Ill I: Laughing with Lizards, the new EP from Dan Fishback

today6th February 2024


Acclaimed playwright/songwriter/performer Dan Fishback announced his new EP . Ill I: Laughing with Lizards will be released on February 16.

Dan Fishback on the project: ”Ill I: Laughing with Lizards is the first of three short albums, documenting feelings and impressions from my life as a chronically ill, queer Jew in an age of rising fascism. Ill (the word ”ill” with a capital ‘i’) speaks to dysfunctional imbalances, not just within my own body, but within the body politic, and this first collection focuses on that political disorder. The subtitular track, Laughing with Lizards, explores the grief of witnessing injustice and the solace of knowing that ours is not the first generation to fight against overwhelming political cruelty.”

Playwright and songwriter Dan Fishback is perhaps best known for a performance that never happened. In 2017, the American Jewish Historical Society abruptly canceled a staged reading of his musical Rubble Rubble, citing his advocacy for Palestinian human rights. While Rubble Rubble’s cancellation provoked controversy, it was only one moment of crisis in Fishback’s ongoing artistic inquiry into the forbidden shadows of Jewish and queer life in the United States.

Fishback began performing in New York City in 2003, finding a home in the Lower East Side’s anti-folk scene and releasing several albums, both solo and with his band Cheese On Bread, which dropped its most recent recording The One Who Wanted More in 2018, along with a video for their song ‘Bad Friend’ directed by legendary underground queer filmmaker Stephen Winter, and featuring trans cabaret legend Justin Vivian Bond.

As a playwright, Fishback is known for comedic political theater, in which multiple time periods frequently collapse into each other, exploring legacies of historical trauma. The Material World, which found a family of Jewish socialist immigrants confronting the promise of Soviet utopianism in the 1920s, was called ‘quietly revolutionary’ and ‘the best downtown musical in years’ by Time Out New York in 2012, and his 2009 play You Will Experience Silence, which reframed the Chanukah story in the context of the Iraq War, was called ‘a forceful, often hilarious reflection on the politics of American occupation’ by the Village Voice. Fishback’s 2011 solo performance thirtynothing confronted the then-under-discussed history of the early AIDS epidemic, and sought to understand the meaning of gay mass death for gay men who were children in those terrifying years.

In 2013, spurred by the political questions inherent in his thirtynothing project, Fishback founded The Helix Queer Performance Networka programming platform designed to bring queer generations together and redress inequities in the world of queer arts and culture. He directed Helix’s slate of intergenerational festivals, workshops and public events through the platform’s conclusion in 2020, including La MaMa Experimental Theater’s annual festival La MaMa’s Squirts: Generations of Queer Performance, which continues today, now curated by Alexander Paris.

Fishback has myalgic encephalomyelitisalso known as chronic fatigue syndromeand hosted the podcast Sick Day with Dan Fishback from 2018 through 2019. His work continues to engage with Jewish and queer political crises, always with a historical element, and with a newfound emphasis on disability justice, marked by Fishback’s experience as a high-risk person in a world that has ended collective efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID.

The music video for Laughing with Lizards, which I animated by hand, brings some levity to these themes of trauma, injustice and resistance. My protagonist, a young Jewish leftist, creates a golem (a sort of android protector from European Jewish folklore) out of mashed potatoes, in the shape of one of her shtetl ancestors. She and her Bubbe Golem go on adventures in Brooklyn, using the Bubbe Golem’s magic powers to right various wrongs. (They turn an I.C.E. detention center into an abortion clinic, they turn a cop into a baby goat, etc.) While the video was finished before last year’s October 7th Hamas attacks and the ensuing Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the videos climax features the Bubbe Golem attending a Jewish solidarity rally for Palestine, where she confronts a Zionist counterprotestor and heals him of the pain that distorts his thinking. The gesture is part of a long history of left-wing Jewish resistance to Zionisma phenomenon that grows more powerful and urgent by the day.

Written by: GlitterBeam

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