Taylor Mac is good for America

This was the conclusion of Patrick O’Connor, my colleague and companion last Saturday to Taylor Mac‘s Ann Arbor performance of Act II of his virtuosic “24-Decade History of Popular Music.” One hour per decade, three decades per show, our segment was 1956-1986. When I first heard about the show I thought,  “who’s going to sit through the popular songs of the 18th century?” But it’s not just a songbook show: it’s a performance art piece with more audience participation than is comfortable at first, but by show’s end became a more intimate, raucous, and touching performance than anything I’ve ever been part of before. The show is an imaginative “re-dreaming” of American history, staged as a Radical Faerie Ritual of Transformation, featuring “Songs Popular in the Bayard Rustin Planning Room” (1956-66), “Songs Popular on the Jukebox in the Stonewall Inn” (1966-1976), and “Songs Popular in the Backroom” (1976-86).

The set began with a mashup of Peter Gunn with some teenybop 50’s song and finished with a faithful rendition of Prince’s Purple Rain, one of only two songs that wasn’t tweaked or reworked in some way (the other, Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddamn). Few of the songs were the most popular of their day, but had messages that resonated with judy’s (Mac’s preferred gender pronoun) message of strivings to remedy flaws in American community. The most transformed was a Ted Nugent song, a nod to 80s conservatism, reworked as a power ballad at a gay prom, in which judy brought three rows of audience members to the orchestra pit to slow dance under a mirrorball in same-sex couples; soon we were all mandated to press close to our seatmates and sway to a song about “fag bashing.”

In October the entire show will be staged as a 24-hour continuous performance, complete with cots and medical tent. I hope they make a DVD so the rest of us can get a taste, even if our dreaming happens during parts of the show.

The New York Times review gives a sense of the show, as does the video from judy’s Arts Management team:


Taylor Mac – A 24-Decade History of Popular Music from Pomegranate Arts on Vimeo.

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