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The Accidental DJ

So, here’s how we spent our new year’s eve. It’s an epic tale, a veritable odyssey of awkward fun. It started like this:

“What are you doing for new years? Yolanda and I (the names have not been changed to protect the innocent, as this story is deeply entrenched in affection) are throwing a huge bash and I would love for you to come and play a few of your songs for a couple hundred of our closest friends. It’ll be so cool!”

Sounds good, Anthony.

Remember Anthony? He’s the cat who convinced me that I could lose 1/3 of my bodyweight. I’m there, dude.

The phone call comes about three weeks ago. “So… we’re still good for New Year’s. It’s gonna be so awesome! We’re gonna rawk the 70′s rock, and the theme of the party is love. I want you to do that song you did in church about love, man (more on this in a moment) We have the tent in the back, bartender, I’m doing a whole video and picture montage for the party guests, and I’ve got everything just totally set up for you, and all you need to get is a piano and a sound system.”

Oh… is that all?

“Don’t worry… money’s no problem, just lemme know.”

You got it man, we Dailies aim to please.

Phone calls go out to friends who rent that type of gear. I hit him back with this a day or so later, “Ok, it’s gonna be $400-$500 to rent the piano, and I’m still working on the sound system. They’re strangely all booked for New Year’s Eve.”

“Ok, well that’s a lot to rent a piano. I think I could buy one for like two grand. We’ve been looking for just the reason for awhile anyways. I’ll just buy one and have it delivered. Oh, and also, Dave from church said he could set up sound, so just call him and tell you what you need.”

What I need is the same thing that I’ve needed since time began, homie, 88 keys and (2) 58s. Reverb is optional. Delay is recommended, because we put down is worth hearing at least one more time.

A few days later: “Ok, so, we’re gonna have to go to plan B on the piano thing, there’s just no way I have time to buy a piano before Sunday.”

Plan B (schlepping Erica’s digital piano from her teaching studio) is already in effect, as we Dailies saw this coming.

“Oh, and my friend Bruce is going to call you. He sings jazz, and I want you to do something together. He’s the coolest, you’ll love him”

Anything you say, brother man. It’s all good. Peace and love in the ’07.

Couple of days pass. Ring, ring. “Hey, it’s Bruce! I hear you’re a magnificent pianist.”

Sure man, I know all the Chris Tomlin songs and I can do them in all of God’s approved keys, which are, of course, D, G, C, E, and A in a pinch. I am not, under even the most generous and, for the sheer sake of argument, intoxicated, circumstances, a magnificent pianist.
I play piano like a frustrated guitar player, all major sevenths and angst.

“Well, how about ‘Fly Me to The Moon’ in C, you know that?”

Dude, I can fake nearly anything in C, as long as it has those handy dandy little chord symbols. Send the sandwich, bring da funk.

I call Anthony a few days later.

So, we’re gonna do our song Loved for you guys, as per the theme of the night. What else you got in mind? (Thinking about the other nine songs on the album we’re trying to promote.)

“What about that song you did in church a few months ago. You sang love like a bazillion times. Could you do that song too? I asked you about it that day, but you said you didn’t write it. Can you think of it?”

The strange thing is that I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out which song he meant. I had to bust out my service order file at work and thumb through the services of the past year to figure out what he was taking about. I found it and called him.

I remember the tune, it’s called “After the Last Tear Falls,” and it was written by Andrew Peterson.

I sang him a few bars, and he shouted with recognition. “That’s it, man… that’s the one.”

Ever the service planner, I think to myself… So, lemme see here. We’re gonna have 150 people with an open bar and the most gregarious host I know. By the time 10:30 rolls around, they’re gonna be in a pretty lubricated mood. We’re gonna then sing them a love song about our children and then a song that describes God’s love at the end of some achingly beautiful and heartbreaking lyrics. Then some dude named Bruce is gonna hand me a chart for “Fly Me To The Moon,” in C, and we’re gonna swing away.

What could possibly go wrong?

I arrive at their house in the afteroon to begin setting up our gear. Dave from church, the biggest servant-hearted cat in town, brings over the Church’s little portable system. We get set up and sound checked, and Yolanda (Anthony’s wife) says, “So… Anthony has all these CDs ready to go for background music. Can we play them through the system?”

Yes.

Then the question that will eventually turn my night hilarious. “So… you have an iPod or something you could bring? I might want to have something more… modern… to dance to later in the night. You got any Beyonce?”

Girl, you must not know ’bout me, cause I’m all up in that.

I return home to hang out with the kiddos, and get ready for the main event. Turns out Erica hadn’t done the Andrew Peterson tune with me before, so we had to… you know… learn it. It helps with performance, you see. We turn over the kids to the ‘rents, and set out.

The house is great. They have the tent, the space heaters, the big balloons, the bartender, the whole shebang. We stake out a spot close to the rig and make small talk. We don’t know… anybody.

The party fills up. Anthony’s having a great time. He introduces us to people, he wants us to feel included. It’s sweet. All I can think about is those freaking unrelenting 8th notes in Loved, and wishing that I’d hired Mike. Bill and Becky from church break the drought of familiar faces. We hang out with our friends and wait for the big moment.

Now, as per Yolanda’s request, I put together a little playlist for the occaision. I was shooting in the dark, here, and keep in mind that my MP3 collection is light on top 40 dance tunes. I get some requisite Beyonce, and yes, I did bring sexy back. I also threw in some Beck and Gnarls Barkley for a little indie cred. Add a little Marley and Steve Miller Band for some old school flava. Prince and D’Angelo for funk, Gavin Degraw and Sheyrl Crow for rock, as we white kids still just wanna have a little fun before the sun comes up over Santa Monica Blvd.

It was a pretty hip mix, if I do say so myself. Yolanda loves it. She actually has a bottle of Cristal. We’re big pimpin’ like hova himself.

10 minutes later, Anthony comes in. “Dude… play this, they’ll love it, I guarantee.” It’s Clapton’s greatest hits. You got it, boss.

10 minutes later, Yolanda comes back in. “Play some DANCE MUSIC!!! And TURN IT UP!” You got it, boss.

And so it continued… During this time, at one of the swings back to my iPod, I noticed that Sheyrl Crow sounded about a half step flat on “Soak up the Sun.” I turned around to see two drunk girls doing impromtu karaoke with one of the live mics I had set up. Fantastic. You sound beautiful. And by beautiful, I mean ****faced.

At about 10:30, Anthony finds me. “Ok, you’re on, guys!”

Cool man… cool. So… this is gonna be one hell of a transition. Are you going to introduce us? He’s already on the mic. He does a pretty good intro, welcoming people officially and explaining that he’s asked us to share some music with them. He introduces us as recording artists, which I suppose is technically correct.

We do our two tunes. I do a little banter, thanking Anthony for having us and jokingly warning people that the evening is about to take a serious left turn. Our songs are actually pretty well received. All things considered, enthusiastic applause at the correct moments is usually a good sign, methinks. So far, so good, right? Anthony’s back up. “Welcome to the stage (dark corner of the tent) my good friend Bruce to sing for you all.

Now… Bruce has not a simple jazz fake chart in his hands, but a full blown book of Tony Bennett arrangements. “Fly Me to The Moon,” is not in the accidental free key of C as promised, but in the moderately unfriendly key of Eb. Oh yes, I need to tell you this: you know what helps when reading (and performing) a chart for the first time in a key that you weren’t expecting? Light!

Yes friends… It was a dimly lit place. Erica hovers behind me, trying to get my iPod light to stay on long enough for me to see what the next change. “A flat major 9!” she hollars, saving my bacon. Bruce is all over the place. He wants it faster… he wants it slower. “D diminished 7!” she shouts.

Oh god please let this be a substitutionary dominant going to Gminor7! Yes!!! I ROCK!!! THANK YOU PHIL SHACKLETON, wherever you are, for my theory training, because I cannot see butkus. I friggen hate flat keys.

I actually do alright, and the song ends. To my impending misfortune, the crowd applauds heartily.

Bruce turns to me. “Let’s do ‘I Left my Heart in San Francisco!’ It’s in C, and it’s on page 72″ It was in Bb, on page 54. I’m in trouble. I don’t even remotely know this song. Bruce doesn’t know “Here I am to Worship,” unfortunately.

I’m floundering, and the iPod light goes off every five seconds, as I have instructed. Oh no, a page turn. Erica goes in for the turn, and we’re both starting to giggle uncontrollably. She grabs like… six pages. We’re so done. I’m audibly snorting and guffawing at this point. Bruce actually turns around mid phrase and goes, “What’s so funny??!?!”

Dude. What’s not funny? I swear on the grave of Old Blue Eyes that I am not laughing at you. Well… a little, but this just gets more insane by the moment.

He’s trying to be gracious. “You know what, no worries. I’ll go acapella.” He sings… “When I fall in love….” Erica just looks at me with the most classic look. Keep it together… keep it together. I fold my hands until he finishes a verse and a half or so before Anthony makes his way to the front to stop the entire trainwreck-tacular.

“Thanks Bruce! Well, let’s all move into the living room, I’ve prepared a little video for you….”

We slink back to our seats. Our friends have gone inside to watch the video with the majority of the crowd. I get a glass of wine and Erica grabs a gin and tonic. The bartender, having witnessed the performance, made it a GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN and tonic. When the hell is midnight, again?

I’m not really in a terribly foul mood, at this point. I am more amused then anything, but still a little annoyed. I don’t do music badly on purpose. I prepare. We are professionals. I don’t like getting hijacked. Oh well. Time to get buzzed and surly, and kiss my girl when the big ball drops.
Erica suggests I fire up the iPod again. Aaah… yes. Let’s do that. Beck’s funky beats always put a smile on my face. Oh yeah, Gorillaz, bring me that funky stuff. My mood improves. The video ends, and the partygoers return to the tent. I’ve got the mix working pretty well at this point, enjoying playing DJ with my eclectic yet dance-able mix. Bootys are starting to shake. Lauryn Hill pours her soul into our bones. Erica and I sing and dance along in excessive abandon, glad our part of the night is over, our church friends starting to look at us a little sideways.

Anthony returns. “Dude, you’ve gotta play some disco!” Dude, this is my personal iPod. I don’t really have disco. “I’ve got a CD.” Let’s spin it, then!

Now freed from the DJ duties, we make our way inside in a quest for finger foods. We make small talk. People seem to be genuinely interested in us and our music… turns out we made an impression after all, so that’s good.

We’re closing in on midnight at this point. Yolanda comes screaming in. “If I don’t hear Crazy in Love RIGHT NOW, I’m gonna freak out!!”

Well, we can’t have that.

I’m back at the stereo. Now, mind you, all of this is happening with an 8th inch to RCA adapter that I’m physically alternating between my iPod and the headphone output of the CD changer. It makes a huge crackle and pop when it’s removed or inserted. Erica fades the inputs on the little mixer like a pro. “Gimme gain!!” I yell, and beat drops. The crowd goes nuts and another Christmas miracle is made by Chad and Erica. We make magic happen, darnitall.

It’s about 11:58 after the song is over. Champagne us poured and Anthony is back on the mic. “Now… We have just a few minutes before the new year and I want to open up the mic to anyone who wants to give us a prayer or a blessing, but not too personal, ok?!”

Uh oh, I think. Fear the Open Mic.

I look at my wife. We’re beyond delirious at this point, a pair of giggle junkies. A guest drunkenly rambles on the mic. I look at my cell, and it’s 11:59. Anthony invites more people up, as we have, “Just a few more minutes until midnight.” Yolanda hands me a CD and says (shouts), “The last track is Auld Lang Syne, so we have to play it at midnight (it’s 12:01 and I just kissed Erica happy new year.) More guests speak. At about 12:06, Anthony cuts it off and starts the new year’s countdown.

“Happy New Year!!!!” Everyone yells, everyone kisses. I push play and hear something that sounds a lot like an 80s love ballad and not anything like Auld Lang Syne. Yolanda comes up, “Uh oh! What can we do?!?!” iPod to the rescue! Erica fades, I swap inputs, and furiously dial up James Taylor’s beautiful arrangement of the same song. This arrangement kills. It’s so sweet. The first 10 minutes after midnight are always the best. Strangers hugging, lovers kissing. Sometimes strangers kissing. It’s like everyone gets reborn for a few perfect minutes before reality comes back in with sunrise and a hangover.

This guy grabs the mic from Anthony, and actually proposes to his girlfriend. He has the ring and everything. She cries, they kiss, it’s a beautiful moment. His friends start screaming at me, “We need some special music!!! Do you have Romanza by Andrea Bocelli?”

No, I don’t have Andrea Bocelli, because I am not either (A) gay, or (B) warned that I needed to be equipped to DJ this party. How about Norah Jones?

“Chad!”

Yes?

“WE WANNA DANCE!!!”

Done.

We’re cookin’ now. Floor’s packed, beats are bangin’. I’m starting to have some fun now. Drunk Admonishing Lady comes over next. “You havvve to play thisss CD, track 12 nessst. It’ssss the best…” Sure… we aim to please here at Improvisational DJs, inc.

Erica swivels out of the small space we’re sharing behind the keyboard to let this lady get in with her music. Unfortunately, she catches the cord coming out of the iPod and yanks it clean across the room. We go from bangin’ beats to dead silence. I’m still in an uncontrolled giggle fest, so I think I started shouting at Erica in an olde English accent talking about disaster and chaos whilst frantically searching the floor for the one cable out of 12 that I need. Did I mention it was dark? I keep on shouting and laughing and Erica’s laughing (because she knows I’m delirious and not really angry) and searching and meanwhile it’s… dead silent.

Dead silent, except for… “You ssstttoooppp talking to her like that!” Admonishing Drunk Lady says, “Ssssheee didn’t mean to… you stop that. You tell her you’re sorry. Tell her you’re SORRY!!!”

But I’m too hopped up on red wine and surreal experiences for apologies!

We find the plug, finish the song, and I put her CD on. The song that we HAD to hear was, no joke, Just Can’t Get Enough, by Depeche Mode. Not a bad song, but a total vibe changer. I’m all about the smooth transitions, so, I was struggling a little.

Erica looks at me, “We have to go.” My folks are hanging out at our house with our kids, and they’re sick (my folks that is.) I told them we’d be home by 1ish. “After this song ends, you spin up the Disco CD again, take the iPod and run!” She’s a smart one, my lady.

We make our way to the tent exit / house entrance and the door’s locked. Anthony is showing the video again, and I think he wanted to keep the sound down. We sigh, and retreat to the yard, where people are smoking cigars and sipping on REALLY expensive tequila. An old italian dude was trying to light a cigar and failing. Erica offered to help and lit the match for him and he started puffing away. He kept at it until he nearly choked on a big puff and doubled over in a fit of coughing. “Imma sorry,” he says, “I wassa transfixed-a by her eyes. How did you ever get-a such-a beeeauuutiful woman?”

Dude, I have no idea.

We try and escape around the back, as there’s a small corridor between the edge of the tent and the retaining wall in the back yard, but some couple has decided that the retaining wall looks really comfortable, if you know what I mean.

We wait. More giggling.

Finally, the video ends, and we slip into the living room, say our goodbyes, hug our hugs, and we’re gone.

I cannot remember a more memorable New Year’s Eve celebration. Hope yours was as exciting as mine. Cheers to the ’07.