Thursday, 21 November 2013

Hey Mr. DJ...

Hello Friends.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned how working the concession counter at the movies would be the worst job because everybody hates you for circumstances beyond your control. The nicest kid in the world could take your order and you say, “I’ll have a popcorn and Coke, please” and the kid says, “Okay, that’s twelve dollars,” and you go black in the eyes and scream, “WHAT? WHAT? NO! WHAT THE F IS WRONG?! WHAT IS WRONG?!?” and the poor kid just stands there.

I’d like to posit now that the concessions kid has a slightly less-abused brother in arms. I’m talking about the DJ at the bar. We love this guy (or girl) until we HATE them. I’m talking about bars where dance floors figure prominently, and I suppose that’s more typical of gay bars than straight, but I’m sure the same thing happens at both places. Let’s say the DJ plays a remix of Katy Perry’s Walking On Air (or, if you’re in a straight bar, Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy). The crowd cheers! The DJ transitions this seamlessly into Daft Punk’s Get Lucky (straight people, uh… I don’t know, is there a song called Dust on the Bottle? Whatever that shit is). The crowd cheers even louder! Emboldened, DJ puts on Move by Mausi (or, let’s see… Cotton Eye Joe) and everybody turns INSTANTLY! I love Mausi, but nobody knows/cares about that song, so the floor clears! Al the goodwill built up towards the DJ disappears as soon as the wrong song comes on. 

I was on a completely full dance floor at a gay bar once, probably doing that move where it looks like I’m unloading the overhead compartment, and the DJ comes on the mic to say he just married his boyfriend last week. We all cheered! Marriage! Gay stuff! Hurray! So then he says, “I’d like to dedicate this track to Laird (or whatever his gay name was. Dante. Criss)” and puts on this.  And the floor cleared completely. Like nobody was there, except maybe poor Laird. As a Sade fan, I have no specific problem with this cover, but I can’t do my Rusty Gate move to something so slow!

I was thinking about this recently when the Doc and I hosted a friend for drinks. This was decidedly more lowkey than a dance floor, but after a few compliments from our guest about how good our background was, I began to take the task VERY seriously. I left our conversation for long stretches to lengthen the iTunes playlist playing on my compy. Could I get away with two Miles Davis tracks in a row? Was now the time to bring in some Brubeck? Was Charlie Brown Christmas too cutesy? What about some Wet Wet Wet? Decisions, decisions! But it didn’t matter what I put on, I wasn’t going to incur the wrath of a hundred sweaty dancers. The point is, I quite enjoyed choosing the music when the stakes were low. Maybe I could turn that into a new career path.

Dream: Become a DJ on the radio.

Goal: Achievable? Probably, right? Terrestrial radio (as opposed to satellite radio) has taken a real hit in recent years. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who listens to the radio proper anymore. So being a DJ on the radio must be pretty chill. I could do that.

Plan: List the pros and cons of the job to determine if I would be suitable.

Pro: DJs must necessarily remain upbeat and cheerful. I could benefit from that. If I had to be sunny in my job, maybe I’d take a more positive attitude in life. I used to have an old radio in my bathroom that I would play when I showered in the morning. I hate getting up in the morning, but was often bolstered by the pleasant but inane chattering of the morning zoo crew.

Con: DJs must necessarily remain upbeat and cheerful. God, that would be the worst. I bet the morning zoo crew I used to listen to still all work together and fucking hate each other. Everywhere I’ve lived, there’s always been a morning radio duo or trio with names like Alana and Crazy Dave or Buzz and Bam-Bam in the Mornin’ or Cracky and Zoloft AM Pit Stop. Cool it, guys.

Pro: Radio personalities get invited everywhere as they are beloved in the community.

Con: Radio personalities are always “coming atcha!” from somewhere. Why are you coming at me? And it’s usually the parking lot of an electronics store, or the parking lot of an auto dealership. TOUGH one!

Pro: DJs don’t choose the songs that they play. That’s got to take ninety percent of the work out of it! Apparently, it’s all determined by computerized algorithm, which also ensures here in Canada that we get a certain percentage of Canadian content. This accounts for the career of Roch Voisine.

Con: DJs don’t even get to pick their own songs! I knew a DJ who hosted the five o’clock drive time show on a pop station, and he said he puts on a couple of tracks in a row, turns the volume off in his booth, then puts on his iPod and listens to music of his own choosing. He’s not opposed to pop radio, but the playlists are so completely limited and repeated so many times that he’s sick of all of it.

Pros: Radio predates all other forms of our current media and can be a comfort in troubling times. A battery operated radio during a power outage is a savior, as is a traffic update on a treacherous roadtrip. I remember listening to the radio during a morning shower on September 11, 2001. The same morning zoo crew I was talking shit about earlier really stepped it up. They cut into whatever song was playing and said, “We don’t know exactly what’s going on right now, but we’ve got the best news team in the business! In just a few moments we’re going to cut into their broadcast and they’ll be able to tell you what’s going on.” I thought that was a straightforward, humble way to handle a mess of a news day. “I may not be able to make sense of this, but here’s someone who can.” Kudos.

Cons: Sometimes the wrong person gets the news bulletin. The Doc and I were driving somewhere 
shortly after Chris Brown was arrested for beating up Rihanna. The DJs were discussing it, perhaps not with due solemnity, but they were pretty shocked. Then the girl of the zoo crew said, “You guys, we don’t know the whole story! Come on, Chris Brown is a sweetheart! I love him!” I’d like to think we pulled the car over in this moment, but I don’t think we did. Her comment went unanswered and a song quickly came on. Jon called the radio station later in the day to complain about such insane insensitivity.

There is still some great terrestrial radio being made today, although I admit that I listen to most of it when it’s podcast-ready. Fresh Air with Terry Gross is the best interview program of any medium. She is probing, insightful, unbelievably well read, and an hour with her flies by. Ross Porter, formerly of CBC’s After Hours and now on Jazz FM 91, sounds JUST like you want your jazz DJ to be. I find Jian Ghomeshi quite pleased with himself and I don’t think he always listens to his guests when they are talking (his follow-up questions almost never follow up), but when he’s engaged in his topic, he’s pretty great. I’ll always have a place in my heart for… I want to say his name is Tyler Glenn, who used to work for Z99 when I listened as a teen in Regina. As I listened one day in 1997, as the countdown drew to it’s inevitable number one song which was still My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion, Tyler began his spiel in earnest and then deteriorated. “And once again, the number one song in the city from the number one movie at the box office, it’s… shit. Fuck. I can’t do this.” Then the song played! That went out live on the air! I wish I had been with someone who could confirm what had just happened. There was no comment about it after the song, nor ever again as far as I knew.

Tyler Glenn, you have a common name and will probably never read this if you Google yourself. But if this does find a way into your eyes, what happened there? Was that a take they weren’t supposed to use? Or were you live on the air? What “couldn’t you do?” Play that song again? Force enthusiasm for something so banal? Or be a DJ anymore? I was fourteen when I heard that, and it was thrilling! Not just for the swearing, but because of your total on air breakdown. It was fantastic, Saskatchewan version of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” If I ever become a DJ, you’re welcome to co-host with me as long as you want, or at least until you can’t fucking do this anymore.

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