Illustrated Amateur essay arguing that Mecca Normal ought to be discussed amongst the avant rock greats.
“Smith, and Mecca Normal, have cemented a place in feminist music history, so let’s take a minute to appreciate their other innovations. Let’s see about making sure they are mentioned in the catalogs of avant rock, too. Don’t let her words completely overshadow their deeds.”
“Now is the time of the older woman.” – Gina Birch of the Raincoats in a BBC documentary about women in punk
Peter Jefferies, Jean Smith, Patti Schmidt (host of CBC Radio’s seminal music program Brave New Waves) and David Lester.
This must have been 1996, when we were in Montreal for the show that’s being released as a live album in the Brave New Waves series. Mecca Normal with Peter Jefferies on drums.
Oh, this is also 2 Foot Flame, who will also have a live album in the same series. Dave played guitar with us on that tour.
David Lester made a Top 25 of 2017 list that got me thinking. He’s doing world-class illustrations on a number of projects, one of which he showed me a couple of weeks ago — his chapter for Graphic History Collective’s upcoming book “Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike as Protest”. I was knocked out, blown away, bowled over by his drawings! Me being me, my immediate thoughts were “I must find you an agent! You must go to New York! You should be famous!” Then, once I calmed down, I arrived back at the basis of what we both do, which is work that isn’t part of the enormous capitalist clamouring. It’s something else. Our story is not Anvil’s (long-suffering Canadian metal band still trying to make it big after 30 years… doc on Netflix) story. Dave illustrates elements of history that are worth keeping in front of us as we navigate perilous times, and that’s a whole different world than using art to advertise consumer products.
Photo of Dave and I performing as Mecca Normal — an important component in our ongoing campaign to change the world, which, while appearing to have hit a few major glitches due to international politics, capitalism, misogyny etc. will continue to agitate and evolve while attempting to #stayhydrated
My (David) Self-Referential Top 25 of 2017 (in random order):
1. Mecca Normal performing (photo below) at The Toast Collective (Vancouver) with Aye Nako (New York), Your Heart Breaks (Seattle) and Alimony (Vancouver).
2. The excitement of seeing the innovation and depth of Jean Smith’s painting this past year, from her expansion of The Hat / No Hat paintings; to the portraits of Joe Strummer and Keith Richards; to bearing witness with her paintings in “Standing Rock Water Protectors” and “Fuck Your Morals”; to a series based on a photo of transgender model Andreja Pejic; and the series of paintings “after” Vermeer, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacqui Morgan and Ivan Aivazovsky.
3. Representing the Graphic History Collective at the “Authors for Indies” event at People’s Co-op Bookstore (Vancouver) and revealing secrets of how to make a graphic novel.
4. Writer/director Chrissy Loader’s short film The Listening Party which premiered at the Nevada City Film Festival. The film featured Mecca Normal’s Throw Silver and I Walk Alone on the soundtrack.
5. Drawn To Change (with my chapter, The Battle of Ballantyne Pier) wins the $10,000 Wilson Prize for the best book that “succeeds in making Canadian historical scholarship accessible to a wide and transnational audience”.
6. The premier of Jean’s 16 minute film on Mecca Normal at PopCon 2017 at the Museum of Popular Culture (Seattle).
7. Challenging Stories: Canadian Literature for Social Justice in the Classroom (Canadian Scholars’ Press) features a chapter on teaching my graphic novel The Listener to high school students.
8. The first live streaming of a Mecca Normal rehearsal in which we write a new song during the hour long broadcast.
9. Guitar World’s interview with Corin Tucker (Sleator-Kinney): What inspired you to first pick up a guitar? CORIN: “…when I went to college and saw other female musicians—bands like Bikini Kill and Mecca Normal—I was like, “Oh I wanna do that!” That’s when I really started trying to learn.”
10. Seeing Jean’s painting featured on The Jealous Curator’s blog: “First, oh my word I love these portraits so, so, so much. Second, Canadian rocker turned painter Jean Smith sells these paintings on Facebook for $100 a pop.”
11. Designing, drawing (and writing an essay) for a poster of Emma Goldman as part of The Graphic History Collectives’ series “Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project”. My last Emma Goldman poster was 40 years ago.
12. Creating two new Mecca Normal songs, “Now They’ll Know” and “In the Highly Nuanced Life of the Conqueror.”
13. AUPE (Alberta Union of Public Employees) announcing they will be integrating Drawn to Change (including my comic, The Battle of Ballantyne Pier) into their province-wide labour education materials.
14. Discovering a cassette of the long lost 1996 live show of Mecca Normal (with Peter Jefferies on drums) rocking-out in Montreal. Jean’s vocals are riveting. The live show will be released by Artoffact Records in 2018 as part of a series of Brave New Waves (CBC) related music.
15. Mecca Normal collaborating for another inspired year of our weekly text/art columns in Magnet Magazine online.
16. Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle! winning the Canadian Historical Association’s Public History Prize.
17. Finding out that Gina Birch of The Raincoats loves the Mecca Normal song “This is Different”.
18. Researching Emma Goldman at the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives in New York.
19. Kwantlen Polytechnic University Professor Eryk Martin writing to say he wants to use my NOIR CANADA comic in his class when he covers Canada and the Second World War.
20. Another year of designing BC BookWorld, Canada’s largest literary publication. Designing posters for Vancouver MayDay and the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival.
21. Continued work on my graphic bio of Emma Goldman, which involved creating 3-D scale models of rooms for the purpose of drawing.
22. Designing the interior pages of Susan Boyd’s book, “Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada”.
23. Listening to my partner Wendy Atkinson’s commissioned composition for “Deep Listening: A Tribute to Pauline Oliveros”. It will be premiered in 2018.
24. Drawing a chapter for the Graphic History Collective’s book “Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike as Protest” to be published next year by Between The Lines.
25. Learning that Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys, a group that Rolling Stone dubbed “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band” said “Mecca Normal is ONE OF MY FAVORITE BANDS!!! I SAW THEM IN RHODE ISLAND A FEW YEARS AND LISTEN TO THEIR RECORD ALL THE TIME! ”
Of course there are so many more inspired moments and people…
Review by Peter Margasak (Editor) Butt Rag #7 (October 1991)