Taylor Mac interviewed in Bomb Magazine Dec 9, 2015
KC In your manifesto you talk about the importance of authentic success and authentic failure. How would you define success?
TM It's different for every circumstance. It could just be saying hello to somebody on the elevator and they say "hi" back. That could be success. But it could also be hitting the high B flat. Hitting that note and soaring. You work hard at it, you train your voice, you use your craft and everybody in the audience goes, “Ohhhhh!” They get all excited about the heights that the human being can go to. But you have to combine that with authentic failure in order to be a real artist, to show your humanity and your failure onstage—your real failure. If you are truly allowing yourself to fail and look ugly and be a human being in all of its complexity—I mean human beings are disgusting—so if you're really allowing yourself to show your disgusting side, that is glorious.
I did a show at Splash Bar, before your time here, it's a tacky bar, people would judgingly call it the “bridge and tunnel gay bar.” All the guys would go there and everybody would smell like cologne. They've all got their shirts off and they're all polished and plucked. It was a bar of its time. It probably wouldn't succeed now (which is a rather glorious realization). All the drag queens would be your pretty basic female impersonation drag queens. They would have this competition, and I went one time because I desperately needed a hundred dollars to pay my rent or groceries or something. So I go there and one of my favorite performers, burlesque star Julie Atlas Muz, is there as well. I do my number. I was singing great, hitting all the really high notes, really using my craft. And the audience went, “Okay. That's nice.” And then Julie Atlas Muz gets up and she's doing everything great, even better than I had. She's getting all of her timing down and she's hysterical. And the audience is like, “Oh, that's nice.” And then this other drag queen gets up there, lip synchs badly to that song “My Pussy and My Crack,” and then takes out her fake teeth. She had maybe three teeth in the front, and she smiles, and the whole crowd goes insane. She wins the hundred dollars. And Julie and I were both screaming for her as well, “Yes! Work queen!” That was an example of how authentic failure is better than authentic success sometimes. She was willing to be vulnerable and in that circumstance it worked. Sometimes polish and craft aren't as powerful in the moment. And you have to figure out what the moment is. What do we need in the culture right now? You have to listen to your audience and be aware of what's happening in the world at any given time.
If everyone's screaming about Miley Cyrus then maybe it's time to add a little bit more intellectualism and craft in the world. But if it's a time when everybody's hailing Philip Glass for something in the city then you might just want to take your teeth out.
That to me is the joy—balancing the two of those things. Like the twenty-four hour concert—I cannot possibly sing for twenty-four hours and still sound good. At the same time, I'm going to memorize all those songs. I’ll know my stories. I'll know how to interpret them with great detail. So I'm giving people the craft. I'm giving them ideas and intellectualism, and I'm also giving them popular songs and a voice that is falling apart.
KC It might be your most successful failure yet.