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Notes on A 24-Decade History of Popular Music Chapter II

By Taylor Mac, at Melbourne Festival

Wed 11 – Fri 20 October | Forum Melbourne

Get tickets here

Notes on the notes:

  • These are notes, not a review.
  • I’ve never used my blog for this kind of writing before. I’m giving it a try.
  • Leave a comment if you like.
  • I may write more after each part of the show. I might not. I might type this up into something more formal. Or not.
  • Taylor Mac uses “judy”, lowercase, not as a name but as a gender pronoun.

See Notes on Chapter I

Chapter II: 1836-1896

12 hours in, 12 hours still to go. It happened to me again. The day after Chapter II all I could talk about were the images in the show that kept flashing back in my mind. Did all that really happen? Now it feels like it all slipped by in the blink of an eye. Oh yeah, in hour four we went to Mars to perform the whole of The Mikado, as setting it anywhere on Earth is a version of blackface, but no-one knew how we got there from an All-American Sunday dinner. Who knew Gilbert and Sullivan were such a central part of the American cannon? But still, I don’t have much time to write this, and so, again, can’t go into detail on the songs themselves. I just have time to talk about two things

Of Course, It’s a Course! (Or maybe a trial)

I realized that a 24 hour history of USA told through popular song is more like a course than a performance. It’s the same length of contact time as a semester-long subject at the University. Delivered intensively, it’s an immersion course for re-writing American history from a post-gender, post-race, post-patriarchal perspective, and a general how-to for queering life in general. All the materials from history, the songs, are scrutinized through the lens of the ‘radical faery realness ritual’, and every whiff of misogyny, racism and hatred of difference of any kind is wafted front and centre. No-one survives unscathed. Songs are sometimes analysed line by line, or redone in style appropriate for its content that might just scrape by. Other songs are not to be applauded, as their invidiousness may be wrapped in a sweet jingle, and the bitterness of the lyric not felt until spelled out after the fact. So maybe it’s a trial of America’s past by the standards of today, which is to say of Taylor Mac’s standards, and so not the mainstream standards of today, but some future vision of a world in the process of being re-inscribed. Or maybe, like real trials, it is about justice plain and simple. Justice for the wrongs of the past still perpetrated in the present. In looking to the past, Taylor Mac points out where the utopian dream of USA went wrong. We are presented with the future of the past. Maybe this is how it will be told from now on?

Queer Space

To me, it the auditorium during these shows feels like a safe-space for diverse self-expression, gender non-conformity, and post-normative bodies. It is a popular space in the sense that the subject of the show is popular culture. The rules are looser, and transgression, reimagining and rebellion is encouraged. You can wander in and out, drink, talk, interact, change seats. Taylor wanders around the auditorium and seems able to sing on any perch, lap or railing. [The criticism alleging dilution of queer culture through popularizing or main-streaming to reach a broader audience that has been leveled at Taylor Mac is a discussion for another time]. The atmosphere of permission is quite different to most other theatre shows. Towards the end of Chapter II Taylor asked us to remove all the chairs. The notion of a sit-down audience where you rent a seat, some more expensive than others, has now gone completely. The audience is now on their feet or wheels and moving constantly. This is how it ended on Friday. Will the chairs have returned since then?

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