Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music is a durational performance about the role of popular music in American culture and history.
The project brings together 240 songs that were popular in America from 1776 to 2016. Mac and his band perform these songs in decade segments, each decade lasting an hour. However, for shorter performances, he performs 3 or 6 decade segments per concert.
His goal, however, is to perform all 24 decades in one 24 hour sequence inviting the audience to endure the song cycle as well. The concerts themselves are unlike traditional recitals. Instead of the audience passively appreciating the virtuosity of the performer or the significance of the song, Mac incorporates his audiences into the performance. These performances are interactive community building projects where the performer and the audience create and experience the event together.
I am interested in this performance for several reasons beginning with the fact that Taylor Mac has gone on record to describe this project as a way to recreate his experience of seeing, for the first time, an emerging queer community response to AIDS. He was inspired by a 1987 AIDS action event’s incorporation of music, dance, and performance and by the community’s simultaneous display of rage and joy. For him, the event was an act of healing. The 24-Decade History of Popular Music showcases songs that were in some way or another significant to communities outside of mainstream culture. While the songs themselves are often familiar—hence, the title “popular music”—the history of the song’s relevance to the community involved has been obscured. In this sense, Taylor Mac’s project is as much an archival project as it is a restorative one. His performance covers 240 years of American history, beginning with the Revolutionary era and working up to the contemporary moment. It would be too easy to say that Taylor Mac queers the history of popular music. I would make the claim instead that Taylor Mac sets out to revive the role of popular music to rally people to a particular progressive cause by showing us how its been done, time and time again, over the years. In 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac sings the ongoing revolution for social change.
David Román is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Southern California. He is the author of two books: Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, & AIDS and Performance in America: Contemporary US Culture and the Performing Arts, and several edited volumes. Professor Román's research focuses on theatre and performance studies, with an emphasis on contemporary US culture; American studies, with an emphasis on race, sexuality, and the performing arts; Latina/o studies with an emphasis on popular culture; and queer studies with an emphasis on archival practices, subcultural histories, and artistic production.
Professor Román's current projects include an edited volume of essays on the plays of Tarell Alvin McCraney and an edited volume on Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music. He is also currently working on two book-length projects, Reviving Broadway, on the cultural politics of Broadway from the 1930s to the present, and Remembering AIDS, on the early AIDS years in the United States.
He is a former editor of Theatre Journal and a founding editorial member of GLQ. He’s served as the scholar-in-residence at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles under the leadership of founding artistic director Gordon Davidson and he was the chair of the board of directors at Highways Performance Space in Los Angeles under the leadership of founding artistic director Tim Miller. He’s won multiple awards for his scholarship, teaching, and service.
13 Mar 2018 - 6:30pm