Jean’s favorite song on the album: He Didn’t Say: We recorded this with Calvin in Olympia. I made a video on my Fisher Price PXL camera of Dave playing the acoustic part. I loved doing the wild electric part. The song gives a structure to an elementary problem in a relationship: “I never knew what he thought, he didn’t say”. It’s Important. Fan Of Sparks. Narrow
David’s favorite songs on the album: Man Thinks Woman. Narrow. Armchairs Fit (through doorways)
Jean’s favorite song on the album: Waiting For Rudy: we used to stay in an old building in San Francisco, Barbara Manning’s place. Downstairs Rudy ran his video and bookstore. He was ancient. The real estate people couldn’t touch this valuable property until Rudy died. So much hinged on Rudy’s longevity.
David’s favorite songs on the album: Waiting For Rudy
Waiting For Rudy — video by Pat Maley (YouTube)
David Lester Becomes a Publisher
David Lester, “In 1993 I started Get To The Point, to publish Jean Smith’s first novel “I Can Hear Me Fine”. Jean became the editor of Smarten Up! & Get To The Point and we’ve published a series of chapbooks of poetry, politics and artwork by community activists. One book won a major award, another was selected as one of the top 5 poetry chapbooks in Canada, and one of my book designs was featured in Zines, a large format book published in England.”
NY Times phones to set up an interview with Jean.
Sonic Youth calls to ask us to play a show with them in Seattle.
Jean referred to as a “goddess of the underground” on Canadian national radio (CBC’s Brave New Waves).
Shows with Spinnanes, Unwound, Tattletale.
Two page feature article in Alternative Press (Cleveland).
“After these hicks where I live beat me up because I dress & act different and think for myself. I put on one of your records and it makes me proud of who I am.” – Robert (Oklahoma) in a letter to Mecca Normal
“In Smith’s mouth, the line ‘He is the thing he hates’ (from “Trapped Against”) becomes a frightening indictment of gender-based injustice.” – Washington City Paper (DC) reviewing “Dovetail”
“Vancouver, Canada’s Mecca Normal is an electric guitar and female voice duo. The resulting juxtaposition makes the music seem a little less rock and more like art.” – Rebecca Odes reviewing “Dovetail” (SPIN, New York)
“This is an absolutely beautiful and (dare I use the word) enchanting collection.” — Option Magazine reviewing “Dovetail” (Los Angeles)
“Mecca Normal is definitely my fave band for year 92. Best show, best LP, best song, best everything.” – Quentin (La Rochette, France) in a letter to Mecca Normal
“Seven years on, Mecca Normal have become less vitriolic. Smith sings instead of rants, and David Lester’s fretwork is more subtle than slashing. And Dovetail is uncommonly graceful, spare but never primitive. More often then not, though, they sound like no one else.” – Jason Anderson (Eye, Toronto)
“Mecca Normal green flowers on a brown background, looking sort of like their first LP cover, art by Jean Smith. Just a beautiful tee shirt, wisely possessed and proudly displayed by lots of local hipsters. One day I was proudly displaying it when I dropped in unplanned on a colloquium being given by my friend Elaheh, an Iranian woman who studies the history of Islamic mathematics. I thought I wasn’t dressed for the occasion, but I forgot the ‘Mecca’ part of Mecca Normal. Elaheh’s advisor came up to me after the talk and asked me, over plastic glasses of champagne, ‘what does your shirt mean?’, with keen interest honed by years of Islamic scholarship. I mumbled something about a rock band, leaving him puzzled. But in his own way, of course, he had gotten into the Swing of Things.” –Unknown source
David’s West Coast Tour Diary:
Feb 4: Drive to Stanford for a radio interview with Tiffany. Sleep in our clothes at Kevin Thompson’s house.
Feb 5: Sold out show with Barbara Manning and Tiger Trap at the Chameleon in San Francisco. So crowed we have to use the bathroom in the Mexican restaurant next door. Play live on KUSF. Eat burgers at Red’s Java Hut on the waterfront. Eat pancakes.
Feb 6: Play Kresege College in Santa Cruz. Big slippery stage. Stay the night at Ritchie’s damp, cobwebbed, haunted basement. 2am.
Feb 9: Noon hour concert at UCLA. Free sandwiches, pop and chips.
Feb 10: Munchies in Pomona, CA — during “I Walk Alone” a woman in the audience starts harmonizing with Jean.
Feb 11: Irvine (Pietro’s Pub, U of C). Play with Nothing Painted Blue (Franklin Bruno does an imitation of David). Sleep at promoters.
Feb 12: Sold out show with Distorted Pony and Morning Champ at Jabberjaw. The power goes out during our set. It is a tough night.
Feb 13: Play Casbah (San Diego). It is President’s Weekend so we can’t find a motel with any vacancies. Sleep in car, it is cold night. Cross the border and visit Tijuana the next morning.
Feb 18-20: Record 18 songs at Avast Studio in Seattle with Calvin Johnson and Stuart. These recordings will become our next album Flood Plain. Also do a photo session, eat Indian food and Jean sings a duet with Calvin.
“Mecca Normal played at Jabberjaw February 12, and the set, though uneven, was not as weak as the Los Angeles Times said. Its peak, which went unmentioned in that review, was ballad called ‘I Walk Alone’, which twisted the typical loner creed into a feminist manifesto, a complaint about how women defy the ubiquitous threat of physical violence to keep their personal autonomy. Smith left the mic onstage and jumped to the floor in the middle of the song, stomping through the crowd, still singing while the guitarist continued in front, surprising the folks dozing in the dressing room before leaping back onstage. ‘I Walk Alone’ she shouted, ‘because I can walk wherever I want with whoever I want whenever I fucking want.’ The woman beside me was cheering.
It’s a delicate task for any rocker to make political statements work. Unlike Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna’s didactic lectures on date rape, Smith’s gesture flew on the strength of its first-person immediacy. (Individualism is a time-tested rock stance.) So why was Mecca Normal’s best moment lost on the Times reviewer? Because Smith’s statement addressed an experience – defying fears of rape – specific to women. And the Times reviewer was a man. This is not to say that men don’t ever fear for their safety, but that their fear is not as pervasive. This is not to say that a man could never appreciate Mecca Normal; only that, after a life’s worth of movies with male leads, it is he, not I, who must be the mental transvestite at a Mecca Normal show, who must stretch his gender imagination to empathize with Jean Smith.
Pop can ask an audience to make this leap across lines of gender, race, religion or sexual preference. Whoever agrees begins a difficult home-study course in identity politics. That leap is the reason rap fans of every colour weren’t surprised by the riots last spring; they had felt the anger long before in the music. In this way, the Simi Valley jurors could have heard ‘Cop Killer’ as a young black male. Clarence Thomas could have heard Sonic Youth’s ‘Swimsuit Issue’ as a secretary. In reality, I appreciate the way feminists like Jean Smith include me, and am confounded by how and why hardcore rap leaves me out.” –Sue Cummings (LA Weekly)
“There’s such a wide gulf between establishment rock and what Mecca Normal and other bands with the same spirit are doing. Corporate rockers write all these love songs about women, while keeping them absent from any creative role.” —Jean interviewed by Ned Raggett (New University, Irvine, CA). 1993
“I’ve met plenty of people who act like pins were just stuck in their eyeballs at the mere mention of Mecca Normal.” –SF Weekly
“Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith would be a heroine in any age: her beautiful harsh voice, her uncompromising lyrics, her sheer performing dignity guarantee her that. But until you see her face down a crowd of hypocritical and uninterested punk rockers, you don’t know what true heroism is. Smith’s music is dissonant, deeply felt, feminist, courageous.” – Gina Arnold (San Diego Weekly)
On the International Pop Underground Convention live album, Bratmobile can be heard introducing their set saying Mecca Normal is “my punk rock dream come true.”
“Your voice, your lyrics, Dave’s guitar have made me cry and hope over and over and over again. You are beautiful, brave and very strong people and you have touched my life tremendously.” Cathee (Los Angeles) in a letter to Mecca Normal
Mecca Normal plays a benefit for Rape Relief.
Fly to Europe for another tour with Dirk: “This is a former racecar driver and metal sculptor. He did all the driving, organizing, translating of menus, managing, selling stuff after shows, our tour poster, and everything else.” – Jean in Mecca Normal Newsletter
Kaufbeuren, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Paris (opening band plays one of our songs: Held), Colmar (muffler falls off), Berlin, Nurnburg (with Half Japanese), Regansburg, Munster, Cologne, Stuttgart, Karlsruhle, Hamburg, Groningen, Holland (Vera).
In Europe we learn many new sayings: Talking through the flower. Owls to Athens.
“We demanded to be accepted within what originally was the hardcore scene and now seems to be a punk rock ethic, but a very limited one where it usually is four guys and a very regular sort of instrumentation. You know, I think there are some ideas out there worth exploring that don’t fit into that framework, but it’s very difficult to take up that decision. I mean, where do you get the energy to create something that is outside of a normal system? And I think that whole concept follows into our lives everywhere. To create a relationship between a man and a woman that isn’t totally what is expected or the stereotype of what that situation has to be, I think it’s very difficult to be outside of the system of going to work and being an avid consumer.” – Jean Smith (interviewed by Bill Meyer in Moe) 1993
“Going to Seattle to open for Fugazi. Our ’72 Impala begins to grind metal on metal somewhere deep in the engine. We pull out of line before we get to customs, and call a tow truck. The guy arrives. Cowboy boots, huge belt buckle and mirrored sunglasses. He gets the Impala on the hook and we head back. I’m squeezed between Dave and the driver, asking if the guy knows where we can get a car. Dave is whispering, “You’re not going to buy a car off this guy.” The driver says he knows just the car. We take the plates off the Impala, and leave it, never to be seen again. An hour later we’re back at the border in my new ’84 Grand Marquis with cheap stick-on window tinting and a badly peeling roof. At customs, I realize my automatic window only goes down three inches, and my frayed seatbelt has no give. I appear to be totally unwilling to deal with the official, who is peering in through the gap, all else obscured behind pimpishly tinted windows. The customs official says, “You seem very nervous.” Which I suppose I was. I said, “That was me with the car that got towed. I just bought this car.” He says, “Why are you so determined to get into the US?” “I just don’t like to have things like that ruin my plans.” We made it to sound check.” — Jean
King TV 5 films us playing and interviews Jean. Kurt and Courtney are in the audience. After the show Courtney slaps Calvin Johnson in the face and storms out. Kurt trails after her. We drive Calvin to Olympia, eat at Denny’s, sleep at Calvin’s new, very cold house.
Play with Fugazi in Vancouver in front of 3,000 people. Someone throws a shoe at Dave.
Photo shoot for Rolling Stone.
“Echo” / “Fan of Sparks” 7” released on Jettison (North Carolina).
“International Hip Swing” comp CD (K Records) released with “Man Thinks Woman” on it.
Jean interviewed by Rolling Stone and Billboard.
“After your French tour I received a lot of letters from people who write: ‘Mecca Normal is the best gig I saw in my life, strong and amazing.’” – Quentin (La Rochelle, France)
“I will promote the show to the utmost. There won’t be any danger of boring people drinking café au lait, or espresso at this show, there may be people drinking the afore mentioned products, but they won’t be boring, I guarantee it. I will work my feet down to mere stubs as I canvas this mighty metropolis letting people know of your arrival.” –Sarah, a fan trying to convince us to play in Minnesota. I think we played there once in 20 years.
“For a long time, there were not many women in bands, and even fewer who were speaking aggressively about being a woman in this society,” says Jean Smith, the fiery singer-poet in the group Mecca Normal and an inspiration to many Grrrls. “Now young women are getting together to play with other women, rather than being thrown into the whole boy’s world sort of thing.” – Seventeen Magazine
“Jarred Up” album released in June (K Records). It is a collection of 7” and comp tracks.
He Didn’t Say:
I never knew
what he thought
he didn’t say
I never knew
what to say.
walking for the door.
into the eyes
of the next person you meet.
Don’t keep looking back
She’s hurt and wondering why
he hurt her
she’s wondering why
this rough carpet
we women lie on
too close to the fire
in the cardboard box house
“David Lester is usually spazzing in patterns Peter Buck only dreams about.” – Sweet Portable You, zine (McLean, VA)
“We don’t do what we do to specifically get a reaction. People can get out of it what they like, whether it’s a tone or literal ideas; ideas that I hope are evocative. We would like people to see what we’re doing, which isn’t necessarily part of any establishment way of doing things, and use it as a parallel for their own lives.” –Jean Smith (Rocket, Seattle) 1993
“I’m in a band because I have something to say. I don’t think of this as a privileged position. I’m 33 myself, I’m not living at home with Mommy and Daddy. This is fuckin’ hard work, it’s tough to pay rent.”–Jean Smith (Rocket, Seattle) 1993
“I don’t listen to bands like Mecca Normal everyday and I don’t think we should all start adhering to some new weird standard of two-pieces or something.” All those rhythm sections would be out of work. “And then there’d be all these bands with four drummers and three bass players. Smith looks over at what was once the stage of the restaurant. “Though that might be interesting.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Shawn Connor, 1993 (Rocket, Seattle)
Ray Gun magazine (Los Angeles) runs a one-page feature on Mecca Normal. It is designed by David Carson to subversively look like an exact page out of Rolling Stone. Carson will later include the page in his book “The End of Print”, a retrospective of his best designs.
“When asked how long the pair can imagine their productivity lasting, Smith says she sees no limit: ‘I’m sure we’ll be working together when we’re in our eighties. It’s that kind of relationship. We understand each other and have a similar desire to inspire other people to do something or feel something.’” – Jean Smith interviewed by Denise Sheppard (Ray Gun Magazine, Los Angeles) 1993
“We pretty much cleared rooms,” says Smith, speaking of the band’s early performances. “That was our main function. So if that happened we knew we were on the right track.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Denise Sheppard (Ray Gun Magazine, Los Angeles) 1993
“Jarred Up” is #1 at radio stations:
CHRY (Toronto, ON)
CKUT (Montreal, PQ)
KUOI (Moscow, ID)
CFRU (Guelph, ON)
KAOS (Olympia, WA)
Mecca Normal is featured in Rolling Stone’s Guide to the Coolest music and Artists making it. The page is shared with newcomers Liz Phair and Radiohead.
“Onstage, Lester is a sonic weed whacker throwing off a frenzy of fuzz, while Smith, a dynamo capable of raw power and somber beauty, adapts her limber voice like a wind instrument.” – Rolling Stone (New York) 1993
“I don’t see us as vying for mainstream attention. This is exactly how I want to live my life. We’re not waiting for our lives to begin.” – Jean Smith (Rolling Stone) 1993
“I’ve been more interested in images and evoking emotions through words. I’ve worked through the idea of being literal and worrying if other people are going to get a message. I have more faith that people will get it. Also, you know, people have a definite opinion on what I’m about, and it comes up relentlessly – ‘This woman is an adamant feminist and there’s no humour here and this is all vicious and acidic.’ People think that already. I don’t have to keep reaffirming the essence. It’s just the way a period of writing worked out. Once you get a train of thought you keep on exploring it; that’s what makes a body of work. The songs were written over a couple of months, and they are similar in some ways.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Bill Meyer (Puncture, San Francisco) 1993
“As a woman in a band, you could be one of three variations: singing backup, a sex-bomb front-piece, or something that for the most part is a pleasing thing…. To have women talking about things that are important to them, and coming across passionately and aggressively, is what I’ve always looked for.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Bill Meyer (Puncture, San Francisco) 1993
Jean is invited to appear on the television talk show Jane Whitney (NBC). The theme is “Women In Rock”. Jean flies to Boston for the taping.
Jean Smith’s first novel “I Can Hear Me Fine” is published (August, 1993) by David’s new publishing venture Get To The Point. Distribution by Arsenal Pulp Press. Jean’s book contains an index to all nouns in the book — an innovative twist for a work of fiction.
“It’s a story about relationships and the dynamics of power in relationships and how repression works and the response to repression.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Mark Andrews (Vancouver Sun) 1993
“There isn’t a lot of overt stereotyping, I tried to make the characters more fluid. People will create things for themselves, rather than be directed to conclusive character traits. The stereotypes for women are all so carefully defined at this point in history that it’s valuable to leave these personalities fairly open-ended.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Mark Andrews (Vancouver Sun) 1993
“… a perspective that it is possible to do things outside of what is traditionally acceptable in music or literature. Of not consciously thinking of how you can appeal to a mass market, of trying to be true to yourself.” – Jean Smith interviewed by Mark Andrews (Vancouver Sun) 1993
“I don’t know if labels are breaking down doors to Barbara Manning and Jean Smith.” –Gerard Cosloy interviewed in Billboard (New York) 1993
“Look at the music we do, is anybody really going to consider this a marketable phenomenon? If it ever did come to that, it would be time to do something different.” – Jean Smith interviewed in Billboard (New York) 1993
“Female punk rock fans become united by the feminist messages shouted by bands such as Mecca Normal.” –USA Today, 1993
“I can’t think of anyone else who writes more powerful songs about what it’s like to be a woman in a world of violence against women.” –LA Weekly (Los Angeles) 1993
“Mecca Normal has inspired a larger movement of feminists in their teens and early 20s who call themselves Riot Grrrls.” –NY Times, 1993
“I don’t really know of any other rock band so closely attuned to the reality of women’s rage.” – Village Voice (New York) 1993
“Smith is damn near visionary.” – SF Weekly, 1993
Mecca Normal plays Roseland (New York) with Fugazi and Jawbox in front of 4,000 people. Jean gets Ian to go out and buy her a six pack of Rolling Rock.
Waiting For Rudy video completed by Pat Maley of Yo Yo Studios.
“I started reading a lot as a teenager ‘cause I was always getting grounded. In high school the only place I was allowed to go was the library, and I just started to read a lot. I got involved in visual arts for a while, but always kept a journal and wrote stories.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Andrew Sun, Now (Toronto) 1993
“We aren’t, and don’t want to be on a major label. As a result we have created a community – a network of friends and people we want to work with – and have tried to build that into something that will sustain various musicians who don’t really want to be part of the corporate sphere of the rock world.” – Jean Smith interview, Hour (Montreal) 1993
“When we get negative reviews, all it really serves to do is make me more determined to do more of whatever bugs people.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Chris Yurkiw, Mirror (Montreal) 1993
“I ended up listening to quite a few bands who were making music in England in the late ‘70s like the Slits, the Raincoats, Au Pairs, X-Ray Specs and the Poison Girls.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Winston Sin, Exclaim (Toronto) 1993
“…then we got together with a bunch of other minimalist musicians and poets and went down to L.A. on a school bus, and that’s when we made a stop in Olympia. We traded our first LP with Calvin of Beat Happening and K for their first LP, and stuffed it under the seat of the bus – and it totally melted! But don’t tell him that.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Winston Sin, Exclaim (Toronto) 1993
“Strong but far from flowery, a wonderful read.”—CMJ (New York) review of Jean’s book. 1993
“Gritty, blunt and sensitive at once, the book rails against the banal at every turn, developing a strident and important voice.” – BC Library Reporter (Vancouver) review of Jean’s book.
“…a literary jigsaw puzzle, one that might have been designed by David Lynch and Sylvia Plath.” – BC BookWorld (Vancouver) review of Jean’s book.
Meryn Cadell (The Sweater) plays one of her favorite songs, Mecca Normal’s “Throw Silver” on Peter Gzowski’s legendary CBC national radio show “Morningside.”
Jean Smith performs solo 2 nights at a benefit for a women’s shelter in Seattle. Excene Cervenka also appears. The second night, Jean is backed by Calvin Johnson on guitar.
”Waiting For Rudy” video aired on national TV in Canada.
Flood Plain (K Records) released, September, 1993
Waiting For Rudy
Waiting for Rudy to die
in a microcosm
on a corner
where gas was sold
the pumps were shut down
Museum Of Open Windows:
It’s a truly
that treats medical care
as a commodity to be sold.
“A lot of times I meet people who seem like going to school has taken four years off their life rather than added to it.” –Jean Smith interviewed by Kirsty Smith, Discorder (Vancouver) 1993
Jean performs at the Knitting Factory (New York) with Gerard Cosloy on guitar as part of her solo tour to support her novel.
“Mecca Normal makes records I can see myself listening to twenty years from now with no loss of interest.” – Terry Dawes reviewing ‘Flood Plain’ in Planet of The Arts (Vancouver) 1993
“I guess I was 21 or 22 when I met this person who lived around here (East Vancouver). She was so strong politically. It was a very interesting time for me. She was kind of a turning point in my life. Actually, it’s Jean Smith from Mecca Normal. I’ve learned so much and I’ve taken so much from her. It turned something over in my brain because I could see injustice more clearly. I guess because she’s an artist she helped me to start seeing colours differently.” –John Mann of Spirit of The West interviewed about the source of his activism (Impact, Vancouver) 1993