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Culture Vulture/Photo diary: Taylor Mac in Philadelphia part 2

June 14, 2018

Saturday June 9 —

Andy and I returned to Philadelphia for the second half of Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.” It seemed like half the crowd had seen the first part, the other half were all new people (including our friends Nick and Jimmy). Taylor said something in judy’s introduction that judy hadn’t said before, that judy undertook this epic theater piece because there’s no way it could be perfect — an exercise in managing The Anxiety of Imperfection. That’s one of many inspiring aspects of the extravaganza.

Some highlights:

Each decade’s costume was a Machine Dazzle masterpiece, some more dazzling than others, like this simulation of the Wright Brothers’ airplane wings with Machine traipsing around in a Mount Rushmore headdress.

Guest artists included Philadelphia-based immigrant advocacy activist Yared Portillo, accompanied by Erick Pérez.

During the Depression era, the theater became a soup kitchen, as the Dandy Minions served soup to the audience. When the 1950s rolled around, Taylor’s white-picket-fence costume signalled the era of “white flight” to the suburbs. At this point in the show, Taylor had all the white people in the middle section of the orchestra “migrate” to the suburbs and invited all the people of color in the house to take seats in the center, so for the rest of the show they got to sit in the best seats in the house, soon followed by the queers.

Machine Dazzle’s costumes and Matt Ray’s musical arrangements have been widely and deservedly lauded, but I’m not sure enough praise has been heaped on set designer Mimi Lien and lighting designer John Torres, who succeeded in continually transforming the look of the show/concert using the simplest of means. Andy and I had seen the three-hour section covering the ’60s/’70s/’80s at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, a flexible open space. At the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, the curtain came down as the ’60s rolled in, and it reopened with this grand entrance, to the tune of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

In Taylor’s queer revisionist pop-song history, “Born to Run” became a Stonewall anthem, as Taylor ran around the audience in judy’s disco-ball headdress and light-up brassiere, orchestrating a simulation of Judy Garland’s funeral (with audience members recruited to play La Garland and her pallbearers, which you can see over our shoulders).

In Brooklyn, Taylor brought on a local youth marching band to signify Black America “Movin’ On Up” at the start of the ’70s. In Philadelphia it was a fantastic local youth dance troupe called Camden sophisticated Sisters/Distinguished Brothers. Notice the hefty gal in the hijab? She did a handstand that turned into a back flip!

And the Dandy Minions got to represent ’70s disco.

The ’80s morphed from a backroom bar into the grim specter of AIDS.

For the oughts, Taylor invited all the lesbians in the house to join him onstage for beer and snacks while judy sang an array of lesbian music (including a sweet rendition of Ferron’s “Girl on a Road,” a duet with Cynthia Hopkins) and brought on Toshi Reagon for a stellar solo.

By the end of the night (the last hour was Taylor solo, singing original songs), I was left with a few strong impressions. Fun and crazy and dazzling as the visuals and the jokes were, this was an incredibly impressive and accomplished musical event. Especially when Taylor slowed things down or stood still to sing ballads, they were overwhelmingly beautiful and emotional, along a fascinating unpredictable spectrum — the country ballad “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” Patti Smith’s “Birdland.” And I walked away blessed to have inhabited a day in the life of a Temporary Queer Utopia, which is as strong a political statement as an artist can make these days.

 

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Taylor Mac in Philadelphia

June 5, 2018

Andy and I took the bus down to Philly for Part I of Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

Taylor Mac is a tall bald performance artist with a phenomenal voice, an activist’s engagement with the politics of the day, and a drag queen’s ability to work the crowd. The show, which judy (Taylor Mac’s pronoun of choice) built in three-hour increments and premiered in all its glory at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2015, is a queer history of the United States in song. This gig, produced by Pomegranate Arts for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, is the first time Taylor Mac has performed the show in two all-day chunks. Mac refers to the show as a “radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice.” The loose concept is that every decade gets an hour, and the band starts with 24 members, one of whom peels off every hour until there’s only Taylor Mac onstage. Besides the musicians, there are random guest artists and a squadron of body-positive gender-queer helpers known as Dandy Minions (I spotted among them my friend Chris Bartlett, moonlighting from his high-powered job as executive director of Philly’s William Way Center). But the key collaborators are musical director Matt Ray, who arranged all 246 songs in the show, and Machine Dazzle, who created all the costumes including a different staggeringly creative outfit for each of Taylor Mac’s 24 hours.

We’d seen one three-hour segment (1956-1986) at St. Ann’s, which contained songs we knew. The early decades turned out to be a hodgepodge of familiar songs queered for Taylor Mac’s purposes and obscurities dug up to illustrate judy’s intersectional historical revision. The show opened with “Amazing Grace,” for which a woman in the audience was selected to come onstage and receive a blessing from the audience. It occasioned the first of many times Taylor Mac said, “This is going to go on a lot longer than you’re going to want it to.”

A conceptual show this long is bound to be padded and stretched thin in spots, and it was. There was the hour of drinking songs. There was the hour the audience spent blindfolded doing sensory perception exercises that required intimate interaction with your neighbors. Apples, beer, and ping pong balls were freely distributed. Large swaths of the show involved audience members dragged onstage to perform crucial tasks. Most of it was fun and engaging, but the real highlight of the first 12 hours came around the 9th hour when Taylor Mac rescued Gilbert and Sullivan from cultural appropriation jail by performing The Mikado on Mars, through vocoders, mostly to a reggae beat, with the crucial role of Yum-Yum played by a game young guy from the audience following instructions through a headset. It was one of the craziest and most fun things I’ve seen in the theater in years.

                                     that’s Matt Ray at the keyboard

                      that’s Machine Dazzle on the right in checkered stockings

The 12-hour show wrapped up an hour early, to no one’s complaint, since it was a pretty intense day. We’ll be back next Saturday for the second half of the show. We got to hang out later with our friends Nick and Jimmy.

We met Jimmy’s adorable ancient kitty Scarlett, and after brunch walked through the sidewalk art fair in Rittenhouse Square. I admired some stone sculptures by Paul E. Braun.

And I was impressed by the Basquiat-esque paintings on wood by Senegalese artist Michel Delgado.

Photo diary: Sunday in the park with Andrew

April 29, 2018

(click photos to enlarge)

                                 it’s Sunday at Bethesda Fountain — there must be brides

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: springtime in New York

April 8, 2018

The Spring Culture Season blossoms forth!

March 30God’s Own Country on DVD (I didn’t love it the way many others have — the central relationship seemed more schematic than plausible to me).


March 31Cabaret Luxe at Lot 45 in Bushwick, inspired by Weimar-era German club performance, with maitresse of ceremonies Dorothy Darker…

leather-lunged diva Dee Dee Vega backed by punk klezmer rock band Amor Obscur…

and burlesque performers Lewd Alfred Douglas…

Divina Gransparkle…

and Deity (pictured below with the entire cast).

April 1David Bowie Is at the Brooklyn Museum, fun immersive experience.

While we were there, we strolled through the ongoing exhibition “Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas,” with its eerie kachina dolls and awesome thunderbird masks.

Afterwards Andy and Tansal and I had lunch at Kiwiana in Park Slope, which serves all New Zealand cuisine, including the irresistible dessert known as pavlova.

April 5Yerma at Park Avenue Armory, Lorca’s play adapted and directed by Simon Stone with a ferocious cast led by Billie Piper and Brendan Cowell (below, photo by Sara Krulwich for the New York Times) and a spectacular set designed by Lizzie Clachan.

April 6Wild Wild Country on Netflix, the riveting six-part documentary about how rural Oregon dealt with the sudden emergence of an Indian sex guru (Rajneesh, aka Osho) and his community of devotees in their midst.

April 7Isle of Dogs at Cinépolis in Chelsea — we loved it.

April 8 — Museum of Modern Art. Final day of the Club 57 show. Ann Magnuson put out the call for a closing day party, so the basement of MOMA thronged with senior citizens who once upon a time were the hippest and grooviest of East Village clubgoers, along with plenty of excited visitors too young to have seen the club back in the day.

This delightful cartoony Kenny Scharf painting (“Escaped in Time, I’m Pleased,” above) prepared me for the colorful figuration all over the Tarsila do Amaral retrospective, with its inquisitive-looking critters and its theme of anthropophagy.

And upstairs a rich, heady, comprehensive survey of rigorous conceptual artist Adrian Piper, with its witty dada performative moments (I loved the idea of the humming room, very Yoko Ono — and I love that a security guard stands by whose job it is to make sure you’re humming when you enter the room).

 

Photo diary: honeymoon in Hawaii, part 4 (Poipu)

February 23, 2018


After toodling around the north shore, hiking up at the top of Waimea Canyon, and doing the helicopter tour, we were content to spend the rest of the week holed up at our VRBO (vacation rental by owner) in Poipu on the sunny, dry south shore of Kauai. Our cozy one-bedroom apartment opened right out to this spectacular view at sunrise of a gorgeous bay, just a few steps away from our lanai/breakfast table.

The view and the proximity to the water make it sound like a sweet secluded cottage, maybe…but no. More like:


A condo building full of well-off white people from North America. At least we were on the first floor, second from the end. Elsewhere on the island you could see — and hear — roosters everywhere. Not so much here, though we were visited every afternoon by these friendly critters.


The bay offered spectacular snorkeling. Tons of beautiful, colorful fish — Moorish idols, pufferfish, triggerfish, needlefish — and gigantic sea turtles the size of a coffee table.


All we really wanted to do was lie around and read books.


I finished:
The Secret Chief Revealed — Myron Stolaroff
Black Deutschland — Darryl Pinckney
Nietzsche for Beginners (ridiculous and incoherent)
The Marrying Kind — Ken O’Neill
The Spell — Alan Hollinghurst
The Child — Sarah Schulman
Swords in the Hands of Children — Jonathan Lerner

Of course you have to eat, so we checked out the local farmer’s market and stocked up on some fruits new and unusual to us: rambutan (the red spiky-looking balls), chico (the purple ones — they sort of look like kiwi and taste a bit like cinnamon), and dragon’s eyes or langan (inside the thin shell, a slimy pitted fruit that tastes like a cross between a grape and a pear). Plus fresh pineapple and those small, dense, tasty apple bananas.


Right next door to our apartment complex stood the Beach House Restaurant, where people gravitated from miles around to view the sunset.

It’s not unusual to get a brief sprinkle sometime during the day in Hawaii, but you don’t always get a rainbow, let alone a double rainbow.

 

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