Category Archives: Milestones

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

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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

New York Times Popcast

New York Times Popcast: The Return of Bikini Kill and the Long Tail of Riot Grrrl

3 minute Mecca Normal segment of the New York Times Popcast about Riot Grrrl features “I Walk Alone”

We recorded “I Walk Alone” as it was written, and released it in 1986 on our first LP on Smarten UP! — the label I created using the same name as my fanzine (subtitled: a How to Change the World Publication). The album was re-released by K Records in the mid-90s.

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The first LP (Smarten UP! Records, 1986) includes “I Walk Alone” re-released by K Records

“I Walk Alone Live” in 2015

Smarten UP! zine by Jean Smith mid 1980s, Vancouver

Smarten UP!, my mid-80s zine was “a How to Change the World Publication”

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Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) Network, Toronto, 1992

It was interesting to hear one of the participants in the podcast lamenting the lack of live recordings of some of these bands, which is why David and I are thrilled about the new “LIVE in Montreal, 1996” album (Artoffact Records, 2019) which includes “I Walk Alone” as part of a 3-song feminist medley.

“I Walk Alone” has been in our set for most of the 35 years we’ve been playing. I almost always leave the ‘stage’ to go into the audience to sing it, something that has not been recorded and released until now.

Listen on Bandcamp Man Thinks Woman / Strong White Male / I Walk Alone “Live in Montreal, 1996”

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Mecca Normal entry in the New York Times Riot Grrrl Listening Guide

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New York Times

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Riot Grrrl United Feminism and Punk. Here’s an Essential Listening Guide

Politically, riot grrrl blasted feminism into the future

Mecca Normal ‘I Walk Alone’ (1986)

“Because of their geographic, sonic and political proximity, the Vancouver duo Mecca Normal got swept up in the categorization of riot grrrl, but in fact, Jean Smith and David Lester had helped inspire Hanna to pick up a microphone. They have also survived the moment, still collaborating to this day. “I Walk Alone,” from their first album, set the tone for much of what was to follow. It’s the anthem of a woman staking her claim to independence, solitude, home, safety, the streets and freedom. Bold, blunt, raw and feminist, it remains timely and necessary.” – Evelyn McDonnell

“I Walk Alone” is also on our new album in a three-song medley with “Man Thinks Woman” and “Strong White Male”

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LIVE in Montreal, 1996 is part of the CBC Radio Brave New Waves Sessions series (Artoffact Records, 2019)

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CKUT interview

Download or listen to the podcast of this broadcast here (available for 6-8 weeks after broadcast date). If the podcast doesn’t run smoothly (or disappears) I made a YouTube video of it using random Mecca Normal-related footage.

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Jean Smith Mecca Normal CKUT

This is Vince Tinguely’s last ever show on CKUT in Montreal! He’s been on the air every Tuesday since 1995… is that even possible? What a great time talking with him for TWO hours this morning (now that’s a proper interview!) interspersed with tracks from our new album Mecca Normal LIVE in Montreal, 1996 (Artoffact Records, 2019).

VIDEO: CKUT interview audio mash-up with Mecca Normal footage.

NEW ALBUM: LIVE in Montreal, 1996 from the Brave New Waves Sessions series on Artoffact Records, 2019

Recorded live in 1996 for broadcast on iconic CBC radio show Brave New Waves.
Jean Smith – vocals
David Lester – guitar
Peter Jefferies – drums

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David Lester’s Self-Referential TOP 25 List

My Self-Referential TOP 25 List of 2018 (in random order)

1. Designing an anti-fascist poster for the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival.

2. Mecca Normal’s “In January” used as a soundtrack for White Death (2:40), a film made by Amsterdam-based Jocelyne Moreau. White Death is about passion, tuberculosis as ‘consumption’ and ‘romantic disease’.

3. Surpassing 500 columns in the Mecca Normal collaboration for MAGNET Magazine online.

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4. My poster of Emma Goldman included in the “Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project” exhibit at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA) (Brampton, ON).

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5. Collaborating with the Graphic History Collective to illustrate a 93 page comic, in 53 days, on the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

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6. Mecca Normal performing a set at my art exhibit at the Heart of the City Festival (Interurban Art Gallery, Vancouver).

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7. My illustration of The Battle of Ballantyne Pier used in promo for the musical version by Vancouver playwright Sherry MacDonald.

8. Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone” is slanted for use in next season’s feminist FX series Better Things.

9. Seeing my book cover for “1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike” on display at the Frankfurt Book Fair and on the cover of the Spring 2019 catalogue of publisher Between the Lines.

10. Another year of friendship and collaboration with Jean Smith. We worked on new Mecca Normal songs and we were asked by Patrick Maley to play YoYo a GoGo in 2019.

11. Completing a 5 x 3’ mural commission for an exhibit at Cumberland Museum and Archives.

Best Praxis rehearsing “Strong White Male” before the show (below)

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12. The thrill of hearing London-based UK band Best Praxis (“We are non-binary and female people of colour taking up space”) cover Mecca Normal’s Strong White Male.

13. Performing with Wendy Atkinson as Horde of Two, playing two poems by Bud Osborn at the Vancouver book launch of “Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada” by Susan Boyd.

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14. Seeing the great cover art by Jean Smith for Calvin Johnson’s solo album, featured in articles and reviews in Rolling Stone, SPIN, Stereogum, and Pitchfork.

15. Being approached to illustrate a graphic biography on the life of radical anti-slavery activist Benjamin Lay.

16. Jean Smith’s excellent cover art for Lisa Marr and the Tranzmitors‘ benefit 7″ for the Girls Rock Camp Vancouver.

17. The great Seattle cellist Lori Goldston uses two of Jean Smith’s paintings as album covers.

18. Another year of the amazing paintings by Jean Smith and the fun of seeing the diverse range of people responding to her art. It gives me great hope for this world that people buy art.

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Jean Smith $100 USD paintings (11 x 14″) for sale on FaceBook

19. Putting together the insert art for the upcoming Mecca Normal live in Montreal album on Artoffact Records.

20. The challenging and profound 3-night sold-out stand of Tanya Tagaq/Laakkuluk curated by my partner Wendy Atkinson for her Beyond Words series at The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC. The 2018 season also included an evening with Laurie Anderson.

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21. South Korean publisher Book Sea releases an edition of “Celebrate People’s History: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution” which includes my poster of Paul Robeson.

22. UK-based artist Rita Isaac asks Jean Smith for a painting to be used in an art book series by Laurence King Publishing “that aim to shed a new light onto the contemporary practice of different art forms and use of materials.”

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Jean Smith, Rose Melberg, Jon Manning, Wendy Atkinson, David Lester

23. Celebrating 20 years with my partner Wendy Atkinson by cycling in Germany and Holland and travel to Shanghai, China.

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24. The fun of doing a Mecca Normal interview with Allison Wolfe for her podcast, I’m In The Band.

25. Another year of work on my graphic novel about Emma Goldman. I’m getting closer.

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David’s Top 25 of 2017

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…

MN Toast

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PopCon

SEATTLE Museum of Popular Culture (formerly EMP) Saturday, April 22, 2017, 5:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

16 minute film by Jean Smith for PopCon 2017, introduced by Evelyn McDonnell (Associate Professor of Journalism and New Media and Interim Director of Journalism at Loyola Marymount University in LA).

PopCon 2017 theme is music and politics.

The annual EMP Pop Conference, first held in 2002, mixes together ambitious music discourse of every kind in an attempt to bring academics, critics, musicians, and dedicated fans into a collective conversation.

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Stills from the film. Jean Smith performing “The Dogs” outside Pages Books on Queen Street in Toronto circa 1993. Jean Smith being interviewed by Much Music inside Pages, talking about feminism and the increase of women in bands.

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David Lester’s Top 35 of 2016

My Totally Self-Referential Top 35 of 2016:

1. The thrill of watching Jean Smith paint and sell over 130 stunning paintings.

2. Being happy to read comments on Jean’s paintings:

“Jean I love your paintings and your music has been a deep and powerful guide for me for many years. Thanks so much.”- Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, artist and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art Institute of Chicago

“Snatch up these beautiful and mysterious paintings by the great Jean Smith!” – Johanna Fateman (Artforum)

3. Two days after Trump is elected, Tobi Vail (on Twitter) ‏selects her Song of the Day: Anguish / Misogyny by Mecca Normal.

4. “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle” book officially released with my 12-page comic “The Battle of Ballantyne Pier”. Edited by the Graphic History Collective with a preface by Paul Buhle. Contributors include Sam Bradd, Nicole Marie, Sean Carleton, Robin Folvik, Dale McCartney, Kara Sievewright, and Tania Willard etc…

5. “Someone in Germany just sent me an mp3 of their band covering Mecca Normal’s “Who Told You So” – the first song on our first album. If, in 1986, someone told me that 30 years in the future, this might happen, I would not have believed them!” – Jean Smith

6. Noam Chomsky commenting on Drawn to Change: “This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labour organizing should inspire us to “dream of what might be” and to act to bring it about.”

7. Mecca Normal reaching Volume #401 in their collaboration for MAGNET Magazine online and writing several new songs.

8. Designing a poster for the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival.

9. Having two illustrations in The Change Agent #42 (Boston, MA) a social justice magazine.

10. Mecca Normal playing our first show in a while with Michael & the Slumberland Band, Roberts Hall, and The Great Speckled Fritillary at Red Gate Arts Society in Vancouver thanks to Shaun Lee.

11. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Roots & Shoots”, a music education outreach program for under-privileged Vancouver area elementary schools that my partner Wendy Atkinson created. Her work has lead to 16,000 students being exposed to diverse music and dance in a concert hall.

12. To start the school year, Ashley Henry, a teacher of grade 8 in Oakland, California orders 10 of my “Inspired Agitators” posters to put up in her classroom (East Bay Innovation Academy).

13. Mecca Normal playing The Toast Collective in Vancouver with Blue Roses (Sydney Hermant and Dan Bejar); Steve Lambke (Constantines); and Forest Tate (Calgary).

14. Finding out “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle” is required reading for a course in the Labour Studies Program at Laurentian University (Sudbury, ON) as well as a course on Canadian history (History 1114: Forged in Fire: Canada since 1867) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

15. Completing 125 pages of my graphic novel about the last year in the life of activist Emma Goldman.

16. Los Angeles-based Razorcake Magazine’s 7-page interview with Jean (Mecca Normal)

17. Celebrating the 30th anniversary year of BC BookWorld, a publication about books that I have been designing since issue number two.

18. Drawing the cover art for British Columbia History Magazine for an excellent article by Janet Nicol.

19. Mecca Normal’s “Man Thinks Woman” (1987) making the list in Pitchfork‘s “The Story of Feminist Punk in 33 Songs: From Patti Smith to Bikini Kill, the songs that have crushed stereotypes and steered progress”.

20. Giving a lecture at Emily Carr University of Art + Design on my experiences in the collective that produced the international anti-authoritarian newspaper Open Road Newsjournal (1976-1990).

21. Mecca Normal jamming with Jonelle Aspa on drums and Jaclyn Sauer on guitar in Vancouver.

22. Designing two huge banners for the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award and The George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.

23. “The Julie Ruin Suggests” a 40-song playlist on Spotify includes Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone”.

24. Playing guitar for two shows with Wendy Atkinson Experimental Bass Player at BC Buds Festival (Firehall Arts Centre) in Vancouver.

25. The fantastic fun Mecca Normal had on their Pacific Northwest tour with The Julie Ruin (Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Christopher Carmine Covelli, Sara Landeau) and Allison Crutchfield & the Fizz. Mecca Normal’s set included the recent “I’m Still Here” with the line “Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment” which was spine-tingling to be playing in Portland on the night of the third debate.

26. Being wowed by Jean’s large painting, “Standing Standing Rock Water Protectors” which was inspired by events near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where activists are blocking construction of a pipeline on sacred burial grounds.

27. Being interviewed by Sheryl MacKay on CBC – North by Northwest about “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle”.

28. “Jean Smith and David Lester taught me so much about the interplay of one instrument (in their case David’s guitar) and a vocal. Their synergy is something I have always been thrilled by. The amount of energy and noise they make with just two people is completely inspiring to me.” – Kenny Mellman, The Julie Ruin

29. Getting an email from director/producer Bill Jersey (two time Academy Award nominee and Peabody.winner) telling me he would keep me in mind for any future film work.

30. Jesse Miller’s Portland-based eloquent daily online comic “Life and How to Live It” featuring Mecca Normal performing “We Are Here”.

31. Designing a CD package for Brooke Lydbrooke (ex-singer of The Moral Lepers etc).

32. “I love this song so much” – Kate Nash on Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone”. Nash was named Best British Female Artist at the 2008 Brit Awards. Her hit song on YouTube has 10 million plays.

33. Allison Wolfe (Sex Stains, ex-Bratmobile) list of songs that comforted, emboldened, and defined her across the last 46 years included Mecca Normal’s Strong White Male.

34. The Tyee runs an excerpt of my comic from “Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle”.

34.”Their music is still as relevant as it was 25 years ago when I first saw them. It makes me happy that their music is still relevant because they’re doing it better than ever. And their new songs are so fucking great and hilarious.” – Kathleen Hanna, The Julie Ruin on Mecca Normal

35. “When I was 15, I would listen to Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone” every day as I maneuvered the desolate and lonely 10 blocks between the bus stop and my house. This was the year I began to learn the intricacies of girlhood, soundtracked by riot grrrl bands, fresh to my previously pop-occupied ears. Jean Smith’s politicized lyrics and occasionally grating singing style created alluring discomfort—Mecca Normal empowered girls to be angry and critical. Their refusal to assimilate or soften their message makes them a truly foundational feminist punk group, and one whose voice is still desperately needed.” – Emma Burke (Portland Mercury)

Surely that is enough for one year!!!!!

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