Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith talks about “How Art & Music Can Change the World” at the Turners Falls show, April 2009. Excerpts from the lecture at Bluestockings Books in NYC, April 2009 and Willamette University. Mecca Normal live at Chicago’s Lounge Ax in the 1990s.— with Jean Smith.
Mecca Normal presenting “How Art & Music Can Change the World” at Word on the Street, Vancouver, 2011
“The Politics Are Not Obvious” by David Lester
“Things Coming in From the Right” a series by Jean Smith. Acrylic on canvas. 2009.
In 2006, How Art and Music Can Change the World was developed as a lecture, art exhibit and performance event for university classrooms, bookstores and community centres. Jean Smith and David Lester of the underground literary rock duo Mecca Normal intend to inspire audiences towards considering political content in their creative self-expression. In 2011, using what they’d learned presenting How Art and Music Can Change the World, Jean Smith created an adaptation of David Lester’s graphic novel The Listener.
“Who cares if there’s underground culture or not? Gap-Coke-Sony-Time-Warner satisfies our needs… don’t they?”
Referring to their extraordinary 25 year history in music, art and publishing Jean Smith and David Lester illustrate the reality of being artists and cultural activists, by revealing the behind-the-scenes workings of their long-standing D-I-Y collaboration. Jean and David de-mystify the work methods and philosophies that define their collaborative partnership, touring, writing and publishing, making art and music.
“How Art and Music Can Change The World” combines a seasoned performance-based pedagogy with a raw emotional and lyrical intensity — a culmination (so far) of the rock solid artistic integrity that has made Mecca Normal into an underground legend in its own time. –Ron Sakolsky — a scholar covering the intersection of music, revolution and radio. Read the entire article and other reviews.
University and College Classrooms • Youth Centres • Art Galleries • Literary Events • Book Stores • Libraries • Community Centres
venues listed below
Internationally, David Lester and Jean Smith are best known for their work as Mecca Normal. The band has released thirteen CDs on the most significant independent labels (Matador, Kill Rock Stars, K Records). In a four star CD review Rolling Stone Magazine said: ” …vocalist Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester have presented a consistent, evolving and luminous challenge to the reigning social order – what Smith calls a false machine in motion passing through the clouds.”
David Lester is a well-respected visual artist with 35 years experience. Jean Smith, the author of two published novels, was named one of Vancouver’s top 50 writers.
“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
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.
Jean says, “Mecca Normal has done thousands of interviews over the years to raise issues of cultural, political and social concern. Our presentation is structured to bring that content forward — without the interviewer. We’ve broken out of performance-only mode to introduce our thoughts on motivation, inspiration, and longevity. Touring artists who promote systemic change are valuable to the basis of society. We refuse to be buried in the entertainment glut.”
Mecca Normal has a long history of co-ordinating and promoting events for artists determined to create social change. Their original touring enterprise was the late 80s Black Wedge — a group of poets and minimalist musicians who toured in Canada, the US and England.
“Discovering Utopia” a series by Jean Smith. Acrylic on canvas. 201o.
EVENT OUTLINE (60 minutes):
Abstract guitar begins. Jean enters from the back and walks through the room vocalizing wordlessly without a microphone, approaching audience members to demonstrate the power of unamplified sound and her intention to engage with individuals. The piece ends and Jean says that the song was named one of the “top ten protest songs” of that year by Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail — she reminds the audience that the song had no words.
Jean and David introduce themselves, and their work, briefly explaining their motivation to form a band that was different from the four-guys-on-stage units that dominated the Vancouver scene in the 1980s.
Jean elaborates, “In our early years I spoke from the stage, between fairly literal songs about feminism, poverty, and housing issues, to encourage women to start bands with other women, as opposed to being audience members. The social movement known as Riot Grrrl began and its founding members cited Mecca Normal as an inspiration to its inception. We connected with audiences who were encouraged to, in this case, focus on feminist concerns using music and culture. This direct linearity of events inspired us to address the idea that it is not possible to change the world. We did change the world.”
David talks about how the way the band operates as a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) entity is as significant as what we say in the lyrics. “There is a tactile intensity, a tension between Jean and I. We are very different people and we have different skills. We each work from our strengths in booking tours and finding ways to connect with both like-minded people and those who would never find us on their own.”
Jean talks about the motivation to maintain a creative partnership for over twenty-five years. “It is exciting to us that we inspire artists in their work.”
PowerPoint: David talks about his ongoing Inspired Agitators poster series highlighting the accomplishments of artists and activists engaged in social and aesthetic change. Jean asks David how he became aware of obscure artists and filmmakers in the 1960s and David talks about his older brother’s involvement in radical politics and the counter-culture at that time.
Jean and David outline different ways to present political ideas within song structures. Mecca Normal performs.
David talks about his graphic novel The Listener using illustrations from the book.
Jean, the daughter of two abstract painters (her father was also an art director at an ad agency in the 1960s), talks about the self-portrait series she began at age thirteen and has continued adding to for over thirty-five years to create a body of work documenting how women and girls view themselves.
During the PowerPoint art exhibit Jean and David talk about the aims of both literal and abstract political art in terms of intention and ability to inspire viable progressive social change.
Jean talks about how her work has evolved over years of presenting it to live audiences and seeing their response. This opportunity has provided her with a basis of respecting an audience’s ability to interpret art and music on their terms. The event ends with the performance of several engaging narrative pieces that employ humor with a resonating subtext of interpersonal dynamics.
Art Exhibit: The inclusion of art,exhibited or projected, creates a more complete vision of the multi-layered partnership. David, the non-verbal member of the duo, utilizes text in his work, while Jean, the singer, exhibits abstract-based art without a language framework.
Jean Smith Paintings
Jean Smith’s “Self-Portrait” series in watercolour (1973 at age 13 onward) documents the self-image of an adolescent girl through to the present, over thirty-five years later. Smith continues to examine the roles of female subject/model and artist in this ongoing series.
David Lester Drawings and Design
Small Press Publishing: Jean and David discuss their collaboration in the publishing of handmade art books, political graphics, poetry and fiction, including the award-winning poetry of Bud Osborn, a community activist from Canada’s poorest neighbourhood — Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Handmade books published by Smarten UP! & Get To The Point will be on display for discussion.
Q&A: After the performance David and Jean are available to speak to audience members individually.
Fee: Smith says, “Our fee is flexible. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information. We are very friendly!”
References available upon request.
How Art and Music Can Change the World
– Vancouver — Creative Writing Class at the University of British Columbia
– Vancouver — World Peace Forum
– Vancouver — BC Teachers for Global Peace and Education (PAGE)
– Vancouver — Word on the Street
– North York — Public Library
– Ottawa — Public Library
– Toronto — Type Books
– Montreal — Casa del Popolo
– Winnipeg — Mondragon
– Vancouver — Creative Writing Class at the University of British Columbia
– Vancouver — The Vinegar Factory
– Vancouver — Windermere High School
– Olympia — Evergreen State College
– Salem, OR — Willamette University
– San Francisco — Modern Times Bookstore
– LA — California Institute of the Arts
– Durham, NC — Duke University
– New York — Bluestockings Books
– Philadelphia — Nexus Gallery
– Holyoke, MA — Mount Holyoke College
– Providence — Rhode Island School of Design
– Boston — Megapolis Audio Festival
– Toronto — Over the Top Festival
– World Peace Forum, The Roundhouse Vancouver, BC, 2006
– Richmond Art Gallery — Arts for Life keynote presentation to high school art students, Richmond, BC, 2005
– Word On The Street, Vancouver 2005
– Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design, Vancouver, BC 2004
– Grand Forks Public Art Gallery, Grand Forks, BC 2004
– Vernon Public Art Gallery, Vernon, BC 2004
– David Thompson Cultural Centre, Nelson, BC 2004
– Denman Island Community Hall, Denman Island, BC 2004
– Bean Scene Coffee House, Kelowna, BC 2004
– Burnaby Central High School, Burnaby, BC 2004
– The Western Front, Vancouver, BC 2004
– St. Vincent College (poetry class), La Trobe, PA, 2002
– Chatham College (sound art class), Pittsburgh, PA, 2002
– Balazo Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 2002
– Flywheel Gallery, Easthampton, MA, 2002
– IMC (Indie Media Center), Urbana, IL, 2002
– Capitol Theater, Olympia, WA, 2002
– The Smell, Los Angeles, CA, 2002
– AK Press, Oakland, CA, 2002
– Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL , 2002
– Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA, 2002
WRITER / ARTIST / MUSICIAN / EVENT ORGANIZER / EDITOR
Jean Smith, vocalist in the acclaimed duo Mecca Normal, and the author of two published novels was named one of the “Top 50 Writers in Vancouver” (Vancouver Magazine) and one of the “Top Ten People Who Matter” (San Francisco Weekly).
Her fiction, poetry, interviews, articles and reviews on music and culture have appeared in the Globe & Mail, NPR, Joyland, The Art of Touring (Yeti Publishing), Ong Ong, Raygun, Your Flesh, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Illinois), McSweeney’s, Thee Flat Bike, 3 AM Magazine, The Rain (Vancouver), Sound Collector (New York) and Nanomajority. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries across North America. “Self-Portrait” watercolour series was shown at Ladyfests in Olympia, Seattle and LA. Jean has received two awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and a grant from the B.C. Arts Council to complete her third and fourth novels. Jean lives in Vancouver.
ARTIST / MUSICIAN / CURATOR / PUBLISHER
David Lester is the guitar player for the underground rock duo Mecca Normal and the author of The Listener graphic novel (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011). His art has appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, Geist, BC BookWorld, Magnet Magazine Online and Broken Pencil. His cartoons, appear regularly in the San Diego Reader. David’s book The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism (Arbeiter Ring Publishing) raised over $1000 for the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. It is in its second printing.
Jean Smith and David Lester are also available to curate art exhibits and organize events.
CURATORIAL: Art exhibits — galleries, community centres, stores and performance spaces. Specializing in tailoring art exhibits to themes and concepts.