Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Road trip by the numbers

1,943: Road miles.

167: Incidental miles- gigs, fuel stops, local errands, detours.

5: Number of days away from home.

1: Packages of Mother's brand iced oatmeal cookies consumed on the road.

2: Accidents witnessed along the road (One was really horrible- a pedestrian/hitchhiker on the Navajo Reservation got clipped)

2: Imposing geological features that made for a lot of extra miles (The Rocky Mountains and The Grand Canyon)

*,***:  How much money I made.  (not sharing that, but it WAS a profitable trip)

8, maybe 9: Times I listened to Kraftwerk's "Expo 2000" I contend that is about the best sonically recorded song ever and it's full of rich textures juxtaposed against each other and the vocals/robot voices just float right in the center above it all.  I was born deaf in one ear so I don't hear stereo.  I can detect where sound is coming from with good surround sound but the psychological phenomenon that happens in the center of your brain when things are balanced, because of monaural disparity, I don't get that.  I can hear/feel the vocals right in the center of my head with this one.  Not the greatest song ever, just very well recorded and perfectly mixed.

5: Hotel beds I slept in.

1: Good hotel beds that I slept in.  Thanks Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs- very comfortable.

1: Number of times I listened to The Police "Message in a Box" boxed set.  Everything The Police ever released commercially.  B-sides, alternate takes, live versions.  To hear them go from punk to rock/reggae to producing a half dozen of the best songs of the rock catalogue including the singular best guitar riff in the rock catalogue- "Message in a Bottle."  They did it in 5 albums in just over 5 years. Stewart Copeland, of course, is a member of the holy trinity of drummers with Neal Peart and Todd Sucherman.

471: Fuel cost in dollars.

24: The date that I felt a little tickle in my throat and thought that I might be catching a cold.

27: The date that I had an important DJ job and I really needed my voice.

8: Number of Zinc tablets in an effort to not get sick.

20: Number of Vitamin C tablets in an effort to not get sick.  I heard it's difficult to overdose on Vitamin C and that your body will just flush out any excess that it can't absorb.  I took about 1 1/2 times the recommended dose.

3: Cups of honey/lemon tea to try to loosen up my sore throat so I could speak at the Colorado Springs gig.

1000: Number of razor blades it felt like I was speaking out at the Colorado Springs gig.  I could taste the blood in the back of my throat by the time the event was over.  

30: Date that I'm feeling better and my voice is back. 

11,158: Highest elevation travelled.  Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 west of Denver CO.

3: Number of instances of traveling above 10,000 ft.

2200: Runners at Pikes Peak International Raceway for the 5k footrace I was playing for.

72: Percentage of those runners who were women.

1200: Number of race spectators and vendors.

I-17, I-40, AZ89, US160, I-25, CO6, I-70, US6, I-15, UT20, AZ98: Highway numbers.

2: DJ jobs.

2: New tires.

6: Times I wondered why I have this or that horrible song on the iPod when listening in shuffle mode.

20: Times I remembered/rediscovered a song on shuffle and said, "I should play that one more often." or, "I should learn that one on the piano."

*: How do you put a number on my gratitude to God for the beauty of this land or the times I felt such things?

2: New jobs booked while on the road.

1: Number of minutes it took to think that I might like to live in Vail Colorado.

1: Number of additional minutes it took to change my mind when I considered the 87 feet of snow and the bizillion drinking and partying skiers that descend in the winter.

2: Number of new wiper blades.

80: Favorite speed limit in central and southern Utah.

83: Sweet spot MPH.  When the van is loaded with DJ equipment, it has a sweet spot for speed.  The engine falls almost silent, any ambient vibrations in the body stop and the van cuts through the air nicely and quietly.  It's not a performance vehicle- it's a work van, but it's really cool when it works just right.

4: The number of states that converge at Four Corners. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah.  I hear there are no other states, provinces, nations, territories or commonwealths anywhere else in the world that converge like that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Class of 1983

It has fallen to me to work up a play list for background music for cocktails, dinner and then after dinner chat for my Winslow, Arizona, Class of 1983 Thirty-year Reunion.  I'm a professional DJ, how hard can it be?  Well, my first pass was 9 hours of music and we have only 3 hours- that's about 45 songs and I had chosen 130.  After I looked at what I had put in, some got taken back out because of what I learned on Sesame Street as a child- the thing where you try to figure out which of these things doesn't belong in a group of similar things.  Several songs just didn't fit the bigger, overall 'flavor' after the list was completed.  There was still 8 hours of music. 

It was interesting to hear a block of music from a time period. We were in high school from 1980 to 1983 and I chose from our junior high years, 1977ish through early college years, 1985 or so.   There were country artists, R&B artists, what is now "Classic" rock and what was "New Wave" at the time and some straight pop music that crossed genres.  The Cars were one of those bands that your rock friends could listen to and say- "See, I'm listening to some New Wave too"  Your New Wave friends could listen to them and say, "See, I'm listening to Rock too"  Strangely, the country artists were the ones that didn't stand the test of time very well.  They sounded more dated than some of the others.  Eddie Rabbit, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams and others sounded like lightweights.  Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" from 1976 sounds as fresh as ever, I'd say it's still ahead of its time.  I chose Styx's "Best of Times from 1981.  Styx blessed our lives for the most part with the exception of a major misstep with 1983's "Mr.Roboto".   Best of Times sounds fresh while Mr. Roboto sounds very dated.  Gary Numan's "Cars" was included and it's a shame that that song was his one hit in America as it is not very representative of his wider body of music.  It came off as a bit of a novelty.  James Taylor and Neil Diamond had a couple of big hit songs in our high school years but with some hindsight, they seem like artists before our time so they got the ax.

I began my DJ career back when live bands still played most school and church dances.  If somebody stuck their head in the door and saw a DJ they would turn up their nose and go find something else to do.  It was starting to switch to DJs and I have always tried to take all of the good things that a band brings to the table- showmanship, stage presence etc and add all of the good things that a live DJ brings- repertoire, volume control etc.   I tell you that so I can say that my Class of '83 play list included Doobie Brother's "China Grove" even though that was before our time but every band who ever played, played that song because of it's classic guitar riff. 

I included The Eagles' "Take it Easy" because... one should!  Christopher Cross's "Sailing" was included even though it kinda proved to be a one hit wonder.  He won best new artist Grammy that year and then mostly disappeard other than a couple of other singles that charted only on the strength of 'Sailing' as opposed to their own merit.  Sailing still took me right back to Winslow where I first heard it. 

There are several songs that are not danceable. I had to think back to those high school dances and what was played.  I DJd many of those dances... hmmm... what did I play?  I'm a Styx fan and I contend that "Come Sail Away" is one of the great songs of the rock catalogue, but it's not danceable but that's not why it wasn't included- I threw it over the edge in favor of "Best of Times" for this setting since it's background music. I included other songs that I don't have occasion to play as a DJ very often.  Journey was huge while we were in high school- I chose "Separate Ways" instead of the obvious "Don't Stop Believing"  That song is the biggest downloaded song in digital music history.  It's almost always in ITunes top 100.  It's been played and played and it will probably be on the classic rock radio as my classmates road trip to Winslow for the reunion from points unknown.  It has taken on a new meaning and significance than perhaps we REALLY remember it had at the time- even for the two generations that have been born since it was 'ours' in 1981.  I think that "Separate Ways" will take our minds back to that time and place better than "Don't Stop Believing" would in this setting.  I included AC/DC's "Back in Black" instead of "You Shook me" for similar reasons.

For good measure, I threw in a few TV theme songs to spice it up.  Dukes of Hazzard, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Three's Company etc. 

There's still 7 hours of music here.  What did I miss?  What are the songs you want me to throw the hell off of this list?  What are the songs that remind you of your first kiss?  Your first beer?  Remind you of your friends from Winslow? 

Here it is:

ELO- Don't bring me down, AC/DC- Back in Black, Adam Ant- Goody Two Shoes, Bryan Adams- Run to you, Alabama- Mountain Music, Andrea True Connection- More, More, More, April Wine- Just between you and me, Asia- Heat of the Moment, BT Express- Do it, Bad Company- Rock and Roll Fantasy, Toni Basil- Mickey, Bee Gees- Tragedy, Pat Benatar- Hit me with your Best Shot, Big Country- In a Big Country, Blondie- Heart of Glass, Boston- More than a Feeling, David Bowie- Let's Dance, Brick- Dazz, Buggles- Video Killed the Radio Star, Cars- Let's Go, Cheap Trick- I Want you to Want me, Chicago- Hard to Say I'm Sorry, Clash- Rock the Casbah, Christopher Cross- Sailing, Culture Club- Do you Really Want to Hurt me?, Charlie Daniels- Devil Went Down to Georgia, Def Leppard- Photograph, Depeche Mode- Just Can't Get Enough, Devo- Whip it, Dexy's Midnight Runners- Come on Eileen, Thomas Dolby- She Blinded me with Science, Doobie Brothers- China Grove, Duran Duran- Hungry like the Wolf, Eagles- Take it Easy, Earth, Wind & Fire- September, Sheena Easton- Morning Train, Yvonne Elliman- If I Can't Have You, Emotions- Best of my Love, Eurythmics- Sweet Dreams, Falco- Der Kommisar, Fleetwood Mac, Go Your Own Way, Flock of Seagulls- I Ran, Foreigner- Hot Blooded, Gloria Gaynor- I Will Survive, J. Giels Band- Centerfold, Go-gos- We Got the Beat, Hall and Oates- You Make my Dreams, Patrick Hernandez- Born to be Alive, Billy Idol- Dancing with Myself, Rick James- Give it to me, Jefferson Starship- Find your way Back, Joan Jett- I love Rock and Roll, Billy Joel- You may be Right, Journey- Separate Ways, Kajagoogoo- Too Shy, Katrina and the Waves- Walking on Sunshine, KC and the Sunshine Band- Keep it Coming Love, Kiss- I Was Made for Loving you, Kool and the Gang- Get Down on it, Kraftwerk- Pocket Calculator, Cyndi Lauper- Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Huey Lewis and the News- Do you Believe in Love?, Loverboy- Turn me Loose, M- Pop Music, Madonna- Borderline, John Cougar Mellencamp- Jack and Diane, Men at Work- Who Can it be Now?, Men Without Hats- Safety Dance, Steve Miller- Rock'n Me, Motels- Only the Lonely, Nena- 99 Luftballoons, Olivia Newton-John- Physical, Gary Numan- Cars, Ozzy Osbourne- Crazy Train, Pink Floyd- Another Brick in the Wall, Pointer Sisters- Fire, Police- De do do do, De da da da, Pretenders- Brass in Pocket, Queen- Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Eddie Rabbitt- I Love a Rainy Night, REO Speedwagon- Keep on Loving you, Lionel Richie- All Night Long, Kenny Rogers- Coward of the County, Rollin Stones- Start me up, Rush- Tom Sawyer, Saga- On the Loose, Leo Sayer- More than I Can Say, Frankie Smith- Double Dutch Bus, Sparks- Angst in my Pants, Split Enz- I got you, Billy Squier- The Stroke, Stephen Bishop- On and on, Rod Stewart- Do you Think I'm Sexy?, Stray Cats- Rock This Town, Styx- Best of Times, Sugarhill Gang- Rapper's Delight, Donna Summer- I Feel Love, Survivor- Eye of the Tiger, Thin Lizzy- Boys are Back in Town, Toto- Hold the Line, U2- New Year's Day, Van Halen- Dance the Night Away, Zapp- More Bounce to the Ounce, 38 Special- Caught up in you. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Beauty and Value of Fear

Last week, I had a great pleasure of providing sound reinforcing and music for a giant vow renewal ceremony on Valentines Day in Fountain Hills AZ with Larry James pronouncing the service. This event had the potential to attract 3 or 4 thousand people as they were attempting to break a record for a vow renewal ceremony at 1088.  (1087 couples in Miami FL in 2009)

Most of the events that I do are for around 400 people or less. When you have more than that, you need to have a larger sound system and really be moving some air to be heard. I can expand my sound system to accommodate about 1200-1400 people for music and dancing or maybe even 2000 if it is a speaking event where you can count on the crowd being fairly quiet as opposed to dancing and shouting like they would if music were playing.  I was a bit concerned after I committed to doing the vow renewal ceremony whether I had enough sound hardware to make it the lovely event that I hoped it would be if they really did attract 4000 people.  They ultimately had about 2000 people, 762 couples renewing plus family and friends attending. I think it was certainly a record for Arizona, if not the entire Western U.S. 
When I arrived, I was directed to set up my workstation on one side of the stage so as not to block the view of the fountain from the amphitheater off the opposite side of the stage.  Even though I was going to set up on one side or the other anyway, I still intended to put a couple of speakers on stands on each side to be above people's heads and I would have the advantage of being able to rotate them towards the check-in area for announcements in advance of the service.  Against my better judgement, I put only 2 speakers on stands, one on each of the far edges of the amphitheater to avoid blocking the view of the lake and the fountain in the background. Another 6 speakers plus a big sub woofer were placed on the ground.  As the ceremony was about to begin, the crush of people that gathered around that stage rendered most of the power of those speakers on the ground useless- all of the sound was absorbed in a thousand knees!  It was still functional.  I walked around the whole crowd and could hear well enough, but it wasn't the 100% that I would have liked as a sound guy. 
Here's me worrying over the sound
I tell you all that so that I can tell you this.  Larry James, who performed the ceremony that day, is a local wedding officiant and he also writes books, blogs and does public speaking.  We have done a couple of weddings together in the time that I've lived in Phoenix and it's always a pleasure to see him at industry functions and say hello.  We had a moment to chat after the festivities and he said he had greeted so many guests, many that had been married by him some time in the past, and that he overspent his voice and he further confided in me that he had been nervous with so many people! I had been a bit nervous too, for other reasons described above.  I spoke to the same people, during gathering time. but I was making house-keeping announcements and thanking vendors who had donated goods and services to the event- nobody was really listening to me, but they WERE listening to Larry!   Here's a guy who is well-read, well-travelled, established in his career, adding to expertise from previous careers, handsome brute, fit and trim, well-spoken, respected by the community and his industry, master of his craft. and he was nervous! Isn't that wonderful??!? 
Officiant Larry James and event creator and host Stehpenie Bjorkman and myself.

I'm flattered that he felt comfortable telling me that, but I'm even more happy to know that he felt that.  Most people would rather die than speak in public.  I enjoy that part.  There are other things that make me nervous about a performance.  I've been a DJ/musician/entertainer for 33 1/2 years now and I know it sounds cocky, but I have invested thousands of hours becoming a master of my craft and I still get nervous going in to an event.  I've found that if I feel a bit of nervousness, or if I feel some level of worry over some of the event details or important cues, it translates into adrenaline and I do a better job.  It adds to my focus and because of the second nature of my abilities, my tools become an extension of my mind and hands and I rise to the occasion.  If I'm too comfortable- if it's an easy event, the customer is flexible and easy-going, the event doesn't have a lot of details to fuss with... I may not have that extra drive or mental focus or physical adrenaline push to do a good job. 
I always put myself through a rather strict quality control regimen for each event. It starts on Monday morning reviewing the events coming up in the next 10 days.  Will dry-cleaning for any stage clothes be done and picked up in time?  Do I have the specific songs needed and does any music need editing for profanity or anything?  Have I checked pronunciations of difficult family names or any other ethnic or religious words that I don't understand?  Were there any needed equipment repairs noted on previous gigs that need to be fixed?  (I use a tag out/lockout sticker when I note a piece of equipment not working properly so that I remember to fix it or replace it before the next event)  Have I double checked load-in time?  Event start time?  What sound and lighting equipment do I need to bring? Any freeway closures this weekend?  Have I spent some time on any new or unfamiliar music so that I know beats per minute, energy level, how it starts and stops, any dramatic elements?  Have I received or arranged final payment for the event? 
This couple wore what they wore 35 years ago!
I used to work in the steel business in LA and the owner of the company had a small plane and we would run company errands in that sometimes.  He was in his 70s and had flown for years but every time he sat down in that cockpit, he opened up a written quality control manual and put himself through the paces to make sure everything was working properly and it was safe to fly that thing and that nobody inside or standing near the plane would get hurt. 
A service dog who wore a tux for the occasion.
Now, nobody is gonna get hurt if a DJ messes up a cue, but it's the difference between good and great.  A great DJ isn't going to miss a cue- at all- ever!  The music and the elements of the event are going to be right.   I often tell customers to imagine a dry cleaning service- you take your clothes there, they do a great job, they are in your neighborhood, the price is right, they are friendly and conscientious.  You go back in 3 weeks, and next month and next year because they are a good dry-cleaner.  Then, after many years, they tear something, they stain something or they lose something... you are unlikely to throw them out because you have lots of otherwise stellar history and you could just say, "well, it happens."  (if they are conscientious, they will do their best to make it right anyway.)   With a DJ for a big event like a wedding, today can't be the day that you figuratively lose a nice jacket at the dry cleaners. 

How often does one hire a DJ? Once or twice in lifetime? You don't have a period of years to develop a relationship that would allow a major mistake.  It has to be right on event day!  The bride has dreamed about this day since she was 9.  Mom shed tears of joy as the wedding dress was selected and fitted.  Thousands of dollars have been spent on other decor and food and other event professionals.  Every effort should be made to put on quality entertainment. 

Now, I HAVE played for families or corporations over a period of years in my history with Sweet 16, engagement, wedding, graduation, another sisters wedding, a family Christmas party, yet another siblings wedding etc.  Or on the corporate side, a Grand Opening or retail promotion, a corporate awards banquet, a mixer dance after a team-building seminar, then a company picnic, then a holiday party, then another grand opening as they have more success. I have some fiercely loyal customers but just because they have that loyalty doesn't mean that they always have an occasion to hire me every month like you would use a dry cleaner. I contend that the reason for such loyalty to me is a combination of my personal passion, my love of music and my love of people (and I suppose that allowing myself to feel some nervousness is part of that passion) combined with a dedication to a regimen of providing quality.  The events go right!
I thought Larry did a great job that day.  It was well-written and expertly delivered, it was humorous, it was emotional and it was exactly the right length.  I know Larry had prepared his remarks, edited them and reworked them and had rehearsed them.  He said it was 22 minutes in front of a mirror and he came in at just under at 21 minutes.  He was on time, dressed, and he delivered a knock out!  I've been at it for a lot of years and I still get emotional at such things.  Standing fairly close to me was a couple in their 70s holding hands.  He wasn't the specimen of male physicality that he had been when they married- I suspect he had perhaps had a mild stroke in recent years.  They held hands and looked lovingly into each others eyes and promised to continue loving like that had for so many years already.  There were couples that had been married 6 weeks and some for 6 decades.  The emotion was palpable! 
I hope there is something going on in your life that makes you a bit nervous.  If not, are you doing anything important in the world?  Embrace the fear and use it to rise to the occasion.  I'm glad that Larry was nervous, it added to the magic!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Does what I do matter?

The topic of the value of background music has been addressed by me in this forum before and I witnessed a prime example of its power at a recent wedding.  There was an outdoor wedding ceremony on the second Saturday in January and that should not sound abnormal for people from Arizona but we experienced record-breaking cold temperatures that week.  Nights were in the 20s and days were barely reaching into the 50s.  Trees froze, pipes burst, one car skidded through a patch of ice on the street near a prominent auto dealership in downtown Phoenix and totalled a Camaro and a Corvette on the lot. They don't really sell "Winter" coats in Arizona.  The cold wasn't much by Toronto or Minneapolis standards, but it's something we are not acclimated to or prepared for around here.  One young bridesmaid stood at attention and was shivering so severely in her tiny spring dress that I though she might collapse- at least the goose pimples on her arms and legs might have poked somebody's eye out.  I hope it didn't ruin any pictures, but I gave her my jacket for the 15 minutes of the ceremony because I was standing nearby on sound duty. I walked up behind her and took it back just as the minister was introducing the new Mr. and Mrs.  I was cold too, but at least I had long sleeves and long pants... I was glad to get the jacket back too. 
I'm telling this story because of an interesting observation.  Normally, this golf club would have the ceremony on the lawn, as this one was, and then retire to the patio for cocktails while the family portraits were taken and then the guests are invited inside for dinner and dancing later.  Because of the biting cold, the guests were invited inside right away to have cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.  I have a small sound system for ceremonies that can be moved to a patio or foyer in the time it takes for guests to make the short walk but since I was switching to my big sound system already inside, I just wanted to put away a couple of microphone stands to have them out of the way of the professional photography.  In the 3 or 4 minutes it took me to get inside to start some music on my big system, the entire crowd had made it inside.  I came in shortly behind them with a microphone stand in one hand and a couple of cables in my other hand and noticed that they were all whispering like they were in a church.  I chided them about it and then loudly and laughingly said, "Let me get some music on quickly so you guys will feel comfortable talking."  They laughed tepidly with me but remained silent until I got behind my workstation and cued a song.  It didn't take but 15 seconds for them to begin talking with their normal voices.  It wasn't even one minute before there was laughter and people gesturing largely with their hands and touching peoples arms or shoulders as they talked.  Nobody ever wants their voice to rise above the din.  The music masks each voice and people feel comfortable talking.
Please forgive a bit of an off-colored story here- not profane but PG-13 perhaps.  When I was married many, many years ago.  We were at a family celebration dinner at a favorite Riverside California Chinese restaurant after a graduation or birthday or something.  There was lots of shouting and laughter and good times. We weren't the only ones, it was the attitude of the restaurant and its other patrons as well.  The restaurant served a drink called a Double Scorpion that is served in a giant half shell and made to be shared with two long straws.  My sister-in-law was sharing that with a man she was dating at the time and the bartender hadn't really worked it over with the blender as he or she should have and there were chunks of ice that jammed up the straw.  My sister-in-law drew attention to that fact very loudly at a moment when the noise level in the restaurant happened to drop off.  She shouted, "I keep sucking on it, but it won't come!"   That further silenced the crowd and then it turned to uncomfortable laughter and then genuine laughter- at least at our table. An outburst like that in many other social settings would have been terribly embarrassing for all involved but proper background music would have saved the day.

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions but it's kind of a natural time to consider your lives when the people of the world mark the passing of years together.  Does what I do really matter?  Am I contributing something to society?  Am I just paying the bills?  Am I doing this because it's the only thing I know? 
I'm so grateful that I'm in a position to say no to customers once in a while- to turn away a difficult customer or someone that is otherwise willing to open their wallet to me but who I don't wish to work for.  I have confidence that I will be working on any given weekend somewhere- but maybe not for THIS customer.  Even if I do miss a weekend, it's not a financial crisis.  I can usually weed out the "bridezillas" in the consultation process.  I don't get them often because I think I've surrounded myself with conscientious event planners and venue operators that refer me and for whom such people don't become their customers either.  Every once in a while, a bridezilla gets past me but not often.  (I say bridezillas, but there are other types of difficult customers in corporate events and any other social occasion and these same thoughts apply.) When one slips through, and this sounds cocky I suppose, but I command enough respect that they don't act up or press any buttons when I'm working.

Generally, I live life on the importance theory.  If the wedding or other event is not important enough to them- such that they will not act poorly during it- it can't be MORE important to me.  That philosophy is tempered however by the fact that my next couple of customers are in that room and I have to act well from a marketing standpoint, contractual standpoint, from an ethical and moral standpoint and, well, that's what decent people do, they act well in spite of other people not acting well.

I had a bride a couple of years ago that I thought was a real sweetheart.  She had been widowed some years before and this was her 2nd marriage and I was really looking forward to her wedding.  In the 2 or 3 times that we met to work on details, I started having some doubts.  She wasn't belligerent or anything, but I started to think she may have had a drinking problem or was even using drugs or something.  She was really uneven and loopy and even did a couple of embarrassing things that made me uncomfortable.  It was way too late to send her packing at this point so I pressed on.  In the days leading up to the event, while working on final details, and I mean the little behind-the-scenes details, I learned about several tragedies that had happened in her family and in the extended family in addition to the tragedy that had taken her 1st husband.  This was a family that had suffered a lot in the last 3 years.  There were accidents, a suicide, disease, loss of employment and there was the blame and guilt and other feelings that go with such things.  This family NEEDED a happy occasion and this wedding was it.  (She was taking some prescribed drugs under the care of a doctor and they were having a hard time finding the right dosage at the time.)

So how do I help them celebrate this wedding without disrespecting all of the hurt?  I remember when Saturday Night Live went back on the air a few weeks after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks.  They began the show by honoring those who lost their lives and the brave fire fighters and policemen and then producer Lorne Michaels asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "Can we be funny?"  Mayor Giuliani said with a straight face, "Why start now?" and the audience cheered wildly.  There's a technique that I learned from an actress that I knew in LA many years ago.  She said you don't 'act' drinking a glass of water, you just drink the glass of water.  You don't 'act' walking across a room, you just walk across the room.  You don't 'act' speaking to your friend, you just speak.  You speak the moment.  That concept of speaking the moment has really served me well.  The concept came up similarly in a Master of Ceremonies seminar I participated in once.
I simply spoke the moment.  I allowed a few tears, acknowledged it, but kept it from becoming a memorial service as opposed to a wedding celebration.   I helped them know that it was OK.  That celebrating and dancing and laughing and feasting and hugging each other and singing along to every word and really getting into it didn't somehow disrespect the hurt or the losses.  Funny thing is that I didn't really 'speak' it.  I showed them.  I led the way.  Each of my announcements and each gesture and every song choice was very calculated and deliberate.  I knew my craft and I knew it well.  It WAS in every way, the happy occasion that they needed.  I hope that it gave them a year or two of fuel towards the healing going forward from that day.

Could a hobbyist or other beginner DJ have done it?  Maybe.  I look back at where I was 25 or 30 years ago, playing at drunken backyard parties and weddings at the crummy decrepit no-name fraternity hall or wherever and I say no!  I didn't have the expertise to do it.  There would have been ended up being lots of tears and there might have been some little accusations and arguments in the lobby and everybody would have left shortly after dinner- frustrated and sad- from a wedding that should have been a happy occasion!  

When I play piano at a restaurant or bistro or something, the opening notes of any given song may be met with absolute jubilation.  People can be instantly moved to tears by a few notes of a loved song.  They are tears of joy, of course.  It's a song that has deep meaning to them.  The lyrics of that song got them through a tough time in their life and they celebrate where they are now relative to where they were then.  A restaurant experience isn't the same structured occasion that a wedding or corporate event is, but they came there to feel better about something. It may be on an entirely subconscious level but when they leave they feel better and I contend that it was the music.  There are spiritual, mathematical, ethereal components of music that help us rearrange the hurt somehow.  It files the hurt further back in our minds somewhere and we either pull some more pleasant memories to the forefront or move the hurt to the back and replace it with the memories of this night instead. Theres a song by Lawrence Gowan about letting go of the past and making way for the good: "Every time I lent a hand, the angels sang some Dixieland.  With every hug and every kiss, another hurt dropped off the list."    
Why would a retailer spend $50,000 on a big grand opening celebration with music being the headline feature?  Well, because it will add to sales not just at the time but it creates good-will among potential full-time customers going forward.  They'll get every penny of that back in increased sales over a period of time.  Why have a DJ at a weeknight retail promotion for several hundred dollars?  It creates a bit of excitement, it draws a crowd and then nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.  People see others having fun and they can't allow those people to have MORE FUN THAN I AM HAVING... I GOTTA GET OVER THERE AND BE PART OF THAT CROWD!  I played at a retail promotion last year where the sales goal was $127,000 dollars in cosmetics in a day.  Store management was monitoring the cash registers at hourly intervals throughout the day and they came to me to tell me that there was an absolute and measureable difference in sales within 15 minutes of DJ music and energetic announcements.  Customers didn't walk by the counters, they danced by the counters and opened their wallets at the cash registers.  In a 12 hour sales day, half of the sales were generated while I was playing music in the last 3 hours.  Was it worth my professional fee of $800 for 3 hours on a weeknight?  Absolutely!

I'm no fan of politicians but after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks, several members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and spontaneously sang "God Bless America"  Why music and not some other expression?  Was music was perhaps even more universally acceptable than prayer in that situation? 

There's a world-class museum in Scottsdale AZ called the Musical Instrument Museum and I've spent about 5 afternoons there in the year that they've been open and I still don't feel like I've seen it all. There are historic musical instruments from all over the world and from every ethnicity and nationality. One thread that I've been able to discern in my visits is that even in the face of complete oppression or poverty, the people find some way to make music.  They'll use tin cans, sticks, dried vegetables, animal bones, animal skins or whatever they can find.  The most interesting instruments and musical styles that I've seen there have come from or been born in poverty or because of some tyrant dictator telling a people that they can't have music.  It finds a way!
There's a story about a farmer who was getting up in years and knew he would soon be "gathered up to his people" as it says in the Old Testament.  He wished to bequeath is property to one of his three sons.  He proposed that whichever of his sons could fill the barn with any commodity of their choosing could have their father's life work as an inheritance.  The oldest son set about buying up all of the firewood in the region and filling the barn.  After a week or so, he exhausted his resources and there was frankly no more wood to be found in the region and the barn was only about 2/3 full.  He had to pull the wood out and give the middle son a chance.  The middle son set about buying up all of the bales of hay in the county and the region.  After about a week, he had exhausted his resources and there was no more hay to be found and the barn was only 3/4 full.  He had to pull out all of the hay and make way for the youngest son to have a crack at it.  The youngest son felt that after the noble attempts of his two older brothers that ended in failure, that there was no way he would be able to do anything that would succeed where his brothers hadn't.  He went in to the barn and closed the door and sat down in the middle of that big space and lit a candle and he cried.  The light filled the barn!  And the farmer gave the youngest son all of the inheritance. 

There are a couple of brilliant bakers in this town that make beautiful and delicious wedding cakes, but they dont' "fill" the room.  I've seen genius event designers bring incredibly colorful and interesting event decor that doesn't "fill" a room.  I've seen guests eat a celebration feast prepared and served by the best chefs in the West- and those plates didnt' "fill" the room.  Music always fills the room.  All of the elements come together to make a lovely event and it's the music that ties it all together.  Those cold wedding guests, whispering like they were in an elevator, didn't start celebrating that wedding until music allowed or instructed them to do so.   
If you don't push back the sofa in your living room and dance once in a while, you are missing out on one of the great joys of life.  So... does what I do matter?  Abso-floggin'-lutely!