Some songs don't belong at weddings
four minutes and twenty one seconds of agony
It was a big another big wedding at another big golf course somewhere west of the city. It was fancy and important for all sorts of reasons, none of which mattered to me. Style, not substance was the order of the day.
The father of the bride was paying for everything. Upon arrival, he handed me my fee, plus a little brown Canadian note with a handshake and a nod: “It’s my little girl’s big day. Don’t fuck things up buddy.”
Ahhh weddings, such low pressure events. And on this one, I got to begin the evening with both the carrot and the stick. Such fun.
After midnight and before 1 am
Weddings typically had an arc. Dancing typically hit its climax between midnight and 1am. By then, the requisite slow songs and necessary oldies are out of the way. People typically feel loose enough1 to get out and bust a move. This is when dance circles happen.
Ideally, between midnight and half past, each song is getting a better reaction than the last one. People sway and hang off each other, they sing along. Ties become headbands, shirts open and outrageous spike healed shoes become a magnificent pile of beige sameness.
Don’t stop believin’
A good wedding DJ does not give up. A good wedding DJ insists that people will dance. On this particular night, I really had to work hard to be a good DJ. The crowd sucked. When Aretha asked for Respect they called for a little Boot Scootin’ Boogie. We had a problem.
Now, I loves me a good olde boot scoot as much as the next feller. But lemmie give you a bit of advice here. If you request from a DJ an audience participation / dance routine song like Boot Scoot, or Time Warp, or YMCA or Chicken Dance or Shout, you best be leading the charge to the dancefloor.
Sadly, in this case, the crowd continued to disappoint me. In actual fact, I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. I think they all worked in the collections industry. They are likely used to being disliked. It’s nice to have a type to focus disgust on. They behaved EXACTLY as one would expect commission based collections workers to behave. Care to guess?
Yup. Huge fucking assholes. AND DESPITE THIS, I dug deep and attempted to get these pushy impolite polarities the pleasure of a good time dancing. Finally after an hour and a half of throwing shit at the wall, something started to hit. They wanted 90’s hip hop. And country. Of course. This was when the father of the bride circled back to my booth.
Hell of a racket you’ve got goin’ on here. The music was better earlier.
Oh shit, here we go
People seem to be enjoying themselves. The dance floor is full now, I replied.
Well they’re not paying for shit. I want the next song. For me and my girl. He flashed up a pink bill. Here’s a little sugar to go with the c-note I slipped you earlier.
There are times in our lives where we need to make a choice. This was one of them. I knew this man wasn’t very kind. I knew that if I even hesitated, his tone and tactics would switch very quickly. I also knew that no matter what he requested, it was bound to suck. In doing so, the dancefloor assholes would turn on me.
It was a matter of survival. I need to buy myself time. Fuck. He distracted me. No song cued. Steelers Wheels? Fuck it why not? Clowns to the left of me jokers to the right. And right in front of me? A giant asshole.
I took the fifty. A little piece of me died.
Whadayawannahear? The music was loud. I thrust a pen and paper in front of him. This is what he wrote:
Knights in White Satin - The Moody Blues.
You sure about this sir? He nodded and bellowed affirmations.
It’s a beautiful song for my beautiful daughter. You give me the mic and I’ll dedicate it to her.
Sir, speeches are over. I don’t hand off my mic. He fingered another fifty. Within moments the mic was in his hand. The music faded. The room went silent. He began to speak. Time stood still.
I will not go into details about what he said. It was more how he said what he said. He spoke for a very long time, so long that the banquet staff became uncomfortable. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. On went the request and away went the father to dance with his daughter.
The song, Nights in White Satin, lyrically does not suit a father / daughter dance. It’s about the ruining of one love affair before embarking on another. Painful. Totally painful. It was agony. Four minutes of twenty one seconds of agony. I felt every one tick by.
Looking around the crowd, people were catching on to the lyrics. Many were turning away, wincing. Still others who caught on were struggling to stifle their guffaws. Other still looked on lovingly. And this man was dancing with his daughter blissfully unaware that the lyrics were weird. He was equally unaware that he killed the party.
Well, I killed the party. I had control. I could have refused his money. I could have kept control of the mic. I could have insisted on playing to the room. Instead, I played for the guy who paid. I let him run the gig. He kept slipping me tips. I sold out knowingly. In the end, it didn’t really matter. Between his speech and the almost five minutes of wailing by The Moody Blues, the evening was almost up.
I played a couple of closers and everyone went home. Easy peasey.
How do you navigate situations where you have to decide ‘who’ you work for within a structure?
Are you playing for the crowd or the person who’s paying the tab?
How do you navigate this when these different interests want different things?
And in most cases sufficiently drunk enough