Revolution Girl-Style Now!
Notes From the Teenage Feminist Rock ‘n’ Roll Underground
By Emily White
Chicago Reader (nationally syndicated)
Jean Smith of Vancouver’s Mecca Normal has been touring with guitarist David Lester for nearly ten years now. Smith’s mixture of highly poetic lyrics and feminist subjects tends to put people off–and then there’s her voice: a high keening that wavers between beauty and monstrosity, a siren scream I can’t endure but I want to hear forever. She plays slow songs you couldn’t mosh to. She plays out-of-tune guitars with broken strings. She sings about Joelle washing a frying pan: “Her boyfriend / Around two corners / Watching TV.” Suddenly “the frying pan comes out of the water / And flies through the air . . . and hits the wall / All the energy / Of the history / Of the situation.” In “Twelve Murders,” a woman on the beach is approached by a rapist: “She pulled a knife from beneath the blanket / And shoved it in his body.”
Smith has drifted around for a long time and has yet to grow tired of drifting, sometimes staying on to live in the last town of the tour, sometimes not living anywhere. Mecca Normal has put out records on K, Matador, and Smith’s own label, Smarten Up. If and when they are reviewed, she is often compared to Patti Smith. “Which is kind of sad,” she says. “If you are a loud, aggressive woman singing this kind of stuff, she’s the one woman you’re compared to. I mean, think how many people men are compared to.” Like Kim Gordon, Smith sees herself in isolation and doesn’t identify with the rhetoric of girl revolution. Yet she’s had a profound influence on the emerging generation. Tobi Vail wrote of Smith in Jigsaw, No. 3: “I can’t think of anyone else who writes more powerful songs about what it feels like to be a woman in a world of violence against women.”