How we become our grandparents

Last weekend I had the privilege of DJing at the wedding of some friends. I've unofficially DJed a few parties, but never something as involved (and DJ-dependant) as a life-changing ceremony followed by several hours of dancing. Annika will tell you that I spent a lot of the preceeding week in a heightened state of, well, being nervous as hell.

Before I go much further, let me say that the DJing went well. The ceremony went smoothly, no worries with the random playlist through cocktail hour, and once we got into the post-dinner dancing portion of the evening, I really started to have a lot of fun. The bride and groom seemed happy, no one threatened me. Some of the other wedding guests, themselves veterans of many a sound check, helped me move audio equipment around as events dictated.

That's not really what Im writing about, though. I was ready for all of that stuff—I'd practiced aspects of the whole set, I knew the (few) tricky sound cues. But what I didn't realize during all of my preparations was that I was building a mental model of what people would want to dance to that was subtly incorrect. I had brought enough of the “right” kind of music to cover my mistake, but the more I reflect on the whole thing, the more I believe that I was being shown a basic truth about the way we become older.

Consider, for a minute, Rob Base's seminal work “It Takes Two”. If you're under thirty and you're not familiar with this track, then think about Fergie's “London Bridge” and imagine that it is still popular in 2024. Why 2024? Because that's when “London Bridge” will be a song that is 18 years old, just like “It Takes Two” is right now. Let me say that again for those of you who are still thinking about Rob Base: “It Takes Two” was released in 1988. If you were on the dance floor last Saturday night at the wedding I DJed, then you probably first danced to “It Takes Two” at a high school prom. Or maybe you heard it coming out of the speakers of someone's boom box.

For whatever reason, the song stuck with you. The repetitive scream that is part of the underlying breakbeat is no longer edgy and urban. Now it's fun. It's funky. You can dance to it. And you know, I love a fun old dance tune as much as the next wedding guest. But I had assumed that everyone's tastes had followed an evolutionary line that also included fun new dance tunes as well as some of the other less mainstream style-descendants of Rob Base, Ini Kamoze (the Hotstepper), and Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Not so, dear reader. I don't think the human brain works like that. People go to clubs to hear the hot new tracks, not weddings. Weddings are those times when the fondest old memories get fished out of the bin and strung together into newer fond old memories. You can add a wrinkle here or there, but you'll never mix BTs “Circles” into a party based on the likes of “Groove is in the Heart” (16 years old), “O.P.P.” (15 years old), and “Push It” (20 years old). Now, in everyone's defense, yes, newer songs were played and danced to with vigor. But the set wouldn't have been right without the older songs. There's something about them that adds context to the event. It says: “this is the fun for us”.

I know it wasnt the fun for the under-ten set at the wedding because I was repeatedly asked by some of the kids when I was going to play “something cool”. I shudder to think of what's cool music to a ten year old boy. I'm pretty sure I was in full-on Weird Al worship at ten, and that's just not a good avenue for a wedding DJ to follow.

This gets a little philosophical when you step back and think about how much of what you do can be fixed to a particular not-necessarily-recent point in time. All of the stupid ad jingles you've learned. All of the clothing trends that you can recall (though of course, you never dressed that way). Something finds its way into your brain and it stays there. Random happenstance occasionally pulls it up and suddenly on the dance floor youre letting out a primal yell because “Rock Lobster” (27 years old) is, like, totally your favorite song. (The system works. Writing “like, totally” got me thinking about Valley Girls.)

Right now, we've still got some choices—we can see that divide between Now and Then. But it gets a lot harder after your brain gets added to the “untrustworthy body parts” list. One of Annika's grandfathers has repeatedly told me of a particular war-era adventure of his; he forgets that I know the story well. And whenever he tells me the story, I think about the fact that this particular adventure must have contained some of the greatest moments of his life, because he can't always remember the names and faces of his family, but that story lives on the tip of his tongue. To me the real kicker is that he's telling this to his second generation of offspring, and godwilling he'll tell it to the third as well. How could his adventures be any more amazing that seeing a room filled with generations of people who can trace themselves back to him? What does the past possess that is so much more valuable than right now?

Happily, for the bride and groom at most modern, mutually-embarked-upon weddings, there is nothing but the Now. There's so much Now for them that there isn't room for anything else. If you do anything approaching a traditional wedding and reception these days, your wedding day is the longest Now you'll ever have. But for everyone else, the Now is a little more lovely with a side order of Then.

I felt a little bad for the wedding guest who got really excited when I mixed in Steve Miller band. It was during a lull before the die hard hip-hop dance crowd layed seige to the dance floor. But in forty years, when Steve Miller and 50 Cent end up on the same “Greatest Hits of the Late 1900s” compilation, we'll all be there doing the robot while the current hip generation shakes its head in pity. We'll have a choice then, too, of course. We'll choose between hobbling off the dance floor to reflect on how much more awesome our music was and staying on to catch a few measures of what the hip ones are listening to. And if the DJ takes that opportunity to pull out “Love Shack”... well, thatll be okay, too :–)

#life #writing