John Cameron Mitchell has spent the last six months of quarantine doing a lot of things, but they all fall under one overarching umbrella: He’s been creating communities.
Whether that’s providing a place to stay for friends who have found themselves between apartments or providing support for charitable causes or fostering a creative space where songs get passed from collaborator to collaborator, that has been Mitchell’s world this year.
About to return to Portland to film Season 3 of Hulu’s Shrill, the Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator points out that with guaranteed employment, it’s his duty to take care of others. “I can stay above water,” he says. “I tend to work on a lot of charity stuff because I’m lucky enough to have the job. So all year has been raising money through Cameo, Hedwig merch, this album, New American Dream…”
New American Dream began in the early days of the pandemic, when Mitchell was self-isolating in the mountains above Palm Springs. “It was a kind of heaven for me, working out and eating well and writing songs with friends,” he says. “First I would encourage musical friends to send me musical tracks, and I’d write melody and lyrics over it, and they’d add things and farm it out to other friends, who would add guitars and backing vocals. So it became a kind of pro bono project I realized could be an album.”
Part 1 was released September 4, and the second half will come later this fall. But one particular track took on greater significance later, when Mitchell was approached about contributing to Spread the Vote.
“[Film publicist] Wellington Love reached out to a couple people he thought might be good to make something creative and on the cheap,” Mitchell says. “They knew [mine would be] something to do with getting young people to do poll work to save the old folks from the COVID situation, and they had this animated character they wanted to be part of it.”
Together with director Robin Frohardt, Mitchell created PSA “New American Dream,” rewriting the lyrics to become the story of how poll workers spread the alarm that they need help, and young heroes fly to the polling station to relieve the seniors.
Mitchell recently released the second music video from the album, “Say Their Names.” With vocals by Qya Cristál, and featuring Head Over Heels’ star Peppermint and Melania Brown, sister of Layleen Xtravaganza Polanco who died of neglect in Riker's Prison in 2019, the song and video serve as a tribute to the trans people killed in 2020.
“The three vidoes we’re putting out have a lot to do with the state of the country,” Mitchell says. To that end, proceeds from the album benefit Burritos Not Bombs, a Mexico City food distribution program; Transgender Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project, a San Francisco-based non-profit that works to end human rights abuses against the trans community, particularly trans women of color in California prisons and detention centers; and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Trust Fund, a Connecticut-based college scholarship fund for African-American students in need.
“When you’re doing okay, you need to spread it around,” Mitchell says.