Out in the Tropics: Taylor Mac's Pop Music Tribute Is So Last Century
Taylor Mac likes pop music. And he's pretty indiscriminate about the pop music he likes, from primitive folk songs of the 1770s to the Auto-Tuned, focus-grouped hits of today. The actor and gender-bending diva, recognized in New York City and beyond for his politically conscious, impossible-to-reproduce theatrical spectacles, is channeling his love of music for the masses in his next gargantuan project: a 24-hour concert in the Big Apple, slated for late next year, that will cover the past 24 decades of pop music.
But well before his 24-Hour History of Popular Music, Mac will run a number of mini musical marathons, including his much-anticipated appearance at this weekend's provocative Out in the Tropics festival at the Colony Theatre. Titled 20th Century Concert (Abridged), Friday night's show will feature a song from each decade of the 20th Century, in addition to a pair of encores. Mac will likely be an art exhibition in and of himself, with attire that will make Lady Gaga's and Björk's performance garb look conservative. Mac spoke with New Times about his unique aesthetic and the ghosts of pop music past and present.
New Times: How did this idea of "A 24-Hour History of Popular Music" originate?
Taylor Mac: I was thinking about why my favorite singers are people who don't sing so well -- Nina Simone (always slightly under or above the pitch) and Patti Smith (either screaming it or speaking to music with an idea of pitch). I thought it would be fun to make a show that explores this and would put me in a position where perfection couldn't possibly be the goal. Plus, Tiny Tim did a 24-hour concert, and I got excited about furthering the conversation he started.
Did you have to research decades you weren't already familiar with? What was popular music like in the 1770s, for instance -- was it synonymous with what we call classical?
Yes, I've been doing lots and lots of research. My life has become research. The research isn't as fun as singing the songs, but almost. Classical music was never popular music (well, popular in certain circles). I'm really limiting myself to music whose goal is to bring people together -- songs that all classes of people can connect to. So drinking songs, songs that rally, celebrate, sing-alongs, etc. Most of the songs like this from the 1770s are folk songs, patriotic songs, religious songs, and, of course, love songs.