January NEWS: 2017
My Self-Referential Top 35 of 2016.
2016: In December in Amsterdam, Holland I carried out research for my graphic novel on Emma Goldman at The International Institute for Social History (one of the largest archives for labour, left and social history in the world). Goldman left her archives to the institute before moving to Canada in 1939. There are image files in the IISH archive that can only be accessed in person.
October, 2016: Mecca Normal open for The Julie Ruin on their Pacific Northwest dates.
“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) 2016
August, 2016: Mecca Normal‘s Man Thinks Woman (1987) makes the cut with a great write-up by Douglas Wolk for 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: “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.”
August, 2016: At Emily Carr University of Art + Design, David Lester introduces students to a time when design involved hot wax, knives, sizing wheels, rollers, Letraset, steel rulers, and lines were made with tape or drawn with a pen. The context was his experience in the collective that produced the international anti-authoritarian newspaper Open Road (1976-1990). The talk was part of a summer course called “Design Criticism, and Anarchy and Culture” taught by visiting Professor Jeffrey Swartz (University School of Design and Art of Barcelona).
May, 2016: Here is Sheryl MacKay‘s interview with me on CBC’s North by Northwest. We talked about my contribution to the anthology Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle. NXNW is the No.1 weekend radio program in B.C. The show focuses on arts and culture:
April, 2016: David Lester’s 12-page graphic story The Battle of Ballantyne Pier is published in a book called Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (Between the Lines), an anthology of nine comics, each with a short preface by an academic or specialist on Canadian labour history and working-class struggles. The book was initiated by the Graphic History Collective. “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.” – Noam Chomsky
April, 2016: David Lester cited at the BC Book Prizes by Alan Twigg, recipient of the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence as one of 5 people who contributed to his life’s work as a writer (along with Jane Rule, George Woodcock, Tara Twigg and Howard White): “For the last 29 years David Lester and I have been doing BC BookWorld. I could not have done this be myself, and the fact that Dave has been with me as not just as a friend but his values are so high that he keeps me doing what I do and I don’t have anything clever here Dave I just thought I’d… people know who I am but I’d really like you to know who Dave is, so I’d just like you to stand up…”
My Totally Self-referential Top 21 of 2015:
1. Mecca Normal playing at Horses Records in Vancouver as part of Record Store Day.
2. Hearing word via Jean Smith‘s literary agent that the editor at Coach House is reading her manuscript and Simon and Schuster and Picador also have her novel.
3. Finishing a 14-page section of my graphic novel in progress on the last year in the life of Emma Goldman.
4. A Los Angeles documentary filmmaker contacts Jean about making a film of her life!
5. My first graphic novel The Listener goes to #1 in Historical Fiction (Comics & Graphic Novels) on the Amazon.ca bestseller list.
6. Mecca Normal’s Empathy for the Evil is reviewed in BITCH Magazine: “A number of these elliptical yet detailed songs resonate both as metaphorical allusions and as intimate character sketches…”
8. Two favourite quotes from Jean Smith:
“I am extremely grateful for the incredible opportunities we’ve had with a myriad of fantastic people — from way back in the early 80s, right up to new people I’ve met this week — and the bands we’ve worked with along the way AND ESPECIALLY the labels who have forked out capital and included us in their doings for one reason or another.”
“Damn you, menial jobs with your underlying themes of exploitation and oppression that burden us with obligations that eat up our time and cause the discomfort and destruction of our bodies and minds no matter how palatably the emotional infrastructure is illuminated during initial proceedings!”
9. Visiting the private house in Toronto where Emma Goldman lived the last year of her life. An incredible experience to be standing in the very room one of history’s greatest orators lived and died.
10. In the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll Mecca Normal’s Empathy for the Evil is listed at #472 out of 1,529 albums picked by critics. PopMatters lists the album as #400 (out of 1025 albums reviewed).
11. One of my cartoons is the cover of the 20th anniversary issue of Boston-based social justice magazine The Change Agent.
12. The many conversations with Jean Smith which are the life blood of a creative partnership.
13. My brother Ken Lester recovers from his stroke.
14. Radical British publisher, VERSO Books lists Mecca Normal’s I Walk Alone on a night-time playlist for an aural education to London after dark as selected by novelist Matthew Beaumont and the Verso staff!
15. Learning that The Listener will be featured in a chapter called “Multimodal Perspectives on Teaching Canadian Literature for Social Justice” in a book to be published by Canadian Scholars Press in 2017.
16. Jessica Hopper‘s impressive “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic” contains her review of Mecca Normal’s The Observer.
17. Designing five posters for MayDay events in Vancouver with one of the posters reaching Spain and ending up pasted next to posters of the CGT and CNT.
18. Mecca Normal’s I Walk Alone picked as one of 5 songs on a playlist for Riot Grrrl: Canada, curated by artists, and musicians who were part of the original movement. Created for Alien She, the first exhibition to examine the legacy of Riot Grrrl. As well, Tobi Vail picked Beaten Down as song of the day.on her Twitter.
19. Watching Wendy Atkinson get awarded Presenter of the Year by The BC Touring Council.
20. I like this inspired overview of the state of music by Randall Roberts in the Los Angeles Times: “‘No Cities to Love’ (Sleater-Kinney), to me, feels like the most recent chapter, informed by the spirit of 45s, cassette mix-tapes, ideas spread through list-servs and MP3s, secrets screamed and whispered, stories inked on lyric sheets and in song. It’s Kim Gordon repeating “fear of a female planet” in “Kool Thing.” It’s Patti Smith in “Break It Up”: “I ripped my skin open and then I broke through.” It’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” as delivered by Poly Styrene. It’s Bikini Kill, the Slits, Beth Ditto, PJ Harvey, Mecca Normal, Meg White, Mish Way, Meredith Graves, a glorious continuum that’s more crucial to rock’s present and future than the collected work of U2, Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins combined.”
21. The British Library orders a copy of Mecca Normal’s Empathy for the Evil.
November, 2015: Taking time to research Emma Goldman in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.
November, 2015: Sent off corrected pages for my graphic story on The Battle of Ballantyne Pier. This 12-page comic will be a chapter in Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (Between the Lines, 2016), an anthology of nine comics, each with a short preface by an academic or specialist on Canadian labour history and working-class struggles. The book was initiated by the Graphic History Collective.
October, 2015: Just found out my graphic novel THE LISTENER is to be featured in a chapter called “Multimodal Perspectives on Teaching Canadian Literature for Social Justice” in a book to be published by Canadian Scholars Press in 2017. The chapter will be written by Karen Jacobsen of the University of Alberta in Edmonton and is directed at undergraduate students.
September, 2015: During research for my graphic novel on Emma Goldman in Toronto I was able to visit the private house Emma Goldman lived in the last year of her life. An incredible experience to be standing in the very room one of history’s greatest orators died. The house has no marker outside to indicate it’s historical importance.
David Lester’s TOP 16 Mecca Normal MOMENTS of 2014:
1. Playing with Tobi Vail‘s Spider & the Webs and Calvin Johnson’s (K Records) band The Hive Dwellers in Portland at the Red and Black, an Industrial Workers of the World run cafe.
2. Having my poster included in “Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher” at the 2014 Whitney Biennial – an exhibit curated by Marc Fischer at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
3. Catching up with Todd P at Trans Pecos in Queens, New York just before opening for Mount Eerie.
4. Being thrilled that Jean Smith now has a literary agent.
5. With great relief, paddling ashore after playing in a row boat on Lake Washington for Clyde Petersen‘s show, Boating With Clyde.
6. Playing the Unknown Music Series in Anacortes, WA, organized by Phil Elverum and Geneviève Castrée.
7. The exhilaration of working with Jean as she created the words and vocal to the songs, “Anguish / Misogyny” and “The Ferry To The Launch”.
8. Looking up at the sky as we played in Patrick Maley‘s back yard in Olympia (at least until the mosquitoes swarmed us).
9. Ripping into the first box of the new Mecca Normal album sent by Fiona and Brett at M’lady’s Records to start our eastern tour in Queens, New York.
10. Waking up in New Jersey at 6:00 a.m. in order to beat the traffic and get parking in Manhattan for an interview on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.
11. Playing to an inspired audience at The Back Alley Theatre in DC, organized by Gideon L. Jaguar and Amanda Maude. Great to meet and see Laughing Man play!!
12. Meeting Dan Traeger, who came to our rescue by on-the-spot storing of Mecca Normal merch after a show in Seattle.
13. Playing our last show of the year in Vancouver with Mirah who did a fantastic set.
14. Watching as Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) cuts from her interview with Anita Sarkeesian, to play our song “Anguish / Misogyny” over visuals illustrating rampant violence against women and misogyny in video games.
15: The pleasure of watching 75 Dollar Bill (Rick Brown, Che Chen, Sue Garner) create music on our eastern US dates. Playing with them at Troost, along with Arrington de Dionyso and it was an especially fun show because we got to meet up with Madigan Shive, Tae Won Yu, Franklin Bruno, Bob Banister, Tara L. Key, and so many others.
16. Jean making espresso on a hot plate in a New Jersey motel at the start of another day on tour. 30 years of espresso and creativity!
David Lester’s rock duo MECCA NORMAL‘s 2014 shows included: NYC Todd P show (Trans-Pecos) with Mount Eerie. NYC (le poisson rouge) with Mount Eerie. Providence (AS220) with Thalia Zedak Band and $75 Dollar Bill. Philly (Tea Room). Boston (Lillypad), Wash, DC (Back Alley), Hudson, NY (John Doe Records & Books). Easthampton, MA (Flywheel). Wrong Wave Festival (Vancouver). Media Club with Mirah (Vancouver).
Click HERE for future Mecca Normal show dates.
Click HERE for a selection of reviews of Empathy for the Evil.
See Mecca Normal on Democracy Now performing two songs and being interviewed by Amy Goodman.
MECCA NORMAL’s new album Empathy for the Evil comes out in Autumn, 2014 on M’lady’s Records. To order the album click HERE. “M’lady’s Records is thrilled to announce the upcoming release of the first new album in eight years from one of our favorite groups: MECCA NORMAL. Jean Smith and David Lester have once again rang the alarm, with nine new pieces that form an exquisite song cycle, the lyrics of which are distilled from two of Jean’s recently-completed novels – one of which is being shopped around to major publishers by a literary agent. Mecca Normal’s art and music has blown minds around the world for many years now, inspiring people to rattle punk orthodoxy as well as injecting a much-needed blast of intelligence, poise, and imagination into the sometimes listless underground discourse.”
Malachi (18 x 28″ poster) by Mecca Normal guitarist David Lester is included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). The exhibition also includes a recording of a live set performed by underground rock duo Mecca Normal, and the cover of the Mecca Normal 7″ record that includes the song Malachi about war protester Malachi Ritscher. The painting on the record cover is called Discovering Utopia by Mecca Normal vocalist Jean Smith. These three artifacts are part of Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher – an exhibit curated by Chicago’s Marc Fischer about American activist and music documentarian Malachi Ritscher (1954 – 2006) who self-immolated on a freeway median outside of Chicago to protest the war in Iraq. Ritscher made a video of this action that was not widely seen. Full press release here.
David Lester talks about the new graphic novel he’s working on. Still in the research stage, David is pulling together several story threads, including details of political activist Emma Goldman‘s years in Toronto at the end of her life.
2014: David Lester’s 12-page comic The Battle of Ballantyne Pier is published on the Graphic History Project website in Vancouver.
In June, 2014, panels of David Lester’s comic The Battle of Ballantyne Pier is displayed as part of the exhibit Educate! Illustrate! Organize! Working-class and Labour History Through Comics, a 3 month exhibit curated by Graphic History Collective member Robin Folvik (Cumberland Museum and Archives). The exhibit was in conjunction with the Pacific Northwest Labour History Association and Miners’ Memorial Weekend.
David Lester has a new blog where he is posting regularly on all things related to his work as a graphic novelist, artist and musician.
IN PRODUCTION: David Lester is working on a graphic novel about feminist / anarchist Emma Goldman: Helen and Eric have been paired up to write and illustrate a graphic novel about Emma Goldman’s life as an anarchist and feminist and her final year, lived in Toronto. Coming from different political perspectives makes it difficult for Helen and Eric to agree on how much should be revealed about the controversial political activist’s private affairs. As tension between the creative partners grows, Emma’s stubborn nature surfaces in the research, influencing the proceedings to the point where Emma herself dictates a course of action from beyond the grave.
2013: Twenty years ago this September, David Lester founded Get To The Point Publishing expressly to publish Jean Smith‘s first novel I Can Hear Me Fine. I am as excited about her book today, as I was reading the manuscript back then. Crisp, expressive prose full of elegant, sensual description and insight. The text shares the same strong aesthetic sensibility as her lyrics – and many of the songs on Mecca Normal’s third album “Dovetail” appear within the story. There are only a handful left from the original printing. Available through BuyOlympia.com
David Lester has a new website for his art, music, and design.
The Listener graphic novel was presented by Karen Jacobson at a conference, October 24th, 2013, at the University of Alberta (Edmonton) in a session called Promoting Social Justice and Belonging in the Classroom with Canadian Literature. It was all part of The Association For Canadian Studies & The Canadian Ethnic Studies Association 4th Joint Annual Conference: Transforming Citizenship: Ethnicity, Transnationalism & Belonging in Canada.
Karl Blau covered the Mecca Normal song THIS MACHINE for his album of songs written by women of the West Coast entitled “West Coast Chalice.” 2013
In 2013, THE LISTENER was taught in two high schools in Alberta, Including Eastglen High School in Edmonton after it was selected for a research project called “Engaging Teachers with Canadian Literature for Social Justice” funded by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The other high school introduced THE LISTENER alongside the graphic novels Skim and Stitches.
October 12, 2013: UNDAUNTED: The Best of BC BookWorld (Ronsdale Press) with cover design by David Lester, plus 20 of his cartoons, and Kristin Bomba‘s review of THE LISTENER.
David Lester and Jean Smith‘s weekly collaboration of text/art for Magnet Magazine reached #200 in January, 2013.
Jean Smith (Mecca Normal) was in Miami in February, 2013, painting a slew of large, politically-charged, abstract expressionist canvases as part of her artist residency at the Fountainhead Residency Program.
Feb 9. 2013: Jean Smith (Mecca Normal) performed at the International Noise Festival in Miami with Kramer and Rat Bastard.
David Lester and Jean Smith (Mecca Normal) presented their writing and music at Kevin Chong‘s creative writing class at the University of British Columbia on January 29, 2013.
David Lester‘s duo MECCA NORMAL recorded a new album with legendary producer Kramer in Florida in November, 2012.
PM Press published Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection which includes a page of comics by David Lester.
Mecca Normal TOUR updates
Saturday, September 8, 2012: Mecca Normal opens for Chain & the Gang in Vancouver (Waldorf).
Sunday, September 30, 2012, 2 p.m.: Mecca Normal will be presented by CUPE Local 391 at Word On The Street (Vancouver).
Saturday, October 6, 2012: Performance event: The Listener graphic novel by David Lester – MECCA NORMAL guitar-player turned author-illustrator. Jean Smith talks about her new novel, Obliterating History – a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage. Mecca Normal performs. Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, WA.
October 7, 2012: Portland, OR: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center
October 8, 2012: Salem, OR: Willamette University
October 10, 2012: David Lester and Jean Smith will both be reading at LitQuake in San Francisco as part of the Radar Reading Series at the SF Main Public Library. Mecca Normal will be on tour on the west coast at that time.
Saturday, October 13, 3:00 p.m. Los Angeles. Echo Park Film Center lecture.
October 13, 2012: Los Angeles, CA: Human Resources LA
October 19, 2012: Olympia, WA: Evergreen State College: Jean and David present “How Art & Music Can Change the World”.
November 8: Miami – Churchill’s Pub
November 9: Ft Lauderdale – Radio-Active Records in-store
November 17, 2012: Vancouver, BC: MECCA NORMAL will be playing Broken Pencil’s CanZine West, Festival of Zines and Independent Culture (Vancouver at W2).
November 17, 2012: Vancouver, BC: Jean Smith will be part of the The Real Vancouver Writers’ Series (W2 Media Cafe, Vancouver).
My duo MECCA NORMAL is currently working on some great new songs.
The Listener was one of five books, including Maus and Persepolis, that were singled out by The Canadian Museum for Human Rights because the books dealt with “human rights issues and struggles past and present.” 2012
January 31, 2012: The Listener is presented by David Lester and Jean Smith at Kevin Chong‘s Creative Writing class (University of British Columbia). Photo by Kevin Chong.
June, 2012: David Lester is part of a School of Communication panel on Magazine Publishing, CMNS375, along with Kevin McKeown and instructor Bob Mercer (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver).
January 30, 2012: The Listener is selected as book of the week by the Toronto Public Library system.
“We have David Lester’s wonderful book at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library + Archives. If you are in the Cleveland area come give it a look!” — Laura Moody, Libraian, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, OH) 2012
David Lester‘s painting “A New World in Oue Hearts” is published on the cover of THE GLOBAL EDUCATOR, a teacher’s magazine devoted to peace and social justice issues. 2012
John K. Samson of The Weakerthans picks Mecca Normal‘s presentation of THE LISTENER as one of the TOP 10 shows he saw in 2011.
David Lester interviewed in Amplitude Equals One Over Frequency Squared (PA) 2012
Alternative Magazine (UK) selected THE LISTENER as one of the best graphic novels of 2011.
January 24, 2012: David Lester reads and shows art from his graphic novel THE LISTENER as part of the W2 Real Vancouver Writers’ & Culture Series. W2’s Media Cafe (Vancouver, BC). Also reading: Angie Abdou, Zsuzsi Gartner, Ayelet Tsabari, Arley McNeney, Garry Thomas Morse, and Jen Neale.
AK Press Distribution ranked The Listener as #4 on its list of top 10 bestselling books of 2011.
Largehearted Boy (music/literature blog, Brooklyn, NY) selected The Listener as one of its favourite graphic novels of 2011: “These are the six graphic novels I have most recommended to friends, family, and anyone else who has crossed my path this year. David Lester’s The Listener is one of the year’s most impressive graphic novels. This compelling book offers an insightful glimpse into the Nazi party’s 1933 election in Germany as well as the connection between modern art and politics.”
Monday Magazine (Victoria, BC) picked The Listener as one of the best Books of 2011.
David Lester, author of THE LISTENER and guitarist in rock duo Mecca Normal, whose most recent record release “Malachi” (K Records) was selected by Tobi Vail for her list of Best of 2011, in Artforum Magazine (New York).
The Hidden Cameras cover Mecca Normal’s “Throw Silver” for the Have Not Been The Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995 compilation. The song was recorded at St. Mary Aldermary church in London, England, 2011. All proceeds from the CD comp go to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
Brett Lyman (M’Lady’s Records) picked his top 10 of 2011 in Jigsaw: Best 7” of the year that wasn’t on M’lady’s: Mecca Normal “Malachi” b/w “Blue Sky With Branches” (K Records).
THE LISTENER goes into a 2nd printing, October, 2011.
Read a comprehensive interview with David Lester on the UK’s Alternative Magazine Online. 2011
North by Northwest interview with David Lester on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) radio (August 20, 2011).
The Listener is presented at Word On The Street (Vancouver, Sunday, September 25, 2011). The Listener performance adaptation by Jean Smith, includes Mecca Normal. David also signs his book at Word Under The Street.
The Listener was selected as one of the best books of 2011, so far, by the School Library Journal (New York).
The Globe & Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) profiles David Lester and The Listener. 2011
THE LISTENER reviewed in Crack Magazine (Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK); Alternative Magazine (Liverpool, UK), the World’s Strongest Librarian (West Valley City, UT), and by Les Wiseman in the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC).
A page from THE LISTENER is featured in Geist Magazine (summer issue, 2011).
Deanna Radford writes her observations on the Montreal presentation/book launch of THE LISTENER: Suoni Per Il Popolo blog (Montreal, PQ) 2011
UMFM University of Manitoba, interview with David Lester. 2011
CKUT Montreal, interview with David Lester and Jean Smith. 2011
The Listener – #45 on the Amazon.ca TOP 100 list of bestsellers in themes books in late June and ranked #13 on the All-Canadian Top 30 Comics Bestseller List for June (Book Manager). 2011
David Lester’s graphic design (posters, album covers) is featured in Talk – Action = O An Illustrated History of D.O.A. by Joe Keithley (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011) .
David Lester and Jean Smith presented a performance adaptation by Jean Smith that includes Mecca Normal to a Creative Writing class at the University of British Columbia. 2011
David Lester reads from The Listener at Spartacus Books in Vancouver. 2011
Jean Smith put together a film about the Book Lauch Tour. 2011
“I would like to recommend David and his performance partner Jean Smith who gave an incredibly dynamic, introspective and involving presentation – a slide show, music, monologues with a sense of humour. His presentation would be absolutely perfect for teens especially.” – Cameron Ray, Youth Services Specialist at North York Public Library. 2011
Book signing in Vancouver, May 15, 2011
David Lester Author Page Amazon.com
The Listener by David Lester (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011) $19.95, ISBN: 9781894037488