Mecca Normal Archive from the beginning to present day, created in 2014
1998 (top), 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 yet to be transcribed
I’m uploading the opening piece from a show in 2000 at the Black Cat in DC Jean Smith MySpace player.
Shannon Morrow on drums, Bob Massey on guitar and I played guitar and sax and sang a bit. This was the band I put together to tour after my solo CD came out on Kill Rock Stars (2000). I used the vocal drone I’d made for the CD and basically we worked out some themes, let’s say, loosely speaking, for some of the pieces on the CD. Bob had some idea that I’d composed the music on the CD and he felt sort of intimidated, I think.
I’d met Shannon a couple of times in Durham, NC. Bob contacted me in email, in response to an ad I was running through the Kill Rock Stars Newsletter. I was looking for a guitar player. I’m always looking for collaborators. Guitar player, drummer, keyboard player. I hadn’t heard of Bob or his bands, but he knew the Dischord folks and we communicated in email and decided to meet at Shannon’s place in Chicago to rehearse for a week before doing the shows I’d booked in the Northeast. Chicago, NYC, DC. I forget where all we went. I remember being on a rooftop in NYC on the fourth of July. I remember staying in a huge and wonderful apartment in DC for a number of days. Bob worked at the Post and he was housesitting the art critic’s enormous apartment that looked out on DC from three sides of its hardwood-floored sophistication. The kitchen was stocked with things like dried cherries and French lentils in jars. Pecans and spelt pasta. Bob put Shannon and I there and went across town in his van to his house, a shared house where we got a few more rehearsals in, I think. Shannon and I were non-drinkers. So that was great since I was in my first year of sobriety. Part of why I was making a solo CD. Ending a relationship, quitting drinking, Mecca Normal quiet, but not, as some articles on us reported on hiatus. We’ve never been on hiatus and man, do I hate that word. What the fuck? Hiatus?
Anyway, it was sort of crazy and bold — Bob and I never even talked on the phone. We just set up rehearsal after emailing for a while about the music. This, to be clear, was no kind of romance. No intrigue in that way. I don’t think Bob was a huge Mecca Normal fan — he was simply game for adventure and maybe he thought I had a draw or that we’d be playing in front of tons of people. I encouraged Shannon and Bob to get their people, their fans, out to the shows in each city. I viewed the project as an equal collaboration, saying that what we played didn’t have to relate to the CD at all — we could be our own whole new thing, but our rehearsals weren’t all that smooth. I really prefer a guitar player who has a solid thing happening, one who isn’t catering to me and my playing. Not that Bob was catering per se, but it was all a bit awkward — never having met. Never having played together or connected in a musical way. Bob, as a person, was way less social than I imagined he would be. I mean, who does that? Who answers an ad in email and boldly flies from DC to Chicago to rehearse with two people he’s never met to then go and do shows on tour. Who would do that? I figured he’d be really outgoing and possibly even zany.
Shannon and I drove to airport. I mean, it was weird enough for me to fly from Vancouver to Chicago and meet Shannon at the airport. Really, we’d only shared a bill a couple of times in Durham and talked a bit and I guess Mecca Normal stayed with friends of hers when we were down that way when she lived in North Carolina. So there was a connection, but with Bob, it was pretty much a shot in the dark.
Shannon and I had a couple days together before Bob got there. We played and I think that was OK. We talked about what we might do, how to go about getting this together and then we went to meet Bob at the airport. I saw him and went up to him and gave him a hug. I am pretty sure his arms stayed at his sides and when I was unhugging him I think I recall a frown of disapproval on his face. OK then.
Shannon was going to take time off from her job at a beauty parlour where she cut hair. I was invited in for a trim and she wanted to do some streaks or highlights and that was good with me, but when she finished she’d given me grey streaks !!! Fuck !! Here I was, already feeling pretty old at forty, but at least I don’t have that problem — still, at almost fifty, I only have a few grey hairs. So, thanks a lot Shannon. I forget what we did about it, but it was rather mind-blowing at the time. Nice new grey streaks all through my hair. Sheesh.
On the Jean Smith MySpace player (December, 2008) — eleven minutes live at the Black Cat, 2000 — it starts with the vocal drone and Shannon playing drums and me on guitar — the slithery slide — and then Bob comes in low down on guitar and I switch to sax and my idea would be that we create a continuous drone, but Bob does sort of the opposite which is perhaps more obvious and natural to the piece. He fortifies the waves I create which I am only creating because with both the vocal drone and the sax, I need to breath, so Bob follows into my lulls when I would have preferred that he build in my absence. There was frustration between Shannon and Bob. Shannon wasn’t enjoying playing with Bob that much. I hadn’t really thought of that, as both people offered to play with unknown people I figured they would be more able to adapt — and me, well, I’m more of an accent creator, drone maker, not essentially the leader or the composer giving instructions fer god’s sake. It was all quite tame and nothing bad happened. I had an idea the pieces would be wilder and not as reliant on me. That I could play to, rather than music where I take up a lot of space.
We were preparing for the show at the Black Cat in DC; Shannon was in the bathroom for ages getting ready and I was waiting to do my thing in there and it got later and later, so I propped up the mirror in my compact to do my make-up in my bedroom as Shannon was officially hogging the bathroom and Bob would be there any minute and we’d have to run downstairs and go to the show. So there I was, doing my make-up in the tiny mirror, thinking, holy shit, the Jean Smith Band and Jean Smith can’t even get into the bathroom to do her make-up and then Shannon came into my room in a tizzy asking for my compact mirror so she could see the back of her hairdo and there I was with half my make-up done and no mirror and Bob on the buzzer. I mean, it didn’t really matter, just a little scene I recall.
I remember it was raining as we loaded in to the Kyber in Philly. I have never seen a drummer load in with an umbrella, but that’s what you get with a… what do you call a person who cuts hair? Hair stylist, I guess. From the south; that southern accent and carefully done hairdos. Oh my.
Jean receives a British Columbia Arts Council, Project Assistance for Creative Writers award.
Jean Smith solo CD release on Kill Rock Stars.
2001 – 2002
Five tours in North America — approximately 100 performances, many of which included art exhibits and a lecture or workshop.
Jean receives a Canada Council for the Arts, Emerging Writer award.
Family Swan — a poetry chapbook — printed with Nikki McClure at Community Print in Olympia. Published by Get To The Point Editions.
The Family Swan CD released on Kill Rock Stars.
No Mind’s Eye
What About The Boy? — Recorded to DAT in the audience by Jack DeGuiseppi
at Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Washington (July 20, 2001) in the Capitol Theater — where we have recorded and played many times.
Family Swan — Yo Yo Studio version — live at the festival.
1. Jean gets a hug from Damo Suzuki, formerly of Can.
2. Spending an overcast day wandering around a town with known Ku Klux Klan presence. Finding this out later, from the comfort and safety of Chris Swanson’s home Bloomington, IN.
3. Worst show of 2002: Vancouver, Mesa Luna. Coldest reception ever. The audience all sit way off to the side; no one seems at all interested. No one talks to us after we play.
4. Enjoying encores at the Hideout Inn, Chicago and in Fly Wheel Gallery, Easthampton, MA.
5. “Who’s your Daddy?” and “Please don’t smoke!” become meaningful secret-code phrases.
6. Fending off evil Egyptian pitbull in Boston for 18 hours.
7. Reading Post-it notes all over Tinuviel’s house.
8. Forgetting to set boundaries with Billy and his conspiracy theories. He presents us with 12 hard cover books and a ceramic Shiva planter he calls “a dashboard ornament” (it is the size of a large watering-can).
9. Watching the Bunny Brains video and eating Dan’s pancakes.
10. Jean’s 3 A.M. rap session with teenagers in upstate NY.
11. Another contender for worst show ever: Tivoli, NY where the soundguy is only concerned with recording the show; he will not turn on the mains. Some of audience came up where we were, to listen to the monitors (when they weren’t feeding-back).
12. Stopped in a taxi on the Brooklyn bridge while our driver entered into a road-rage fueled “And your mother too!” yelling match.
13. Smokiest venue ever: Ms T’s, Vancouver.
14. Sear’s Portrait Studio for promos photos.
15. Fun at the photo booth on the way out of Sear’s.
16. Using the photo-booth shot for the CD cover art.
17. Indianapolis Matt says he has no food, but manages to make a really nice dinner for us!
18. Playing a show in Dayton to check out Dave Doughman’s friends. Arriving in a town we’d never played, we were very surprised to read one of the best articles ever on Mecca Normal (by Sara Farr, Impact Weekly).
19. Mecca Normal’s first classroom performance and presenting our workshop for the first time in Dennis McDaniels’ poetry class at Saint Vincent’s College, Latrobe, PA. The students had been studying Mecca Normal; our name was on the overhead projector screen when we arrived! Spending the night in the seminary and speaking with the students the next morning while we breakfasted freely.
20. Evil cat trying to get through Dave’s bedroom door in Baltimore. Jean does not rescue Dave by opening her door and stepping into the hallway to face the screaming killer cat. Jean does not hear the end of this for a long time. (Jean does not understand why she was supposed to risk her life by opening the door to her room when David was safely in his room. Nov. 2006)
21. Waiting outside for a very long time in Maryland for a young guy to let us into his parent’s house.
22. Jean finds special walnut pastries after Kim’s Underground show, NYC.
23. Driving 900 miles in 2 days, from Easthampton to Chicago. Rain storms obscure the road. 15 minute food breaks (yes, at McDonalds). Watching the Osbourne’s in our middle of nowhere motel room in Kansas. Next morning at breakfast Jean over-tips the waitress who runs into the parking lot to return the extra amount. Jean can’t stop thinking about Ozzy, of whom she has never thought before.
24. Dollar food at McDonalds, JFK airport.
25. Johnny Cohen’s Love Hut makes an impression.
26. Staying up all night to drive back from Anacortes, WA.
27. Scary guy kneeling at our feet, moaning in time, at Hemlock Tavern, SF.
28. Performance, art show, workshop and sleep-over in the new Give A Fuck Committee Church, Bellingham, WA. It was perfect.
29. In Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Jason Pitzl-Waters and Jacqueline Enstrom-Waters co-wrote an excellent preview for the Independent Media Center show — one of our better-attended events.
30. Taking Swearing At Motorists’ Dave Doughman (The Family Swan’s amazing producer) to see our art show at the Balazo Gallery in SF, and the total thrill of finally seeing Swearing At Motorists play!
31. Eating $5 worth of Mexican food in Kelso — endless salsa and chips are free.
32. Excellent people record shows, take photos and mail us the results. Thanks Jack DeGuiseppi, Mr Random in Eugene, Malachi in Chicago.
33. Small but friendly audiences use the word “inspired” to describe Mecca Normal events. This counts for a lot!
34. Being stopped by police at about 3 AM for accidentally driving up the wrong side of the road to look at cardboard box city near The Smell, LA. Jean is very happy to be a non-drinker at this and every other moment of the last three and a half years (on February 14, 2003).
35. Burritos after the Balazo show, SF.
36. David’s artwork egged by stoned naked guys at CoCA, Seattle (they do the right thing and buy the piece).
37. Staying on Davis campus with a student whose small apartment has a fridge stocked with candy bars and pop.
38. Staying in dorm room at Chatham College while pajama party is in progress; wondering if there are laws about forty+ year olds being in dorm rooms.
39. Pittsburgh — eating carrots in the car while Weird Paul ignores us.
40. Chocolate egg-creams in New Jersey diner after arriving in New York on Halloween.
41. New thing! Chocolate bars instead of dinner when time is short.
42. Jack and Elise visit Vancouver and donate a computer to Mecca Normal. Sitting in the Japanese garden Jack takes a survey based on a TV show. Everyone has to say what their relationship ‘deal-breaker’ would be. Jack deduces that for Jean, if the guy is breathing, that’s a deal-breaker.
43. Singing greeter at Newark airport (Jean sang a question back to him, “Which way to gate A-16?”).
44. Seeing Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art with Tae.
45. Discovering Normal, Illinois and hanging out with the wonderful Tim Feeney. Finding out why it’s called Normal.
46. Watching 5 hours of soothing TV at Tae’s. An English production on the life of an aluminum siding salesman.
47. Finding out where they keep the worst sushi in the world — can’t say where.
48. Hearing Miranda July in the elevator at the Whitney Museum, NYC.
49. Visiting Dalkey Archive Press in Normal, Illinois.
50. Getting artwork, postcards, CDs and books for sale at BuyOlympia
Janis Zeppelin CD released on Mecca Normal’s imprint Smarten UP! & Get To The Point. The CD includes a 20:22 minute version of In January as well as four songs recorded in 1984 but never released (Like A Rolling Stone and One Way Out).
David and Jean in March, 2004 at the Xeno show, the beginning of the “Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse” art, music and workshop tour (note the slightly stressed out look… smiles below, as the tour proceeds.)
Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse — text and photos
Exhibition Proposal for Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse — Cover Letter, Proposal, Artist Statement
Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse — art exhibit images
Jean Smith / Mecca Normal wrote:
wondering why you are selling one of my CDs “the eagle & the poodle” on eBay for $49.99
Robert Smith wrote:
that is what I feel it is worth
SHOWS — Spring and Summer 2004
June: Vancouver (Butchershop Floor), Grand Forks Art Gallery, Kaslo, Nelson, Kelowna, Vernon Public Art Gallery, Olympia Experimental Music Festival, Bryce’s Barber Shop in Olympia, Seattle (Left Bank Books)
July 16 — Portland — Disjecta Gallery with art show
July 18 — Anacortes, WA “What the Heck Fest” July 15 – 18 — Department of Safety with art by Jean and David in the Absent Album Art Exhibit
July 24 — Victoria — Fifty-Fifty Space with art show — with Sylo
July 27 — Denman Island, BC — Community Hall with Sylo — Mecca Normal 20th Anniversary Show!
July 28 — Hornby Island, BC — Wild Indigo Theatre Summer Production with Sylo
July 29 — Duncan, BC — Garage Showroom with Sylo
July 30 — Victoria — Ministry of Casual Living — 6:30 reception, art show runs until August 5
July, 30 — Nanaimo, BC — Dizzy’s with Sylo
July 31 — Cumberland, BC — The Abbey with Sylo
August 2 — Vancouver — Cafe Deux Soleil — The Vancouver Poetry Slam
August 7 — Vancouver — Interurban Gallery — Books to Prisoners Art Auction
September 2 — Vancouver — Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design — Orientation for Foundation students, a multi-media Mecca Normal presentation
September 11 — Olympia — Kill Rock Stars Festival
Tamra Spivey, the incredible voice of Lucid Nation, interviewed David and Jean for Newtopia Magazine (with artwork).
May 7, 2004 Mecca Normal played two sets at Burnaby North High School. Jordan Koop recorded both shows. Jean says, “I spoke about the lyrics and our artwork between songs. It was fantastic! I described what was going on in my teenage life when I started painting self-portraits at age 13, and I talked about David’s Inspired Agitators posters — how the activists he depicts inspired him to play guitar.”
“How Art and Music Can Change the World”:
Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver, BC (400 Foundation students)
Burnaby Central High School, Burnaby, BC (400 students)
Grand Forks Public Art Gallery, Grand Forks, BC
Vernon Public Art Gallery, Vernon, BC
David Thompson Cultural Centre, Nelson, BC
Denman Island Community Hall, Denman Island, BC
Bean Scene Coffee House, Kelowna, BC
“Inspired Agitators & the Pantomime Horse”
Mecca Normal’s touring art exhibit
Xeno Gallery, Vancouver, BC – March 25 – April 26
Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver, BC
Grand Forks Public Art Gallery, Grand Forks, BC
Vernon Public Art Gallery, Vernon, BC
David Thompson Cultural Centre, Nelson, BC
Cumberland Arts Centre, Cumberland, BC
Bryce’s Barber Shop, Olympia Experimental Music Festival
Denman Island Community Hall, Denman Island, BC
The Crooked Cafe, Kaslo, BC
Bean Scene Coffee House, Kelowna, BC
Wild Indigo Theatre, Hornby Island, BC
Counterfeit Gallery, Seattle
Interurban Gallery, Vancouver
Ministry of Casual Living, Victoria, BC
Department of Safety, Anacortes, WA
Lombardi Gallery, Austin, Texas
Ladyfest, Seattle – 30 years of self-portraits from 1973 to 2003
Smarten UP! Records releases:
Wendy Atkinson — Trim — all-bass album, using electric, acoustic and double bass.
“How Art and Music Can Change the World” — presented at Richmond Art Gallery — Arts For Life keynote speakers addressing 200 high school students
Gruesome Acts of Capitalism
a book by David Lester
Located at the intersection of the statistical and the artistic, this catalogue of corporate horrors — poverty, exploitation, and injustice — is a damning indictment of capitalism, created with love and rage. Royalties from the book go to the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture — $550 have already been donated.
REVISED EDITION (2006) — preface by Jean Smith.
“Lester breaks down the system’s more despicable traits into easy-to-read factoids that are certain to appall and inspire.”–Alternative Press Magazine (Cleveland, OH)
Available in Canada from Arbeiter Ring and from AK Press in the US.
The Observer CD is released in April on Kill Rock Stars.
December, 2006 – January, 2007
Seasonal Marketing Campaign included short animated film by Jean “You’re going to be buying gifts anyway — feel better — buy them from non-religious anti capitalists like us!”
Jean creates a quick video response called Sorbet for a Juliana Luecking project called People Are A Trip. The question, “What’s the most beautiful thing you ever saw?”
The Observer CD appears on numerous BEST of 2006 lists.
A historical website in France requests permission to reproduce two of David’s Inspired Agitator poster series — Lucy Parsons and Emma Goldman.
Jean’s Two Stories and David’s The Tortoise are reviewed in Broken Pencil (Canada).
Smarten Up! Records (Jean and David’s original record company) releases Pink Noise, the second solo album by bassist Wendy Atkinson. The album uses only electric, acoustic and double bass to make gorgeous instrumentals that are variously poppy, abstract and ambient. Wendy will be performing the album at the 13th Annual Olympia Experimental Music Festival in June, 2007.
Jean receives a Canada Council for the Arts Award to continue with her writing.
Jean’s story about online dating is published online at Shebytches.com.
Canadian Dimensions Magazine will run excerpts from David’s book The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism as a regular feature.
David continues work on his graphic novel The Listener.
David designs new logo for the Federation of BC Writers.
Mecca Normal’s application accepted by Vancouver’s Signal and Noise Festival — for a Thursday, April 19th performance.
Mecca Normal selected to perform at What the Heck Fest 2007 (Anacortes, WA) July 20.
Mirah invites us to perform in Portland (The Aladdin Theater) June 8.
Mecca Normal’s 12th CD Janis Zeppelin arrives in iTunes — Janis Zeppelin was released on CD in 2003 on Smarten Up! (between Kill Rock Star releases of The Family Swan and The Observer).
1. Like A Rolling Stone
2. Ain’t Goin’ Out That Door
3. I Went Away For A While (1984)
4. It’s Called Rock ‘n Roll (1984)
5. In January (21 min)
6. I Don’t Need To Hold Your Hand
7. Pocket Of Scribbly Gums
8. This Is My Summer Vacation
9. I Don’t Get It
10. Don’t Look In The Mirror
11. War Between the Neighbours
12. Elemental Steamer
March 8 — International Women’s Day
Mecca Normal played in Vancouver at the Anza Club as part of a festival of music, art and videos made by women. Jean’s video Attraction is Ephemeral was screened and voted #2 out of 14 entries. The videos were shown in Leeds, UK that same day and subsequently in Ashbury Park, NJ and New York City.
April 19 — Signal & Noise Festival
Mecca Normal performed in Vancouver at Video In Video Out as part of Signal & Noise Festival.
David is doing well after his sinus surgery — after many years of not smelling anything, he can smell again ! Jean is happy about this because in her research (rolling along in a car on tour) she has noticed that guys who don’t smell, smell more than guys who do smell.
June 8 and 9
Shows in Portland with Mirah and Seattle with Flexions went well. We had an excellent visit with Jack (Media Man) and Elise. Thanks so much for everything (and that’s a lot). We dropped in on Nikki McClure in Olympia — congratulations on the book out on Abrams! While in Portland we were able to donate 75 CDs to Rock ‘n Roll Summer Camp for Girls. Thanks Alexa for having us stay ! Thanks to Genvieve and Phil in Anacortes for help with the amp.
Ladies Only video compilation film was screened at Ladyfest Vancouver (includes Attraction is Ephemeral) on June 24.
July 20 and 21
We debuted two new songs at What the Heck Fest — Da Da Da Da and This Comforting Thing (which should appear on the festival CD). The next night we played in Olympia.
Article in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, July 1, 2007 featured Mecca Normal as one of Canada’s best kept secrets in the arts.
Jean went camping for three nights and four days at Manning Park.
Jean finishes the film (13:30) for AntiMatter Underground Film Festival (10th anniversary) at Open Space Gallery in Victoria — September 21. Mecca Normal will play live to the film on opening night.
November 23, 2007
Written and recorded (third time through) with one mic and a vocal over-dub. The red room footage was shot by Marilyn Freeman in Olympia, WA in 2004 at Bryce’s Barber Shop. The Jean Smith solo performance — 1993 in Worcester, MA — I don’t know who shot it.
If you told me
if you came to me and told me
you gave it all up
gave it all up
you let it all go
to climb higher
If you came to tell me
you gave it all away
to climb higher
“Malachi” was written and recorded April 9, 2008 after re-reading an email Malachi sent to me in 2002. Video by Jean Smith, April 10, 2008. — Jean
Malachi documented musicians and I wanted to create a document of his final statement — his death — because the document he made, the video, was not shown publicly, that I heard about.
May 2 – 4, 2008
We played the song ‘Malachi’ three times over the weekend to about 250 people.
Calvin of K Records it’s the best song we’ve ever written. It’ll be 25 years for Mecca Normal in 2009 — so that’s a lot of songs.
$245 was raised for Books to Prisoners at two Art Acutions. The art David and I created was on the theme of ‘Malachi’ and ‘Freedom’.
Chicago musician Michael Zerang put a photo of Malachi on our MySpace comments section.
Inspired Agitators poster by David Lester for Art Auctions to benefit Books for Prisoners May 3 and 4, 2008.
The Chicago Reader online
Mecca Normal remembers Malachi Ritscher
by Monica Kendrick, April 28th 2008
Mecca Normal aren’t for everyone: David Lester’s guitar accompaniment doesn’t give you much of a buffer against the rough, quirky intimacy of Jean Smith’s theatrical poetry, which gets so nakedly powerful it can violate your personal space with nothing but words. They’ve just posted two new songs on their MySpace blog, and one of them is about Chicago sound archivist, musician, and antiwar activist Malachi Ritscher, who recorded a Mecca Normal show in Chicago a few years ago. Stark and raw, the song has none of Smith’s usual wryness. Lester also created a poster for it in the classic protest style.
For those of you traveling to the Pacific Northwest (or living there!), Mecca Normal will perform the new songs this weekend in Olympia and Portland; at the Portland show they’ll also host an art auction to benefit Books to Prisoners.
Live in Olympia, WA on May 3, 2008. Recorded by J. Free of Sonic Archives. The debut of “Malachi” — if you don’t count Second Life.
Mecca Normal‘s music is paradoxically intuitive and highly stylized. Smith is an extraordinary rock poet delivering compact short stories from her next book. Lester’s adventurous guitar playing creates a sonic equivalent to Smith’s voice — a language all his own.
“Arguably the greatest rock band without a rhythm section ever, the duo of acid-voiced singer Jean Smith and guitar hero David Lester must be seen to be believed.” — Douglas Wolk
December 2, 2008
1. David and I spontaneously creating artwork to auction off for Books to Prisoners when we heard we’d be playing in the $1 Books to Prisoners clothing bin at Dumpster Values in Olympia, Washington.
2. Getting out the bike I bought years ago at an opera society rummage sale. Riding to work and the gym — not far, not fast, but fun and sometimes scary. A bike guy in spandex and helmet coming up the hill near the WISE Hall telling me — “Go fast. Go fast. Just let go.” Me, hands clenched, brakes squealing, saying, “No! No! No!” Pulling over at the baseball diamond, using my kickstand, and eating Chinese dumplings out of a Tupperware container, thinking — life doesn’t get any better than this.
3. The Sliver Party’s kudos on my blog where, to me, a kudo is an acknowledgement of the writer / reader dynamic. A kudo (don’t like this word any more than blog or hiatus) doesn’t interfere the way a comment can. A kudo is a mug of warm milk to the comment’s dropped carton of skim pooling at my feet.
4. Playing guitar with Duane and having Singapore noodles, bbq pork and won ton soup at Happy King. Jean & Duane
5. Maintaining my blog as a place to put work — in fact, creating and completing work because I have a place to put it — stories, films, songs, paintings, photos, poems and the work behind booking a tour, which I decided to make transparent, to demystify, by posting itineraries and communication with booking people and helpful D-I-Y enthusiasts. Posting the details of the booking process also created a sense of accountability for me. There are lots of good reasons not to go on tour, but they just don’t wash in the big picture. Appreciating very helpful responses from clubs who have booked us for our April tour in the USA.
7. Mecca Normal — my ongoing music, art, political and literary adventure with my excellent creative partner David Lester. Twenty-five years intending to inspire, instigate, inform, amuse and agitate in the underground.
8. New Mecca Normal songs about war protester Malachi Richter and One Man’s Anger — understanding that sometimes anger is pain and the fear of pain.
9. J Free — of Sonic Archives — recorded two Mecca Normal shows, made CDs and sent them to us along with many collected recordings including a live version of I Walk Alone from SF in 1994. Turning this and many other songs into short films.
10. Walking and running to work at The Store where good conversations happen with customers and co-workers. Learning about eco-friendly clothing — bamboo, hemp, organic cotton and soy. The Store is closing at the end of February due to the economy. I will be unemployed, focusing on Mecca Normal — recording and touring with “How Art & Music Can Change the World” which we’ve been presenting for about five years in classrooms (university, art school and high school), art galleries and book stores. We intend to inspire audiences towards self-expression, encouraging them to consider political content in their work as opposed to the pursuit of status and money. Basically we set up an art show — or use PowerPoint — and we start by introducing ourselves, explaining why we maintain our creative partnership in its many forms — what motivates us. David talks about the long history of art in social protest. We speak about each others artwork — David, the non-verbal member of Mecca Normal, uses text in his poster series Inspired Agitators. By contrast, my abstract expressionism is a balance to the word-based lyric and novel content I create. At about the twenty minute mark we do three or four songs pertaining to what we have been discussing. We continue discussing the various political ideas we bring into our work — women’s rights, poverty, war protest — relating the issues to our own experiences. We wrap it up with a few more songs. The updated version of the event includes a vision to convince the populace that it is necessary to protest and create conditions that are favourable to support the work Obama is faced with — otherwise, without support in the form of popular protest and activism, the right wing will rip him to shreds. People must, state by state, community by community be ready to participate as activists rather than sitting back to see what Obama does.“Why would I believe a politician?” — Howard Zinn
“We must not have war any more.” — Howard Zinn
“The American people want health care, more like Canada’s.” — Howard Zinn
11. Christmas morning — 4 a.m. — I started booking the April 2009 tour and got responses right away, including a confirmation for “How Art & Music Can Change the World” at Bluestockings Books — a feminist book store in NYC.
12. December 30, 2008 — dinner and a fine conversation with an old friend about world affairs, inspiration, Howard Zinn, political and cultural activism and how to take the opportunity to encourage progressive social change.
13. Noticing how natural acoustics of rooms impact energy, thinking, mood and willingness to converse. The Store creaks and clomps, all wooden and warm. Understanding more about memory and history — wild things that resist being captured.
14. August. Deciding to not go forward with a man who met my requirements as stated in my online profile. Handsome guy, my age, six feet tall. Thin, muscular body — nice hair. A non-drinking condo-dweller with a car. No pets, no roommates. He was into weirdo-music and punk rock — he’d heard of Mecca Normal !!!! He was a hiker, a painter, a short story writer, a filmmaker learning to play guitar. He wanted to find a partner, but he projected all his wanting and finding stuff onto me. We were, as far as he was concerned, in a relationship from the moment we set eyes on each other. I kept telling him to slow down, but he didn’t see why. Week three he said we’d been together a month and I had to tell him it had only been three weeks — it was a relentless escalation of relationship. When I said I needed to stop, I was accused of destroying his fantasy — he got angry with me for ruining everything, but he apologized and said all the right things and promised to slow down and off we went again, but, soon enough, the end arrived. Why didn’t I jump at the chance to be with a good looking guy who was into what I’m into? He listened to me talk about writing, offered ideas. He was super attentive, regularly dropping to his knees to profess his adoration, telling me how much he appreciated my body and my mind and my sense of humour and my clothes — telling me how beautiful I am. He couldn’t stop kissing me. But he represented someone willfully misunderstanding me, actively refusing to know me, in favour of pounding into my life with a box called ‘relationship’ for me to climb into. Which, as a way to approach life, is the essence of the insanity.
15. David donating royalties from his book The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism, in my name , to the Centre for Victims of Torture in Toronto.
Jean Smith Films
Tobi Vail’s Jigsaw
Jean Smith writes songs about what it feels like to be a woman in a male-dominated society. Her art is truly necessary to me, in a way few things are. She had an enormous impact on what was to become ‘riot grrl’ in the early 1990’s and is still writing great stuff. –Tobi Vail, Jigsaw
Mecca Normal’s Trapped Inside Your Heart appears on the What the Heck Fest CD.
August 1, 2009 — Jean’s 50th birthday. “David and I went for Indian food and then to the community gardens where he had a bunch of presents for me — he had taped all these quotes to the packages.”
“Mecca Normal. The first time I saw them was
on the Black Wedge tour where they got together
with their friends and said, “hey, this is important,
let’s do it.” It wasn’t as if they were saying,
“How can we sell this new album?” It was a tour
of people and half of them weren’t even bands.”
— Calvin Johnson
“Everyone tells them to ‘Get a drummer’, I get the
feeling these two don’t need to listen to everyone.”
— Option Magazine (LA), review of the first MN album
“What they reveal is an unvarnished,
unpremeditated, wholly natural songwriting skill.
This is a naked and very close musical relationship.”
— The Vancouver Province reviews the first MN album
“Jean’s the one with ‘that voice’, a completely riveting
presence that’s only more powerful when backed solely
by Lester’s guitar.” – Gerard Cosloy (reviewing Calico
Kills the Cat LP in Conflict)
“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
“This music resonates with feminism’s understanding of
the body as a locus of political meaning, a knowledge
difficult for any woman walking down a city street to
escape… I don’t know of any other rock ‘n’ roll so
closely attuned to the realities of women’s rage.”
– Village Voice (NY)
“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)
“I wouldn’t be in a band if I hadn’t heard of Jean. She’s
shown me through her lyrics that you can be a feminist
and still be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to
lose contact with the world.” — Kathleen Hanna
The first time I saw Mecca Normal, I was so blown away
that I could not speak. My friend Rich Jensen introduced
me to them, but I was left utterly speechless by the genius
and power of their show. So I just stuck out the album I
had just bought and got them to sign it. They were like
music gods to me. — Slim Moon
“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)
“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 letter sent through the postal service
Customer reviews of The Observer: on Amazon I think, unclear…
“One of their best. This album, with a quite bizarre conceptual
theme for a rock album (mostly sung descriptions internet
dating), turns out to be one of their best. The songs are mostly
quite catchy; the guitar playing is impeccable; and the singing
as stronger than ever. I have followed Mecca Normal since their
inception. Although occasionally flawed with atonal rants, their
folk-punk has always been inspirational. Most albums have been
a single guitar (somewhat similar to early Billy Bragg, but with
greater virtuosity, edge and attitude) and one set of female
vocals – with an occasional fill of piano and additional guitars.
Nevertheless, their presence is more stirring than many of the
best full scale rock bands.” — Anonymous
“Stunning, my first “Mecca Normal”. I have read in fanzines
about Mecca Normal since the 80s, but I always felt they
were a little more arty and sophisticated than the hardcore I
used to be into. Wow! I was right! Now that I am a little more
sophisticated in my tastes, Mecca Normal is right on time…
Amazing, profound music that really speaks to me, I look
forward to getting the other 11 albums over the next few
years… I’m psyched! This album is a stunning and progressive
creative statement. Listening to this was like the first time I
listened to punk rock, opening up a totally new and different
world.” — Anonymous
“Quite simply, this record is a magnificent achievement. It
resonates sonically and lyrically to a depth and with a
persistence that is beyond rare. I miss listening to this and,
once you hear it, you’ll understand exactly why. So why 4 stars
and not 5? Because I’d like to believe that this strange and
long-standing partnership can even exceed this work in the
future. And perhaps, after a moment’s annoyance, that will
evoke a wry smile on Ms Smith’s lips….you never know…”
Yesterday was fantastic. Perfect. I met Dave at the Raga. I talked, he listened; the food arrived and I went bonkers. Best food ever! Butter chicken, raita, rice. Water. Pappard, chutney. We walked over to Granville and into a couple of galleries I was in recently with Argon. I said some funny things about some paintings, Dave laughed and we went on down the street to Granville Island. I said some more funny things and Dave laughed. See? Perfect. We took the Aquabus to Science World and walked over to the community gardens on a street I didn’t know existed. This is a bit of a rush report because I have plans. I already made a film — editing later. I am going to the beach to run and swim and yelp naked in the sun. Before too many people are there. I may go to the chiropractor on the way home. Feeling a bit not quite right after the motorcycle thing. That might be nice anyway, a bit of human contact on my birthday. Sneaky, eh? Dave and I had Oranginas in the gardens and he brought out all these fantastically wrapped presents — by fantastic I mean that they had Mecca Normal reviews from all the years stuck to them and somehow I was not really feeling immersed in Mecca Normal; I was talking about how exciting it is that Dan is reading the book and about some of recent communication episodes online and about how I’m maintaining the amazing life that I have and how incredibly lucky I am and what a great friend Dave is and then there were these snippets of Mecca Normal comments that were stuck to the gifts — miniDVs, candles, soap, a Motown and Van Morrison mix CD Dave made for me and two VHS movies, Shadow of the Thin Man and Citizen Kane. Yes, I’ve recently stepped into the VHS age… having watched perhaps a ten VHS movies in my life. In this next fifty years I may get into DVD.One of the comments taped to a package was out of Jigsaw, written by Tobi Vail, “To me, Mecca Normal is one of the only true punk bands around, in that way they are totally subversive.”
Sitting under the apple tree at a really rickety old picnic table, reading these comments to celebrate my 50th birthday, in the heat, in the moment, sitting there with Dave, my best friend for almost thirty years, talking, laughing — our only plan was to go and see what sort of tree it was with the huge amount of orange-red fruit on it, spreading, laden. Crab apples! And in the big picture, the plan was to go and get gelato — mine was a chocolate raspberry truffle — amazing, incredible — and then the walk home. A really great day with a guy I feel so fortunate to call my best friend. My other best friend — Duane — will phone me some time to day from the far north. Yes, I know, how did I get to be so lucky to have these two amazing guys as my best friends?
7:30 a.m. — I gotta go to the beach. Taking paint and paper, and a notebook to write poems / songs.