Patriot Acts with The Civilians


The Civilians have put me to work again, doing an illustration for a fund-raiser they’ve got coming up in May. The benefit is in the form of a concert, with various progressive-minded celebrities singing patriotic songs, so my mission was to come up with an image which conveyed music & patriotism — with an undercurrent of subversiveness/irony.

With the aid of Artistic Director Steve Cossen, I did the illustration shown here, inspired by the famous image of Marlene Dietrich from Blue Angel. As Steve remarked, there’s something wonderful about this prototypical American icon being a fusing of French statuary and German pose!

Here’s info about the benefit concert, which will be held Monday May 8th, 7:30 pm, at The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 60 Washington Square South:

Patriot Acts: an American Vaudeville
Patriot Acts is a celebration of inspiring music about our country, featuring classic and contemporary songs that champion democratic ideals. Organized as a benefit for The Civilians theater company and co-sponsored by The Nation magazine and the Skirball Center for the Arts, Patriot Acts brings together a diverse array of musicians to give expression to a rich tradition that is rooted in fairness, equality, freedom, justice — a tradition that values dissent and puts forth a vision for citizenship counter to prevalent ideas of militarized nationalism. Through an evening of vibrant performances, Patriot Acts reclaims the progressive context of many of the leading icons of our patriotic culture, a context of which many Americans may be otherwise unaware.

The words to “America the Beautiful” for example, were written by feminist and social activist Katharine Lee Bates; the poem was originally included in a collection protesting US imperialism in the Philippines. Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” inspired as response to “God Bless America,” sings about America’s beauty but also poses a challenge in the last and often omitted verse:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry I stood there wondering
If this land was made for you and me.

From these classics, Patriot Acts traces a musical landscape from songs like “The House I Live In,” a 1945 hit for Frank Sinatra, to contemporary songs by politically engaged artists. The concert also features songs from The Civilians recent show (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch and others. Patriot Acts is inspired by the article “Patriotism’s Secret History,” by Peter Dreier and Dick Flacks that appeared in The Nation magazine.

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