Boogie Nights

This post is half a rerun. OK, maybe three-quarters. In October 2006, I wrote about the first party DJ gig I ever had.

During the fall of 1977, when I was a senior in high school, I was approached by a group of cheerleaders (the only time such a thing ever happened, for damn sure) and asked if I’d DJ a postgame dance they were having. “I’d love to,” I said. Only afterward did I remember that I didn’t have a sound system that could do it. Fortunately, a few of my stereo-geek friends were eager to strut their stuff. One had a set of powerful JBL speakers; another had an amp with sufficient wattage to fill the cafeteria where the dance would be held. We scrounged a couple of turntables and rigged up a microphone after a series of trial-and-error experiments, and that was that. We did several dances throughout the school year. At one point, somebody even wired up some disco-style lights so we could add a bit of disco-style ambiance—although disco music was not especially popular, at least not in the fall. We had a rock-and-roll crowd—in fact, the single most popular record we played, the one guaranteed to clear the chairs and get everybody out on the floor, was “Peace of Mind” by Boston. It wouldn’t be until the spring dances that we started getting disco requests.

Being the high school’s ace DJ appealed to me. A lot. And there was a moment during one of the dances that the die was cast for my future. As we were setting up, I told my friends that I was going to play “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family at some point that night. They were aghast. I was adamant. About midway through the evening, I dropped the needle on it, and I will never forget the reaction. The first few notes of the introduction stopped every conversation in the room. A few people looked up at the balcony where we were set up. Then people started looking at each other. Nobody danced, but everybody sang. I learned at that moment the power of the perfect song at the perfect moment, as well as the power of old songs to transport people back in time. I’ve never forgotten the lessons.

That was my first party DJ gig, but it wouldn’t be the last. We did several more parties in the spring of 1978, and we were even invited back by members of my brother’s class to do one in the fall of 1979, after we’d all gone off to college. In 1978, I had a summer job spinning records at a roller rink in my hometown, which was far less glamorous than I imagined it would be. On the night I got fired in 1990, we went to a party at my wife’s company, where I got acquainted with the DJ, and he eventually hired The Mrs. and me to do weddings and other parties for him, which we did for two or three years. It was a pretty sweet deal—we didn’t have to do set-ups or tear-downs; we just spun the tunes.

These DJ gigs taught a lot about human nature. Clients and wedding guests could be terrifically gracious, inviting us to have dinner, a piece of wedding cake, or a drink at the open bar. But they could also be shockingly rude, peremptorily demanding this and that. And a couple of times, we felt physically threatened. One family had paid to rewire the reception hall after it was determined the electrical panel on the rickety stage in the middle of the room (in a decrepit hall, in a decaying town) couldn’t handle the smoke machine in addition to the DJ rig and the light rig. The smoke machine cost extra, and this family obviously wanted it badly, but on the night of the wedding, The Mrs. and I could not get the notoriously temperamental thing to function. So there we were, on a low stage surrounded by the entire cast of Deliverance, all violently pissed off that they weren’t getting the goddamn smoke they paid for, although the cigarette smoke in the room should have been more than enough.

The last time I took a turn behind a DJ rig was at a friend’s wedding in 1999. Like a lot of things I did when I was young, being a party DJ is something I’m glad I did, but it’s not something I want to do again.

One response

  1. How shocking similar that my “career” in broadcasting started along the same lines – late fall of 1963, the basketball cheerleaders asked me to help them convince the principal that after the game, there should be a “social event” in the gym involving dancing, and that if I’d help them write a “petition” to the principal, they’d ask ME to be the DJ for the “sock hop” they wanted to hold after the games. Fortunately, the principal went along with it, and the school already had a half-way decent sound system in place, complete with one – count ’em – one turntable. I learned to be glib with the gab while changing the record on the turntable, and even took requests. This being the Fox Valley of Wisconsin in 1963, requests included polka tunes mixed in with the Beatles and Dave Clark Five.

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