Monthly Archives: May 1958

1958 – 1987

The Early Years:

David in London

David Lester was born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1958.

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Jean Smith was born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1959.

Together, they formed Mecca Normal in 1984.

In the 60s, Jean messes around with 1/4″ reel to reel tape recorder and sings in school choir. In the 70s Jean is a ski instructor — she paints self-portraits in watercolour and takes some acoustic guitar lessons. Graduating from high school, Jean receives scholarship to attend art school. In the early 80s Jean co-owns a 37′ sailboat and travels in Europe for 6 months in a VW van. Jean takes the last name Smith in a marriage ceremony at Vancouver’s Unitarian Church on Oak Street — the church where the name Green Peace was coined years earlier. In the mid 80s Jean starts publishing a zine called Smarten Up! — copies are delivered free to record and book stores every three weeks — the zine turns into the a record label to release the first Mecca Normal LP.

 

The backyard — Jean painting in foreground (1962)

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Jean at 14.


Jean’s 37′ strip-planked Honduras mahogany mortgage (1980)


Captain Jean (winter… not 200 pounds)


Jean at about 24
David works on a radical anarchist newspaper called Open Road and designs posters and album covers for punk bands like D.O.A. He plays guitar in a band called The Explosions (they release a 7” and open for Talking Heads in Vancouver).

David Lester:

“I’d just graduated from high school when reports from England started to appear in the music papers — punk rock seemed too bizarre to comprehend. I believe I attended the first punk rock show in Vancouver, Canada. It would have been late ’76 or early ’77 at the Japanese Hall. The musicians still had longish 70s hair and wide-leg pants, but the punk energy was new and very exciting. Hundreds of Vancouver punk shows followed with line-ups including Moral Lepers, The Dishrags, The K-Tels (legally forced to change their name to Young Canadians), the Subhumans, and D.O.A. – who are still playing.
Vancouver was ready for the politically-fuelled punk rock ethic. This region’s radical perspective comes from the very active labor movement of the 1920s and 30s (logging, fishing and longshoring). My grandfather, an immigrant from Scotland, was involved with the Industrial Workers of the World (known as Wobblies); he played a horn in the IWW band, and travelled around the Pacific Northwest organizing unions. In the 60s, the counter-culture flourished as Americans dodging the war in Vietnam arrived in Canada. Political concerns and cultural events were expressed in Vancouver’s underground paper The Georgia Straight.
In the late 70s, when punk rock hit, I was the art director at The Georgia Straight – which was by then turning into a more conventional entertainment paper. I put the PMT (photo mechanical transfer) camera to use in my designs for gig posters.

From 1976 into the 80s I worked on the collectively-run international anarchist newspaper Open Road. My artwork – color portraits of anarchists Mikhail Bakunin, Sacco and Vanzetti, and the anarcha-feminist Emma Goldman — were featured as pull-out posters.

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Vancouver’s original punk rock scene coincided with a wide-spread opposition to the right-wing government of the day. In 1983, the erosion of labor rights culminated in a dramatically staged, province-wide general strike. The labor-funded Solidarity Times began publishing, and I was hired as its designer.

Punk bands played benefits for End The Arms Race, Prison Justice Day, anti-poverty campaigns, Rape Relief, funding for teen centers, legal defense funds for activists, opposition to apartheid in South Africa etc. Of all the musical genres, punk rockers were the most consistent supporters of radical causes. Although youth and style oriented, there were occasions for general audiences, when D.O.A. played a benefit show with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, for example.

My brother, Ken Lester, was D.O.A.’s manager in the 80s. I was drawn into their sphere to design the band’s album covers, posters, T-shirts, and stickers.
Posters were the main method of letting people know about shows and political rallies. Today the battle for poster space is fierce, an anti-poster bylaw makes postering somewhat risky. Teams of youths who look like punk rockers are employed to strip posters off lamp standards. Communication at street level has become a politicized issue.”

1982

– Jean and David meet while working in the production department of a weekly community newspaper in Vancouver, Canada.

1984

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Mecca Normal play their first show with D.O.A. at the punk club Smilin’ Buddha in Vancouver. Photo Ian Smith.

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Jean at the first Mecca Normal show. Photo Ian Smith.

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Photo by David Boswell

1984-85:
Mecca Normal play countless hardcore shows around Vancouver.

1985:
Self-record first album. Writing many of the songs as they were being recorded.

1986
January 25: First Mecca Normal album released on their own label Smarten Up!

Jean designs and creates the cover art, just as she will for every Mecca Normal release.

We recorded most of the album at Sounds Fine To Me Studio (our rehearsal space, Bob and Joyce’s garage) on our cassette 4 track. The songs marked * were recorded as we wrote them, on the first time through. It was originally released on our label, Smarten Up! Records. – Jean Smith on the first Mecca Normal album

Jean’s favorite songs on the first Mecca Normal album: Not With You was the first time I ever tried vocal harmonies. I played it for my boyfriend, but he wasn’t as excited due to the content of the song. “I won’t live your life, not with you.” I Walk Alone is special because we’ve done it at almost every show. Are You Hungry Joe? was written while I listened to a radio interview with a guy in a food bank line-up.

David’s favorite songs on the first Mecca Normal album: Beaten Down. I Walk Alone.

I Walk Alone
I go downtown
I go out alone
I walk alone
This city’s my home
I walk alone
I’m not alone in my home.

Beaten Down
Ya you fight the system
When you’re 22,
But we all grow up
To be beaten down.

Mecca Normal fly to Montreal for their first tour (with Rhythm Activism) of 3 cities. During a radio interview on CBC’s Brave New Waves, the two bands decide to create the Black Wedge. A group of travelling poets and minimalist musicians.

MN first album goes #1 at CJSR in Edmonton, Alberta. While the college newspaper says: “… Need to find this article for actual quote… basically that this is the worst record ever made and that David should kill Jean…

The Vancouver Province reviews the album: “What they reveal is an unvarnished, unpremeditated, wholly natural songwriting skill. This is a naked and very close musical relationship.”

The Nerve (Toronto) says of the album: “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY THE WORST THING I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE.”

“GO AWAY, FIND SOMETHING TO SAY, AND GET SOMEONE ELSE TO SAY IT!!”—Airtight (Edmonton)

David’s D.O.A. album cover is nominated for best design at the west coast music awards.

MN participate in anti-Expo 86 activities by making a t-shirt, bumper sticker, painting anti-Expo slogans on the Mexican pavilion and an EP with D.O.A. called Expo Hurts Everyone. The exposition involved evicting tenants in poor areas to make way for tourists.

Jean writes, “The only time I got on Expo site was when the Mexican pavilion invited Vancouver artists to come and do graffiti …somehow calls were made around the art community and a bunch of artist / activists went down to participate… in Mexico, evidently, graffiti is viewed differently than here… or so we believed at the time (I should research this)… that our work was somehow protected, as it is in Mexico, as part of culture… we got there and they showed us where to do our work and we let loose and spray painted anti-expo slogans all over the place until tussles with security broke up the party… fleeing artists, dufflebags of spraypaint cans clunking as we ran… looking over our shoulders for Expo Ernie.”

The Black Wedge

D.O.A. manager Ken Lester organizes the first Black Wedge tour down the west coast to Los Angeles in an old school bus borrowed from D.O.A. — anti-authoritarian, poets, minimalist musicians. Ken Lester, Bryan James, David L Pritchett, Norman, Sylvain, Dave and I and our driver Gary Taylor who did his first poetry reading on the tour. Dave’s brother Ken was D.O.A.’s manager at the time — that’s how we got the bus. Ken was a 1960s radical and inspiration to Dave as a kid. He’s ten years older than Dave. Ken put the group together and it was really our first tour after the few shows in the east with Norman. Notice it was all guys except for me. — Jean

David Lester, “In 1985 I formed the anarchist guitar and voice duo Mecca Normal with singer Jean Smith. We organized a series of tours in Canada, the U.S. and England called The Black Wedge – we kicked off our first tour by selling out two nights in a Vancouver nightclub. Political poetry? Nightclub? Sold-out? No one had heard of such a thing. As the poster stated, “We are anti-authoritarian poets and minimalist musicians reclaiming our voices, taking back culture, setting our wild hearts free!”

We borrowed D.O.A.’s school bus and drove the west coast playing clubs, a soup kitchen, an alternative school, radio stations, parties, and a bookstore. These tours continued for a few years – the name, The Black Wedge, is up for grabs. Take the name and create a tour! Like those bicycles in Holland — you just take them and leave them for the next rider.”

Touring the west coast in 1986 opened our eyes to a whole different underground, a whole new “punk rock”. Everywhere we visited we met artists, writers, musicians and activists with a DIY aesthetic and their own methods for making things happen. It was a challenge for us, could these berry-picking, pie-baking kids organizing dance parties and swimming hole picnics be political? Everyone happy, picking up instruments to join in the fun. Us with our smash the state ferocity, and them with a bag of marshmallows and some extra sticks.”

“We want to set some wild hearts and imaginations free. We want to release a riot of emotion – opening up a new arena for activist resistance culture. Disintegrate CONFORMITY. And hey, it’s going to be fun too.” – Black Wedge poster, Ken Lester quote… maybe the part about “fun” was me — Jea

Jean designs all the posters, t-shirts and booklets for the Black Wedge tour.

The Black Wedge plays a sold out show at a club in Vancouver, as well as a free school, soup kitchen, anarchist bookstore and art gallery during the tour.

During the tour, instead of changing his t-shirt, Ken Lester simply cuts the smelly bits out.

Bob Dylan’s old friend David Whitaker jumps aboard the bus and attends several Bay Area Black WQedge events. Later in the summer Whitaker makes his way to Vancouver to hang out with Black Wedge participants.

August 1, 1986.
“I remember the date because it was my birthday. Driving into town with Bob Dylan’s old pal David Whitaker — no dentures, a bandaid holding his glasses together. Dylan was playing that night at BC Place – a white marshmallow dome — and we got a flat on the viaduct, not half a mile from where Dylan was probably doing soundcheck. Whitaker, unable to loosen the lug nuts, was standing on the sidewalk looking at BC Place — soon to fill with Dylan fans — while I changed the tire on my white Toyota Corolla. Whitaker took Dylan to his first political demonstration — he’s credited with being an important influence in Dylan’s early evolution in terms of poetry, self-expression and philosophy.” — Jean Smith

Option Magazine (Los Angeles) review of first album: “Everyone tells them to ‘Get a drummer’, I get the feeling these two don’t need to listen to everyone.”

It is on the Black Wedge tour stop in Olympia that Mecca Normal meets and exchanges albums with Calvin Johnson of K Records. A beat happening LP for a Mecca Normal LP.
The Black Wedge on MySpace

Pollution Control (Cleveland) distributes our first album to radio stations for free.

“I guarantee you will never find anything remotely like this on a major label—it virtually defies description.”—Rock Express (Toronto)

“Mecca Normal is more like an insect that, once landed, can be distastefully but easily disposed of.”—The Rocket (Seattle)

“Smith uses her voice much like a harmonica, sweeping between soft and smooth to loud and raw.”—Pollution Control (Cleveland)

Strong White Male is recorded and mixed at Fiasco Brothers just outside of Vancouver.

Calvin Johnson of K Records writes to ask for a contribution to a compilation cassette he is putting out on K called “Let’s Sea”. Mecca Normal writes and records Smile Baby for it.

1987

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Mecca Normal playing on KAOS, Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington.

Mecca Normal plays Bellingham with Beat Happening, Screaming Trees and Girl Trouble. Slim Moon is in the audience.

Jean starts new zine “The Yap”.

Mecca Normal records and releases 3 song 7” EP on K Records called “Oh Yes You Can.” The songs are: Strong White Male, Man Thinks Woman and More, More, More. It is the 4th 7” released as part of the International Pop Underground series.

Strong White Male
Strong white male
here’s a world for you
Most of us are the one’s to lose,
To lose, To lose.

My cup is empty,
Thanks again.

Man Thinks ‘Woman’
Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me – ‘something not quite right.’
I talk to men and the ground turns to rolling sea.
The world is a wave tossing back whatever I throw in.

Jean organizes 2nd Black Wedge tour (across Canada) with Peter Plate (San Francisco), Mourning Sickness (Toronto); Rhythm Activism (Montreal) and Bryan James (Vancouver).

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“The BLACK WEDGE is spreading the word of how to combine poetry, music and politics and have a good time doing it. The BLACK WEDGE wants to inspire people to reclaim their voices and speak out against oppression. If you fight for a little, you don’t get a lot.”—Black Wedge poster

Mecca Normal attend Peace March and a massive demonstration protesting anti-labour code changes. They also do a pro-labour art exhibit in the Window for Non-Commercial Culture (Vancouver). It is their first exhibit.

“It (first Mecca Normal album) is the radical LP of the year, and the most listened to here at the swinging bachelor pad.”—Puncture (San Francisco

Mecca Normal goes on west coast tour of K Records bands (Spook and the Zombies, Rich Jensen and Go Team).

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Jean makes her first chapbook: Hot Pink — the history of a situation.

David designs Canada’s largest book publication called BC BookWorld. This continues until present day (2015).

In his review of “Oh Yes You Can” in The Rocket, Bruce Pavitt (Sup Pop co-founder) writes a Dear Jean letter: “The next time you and your guitar friend David come south from Vancouver, you should stop by my apartment. We can drink papaya nectar and talk about why America has so many serial killers.”

David quits his 4-day a week job at a Vancouver magazine in order to tour. He decides to go freelance doing graphic design for the next 11 years.

Black Wedge, Vancouver to Montreal back on the D.O.A. school bus, this tour included more women. Nellie Bolt was our driver and Mourning Sickness — a feminist trio from Toronto who I’d never met or even heard before I booked them across the country because their tape got lost in the mail. They got on the Greyhound to Vancouver and, by chance, met jingle man Bryan James on the bus, also en route from Toronto.

I recall them phoning the prairies saying the bus had broken down and they’d carried their instruments across a farmer’s field… oh god. — Jean

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