Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prostitutes going to the highest bidder

Every disc jockey has had to perform at one time or another at a school dance, a class reunion or a wedding. I did this more times than I want to remember. At first I would spin records at these events because I needed the extra money that could be earned doing it.
Later in life I did it because friends expected it, either for their own shindigs or for someone they knew. But I can honestly say that I hated every minute of doing those things.
Spinning records in a studio was a blast regardless of the format I was involved with but when doing it for groups of people in a VFW hall or a gymnasium it was something very different. As an emcee you try to make people believe you are enjoying their shenanigans, but I never did.
Weddings were the worst. At wedding receptions the host has to please all demographics, not only the bride and groom, you have to also please all of the little kids who pester you to play whatever the top two or three teeny-bop songs are on the charts and they will want them played over and over.
And the young adults whose tastes might run anywhere between head-banging rock & roll to country & western, to hip-hop or Bohemian waltzes.
And then there are the grandparents and their friends who might prefer that you stick with a play list of 1930s and 1940s music. Some, who if the host were to play a Pat Boone record would shout…“Knock off the hippie music!”
Then I could always expect someone asking me to play the occasional Black Sabbath or Jimi Hendrix tunes, and when I did the women with the blue hair and the men with thin comb over’s would shoot dirty looks and give hand signals to turn it down.
As the person charged with providing the soundtrack for the event you are almost always screwed. As a fellow DJ and great friend of mine Jim Davis used to say…“We’re like prostitutes going to the highest bidder.”
The worst part of the night comes when you have to play the special song for the father-daughter dance, usually something saccharine like "Daddy's Little Girl." Then another one for the bride’s mother to dance with the groom, something for the bride and her new father-in-law, one for the best man and the bridesmaid, it all gets pretty sickening.
And finally, there is that needle in the ear for the happy couple. "We've Only Just Begun" comes to mind. Torture. Then before the end of the day everyone wants to dance to those cool novelty things like "The Chicken Dance" "The Macarena" “The Cha-Cha Slide” and every other obnoxious dance-novelty song that gets requested at all weddings.
It is enough to make a DJ want to puke or for me to also want to finally say enough is enough. I finally learned to say no. The last wedding I hosted was for a friend and it was like every other one I ever did, it was more miserable than the one before it. Many times while hosting these events I found myself hoping a fight would break out during the celebration. Anything to erase the boredom, even a food fight would have made it interesting.
However my worst memory of emceeing a social event was one that nearly got me killed. It was 1974 and I was sent to host a school dance for Marion River Valley High School. It was a winter dance party on a Saturday night.
At the time I was WNCI’s all-night DJ so anything I did before my midnight shift would be something I would do with very little sleep. I was to be paid $200.00, that was more money than I earned in a week at the radio station so in a way I guess I was lucky to draw the assignment.
The day of the dance I loaded up the WNCI van with sound equipment and in those days it was turntables, a box of records, an amplifier the size of a small refrigerator, speakers taller than me, a few party lights, a microphone and miles of cords to plug everything in.
Plus a few radio station promotional items like t-shirts, concert tickets, transistor radios, and movie passes to give away. The dance was scheduled to start at 7:00 PM so I scooted up the freeway around 5:30.
About half way to Marion the snow became almost blinding and it was getting nearly impossible to see the road, let alone stay on it. As I got closer to my destination I could see a railroad crossing ahead with a fast moving train crossing the road. I panicked and hit the brakes and because I was on ice the van went where it wanted to go, off the road and into a ditch.
This caused everything in the truck to slide forward crashing into the back of the seat and into me. It took awhile but I was able to get back on the road and I did make it to the dance about 8:00. When I got there I was met by a woman who seemed to be in charge, and she was more than a little pissed that I was late.
I don't know if she was a parent, a teacher or the school mascot but she was not pleased that my arrival was the opposite of prompt. She clearly wanted to smack me. She may have even said that through her gritted teeth during what became a loud rant.
This assignment really wasn’t going well.
Regardless, with the help of a few students I unpacked my gear anyway and set it up in the gym. When I plugged it all in nothing worked. Apparently my ditch mishap had broken some things, so we improvised.
A few students raided the school’s audio-visual aids closet and brought out two very old record players and plugged me into the school’s public address system and by 9:00 the kids were dancing. And they danced until 9:30- the scheduled time for the event’s conclusion.
When it was over the woman who had verbally eaten me alive earlier for being late told me to pack up my junk and get out. So I packed it and loaded it all back into the truck and went back inside to ask for my money.
Thinking I had just earned two hundred bucks for a half hour performance I was thinking the night went well after all. But instead of being paid I was reminded that I didn’t deliver on what had been previously agreed on. Her words were not easily misinterpreted and even contained language that made me now think, this is no teacher. (School bully!)
So I left without being paid anything. The woman followed me to my truck and felt it necessary to remind me all the way to it that not only didn’t I provide all that they expected, but that I also consumed a beverage and was seen sneaking back and forth to the snack table.
Brownies and a soda instead of cash? Compensation I had counted on, especially since the needle on the van’s gas gauge was in the danger zone and I had not thought to take any money with me. Not my brightest plan.
It was one of those moments when I wanted to wrap my hands around someone’s throat and apply as much pressure to her wind pipe as I possibly could just to shut her up.
Nevertheless I did make it back to I-71 and Morse Road by 11:30 which under other circumstances would have been enough time to be there for the start of my show at twelve. The problem was the van ran out of gas on the exit ramp from the freeway to Morse Road.
The WNCI studios were on Sinclair Road about two blocks from Morse so I left the vehicle on the side of the road and walked to work arriving only about twenty minutes late.
Oddly as it seemed in the years that passed, Marion River Valley High School never again invited me back. (Believe me when I say I was okay with that.)
I would like to forget it as much as they would and I suspect there are some who came to dance that night who still harbor less than fond memories of my visit when they think back. Especially when the class of '74 goes hunting for a DJ to host their reunions.

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