Wednesday, October 23, 2013
People occasionally ask me why I bother keeping so many irons in the fire. After all, I have a solid full-time 40-hour-a-week gig here at the paper, plus I write this column every week, review occasional plays and concerts, and emcee at a handful of charity trivia nights every year. So with all that on my plate, why on Earth would I still hang onto my weekend job as a DJ at area bars and nightclubs?
The answer is simple: It keeps me young. Or so I thought.
Growing up in Galesburg, I wasn't exactly what you'd call a dance club aficionado. Back then, my knowledge base pretty much consisted of "American Bandstand," which was a tad weak in the coolness dept. when you were a cocky teenager who'd already discovered a world of music distinctly outside and to the left of the Top 40 charts. But when we heard about a teen nightclub in Peoria, my friends and I agreed it was worth a scouting party.
That place was the Peoria branch of the legendary Stage 2 -- and by the time a single beat reached my ear, my life was changed forever. There were lights. There was fog. There were guys I wanted to be and girls I wanted to be with. And good happy heaven, there was music. Loud music. Dangerous music. Beats you could feel in your chest. It was pure liquid excitement, and I never wanted to leave.
Instantly, dance clubs were my drug, and I was an addict after one quick hit. But two simple truths came to me right away:
(1) I can't dance. Not even a little bit. I can't even nod my head to the beat without looking like I'm having a seizure. My brain belongs in dance clubs. My body? Not so much.
(2) Even though I respected and worshipped the DJs at those early teen clubs, I was pretty sure I could do a better job.
When a teen club came to Galesburg my senior year, I trailed the owners like a lost puppy until they had no choice but to hire me. I would have worked for free. I would have paid THEM to work there.
When I'm in a DJ booth, I might still be the same nerd as always. I might still be a socially awkward, uncoordinated oaf of a human being who can't even look girls in the eye. But you're in MY house, and I'M in control. Turntables may have given way to CD players which have now given way to laptop computers and mp3 controllers, but as long as there's a crossfader and a button that says PLAY, I fit in.
I've been doing this schtick for a few years now, but what's not to love? There's still the same lights, the same loud music, the same excitement, and the same beautiful girls. So last Saturday, when one of those beautiful girls came up to request a song, I was there to help. I just needed to finish a quick mix...
"Excuse me," interrupted my dancing queen. "Sir? Can I request a song, sir?"
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Every night, I stand there staring at a sea of club kids twerking the night away, feeling entirely in my element and fitting in. And I guess I do fit in -- like an adult chaperone. Like the same way the old bouncer guy at the door fits in. I no longer fit in like a cool guy. I fit in like a staff member. Like a "Sir."
Driving home, I was reflecting on my newfound "Sir" status when another truth struck: I am now the same age that my parents were at the time I was graduating high school. And at the time I was graduating high school, there was no one on Earth less cool than my parents. From my perspective, they might as well have been 3400 years old. One time, my friends caught my mom singing along loudly to Barbra Streisand and I was forever mortified. Now I'm the same age, singing along to the radio and potentially mortifying everyone half my age.
I still feel like the same guy who moved into the second floor of the Erickson dorm at Augie. I still feel like the same guy who bolted to a teen club in Peoria when my parents thought I was at a friend's house. I've just been that guy for a loooooong time. Once upon a time, I played music for some amazing people. Now I'm running risk of playing music for their children. That's right -- I'm the guy helping your innocent daughter twerk like Miley Cyrus. I'm a step away from offering them a butterscotch and telling them how my generation had to walk a mile in the snow barefoot for a good twerk. If you come up and request a song and see a dish of Werther's Originals at the booth, you have my permission to kill me.
When I was in high school, I first started getting into edgy British indie dance rock. It was the sound of the counter-culture. It was the only music that mattered, and simultaneously defined both the person I was and the person I wanted to be seen as. So when a friend of mine recently told me about a movie in theatres with a soundtrack full of the same groundbreaking indie rock that got me through college, I knew I had to experience it first-hand.
That movie was "The World's End," and its soundtrack is nothing shy of amazing. It's as if they stole my iPod to make the thing. It's perfect -- except for the fact that it soundtracks a film about a group of sad sack 40-somethings trying desperately to recapture their youth. The music that mattered to me is about as relevant to today's club kids as Miley Cyrus' twerking is to yours truly.
Maybe I'm no cooler than my mom was twenty-five years ago. But let's be honest - me being uncool isn't exactly a newsflash. But as long as I walk into a club and still feel that beat hit my chest, still feel that same excitement wash over me, and still feel like I fit in, I'm not going anywhere. Yes SIR, DJ Grandpa's here to stay.