Tuesday, March 04, 2008
The Lost Boys
One of my favorite bloggers, Natalie, had a great post today about music skipping a generation.
She observed that her student workers knew little to nothing about music from eras the she loves, the late sixties/early seventies, which she (and I) believes was a high point in music. The era was full of brilliant, diverse music that had a wide audience that crossed cultures and ethnicities. I guess I assumed that since my 69-year-old father and my 46-year-old self both love Santana, Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Motown, etc. that everybody does.
When my youngest brother got married in 1995, he called me to ask me if I knew any deejays. At one time in my life I did know a lot of them; I hung around in clubs and had a lot of friends who were deejays. By 1995, though, I was hip deep in parenthood. I did little club-hanging. I was unable to help him. No problem, he told me a couple of weeks later; his soon-to-be mother-in-law had hired a couple of young relatives to deejay the reception.
The wedding was lovely; my brother's wife is Indian-American (she was born in India, but raised mostly here). The ceremony was Christian (they'd met in a religious group), but they honored his wife's family's Hindu heritage as well.
The reception was held at banquet facility run by a popular Chicago Indian restaurant. The food was great. The photographer was great. The deejays.... well....
The "Indian Hip Hop Boys," as I was later to refer to them, were told to play lots of Motown, a favorite of my new sister-in-law. My brother asked me to take care of steering them toward the right music. I went over to them to help them plan out the playlist. I gave them a simple instruction: "Play lots of Motown." I recieved a couple of puzzled looks and a question: "What's Motown?"
At first I thought it was a joke. Most professional deejays I've ever known had a wide and deep music collection; they might have to deejay a bar mitzvah, a retirement party, a graduation party-- or a wedding reception for people in their thirties, as they were doing.
I told them "You know-- Detroit-- Barry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas."
"Oh, you mean like rap?"
I sensed a potential disaster, so I told them I wanted to go through their collection and pick out what they should play. I was shocked, as I went through the collection, at the lack of depth of the collection. It was mostly hip-hop. It was totally inappropriate for the reception.
After considerable digging, I came up with, I'm not kidding, about a half dozen songs that could even loosely fit the criterion, including a Marvin Gaye tune and a Supremes song that was on a movie soundtrack. I told them to play these songs and not one other song in their collection. I knew it would be a little strange to hear the same few songs over and over again, but it would be better than having a mostly over-50 crowd subjected to a soundtrack that would be more appropriate to a college party.
Several times during the night they veered from the playlist and I had to go over and remind them of what I'd told them. After several occurences of this, I considered threatening them with violence (okay, I'd had a few drinks), but chose to use a bigger trump card; I told them that if they continued with the music that wasn't appropriate to the occasion that they weren't going to get paid. That worked wonders.
After the reception, I was amazed that these guys actually thought that they might make a living doing this. I guess as long as there are enough high schoolers and college kids needing a party deejay, they would do all right. But what really struck me was how sad it was that they were missing a huge treasure trove of some of the greatest music ever.