Disclaimer: This is a semi-fictionalized version of my all-too-real experiences working as a DJ in New York City. Most of the names of venues, organizations or people mentioned herein have been changed or, in some instances, totally pulled out of my ass so stop even trying to guess, cool? Cool.
When I first started out in nightlife, nothing sounded more grisly to me than the words "Wedding DJ." Early on my sister suggested I take this route and I recoiled in disgust. "Why don't I just be a Funeral DJ," I suggested flippantly. "I have more in common with a rotting corpse than a blushing bride, anyway." (I was a rather morbid young man.)
Thing is, I once thought DJing would be my ticket to the glamourous life: Ceaseless jetsetting, casual yacht parties with my new BFF Diddy, spinning bedside at the royal childbirth. The thought of working as a wedding DJ seemed like ultimate -- and humiliating -- defeat. I figured if anyone who mattered caught me spinning a wedding, my cache would vanish immediately, right along with my shot at DJing a Lindsay Lohan and James Franco-hosted orgy at Chateau Marmont.
In fact, the mere mention of the term "Wedding DJ" sent my brain racing through every family event -- weddings, bar mitzvahs, more bar mitzvahs, a bat mitzvah here and there, my Great Aunt Joan's 72nd birthday in Hartford -- where an awful DJ in a white tuxedo from Men's Wearhouse made us play "Coke and Pepsi" to the timeless groove of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." "I'm never getting into that. EVER. I'm an artist," I swore before God and my sister that day.
Well, that cavalier attitude lasted all of a year, right up until my dad officially cut me off before I'd even had the chance to visit the Chateau Marmont on my personal time. With one snip of a credit card, my position on wedding DJing morphed from "Never, I'm an artist!" to "Absolutely, I'll take it!," which is exactly how I responded to an email from the seapunk bride-to-be I had met while spinning Gallery bar a month earlier. This is New York after all -- weddings pay big and I had my $1,200 rent to make. My one-off Saturdays at Baddies Bar weren't gonna cut it anymore.
I also figured that with the right approach, I could soundtrack some matrimony without any of the "cool kids" of nightlife being the wiser. I treated it like a covert CIA operation -- real stealthy, like when the Navy Seals took out the Bin Laden bunker in the dead of night, only replacing the ornery, brainwashed jihadists in that scenario with the ornery, brainwashed bridesmaids in this one.
Well, as Kim Kardashian taught America, one wedding leads to another, and before I knew it, I was sneaking off to do more and more weddings. Weddings (and the paychecks that came with them) became my lurid crack addiction, something I knew had to keep under the radar in order to maintain the image that I only snorted the finest of blow.
I spun one reception for a hipster couple who fancied themselves quite alternative and insisted on, "Like, only cool new Indie music, man. Like MGMT and stuff, none of that Human League bullshit." (First dance: The Cure "LoveSong.") I spun another for a rich Jewish couple from Long Island which, of course, had come through a recommendation from my Great Uncle Fred. (First dance: "I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops.) Another I did for a rich liquor store tycoon and his very siliconed fiancé from Miami, who held their reception in a penthouse ballroom covered floor-to-ceiling in sapphire blue polyester fabric. (First Dance: Tiffany "I Think We're Alone Now.")
The actual DJing part of weddings is a snap- Michael, Madge, Stevie, Rih, Katy, minimal cursing, an ODB song so the groomsmen could feel cool for a minute and half, a Frank Sinatra tune so Grandma felt cool for a minute and half, wash, rinse, repeat.
Everything else about it is total shit. Flustered brides and overpaid, underprepared wedding planners make every minute detail into a stressful, horrific meltdown that makes you hate love forever and wish everyone would just die alone. But the money is never shit, and for a second there, I felt like I may have something pretty sweet going on with my moonlight wedding DJ career. "You locked this shit down, son!" said me to me. "I know, riyight?!!!" replied me to me.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Indeed, my covert wedding DJ career U-boat collided with an iceberg one fall Sunday in 2012. Frankly, I blame the whole the disaster on my friend Jamie, an extra surely wedding planner named Raina, and, to a lesser extent, Britney Spears. Let me explain.
This particular wedding was to be the pinnacle of my shadowy night job -- a 250-person soiree at a fancy, cavernous venue tucked under Queensboro Bridge and the heftiest paycheck of my DJing career, wedding or otherwise, to boot. Raina, the aforementioned wedding planner, insisted on no fewer than four (4) mandatory pre-wedding meetups and had proudly presented me with a seven (7)-page wedding "timeline" (The "Big Day Bible," she called it) -- a week before the event.
This "Bible" included specific and dramatic milestones that were very pertinent to my work as a DJ, like "8:05am: Bride and Groom awaken " and "7:34pm: The Ketuba is signed" and "9:56pm: Groomsmen to dougie." Things of that nature. The Bible also included a big, bolded, red byline that read "NOTE FOR DJ LOUIE: THERE SHOULD NEVER BE A MOMENT OF SILENCE."
Indeed Raina, a tiny, white, self-proclaimed "TV personality" cum event planner who wore various striped headbands over her silky blonde bob, distrusted me right from our first "meet-up". "I know DJs have a tendency to arrive late," she opened her initial email about the meeting. "Please don't perpetuate this trend."
On the big day, I had asked my friend Jamie to join me at the wedding and more specifically, to assist me with the Bible, promising her free hor d'oeuvres and an open bar as payment. Jamie loved open bars, so this seemed like a perfect arrangement.
When we arrived, the bride was already in tears. As I walked over to greet the couple, Raina promptly shooed me away. "Over there," she insisted, pointing toward the folding table at the center of the ballroom. "Set up over there and I'll be by in a second." I never learned what had this bride crying, although her floor-length mermaid-inspired wedding dress did seem rather binding.
The first phase of the night moved along nicely. Jamie had been effectively rattling off each nonsensical point in the Bible ("Stop the music, it's time for the artisanal taco bar to be rolled in!") and I had yet to miss any of my myriad cues. Jamie, however, had also been gloriously indulging in her right to the open bar. As the night progressed, the gin and tonics were speedily turning her round cheeks a terrifying shade of magenta and shifting her focus toward a cute groomsman at whom she'd been sordidly winking since the opening ceremony.
Right around when the 9-tiered cake was cut, slices playfully shoved in the bride- and groom's face in what is, frankly, a pretty nasty tradition, Jamie turned to me and cooed, "I'll tots b-r-b."
Before I could even drop an, "Um, what?," she had sashayed her way over to her groomsman, and the two then made a mad dash towards the ladies' room. "Bitch!" I exclaimed under my breath, only to look up and see Raina running over to me, Tory Burch flats clicking across the wooden dancefloor. "What'd you say?" she demanded.
"Oh nothing, just talking to myself and reviewing the Bible. What's up?" I scrambled in reply.
"The dances are coming. The dances are coming, and I hope you're ready!" she barked back like the Paul Revere of mid-level event planning.
"Remember, it's the first minute and 45 seconds of "At Last" for the couple's first dance and then the first minute and 45 seconds of "I'll Be There" for the first general slow dance," she reiterated, "Then there's a break for upbeat dancing for about 26-27 minutes. Then it's 2 minutes and 5 seconds of 'What a Wonderful World' for the mother-groom dance and a minute and 35 seconds of 'If Not You' for the Father-bride dance, then back to upbeat dancing. Remember: There should never be a moment of silence ever. I mean it. No silence. Ever." As I recall, her eyes at the time were glowing like the beet-red embers of Satan's hearth.
"Gotcha, totally," I said as my head spun 360 degrees, gazing anxiously around for Jamie. I chugged my glass of wine and prepared for the most carefully choreographed slow dance marathon since Edith Wharton retired.
I moved through the first two dances rather gracefully, throwing nervous glances at Raina who was standing in the corner, stiffly tapping her toe and scrutinizing every detail like a hawk. Would I cut the music in time? Was the bass too loud? Fear was the order of the day (night) and yet everything appeared to be rather placid on the surface.
Even the dance interlude went fine, 26 minutes and 30 seconds, just like the Bible had foretold. Things didn't really begin to tank until right around halfway through "What a Wonderful Word." The crowd had moved off to the side and were standing arms folded, eyes glistening as the groom and mother swept across the floor in an oddly professional-looking number straight out of an ABC dance competition. Meanwhile, my eyes began darting around the room -- where was the father of the bride?
As the groom dipped his mother in an awkwardly sensual conclusion to their samba, I glanced over at Raina -- hell-on-earth had clearly arrived on her doorstep right at this moment, as she too realized that Pops was MIA. Worse still, the bride, who after all that wedding cake looked even more squeezed into her beige mermaid attire, was now positioned alone in the middle of the floor, glancing around like a well-coiffed, blind antelope woefully separated from the herd.
Moments ticked by like mini-eternities. I turned to Raina, Raina turned to me, I looked for answers, an absolution, some meth, anything to end our collective suffering. Raina looked like she was about to pull a machine gun right out of her Lily Pullitzer dress and blow the place to smithereens, starting with my face.
I nervously shuffled through my music, looking for a dance song to throw on and kill the awkwardness. "There should never be a moment of silence," Raina's creed echoed through my brain. The crowd was now rumbling amongst themselves.
"Paper Planes?" no. "We Found Love?" too soon. "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough?" Can't blow that one just yet. "A-HA!," I apparently thought cueing up Britney Spears' recent dancefloor staple "Big Fat Bass" (Sample lyrics: "Big Fat Bass. The Big Fat Bass." Actually that's all the lyrics.) I cued it up on the opposite deck and prepared to hit play when, like Jesus on Easter, Dad miraculously appeared and took his position for the dance.
"Play it, NOW!" howl-whispered Evil Queen Raina, now standing mere feet from my head and emitting carbon monoxide fumes from her nose. I fumbled quickly, hit play on the turntable, and cranked the volume to max. "BIG FAT BASS. THE BIG FAT BASS. IT'S GETTIN' BIGGER! THE BASS IS GETTING BIGGER!" came autobot Britney Spears blasting through the state-of-the-art sound system I had insisted the couple rent.
"Aww, fuck me!!!" I squawked. But it was too late. I had hit play on the wrong turntable and now I was never gonna get into heaven. I would never meet my maker. Would I even live to DJ another day?
It was right about here that my brain entered slow-motion. I heard audible gasps from the be-sequined crowd followed by lethal death stares from the father and bride, but couldn't quite gather my wits to handle the debacle. Raina's brain entrails were also now dripping down the side of the walls.
She ran toward the booth. "What. The. Fuck. FIX IT NOW!!!!!"
Snapping to, I grabbed for the volume control, yanked it down and threw on the correct father-daughter dance song, Bob Dylan's "If Not You." The dance commenced, but nothing was ever the same in the world ever again.
As the father and bride slide across the floor, I slowly crouched behind the white-linen-lined table and held my head in my hands for duration of the song, praying to magically disappear into the floor. I had really done it. I had fucked up the timeline. I had fucked up the wedding. Despite the most angelic of intentions, I had forsaken the Bible.
I had no choice but to finish the ceremony dripping in shame. As I packed up my equipment later in the night, an intoxicated groomsman hurled one last "nice Britney song, bro!" before rolling in laughter with his buddies. It was the icing on the whole damn mashed-up cake. I walked out vowing that this wedding would be my last.
Two days after the reception, Raina called. "While the the bride and groom were very pleased with your set at the reception," she began, "there were a lot of problems surrounding the father-daughter dance situation. We'd like to ask for a refund." I sat in silence for a second, stunned. "Hello?" she said. "Sorry," I responded, not quite sure what to say.
"Yeah, it's customary to offer a refund in situations like this. I don't know if you're interested, but the couple has many engaged friends, and we certainly won't be recommending you if you don't offer some form of restitution." I was stunned. But then I grew some balls, slammed the phone down* (*hit "end" on my iPhone), and imagined Raina disappearing from the earth in a cloud of black smoke, banished to the scorched netherworld from which she came. We never spoke again.
I turned to my sister. "This is why I don't do weddings." She laughed. "I'd seriously rather do funerals," I continued. "I have way more in common with a corpse than a bride, anyway." We smirked again and that was that, the end of my year as an clandestine wedding DJ.
Truth be told, I've done another wedding here and there, and frankly, I really did learn a thing or two from my experience -- namely, to never play Britney Spears "Big Fat Bass" in any situation. What I am still waiting for, however, is my opportunity to spin that orgy at Chateau Marmont. Lohan, Franco, hit me up! My email's in the bio and I promise, no Britney.