Category Archives: Lyrics

Video: Held

Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar at Chicago’s Lounge Ax in the mid-1990s. “Held” is from “Dovetail” (K Records, 1992).

Held

You’d be surprised alright
where you could be held
there
pinned in an updraft
back against the clouds

Holding sirens’ rage
on a tangle pain
you didn’t know was there
you didn’t know it was there

Gridwork set up for your wing on rise
to place
where you will be held
back against the light

Hammer on, hammer on
towards never getting back
never getting back
hammer on
hammer on

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Video: This Machine (cover)

West Coast Chalice: Karl Blau, Brian Tottenham, Braydn Krueger, Doug Cassidy, and Jesse.

The original version of “This Machine” is from “Dovetail” (K Records, 1992).

This Machine

Making it anything
so it isn’t nothing now
I am touching at the future
with a tin edge hollow stamp

I wove the spin of endurance
knots hanging in black twine
jarred up on a plank shelf
oiled to a (dull) shine

I am wanting (watching)
I am wishing
for wind
to knock this stillness out

Making it anything
so it isn’t nothing now

Screaming on track
pounding up loud
dreaming down pipe on a sigh
sifting on freight tight
this machine rides

Making it anything
so it isn’t nothing

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VIDEO: The Dogs

“The Dogs” by Mecca Normal from “Water Cuts My Hands” (K Records, 1991). Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar. Video and paintings by Jean Smith.

The Dogs

My thoughts are chased my dogs
trapped in Instamatic snapshots
their eyes are red in the night
I can see into their mouths
past the teeth
past the teeth

I’m at home in the strangest places
but the sea is just pounding water
trying to get revenge
trying to get revenge

The dogs are barking
running towards me
through a roll of twenty-four exposures

The dogs have questions for me
I don’t know what they are

On the train I heard the sea on the tracks
roaring in a straight line
away from me
away from me

Stop it with the gun
Stop it with the gun
was a philosophy of hers
more than a request
but right now she’d like the kid to quit it
he has a sound-equipped machine gun
pointed at her head
pointed at her head

The dogs have been measured out to me

Some of the snapshots have one big dog
some of the snapshots have two dogs
some of the snapshots have three dogs
I don’t know how many dogs there are
more than three
more the ones my flashcube illuminates

The dogs have questions for me
The dogs have questions for me

Dogs don’t mince words

 

 

 

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VIDEO: Lois Wrote About the Farm

“Lois Wrote About the Farm” by Mecca Normal from “Water Cuts My Hands”(K Records, 1991). Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar. Painting by Jean Smith.

“Lois Wrote About the Farm”

America has named its chickens.
Two of them are called The Twins.

America strings its words together neatly;
it is hiding something big.

The check-out girl says she can’t quit smoking.
She’d have nothing else to do.

America, instigator of The Dream.
In my mind my body aches.

 

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VIDEO: Dead Bird’s Feet

“Dead Bird’s Feet” by Mecca Normal from “Water Cuts My Hands” (K Records, 1991). Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar. Directed by Jean Smith.

Dead Bird’s Feet

Dead bird’s feet
mounted on the wall
they don’t have a right side up
they don’t have an up side down
they were something else
now they’re on the wall
on the wall

Wanting conflict to be neat
we name the opposition
forever it will be the things they do
that are wrong
that are wrong

Men hate women
making it easy for women to hate men
women hate men
making it easy for men to hate women
men to hate women

We are handing out stiff starched pajamas
to sex offenders
in concrete halls

We are wincing and creating opinion
slamming steel doors
and turning in the breeze
in the breeze

of right and wrong
of right and wrong
outside where air is pure
air is pure
air is pure

Right and wrong
outside
outside where air is pure
air is pure

 

 

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VIDEO: Not Standing Still

“Not Standing Still” by Mecca Normal from “Water Cuts My Hands” (K Records, 1991). Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar.

 

Not Standing Still

You might say,
“Why do I fight?
Change won’t happen.”

Well, not overnight.

Why do you think
we’re standing still?

We’re not standing still.

Change will happen.
Oh yes, it will.

 You might say,
“We’re standing still.”

 We’re not standing still.

 

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VIDEO: Water in a Bucket

“Water in a Bucket” by Mecca Normal from “Water Cuts My Hands” (K Records, 1991). Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar. Directed by Jean Smith

Images: Stock footage from Prelinger Archives. Flint faucet. Mecca Normal performing in Holland 1994 — using the visual portion of footage at Fast Forward Festival, Nijmegen. Direction and editing Remko Dekker. Cameras Bart de Keulenaar, Wilmer Hendriks, Remko Dekker.

Water in a Bucket

La la la my my my la la la my my my

Water in a bucket

down the street

You carry your water in a bucket down the street

La la la my my my la la la my my my

You carry your water too

in a North American city

in a North American street

Where the dream started

it started without you

I wanna get out of this dream

nightmare

I wanna climb out of this dream

this dream
this nightmare
nightmare

nightmare

It’s no dream

nightmare
nightmare
I wanna get out of this dream

nightmare

The dream started without you

It’s no dream

La la la my my my la la la my my my

 

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VIDEO: Cherry Flowers

I made a video for the Mecca Normal song Cherry Flowers (Dovetail, K Records, 1992) fairly spontaneously. It’s a pretty song about springtime and I did a cherry blossom painting recently, so it occurred to me to connect them. But, as I was putting the elements together, I recalled more about the song’s meaning, which I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about or expressed.

That got me to thinking about all our songs and the various meanings tucked up into them, so I listed all the songs, created a song meaning legend and assigned codes to most of the songs with a note saying that some of the songs need to be reviewed due to their nature, which might be psychological, poetic or complex.

As for Cherry Flowers (1992), it is about the geography of borders, clandestine crossings in vehicles (row boats heading for the united caves of america) laden with cherry flowers. Feel free to interpret what the cherry flowers are (maybe art and music?), but, in the song, “seven men in white shirts watch the needle on the gauge, rise and fall, swing and dive, on the border” using specialized equipment to assess the validity of those attempting to cross.

Painting by Jean Smith “Spring” (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) $100 USD

Song Meanings

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Song Meanings

6. One Man's Anger
Illo by Jean Smith
Normal History Vol 168 by David Lester
 Illo by David Lester

 

Mecca Normal songs listed alphabetically with predominant themes as per the legend. Songs without code need to be reviewed due to their nature, which might be more psychological, poetic or complex to assign code to at first glance.

LEGEND:

Activism related to Status Quo = Act
Apathy = Apathy  Anger = A
Capitalism = C
Empathy = E
Environment = Env
Feminism = F
History = H
Injustice = I
Language = L
Political (including Personal) and Protest = Pol & P
Relationships (romantic, interpersonal, family) = R
Social Justice = SJ

Utopian = U

SONGS:

12 Murders – F, SJ, Pol
20 Years / No Escape – Apathy, H, I, U
1922 – F, I, H, P, U
A Kind of a Girl – F, I, H, P
Accidently – L
Alibi – R
All About the Same Thing – R, H, C
Ancient Fire – F, Pol, H
Are You Hungry Joe? – SJ, I, H, Pol, A
Armchairs Fit – Act, A, Apathy, Pol, C
Arsenal – F, R, L, I, Pol
Art Was the Great Leveler – E
Attraction Is Ephemeral – R, Pol
Beaten Down – A, Pol, C
Beppo’s Room –
Between Livermore and Tracy –  B
lame the Glass Man – H, C
Blue Sky and Branches – A, R, H, Apathy
Blue TV – C, A
Breathing in the Dark – R
Broken Flowers – R, C
Cave In – A, Pol, C
Cherry Flowers – Pol, U
Clatter – C
Convince Yourself – E, C
Crimson Dragnet –
Current of Agreement – E
Cyclone – E  Days – Env
Dead Bird’s Feet – L, F, A
Deep Dark Secret –
Don’t Heal Me Like a Dog Just to Break Me Like a Horse – R
Don’t Look In The Mirror –
Don’t Shoot – Act, Pol, C, SJ
Drilling – Env, C
Drive At – H, Env, C
Echo –
Elemental Steamer –
Engine Rain – C, Env
Every Wrong Word – L, F, I
Excalibur – R
Fallen Skier – R
Family Swan – R
Fan of Sparks – Env
Fight for a Little – P, A, H
Flash Light –
Follow Down –
Forlorn – F, R
From the Surface –
Frozen Rain –
Gravity Believes –
Greater Beauty – Env
He Didn’t Say – F, R
Held –
Her Ambition – F
His Own Madness – R
Horse Heaven Hills –
How Many Now? – H, SJ
Hurricane Watch – E
I Don’t Get It –
I Don’t Need To Hold Your Hand –
I Hear You – E
I Know a Little Bit – C
I Walk Alone – F, A, H, Pol
I Went Away For A While –
Ice Floes Aweigh – R, H
I’ll Call You – R, F, A
I’m a Bit Confused – C
I’m Not into Being the Woman You’re with While You’re Looking for the Woman You Want – F, R, I, A, L, Pol
In Canada – R, H  In January – Pol, Res
Is This You? – E
It’s Called Rock ‘n Roll – H
It’s Important – E
Joelle – F, SJ, Pol
Kingdom Without Weather – Pol, U

Lois Wrote About The Farm – L, C, Apathy
Maisy’s Death – E
Malachi – Pol, Emp, Act
Man Thinks Woman – F, I, L, A, H, Pol  Medieval Man –
More, More, More – C
Mrs. McGillvary –
Museum of Open Windows – Pol, A, SJ
My First Love Song – R
Naked and Ticklish – R
Narrow – R
No Mind’s Eye – R, L
Nobody’s Asking –
Normal – Apathy
Not Standing Still – Act, Apathy, Pol, P, H
Not With You – R, F  Not Yet – R
Now That You’re Here – R
Odele’s Bath – E
OK, Here We Go – E
On the Row of Dials –
Once – H, Env
One Man’s Anger – F, Pol
One More Safe – Emp, Pol, L, Act
One Woman – F, Act, H
Only Heat – E
Orange Sunset – A, F, L
Pamela Makes Waves – F, H  Paris in April – F, H
Peach-A-Vanilla – Apathy, Act
Phone’s Unplugged – I, R
Pocket Of Scribbly Gums –
Prize Arm – A, C, Act
Revolution#Pine – Pol, Act
Ribbon – Pol, Act
Richard – C
Rigid Man in an Ice Age – H, L
Rose –
Scare in the Hallway –
Sha La La La – Pol, Act
Smile Baby – F, SJ, Pol
Something to Be Said –   S
Step into My Sphere – F, R
Straying to Summer – SJ
Strong White Male – Pol, F, C, I, H
Taking The Back Stairs – Act, Apathy, A, C, E, H, I, P, SJ, U
Texada Warns Me –
The Caribou & the Oil Pipeline – P, A, C, E
The Dark Side of Maria – R
The Dogs – C, L
The Message – Pol, SJ, Act
The Observer – H
The Orbit – R
The Revival of Cruelty – Pol, Act, C
The Way of Love – R
Then – A, H, Pol
This Is Different – E
This Is My Summer Vacation – C
This Machine – E, Apathy
Throw Silver – R
To Avoid Pain – Apathy
Tolerate Me – A
Trapped Against – Apathy
Trapped Inside Your Heart – R
Upside Down Flames – U
Vacant Night Sky – E, R
Waiting for Rudy – C, SJ, Pol
Walking the Walls – Apathy
War Between the Neighbours – C, R
Wasn’t Said – R
Water Cuts My Hands – Pol, C
Water In A Bucket – H, I, Pol, C, E, SJ, U
What About the Boy? – SJ
What’s Your Name? – Apathy
When You Build a House Without Doors – Pol
When You Know – R
Who Shot Elvis? – H, Pol, C
Who Told You So? – H, A, Pol
Will He Change? – SJ, Pol
Women Were King – H, F, Pol, U
You Heard It All – Pol, H
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Interview Questions Requested

I received an email from a music magazine’s publisher asking me to contribute interview questions directed to him. He stated that nothing was off limits. I could ask him whatever I wanted. I composed the following email and sent it to him. He replied an hour later saying that his magazine had one rule. “NO religion or politics.”

So much for “nothing is off limits” questions. He knows me, my work, my band. I don’t plan on following this up with him. I guess I’m allowed to ask, but he isn’t going to answer.

Here, for the record, are my questions.

In November, the abstract I submitted to the EMP (now Museum of Pop Culture — MoPOP) Pop Conference was accepted. I’ve never applied before, but with the focus on music related to politics, I felt compelled to contribute.

I submitted a presentation titled “How I Became a Successful Agent for Radical Social Change” during which David (Lester) and I will draw from our 60-minute classroom presentation “How Art and Music Can Change the World”  which outlines how we came to inspire the co-founders of the 1990s social movement known as Riot Grrrl.

Actually, the dates are significant. I applied on November 8, before the polls closed, but when I received the acceptance email mid-December, both the title and the content of my talk seemed entirely different than when I submitted it! It felt like we’d slid backwards a fair few notches with little foreseeable hope of resuming the kind progressive social change that positively impacts the vast majority.

With these concerns in mind, here are my questions for you!

How do you think music that relates to politics will manifest under a Trump government? Will there be an upswing in political bands and events?

Do you think art – and music specifically – can impact the direction the US is taking?

As people re-evaluate their news sources (go Teen Vogue!), do you, as a journalist and publisher, see a new role or responsibility, or will your content mandate remain the same?

Which American bands with progressive lyrics come to mind in terms of having the potential to address, inspire and motivate large groups of people? Or is that even something a band and music fans should concern themselves with? Should lyricists continue to focus on ‘love’ as a major theme, obfuscating their feelings and song meanings through semantics and idiosyncratic references? What would you like to see happen on the lyric frontier?

I’ve noticed that Americans seem to love mystery when it comes to celebrity engagement. There is a love of speculation. What is that person really like? Do you think transparency in terms of the directness a band might want to take with its lyrics and interviews would negatively impact its likelihood of success? Is the tradition of mystique worth protecting in this coming era?

Would now be a good time for lyricists to use their words in ways that have previously seemed vaguely unnecessary or should we wait until it we’ve exhausted other forms of protest before we expect the arts to address and reflect the decline in the quality of life?

Which do you think will occupy people’s mind’s more in terms of time spent in spectator mode – escapist entertainment or activist culture? By that I mean, which will seem to be the more demanding of following?

I’m basically in the music industry, but way out on the D-I-Y fringes, creating art that intends to connect beauty, truth and understanding for people who are not willfully destroying tolerance. I would have chosen an entirely different direction if I’d been in it for money or fame. You come into contact with music and people I know little about. I recall years ago a local band pulling out of a benefit show to free political prisoners. Word got back through the community that their management thought it might be bad for their career. They did have a very nice career, as it turns out!

Do you think there a fear that writing political lyrics might be damaging to a band’s career?

Is there a lack of confidence there in terms of making a misstep or is it simply an industry taboo to state what you believe if you think there’s going to be backlash?

Do you think bands care more about being famous, “making it big” or affecting progressive social change with their music?

For myself, I find writing the lyrics for political songs quite difficult. I feel a huge responsibility to get it right even though my audience is minuscule. I want to say things in songs that will be interpreted, first of all, the way I mean them, and, second of all, to have them used as fuel in individual lives. That’s a tall order. I’ve been formulating a plan that would bring creative types together to work collaboratively on such material as a sort of sounding board and checks and balance element to the process. Working (writing) with an opportunity for other people’s input (not necessarily from those directly involved in any given project) may be a way forward for political content.

Have you considered anything new for [your magazine] to regularly feature music related to politics? Maybe a section where artists writing political lyrics could talk about what motivated them, what they mean explicitly, what they intended to achieve, what sort of response they’d had in terms of feedback, networking etc.

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