’80s, cited as an influence on grunge)—came over with a painter friend to look through about 125 paintings in my $100 USD series.

“I haven’t actually seen you since … well … ” I said, walking ahead of them on the stairs.

Tom filled in the blank. “Since I was a teenager?”

Slow was made up of what at least one Vancouver media outlet called out-of-control teenagers. Tom messaged me briefly in late 2016 saying that he was moved by the paintings I was posting on Facebook. What transpired a couple of months later wasn’t just a studio visit resulting in three sales, it was an energy-infused meeting with ideas for showing my paintings in L.A. in situations not unlike the How Art & Music Can Change The World events we’ve presented since 2002. An art exhibit, Mecca Normal songs and a lecture connecting our history to that of riot grrrl and the PNW DIY movement of the ’80s and ’90s.

This is pretty exciting stuff in my otherwise quiet life. In fact, it got a bit too exciting near the end. After Tom had paid me for Girls Dominated The Landlines AKA The Phone, he brought out his wallet again and wandered, all eyes on him, to where the painter had made a pile of the ones he was interested in buying. Suddenly Tom was holding No Hat #138 and the painter was saying, “Hey, that was in my pile!” and Tom was saying, “I showed you this one before we even got here,” and I’m saying, “Settle down fellows! Have some of that Tension Tamer Tea I poured half an hour ago!” (even though it was Bengal Spice).

In the end Tom managed to pay me for No Hat #138 before the painter could get it back off him. Crikey, selling paintings IRL is pretty heightened stuff. I could get used to it!

“My First Love Song” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 415: 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.

“One Woman” is David’s favorite song on Calico Kills The Cat, K Records’ third album release (1989).

“Musically, it revolves around two chords,” David explains. “One rises, one falls. The struggle between the two worked perfectly with the lyric content: one person’s efforts for change.”

Calico is filled with similar stories—various unique individuals’ efforts for change. Like the K Records site says, “This one’s got it all: love, murder, hate, frying pans, jealousy, prison, bullets, bonfires and a blue TV behind the iron curtain. Wordsmith Jean takes on the world.” And rather than simply being text in an advertising campaign (circa 1989), it’s evidence of the way I tend to infuse the music David creates with lyrics that are explicitly political.

The painting series I started a year ago isn’t always, painting by painting, overtly political, but since I’m known as a cultural activist, I feel a lot of support for what I’m doing, yet I feel pressure to make the paintings more political. Part of my project includes making a living selling the paintings in order to create, exhibit and perform my “more political” work as Mecca Normal, but I feel a sense of guilt at not having political art ready for every injustice as it happens—which is implausible at the current rate injustices are being hurled.

On Thursday I made and posted “political art” out of my “not always overtly political” paintings of women using an animated music video featuring my paintings in a Devo cover band. This got me to thinking about how art can be used after it is created to make “more political” statements later on. Also … political art can be funny. I don’t know what other people’s paintings have done recently, but mine have formed two cover bands and made music videos.

Sometimes people ask me why I don’t paint celebrities. Maybe it’s going to be more interesting to use non-famous subjects and see what happens to them after I paint them.

“One Woman” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 414: 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.

Back then (in my teens), I was crazy about rock, alcohol, boys, In Concert, The Midnight Special, and I may have been what my mother called “over-sexed”—who knows? I was interested in skinny musicians with incredible hair and all their carry-on about women. I wasn’t really thinking about the exact meaning of their lyrics. It was the intensity of their proclamations and accusations—the pain of love and the lust pouring out of them whilst they were wearing rather girly garb. I suppose I learned about who I might become through their reaction and response to invisible girls whose whereabouts and proclivities I didn’t know much about. One thing was for sure: The girls they sang about elicited powerful reactions in these guys. And, for all I knew, all those girls had their own bands with better lyrics and louder guitars that I simply hadn’t heard yet.

Like, what did Jackie Blue‘s band sound like? And what was the name of Angie‘s band anyway?

“Blue TV” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 412: 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.

Maybe I got it wrong. I thought the teenage albums list-making exercise on Facebook was designed to create a sense of tactile community through the act of sharing something quintessential about ourselves while considering that others had shared something about their origins and were contemplating ours. That it was based on music from our teenage years was smart because it diversified the input through different eras. Those who were teens a long time ago were confronted with lists made by people who were teens more recently, and that made “us” realize that our formative years were differently lived through in terms of music and the limitations that surrounded getting the actual music and finding more music. Perhaps people with bands like Fugazi, Hole and the Breeders on their lists were struck by something fundamental when they saw the lists of older people. I’m not sure about that. Maybe that part was more obvious.

I thought the list-making exercise intended to point out that the number of hours spent formulating lists could well be applied to future endeavors with other objectives that perhaps had more significant results. I thought that was a clever way to imply and expose a mobilization process and its potential.

“Fight For A Little” from the album Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986; reissued by K, 1995) (download):

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