In 1986, Mecca Normal and a bunch of minimalist musicians and anti-authoritarian poets - including Ken - formed the Black Wedge.
"One step easier than punk! The Black Wedge is out to spread the word of how to combine poetry, music and politics and have a fun time doing it. Hardcore poems and shredding guitars, radical voices crushing sexism, militarism, poverty and conformity. The Black Wedge wants to set wild hearts and imaginations free, to release a riot of emotion - opening up a new arena for activist resistance culture." - Black Wedge poster, 1986
D.O.A. loaned us their school bus to tour on the west coast. Jello was going to speak at the San Francisco event at the Mabuhay Gardens. This, to me, was incredible. I'd seen the Dead Kennedys in Vancouver - I was a fan. I was inspired by Jello's political lyrics, his singing and general exuberance. The tour was in June of 1986. Right at the time, Jello was dealing with the Frankenchrist album poster by H. R. Giger. Basically, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) took Jello to court to send a message to musicians considering the inclusion of material that might be offensive. Warning shots, as it were.
To be entirely self-referential, it was very bad news that Jello wouldn't be able to be part of the Black Wedge show in San Francisco. 1989 rolls around and Jello is in Vancouver playing Bruce Coddle in Terminal City Ricochet. He has this Marlon Brando thing going on with a very elastic vocal performance. To me, Terminal City Ricochet was a comic book come to life and it seemed like Jello played it that way.
At some point in the film, we see the character Beatrice putting up Intens-i-thon posters that David Lester designed, not for the film, but for an actual event that included poets, painters and musicians - something Ken came up with. Mecca Normal played the Intens-i-thon in Vancouver after the second Black Wedge Tour. For me, it was great seeing Ken's ideas in action within the film. Beatrice explains, "That's why I organized the Intens-i-thon. To get people together. Music, art, graffiti. Sort of a resistance culture." When the character Alex asks more about her involvement, Beatrice says, "I give a shit. I know that idealism and activism beat cynicism and apathy any day."
I was an extra in a rock show scene where D.O.A. was playing on a wharf. There was an all-female band "on the bill" and somehow I ended up getting plucked out of the extras and sent to wardrobe and make-up to be the keyboard player in this band, which was all sort of weird. There were a bunch of people in the audience, so it felt like a show, and I was on stage, which was normal enough, but I don't usually end up on stage, "playing" with people I've never even spoken to, wearing clothes that someone else selected, with a hair "style" I didn't get any say in. Plus, I don't typically wear a dress on stage and we were on this wharf and it must have been winter, because the cold air off the waves beneath us was going right up my skirt. It was fucking freezing. All very surreal. I remember they kept me on the set for hours because they'd had me go through wardrobe, hair and make-up, so they wanted to keep putting me in scenes. The gig scene went on; we were dancing, but there was no music, and then I was supposed to stand and talk to this very serious-looking guy, which was very awkward, because we had to act like we were at a show, leaning in and talking loudly, but there was no music. I thought the guy I was talking to was looking at me like I was nuts. Maybe he wasn't that into the whole "pretending" thing.
At one point, to warm up, I got on D.O.A.'s bus, which had been driven out onto the wharf. A bunch of us were inside talking, drinking beer, watching the spectacle - the underground rock show "after rock had been banned". It was weird sitting on the bus again, after we'd used it for the Black Wedge Tours, driving it from Vancouver to LA and then the following year, from Vancouver to Montreal. It was like having lived part of what was being made into a film outside the windows of the same bus. Watching the movie version of a comic book that never existed about ideas we'd been living out on tour - getting people together to use culture to create progressive social change.
Mecca Normal has been functioning continuously since 1984. Recent projects include David Lester's books The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism and The Listener - a graphic novel, a classroom event called "How Art & Music Can Change the World" and The Black Dot Museum of Political Art. Jean Smith is the author of two published novels.