epic radical faerie realness =
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music
at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts
The undisputed house down performance at Philadelphia International PIFA was Taylor Mac’s A 24 Decade History of Popular Music at the Merriam Theater.
Mac’s opus features over two centuries of hit songs as a cultural document & interpreted through a social justice lens/ GLBTQueer fantasia by ‘judy’ Mac’s preferred pronoun because “my gender is performer.”
the nomenclature perhaps an homage to the great Judy Garland, who used to be called leather lungs, because of her versatility and vocal stamina, qualities that can certainly apply to Taylor Mac, previously performed in the uncharted time zone of 24 continuous hours, but for PIFA a still staggering 12 hour installments.Popular songs and music that annotate the cultural history of America, from decorous baroque of the late 17th century to our tumultuous and perilous times.
Part 1 covered 1776 to 1896 on June 2 covering music from 1776 to 1896 and on June 9, Philly Pride weeken spanning music from 1896 to the present. judy was joined at various times by over 30 musicians and other guests including Philadelphia Temperance Choir, dance troupes Urban Bush Women, Tangle Movement Arts, Camden Sophisticated Sisters/Distinguished Brothers and drag diva bestie Martha Graham Cracker. And working both shows onstage and in the audience the corps of ‘Dandy Minions’ of dancers, aerialists, burlesque performers and superdivas stomping the aisles.
The 246 song cycle showcasing among other things Machine Dazzle’s devastating radical faerie drag realness with judy transitioned into (with the help of dressers) in front of the audience.
I was only able to attend a chunk of four hours+ spanning the 60s-through the 80s~
by that time, judy had been on the Merriam stage for six or so hours- Here are just a few random highlights
First kudos to the incredible vocals of backup singers-soloists Steffanie Christ’an and Heather Christian. judy’s blazing version of the Stones ‘Gimmie Shelter’ the scorching duet with Christ’an was the house down as ‘judy’ turning it into a GLBTQueer anthem of liberte.
Bringing girl group realness to the Supreme 60s gay jukebox DL song “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” From “I’m Just a Soul (whose intentions are good)” to Nina’s Simone’s “Mother Goddamn” her searing j’accuse against racism in America. judy gave the backstory of Simone appropriating an essentially minstrel tune structure in a searing j’accuse against racism in America.
Judy mused on the parallels (and differences) of the black civil-rights movement of the 60s and the gay rights movement. judy providing local history about a son of West Chester PA, black gay activist Bayard Rustin organizing the march on Washington in 1963 and kept in the background by the movement leaders because he was an out black gay man.
judy talked about the protests in San Francisco and historic Stonewall riots, the queens who fought back on the weekend that Judy Garland died. He sang ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ finished off with “over the rainbow” on piano. A member of the audience portraying dead Judy Garland, was carried out in a spontaneous cortege over the stage and down the aisles with the Dandy Minions in fab funeral drag.
The gay sexual liberation of the 70s transitioned to the catastrophic decade of death, survival and solidarity in queer America. Judy inspired by the uncompromised gay firebrands of ACT-UP Larry Kramer and Maxine Woolf as inspiration to create unapologetic confrontation through civil action and public performance art.
Judy exalted the soundtracks sex in 70s gay club backrooms, where between hookups “one minute you could be talking about Foucault, the next Cher.” Refusing to be shamed about anonymous sex, joking that it was indeed an intimate experience, consider the truism “a stranger knows something about you that your mother will never know.”
Looking for songs specifically composed by out gay men during the worst years of the AIDS epidemic in New York, when record producers were blocking any GLBTQ expression. judy found a searing testament of courage with out gay British songwriter Marc Almonds’ dirge ballade about grim realities of the disease and the inhumanity that PWAs faced in the 80s.
judy’s raucous survival manifesto through the AIDS years a mash-up of Led Zeppelin’s titanic Kashmir with the static disco frenzy of ‘Stayin Alive.’ judy’s vocal prowess seems almost in a category by itself, judy can turn something like the musically static ‘Addicted to Love’ turned into a polemic against the ‘moral majority’ movement of Christian evangelists and political hypocrites who demonized the gay community and called for PWAs to be put in camps and branded.
judy was loathe to learn his “Snakeskin Cowboy” (about “fag bashing” Nugent proudly said publicly) judy nevertheless turned the song into an ironic cautionary tale about washed up homopanicked fossil rockers.
Judy slipped into a blinding Purple sequined jumpsuit with a glitter Mohawk headdress to perform “the best make out song ever” singing Prince’s “Purple Rain” perched on the Merriam Theater balcony ledge.
Even after eight hours of performance, perfect pitch, even in an air pocket or two. balladeer, B’way belter, soulful chanteuse, art song artiste. judy’s muscled baritone on Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain is Going to Fall” the song reaches dramatic heights that Dylan’s limited vocal ability could not and all of Dylan’s poetry is realized.
On Bowie’s “Pretty Things” judy is the equally powerful falsetto queen and is the baritone crooner on ‘Heroes’ a manifesto of sexual freedom, and accompanied by the burlesque troupe in leather in the balconies, for some acrobatic sex,
Inflatable Macy’s Day Parade size penises of the American and Russian flags are floated & come together. judy weighs in with scathing editorial as the gasbags deflate.
The transitions from era to era with judy being changed in Extravaganza symbolic costumes in front of the audience, when judy is near naked, it was symbolic too, of this full throated, thrilling performance. She evokes the ghost of Judy at Carnegie Hall, who told the audience in 1962, that they can stay all night and she can sing them all. In Philly for Pride Weekend judy took everybody over and back through the GLBTQueer rainbow, not only singing the history of pop music, but reclaiming our history through theater, music and drop dead diva drag.