Category Archives: Milestones

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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Songs from Portland

Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester) opening for The Julie Ruin at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland on October 9, 2016. Video by Pat Maley.


“Invisible Girl” is a new one. We’ve only played it live a few times. Basically, the idea was to move away from long songs and lyrics on the page, to free form a bit. I wanted a few songs that allow me to be more in the moment.

Invisible girl refers to how women and girls are socialized and conditioned to want to look attractive and sexy. Being bombarded with concepts about beauty and desirability can lead to feeling that we aren’t seen or valued for who we really are. The nature of street harassment and unwanted attention from strangers can result in women wishing they were invisible


“I Am Here” is another new one that moves away from lyrics on the page, allowing me to perform it more in the moment.
The song features two key lines.
“As long as I’m still here I will be opposed to injustice.”
“Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment.”


A still relevant song from our first album (1986), “I Walk Alone”

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Opening for The Julie Ruin

Just as we were about to start the show in Portland, David said he didn’t see Pat Maley in the audience. I spotted him front and center and handed him Dave’s Sony (consumer) video camera as one does when in such situations. No advance warning or anything civilized like asking with a “please” attached to it. Doh. I haven’t seen Pat for a couple of years. He smiled and took the camera. What a guy! Next time I looked at him he was shooting with the Sony on one eye and an iPhone on the other, like some kind of weird binoculars. I had to look away. It was kind of comical, but mostly just slightly disturbing.

It’s a bit clunky for the transition from Sony to iPhone at 4:09 , but it looks and sounds great after that!

 New and unrecorded songs are marked *
* 1. Anguish/Misogyny 2:45
* 2. Invisible Girl 8:24
3. Attraction is Ephemeral 12:07
4. Strong White Male 20:29
* 5. I Am Here 23:47
6. Throw Silver 27:23
7. I Walk Alone 30:35
8. Beaten Down 34:17
* 9. The Ferry to the Launch 38:19

VIDEO: four individual songs

Kenny Mellman and Kathleen Hanna talking about Mecca Normal between songs in Portland at the Wonder Ballroom, October 9, 2016. Thanks to Pat Maley for capturing this! After Kenny says Mecca Normal is his favorite band, Kathleen tells the audience to but my paintings! She also does a brief imitation of me working at Home Depot! I was standing at the back of the venue feeling like this was part of a dream!

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The Jean Smith painting Kenny Mellman bought. “No Hat #46 (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas). $100 paintings currently available.

Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester) opening for The Julie Ruin at the Showbox in Seattle , October, 2016. Video by Connie Ostrowski

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Vancouver

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Mecca Normal and Kathleen Hanna at soundcheck in Vancouver

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Vancouver. Photo by Erik Iversen Photography

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David Lester of Mecca Normal pre-show in Seattle at the Showbox. Photo by Jean Smith

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Portland. Photo by Mary Sharp

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Portland. Photo by Mary Sharp

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Portland. Photo by Mary Sharp

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The crowd (approx. 700 – 800?) from the balcony in Portland, waiting for The Julie Ruin to take the stage at the Wonder Ballroom.

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I was spontaneously gifted with a necklace by the mother of one of the two girls on the right after I signed their copy of Mecca Normal’s 7″ 1990-something EP Paris in April (K Records). Later, when I thought about the lyrics, I was happy they ended up with that one. The song is about a young woman who doesn’t want to be conventional; she wants to see travel, to see Europe in springtime.

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Photos with fans!! Always a thrill! It was fun to get Pat Maley to sign the back of Calico Kills the Cat (K Records, 1989) since he recorded it! I think it’s the one we recorded in a (renovated) chicken coop in Olympia.

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Portland Motel 6

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Pitchfork’s story of feminist punk in 33 songs

pitchforkMecca Normal‘s “Man Thinks Woman” (1987) made the cut with a great write-up by Douglas Wolk for Pitchfork’s story of feminist punk in 33 songs

“Mecca Normal break rules like they never noticed them in the first place. The Vancouver-based duo of singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester are anarchist-feminist activists and constant experimentalists, implying a rhythm section with negative space alone. Always an intense presence onstage, they’ve become the most tenacious of D.I.Y. road warriors, touring and recording for 32 years now. In the early ’90s, they popped up on most of the biggest American indie-rock labels (Sub Pop, K, Matador); by their 25th anniversary, they were on the road with a performance-and-lecture project called “How Art & Music Can Change the World.”

Smith’s lyrics often foreground her political perspective; their anthem “Man Thinks ‘Woman,’” released in 1987, started out as a barbed dissection of gender normativity: “Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me/Something not quite right.” The song kept expanding its radius from there, encompassing both bitter poetics and a disarmingly funny account of a drunken makeout gone weird. Kathleen Hanna has cited Smith as an early inspiration: “When I saw her,” she told The Fader, “I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold.” –Douglas Wolk

“Man Thinks Woman” video by David Lester

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“Oh Yes You Can” 7″ on K Records (1987)

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Jarred Up” compilation of singles on K Records (1993)

A mess of Mecca Normal songs pulled together from singles and compilations dating to 1992, rounding out the first eight years of their existence. Dunt fear, Mecca Normal are still going strong! Jarred Up reveals the awesome might of their thing; it is the essential Mecca Normal Document.

A K Records Essential.

Track Listing
Strong White Male
Man Thinks Woman
Forlorn
He Didn’t Say
Follow Down
It’s Important
How Many Now?
Horse Heaven Hills
This Is Different
Armchairs Fit
Accidently
You Heard It All
Days
Fan of Sparks
Narrow
Upside Down Flames
From The Surface
More More More
Echo
One More Safe
Rose

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Email Exchange

In an email exchange between David and I this morning, he offered to pick up the paper that my painting empire is built on, but which seems to have been discountinued and is out of stock everywhere.
Me: “Have I mentioned lately that you are THE BEST best friend ever!!!!?”
David: “What would our worlds look like without the comradeship we share, and over such a long time? I take great inspiration from all the work you do, and of course your humour.”
David and I have worked together on many projects since we met in 1981 at ages 21 (me) and 22 (him). I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator and friend.
This September it will 35 years ago that we met.

Notes and Quotes

Excerpt from David Lester’s collection of tour diary notes, reviews and comments.

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“She was—and still is—a really political person, a political being who really walks the talk. And the effect of her views on me in turn affected the band. We started looking at the world differently—and certainly from more of a left-of-centre viewpoint.” – John Mann of the band Spirit of the West on Jean Smith, 2008

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David’s 57th Birthday

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Video: “I Walk Alone” at Horses Records in Vancouver on Record Store Day, 2015

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David posted this drawing to FaceBook with this comment:
“Crikey… I share a birthday with Morrissey, Richard Wagner, Bernie Taupin, Mary Cassatt, Arthur Conan Doyle, Hergé, and Sun Ra. Don’t know what it means so I did this drawing.”

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Oysters on The Drive before pizza at Marcello’s.

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“Mecca Normal” wrapping paper

30 Years Today

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30 YEARS ago TODAY, Mecca Normal played its first show.

On July 27, 1984, long after Vancouver’s “punk” scene was over, Mecca Normal opened for D.O.A. at the Smilin’ Buddha and then this strange account of the show appeared in the weekly music paper saying that D.O.A. had played “mecca normal” songs that night. A correction was printed the following week.

And that was just the beginning of the 30 years of weirdness and intensity that continues to this day.

Turns out that working with David Lester is the best decision I ever made.