Author Archives: jeansmith

October 14 in MN history

wow hallDavid Lester’s FaceBook post today

“30 years ago today, Mecca Normal had one of our most stamina-busting days on tour: 733 miles, two gigs, 4 cities, one day!!!! Mecca Normal woke up in Berkeley after playing the Gilman Street Project the night before. Breakfast with our friend DJ Laura Moody (KALX) and Calvin (K Records). Hitching a ride, Calvin shares driving duties with Jean heading north. First stop is Eugene, OR where we open the show for Vomit Launch at the WOW Hall. Right after the set we pack up and leave by a side door where Calvin has the car ready to go. Drive on to Portland, where we do a closing set at the Blue Gallery with Some Velvet Sidewalk. Pack up and then we drive on to Olympia, entering the city just as the sun is rising. I’m not sure if we actually had any food that day, aside from breakfast, but somehow it was all incredibly exciting.”

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“I Walk Alone” at Tobi Vail’s 50th birthday

Erin Smith’s snippet of video from July, 2019 “MECCA NORMAL doing I WALK ALONE at Tobi Vail’s birthday party!! SO beautiful and perfect and intense to be able to see you do this at this time in this town with all of the people in the audience you have influenced so deeply. You were the first band I ever saw play Olympia in 1989, at Reko Muse Gallery with Tobi Vail and @mskathleenhanna in the audience along with me. THANK YOU MECCA NORMAL!! THANK YOU Jean Smith!!! This weekend has been nothing short of INCREDIBLE!!”

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The Kenyon Review

 

REPETITION IS POLITICAL: ON WALKING ALONE, “I HAVE A DREAM,” AND MORGAN PARKER by Ruth Joffre, June 20, 2019

In 2016, I attended a weeknight concert at the Showbox in Downtown Seattle that got me thinking about walking as a political act. The headliner that night was riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna’s new band The Julie Ruin, which had just released its second full-length album, Hit Reset. One of the opening acts was the Vancouver-based band Mecca Normal, a two-person indie band formed by lead singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester. One of the songs Mecca Normal performed that night was “I Walk Alone.” It stood out to me because, partway through the song, Smith put down the microphone, stomped off stage, and continued singing (shouting), repeating “And I walk and I walk and I walk and I walk and I walk” over and over as she marched through the crowd.

This went on for a minute, maybe two. As she sang, I understood how dangerous it was for me to have come down to the theatre alone, how vulnerable I was—how vulnerable we both were as women in a crowd. I understood, too, how important it was to reclaim my right to walk around, to proclaim defiantly (despite the danger) that I existed and that I deserved to be able to move safely in the world. This lesson stuck with me long after Mecca Normal left the stage and the show floor. Though the highlight of the night was of course seeing Kathleen Hanna perform “Rebel Girl” live, I’ll never forget Jean Smith’s performance.

I repeated her lyrics in my head as I walked home alone that night.

In high school, I learned that repetition is one of the most effective rhetorical devices. We use it in music to create catchy jingles, in commercials to enhance brand recognition, in speeches political and otherwise to sway our audiences to our side. Consider Mark Antony’s speech in the play Julius Caesar: how through repetition the statement “Brutus is an honorable man” becomes a question that undercuts his authority and turns the Roman people against him. How in the 1953 film adaptation Marlon Brando’s Mark Antony turns from the Roman mob, pausing, calculating, his expression one of manipulative ambition as he waits for the exact moment to turn around and capture the audience again.

This, my teachers said, is the power of repetition. It’s the same device that Martin Luther King, Jr., uses in the oft-taught “I Have a Dream” speech, wherein he repeats the famous phrase eight times in a row not to call into question the meaning of the word “dream” (as Mark Antony does with “honorable”) but to emphasize the grandeur and the beauty of that dream, as well as the monumental work required to achieve it. In King’s speech, the “dream” becomes a kind of cathedral in which the audience prays for a better, more equitable, more just future.

But there is something else Martin Luther King, Jr., does with repetition: he shows us the reality from which his dream has sprung. When he tells us of his dream that one day his children will “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he illuminates a painful reality for African Americans and other people of color in the United States: that, in the eyes of white people and for all levels of government, what you look like is more important than who you are or what you do. This is still the case now, over fifty years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Today, African American poets and writers such as Claudia Rankine and Morgan Parker use repetition in similar ways to shine a light on their (and, by extension, our) political reality. In “Now More than Ever,” Morgan Parker talks about how “the most politically liberal but socially comfortable of Whites” repeat the title phrase as if there is something particularly dire about this moment, as if there has been a drastic change requiring White attention; Parker then systemically dismantles this lie, illustrating how this diminishes African Americans, reducing all the richness of their experience to the singular, flattened “life of the Negro,” which they seem doomed to live “now, and ever and ever and ever and ever” into eternity.

When I saw Parker perform “Now More than Ever” at the Hugo House in Seattle this past April, the repetition of “and ever” continued for several minutes. Finally, Parker, done explaining things for the predominantly white Seattle audience, stood up, left the stage, and walked out of the theatre, still repeating that phrase (“and ever and ever”), even as the door clicked shut behind her. We sat for a long moment, wondering if she would return, and then the lights switched on and the reading was over. Unlike Jean Smith, Parker did not return to the microphone to perform one last piece or say goodbye or break down the equipment. She had made her point, and as I gathered my things the words echoing in my head made the point for her again and again and again.

 

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“Radicals Rendered in Pencil”

New illustrations by David Lester! Something he did while taking a little down time from the two graphic novels he’s working on.

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Abbie Hoffman (November 30, 1936 – April 12, 1989), American political and social activist, anarchist, and co-founder of the Youth International Party (Yippies).

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Frank Little (1878 – August 1, 1917), American labor leader who was murdered in Butte, Montana. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, organizing miners, lumberjacks, and oil field workers. He was a member of the union’s Executive Board when he was lynched.

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Eugene V. Debs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926), American socialist, political activist, trade unionist, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World. He ran as the Socialist Party candidate for president in 1920, receiving nearly a million votes.

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Martha Gruening (1889–1937), American writer, political agitator and civil rights activist. She wrote and edited The Dawn, a pacifist magazine, and was arrested for “disorderly conduct” after distributing pacifist literature. She served as the assistant secretary to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She moved to France and continued to advocate for the rights of African-American men and women until her death.

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Shulamith Firestone (January 7, 1945 – August 28, 2012), Canadian-American radical feminist. A central figure in the early development of radical feminism and second-wave feminism. In 1970, Firestone wrote The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution.

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Fred Mooney (January 23, 1888 – February 24, 1952), one of the most radical leaders of the United Mine Workers of America (District 17). He was involved with The Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed labor uprising in U.S. history. The conflict occurred in Logan County, West Virginia, as part of the Coal Wars, a series of early-20th-century labor disputes in Appalachia. Up to 100 people were killed.

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Ben Fletcher (1890 – 1949), member of the Industrial Workers of the World–Philadelphia longshoremen branch (Local 8). He helped lead Local 8, the largest, most powerful, and longest lasting interracial union of the World War I era. Because of a union work stoppage in 1918, Fletcher was charged with treasonous activities. He was convicted, fined $30,000 and sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth federal penitentiary in Kansas.

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Simone Segouin (October 3, 1925 – ), French Resistance fighter, at age 18, served in the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans group. Among her first acts of resistance was stealing a bicycle from a German military administrator, which she then used to help carry messages. She went on to take part in large-scale or otherwise perilous missions, such as capturing German troops, derailing trains, and blowing up bridges.

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Robert Minor (1884 – 1952), American political cartoonist whose early work appeared in The Masses and Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth.

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Unidentified Italian anti-fascist during World War Two. After the war, about 35,000 Italian women were recognized as partisan combatants.

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Ralph Chaplin (1887–1961), American writer, artist and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He designed the anarcho-syndicalist image, Sabo, the black cat (a symbol of wildcat strikes and radical unionism). Chaplin wrote the words for the union anthem, “Solidarity Forever”. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in South Tacoma.

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Mollie Stimer (November 21, 1897 – July 23, 1980), anarchist and activist who fought as a trade unionist, an anti-war activist and a free-speech campaigner. Arrested in 1918 for printing and distributing leaflets denouncing the U.S. military action in Russia, she was convicted under the Sedition Act and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Close friend of Emma Goldman.

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Lucy Parsons (1853 – March 7, 1942), American labor organizer, radical socialist and anarcho-communist. She is remembered as a powerful orator. She was married to Albert Parsons, who was executed in 1887 as a Haymarket Martyr. In 1905, she was a co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.

 

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early photos

MN, 1993, photo by Jon Snyder

photo by Jon Snyder, 1993

MN, Hamburg, Germany, 1994, photo by Moni Kellermann

photo by Moni Kellerman, Hamburg, Germany 1994

MN, photo by Jeff Bagato, Mole Magazine

photo by Jeff Bagato, Mole Magazine

MN, Vera, Groningen, Holland, 1995

photo by Snorkel, Vera Project, Holland, 1995

first show

first show photo by Ian Smith, Vancouver 1984

first show s

first show photo by Ian Smith, Vancouver 1984

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What the Heck?

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35th anniversary micro tour hits Anacortes

East Van Garage Fest

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Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester) at the WISE Hall in Vancouver, July 13, 2019

photos: Bob Hanham

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Interview: Jean Smith

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Jes Reyes INTERVIEW: $100 USD paintings, the Free Artist Residency, selling 750 paintings on FaceBook

“When we make things, we find our associates and allies. We find our communities, and everything that comes along with that, including the power to resist and reasons for actual joy.”

“Painting sales above monthly expenses [$1000 USD] go towards opening the Free Artist Residency for Progressive Social Change off the west coast of Canada.”

750 SOLD // 300+ IN STOCK

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Video: D-I-Y assembly line 2014

1 NEW March-2014

Empathy for the Evil” (M’lady’s Records, 2014)

“…Smith’s characters deal with the inequality and power imbalances that mark modern society.” Colin Joyce, Pitchfork (USA)

“…the songs speak to understanding the inherent nature of frayed humanity.” Eric Risch, PopMatters (USA)

“Turning long, thick passages of prose into singable, memorable songs, Mecca Normal have revolutionized their music again. If you think you’ve already heard everything this band is capable of, you need to hear Empathy For The Evil and find out just how wrong you are. After a long-delayed release, you will finally get a chance. Do not miss this one.” – J Neo Marvin, Ear Candle Productions (San Francisco)

“For the thoughtful listener who appreciates both a good work of fiction and a nice dose of indie folk ‘Empathy for the Evil’ is the record for you.” – Mark Anthony Brennan, Ride the Tempo (Canada) rated 4 out of 5 stars

“… Smith’s words are full of wisdom and humour and cut right through the materialism of the world of rock.” – Tucker Petertil, The Big Takeover (New York)

“Duo Jean Smith and David Lester have been making raw, stripped-down garage rock since the mid 1980s. It’s rare to have this much power and emotion come from one guitarist and one singer. They always keep it real.” – Dawn Jewell, NPR-affiliate WOUB (Athens, Ohio), Top Albums of 2014

“The songs on Empathy are mesmerizing, with Smith sucking you with her trance-like vocals and poetic lyrics backed by Lester’s equally as spellbinding guitar riffs.” Steve Long, Red Dirt Report (Oklahoma)

“Songs like the rollicking “Art Was the Great Leveler” and the more subdued “Normal” focus on the intricacies of the artist’s life – the things that connect, join folks together and perhaps drive wedges between them. I can think of no one better than Smith and Lester to show us the way.” Alison Lang, Broken Pencil (Canada)

“It’s not really important that Mecca Normal has hung around for thirty years, what is important is that they’ve weathered the constant assaults on a disabled industry, and the destructive powers of time, which can eat away at your passion and your partnership. You put on Empathy for the Evil, and it’s like your listening to Mecca Normal at the height of the Riot Grrrl movement, when the Northwest was the center of the music world, when people appreciated the ingenuity and the artistry of artists like Jean Smith and David Lester.” Brian Snider, Secretly-Important (Seattle)

“Art is the Great Leveler, is a beautiful tale weaving Smith’s love for art and relationships, how art can bring two people together.” Troy Michael, Innocent Words (Chicago)

“This is a masterpiece of story and manifesto, a lesson in life…” Sean Michaels, Said the Gramophone (Canada)

“Mecca Normal is not a normal band. They’re free of clichés, unconcerned with catchy pop hooks or mass appeal. They have made some art, and they’d like you to enjoy it on their terms. It’s refreshing, and I’m digging it.” Abe Beeson, Nado Mucho (Pacific Northwest)

“If you’re interested in an adrenalin experience which features angst rock themes that challenge the slow flow of our society, look no further.” Eden Gillespie, Happy (Australia)

“Their sound is now and ever shall be weird, unhip, oddly alluring and precise.” Patrick Rapa , Philly City Paper

“Empathy For The Evil is as pure an expression of conscious, intelligent rock music as you’re likely to hear, with every track, from Art Was The Great Leveller to Odele’s Bath, providing food for mind and soul alike.” The Crack Magazine (UK)

“The uncompromising art of Mecca Normal has been one of the more inspiring stories of the last 30 years.” Bob Ham, The Weekly Spin (Portland)

“It’s interesting to hear a group from THEN — the ’80s—continuing to play into the NOW. Like, Mecca Normal have been together for 30 years, and in context with contemporary “indie” groups, they sound like fucking GIANTS! Their maturity and immediacy screams in the face of contemporary “indie,” which, as it became pop music, has become parody. Mecca Normal never conceded to pop-radio aims, they just kept growing their own.” Mike Nipper, The Stranger (Seattle)

“I had never seen Mecca Normal perform live before, and I was totally thrilled and blown away. They mostly performed songs from their new record Empathy for the Evil, which is fantastic…” This is Fag City (New York)

“This is a thoughtful, moving, and reflective album completely out of step with anything in commercial music which is, of course, a good thing.” Allan MacInnis, Georgia Straight (Vancouver)

“A fascinating piece, minimalist and upsetting. This new album is beautiful.” K-Fuel, webzine (France)

“Moved inside for Mecca Normal. What can you say? Listening to Jean intone a phrase like “Art Was the Great Leveler” (1st song on the new album, Empathy for the Evil) while David whacks the elasticity out of what always sound like brand-new strings has been one of the consistent pleasures of my music-going life.” Franklin Bruno, live review of a show at Troost, New York City

“Mecca Normal has been speaking truth to power since 1984. By day Mecca Normal is mild-mannered writer Jean Smith and graphic artist David Lester, by night the duo wield voice and guitar as weapons of mass provocation, spreading their message of change and social justice far and wide.” Shawn Conner, Vancouver Sun

“They remain in fine form on the provocatively entitled new album Empathy for the Evil, again mixing the personal and political.” Kerry Doole, New Canadian Music

“Their insistence that a punk group could be made up of just two people following their own rules — no bass player, quiet guitar/loud vocals, storytelling as a performance art — challenged the prevailing definitions of “punk,” re-enforcing an alternate, more radical definition rooted in the DIY ethic.” — Wondering Sound (New York)

“But instead of celebrating or castigating evil, Smith traces how the absence of empathy manifests as something that looks very much like it: narcissism.” Bill Meyer, Magnet Magazine (USA)

“The new album’s guitar- and organ-driven single ‘Wasn’t Said’ offers an introspective introduction to their lyrically focused and poignant rock realism. Their set should be a charmingly unhinged, rare treat. Recommended.” by Brittnie Fuller, The Stranger

“Her (Jean’s) performance is like a thunderstorm, breathtaking and powerful, in which every lightning bolt is politically-charged.” Dillon Ramsey, Master’s candidate at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Vandocument (Vancouver)

“With this awe-inspiring show of moral and musical strength, Mecca Normal concludes Wrong Wave 2014 in all the right ways.” Dillon Ramsey, Master’s candidate at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Vandocument (Vancouver)

“The overall vibe of this interview is testament to the fact that Mecca Normal is definitely not some relic of bygone times but a vibrant and prolific artistic force. I’ll admit that I was only familiar with their musical output, of which I consider to be absolutely necessary to listen to if you haven’t already. I have had my eyes opened to the other artistic outputs of this duo — Jean Smith and David Lester.” Getting Past The Static (Austin, TX)

“In the early nineties I bought my first Mecca Normal album, the cassette tape of “Dovetail,” released in 1992 by Olympia-based independent record label K Records. I was 13 or 14.”

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