With glittery makeup and full regalia of feathers and gold heels of a tribe yet unnamed, Taylor Mac aimed to take us on a journey of remembrance and newly created ritual. His targets are all things conservative and anti-life in mainstream culture. Patriarchy, fundamentalism, militarism, racism, homophobia and more---Bullseye!
This more staged than impromptu performance piece is reportedly an hors d’oeuvre of a 24-hour 270 song cabaret work in progress—The History of Political Popular Music.
The songs are carefully chosen to tell a story of American cultural history. First we hear Amazing Grace sung to the tune of the House of a Rising Sun, a song that’s less about grace and more about prostitution.
Here is a clip of Taylor Mac performing this in a prior concert-
Much later we hear Nina Simone’s lyrics that refuse to mince words about the hatefulness of segregation and racism. Without alteration we hear a popular tune of the 20’s that is so startling in its homophobia we squirm even more than when we worry Taylor will call us to be on the stage.
And with non-stop charming patter in between songs Taylor points out ironies such as the great number of fences in Texas even though a Texan anthem could very well be “Don’t Fence Me In”.
This isn’t drag, it’s something else again. Taylor says the usual words for non-hetero gender don’t quite fit and that his gender description of choice is “performer”.
It’s not easy to be deadly serious and scathing in your critique and simultaneously fun and light-hearted. Somehow Taylor Mac pulls it off. For example, he can recite Walt Whitman’s poetry with fiery passion but nonetheless still work in humorous asides during this recitation to reflect on the great number of ways Whitman found to say semen.
We are no worse for the wear of participating --yes, participating--in his show; we are enriched. We were given homework assignments to study Nina Simone’s lyrics and to keep the conversation going.
He asks, for example, if the Chicago-origin Pritzker who is fighting the death penalty would do better just to give his billions away so people don’t end up on death row in the first place. He asks why gay marriage wouldn’t be just part of the American story of progress. He asks whether the patriarchy has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any.
Would Taylor Mac “play well in Peoria”? I don’t think we’ll be seeing Taylor Mac on prime time TV any time soon. But prove me wrong world, please do.
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The Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a wide range of performances from popular to fringe. For more information see the Museum of Contemporary Art website .
Photos: Nathan Keay