I imagine if someone were to ask the average person if he or she would like to be a DJ at a popular venue for the evening, that person would respond with one of two polarized emotions: “Yes, I’d love to!” or, as in my own case, “OMG, I am going to die.” I envisioned myself under a single white hot spotlight in front of a passive-aggressive audience who stare blankly at me standing behind a mute DJ turntable.
Enter the slow, sarcastic clap of one person in the audience.
But when talent buyer and manager Mark C. Austin asks you to do anything, you do it. No questions. You do it out of respect for the man, the beard, the love of Houston music.
Riddled with self-doubt, anxiety and portents of my very public demise, I acquiesced against the sheer terror of my conscience. What music would I play? As my own teenage son often complains after spending any time in the car with me, All your music choices really suck, Mom. No offense.
None taken. This is the map of middle age. It’s a road that slumps in mid-life, enclosed in a valley called “old people music” surrounded by two mountain ranges: Birth and Death.
The night of my gig, an hour before I was to make my DJ debut, the temptation to flake out on my commitment crossed my mind hundreds of times in various forms of hyperbole and artifice —
- Sorry, my kid is suddenly violently ill.
- Sorry, I’ve got a cat to neuter. Yes, on a Wednesday night. I know, it’s crazy, this vet keeps bizarre hours.
- Sorry, my Groupon is about to expire at JC Penney’s Sparkly-Butt Blue Jeans sale.
- Sorry. My tire; it’s just so flat. All four of them.
- Sorry, I died. Last night.
I had already orchestrated a playlist on Spotify (you didn’t really think I could spin and scratch real vinyl, did you?), and felt like I chose tracks that were closest not only to my heart but to what other people would probably like to hear over dinner and drinks with friends. MKT Bar, after all, is a grocery store/restaurant/venue seated in the ground floor of some high-dollar downtown high-rise apartment real estate.
I gave the playlist to my teenage son for feedback; he scanned it, frowned and said, “You realize there’s no white people on your list.”
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Not one. Not that I disapprove of white people, their music or their sweeping shared inability to dance, but certainly people would want to hear a more diverse playlist than what I would concoct on my own. Maybe even different genres, different styles? I fought back swelling insecurity and swallowed down the bile burning the back of my throat. I opted for hubris instead. If people don’t like it, they can make their own playlist then, fuck it. This is my night.
I arrived to a full house. Every table bustled with people who looked like co-workers enjoying post-workday drinks, couples eating dinner and even families with small children.
Children? Jesus. I hadn’t even considered them.
Visions of MKT Bar management yanking the amplifier's electrical cords out of the wall while "Back Dat Azz Up" abruptly ceased filled my mind. Wasn’t there a way to get these babies out of here? Perhaps a bread-crumb trail out the door of goldfish, Cheerios and pacifiers?
Suddenly I saw a warm face. DJ BabyRoo of Houston's Roologic Records heard all of my insecurities, smiled and waved them off. “Don’t worry about it; we do this every Wednesday," he said. "These people have heard it all.”
Breathe, I told myself. And by breathe, I meant, Drink wine.
And, as the playlist spun, I discovered something about myself I had never known before. Sharing music with people is an incredible joy. To see people stop their conversations, to move their heads to the beat — to interrupt people with happiness — was a gift I had never before experienced.
From the two maître d’s rapping lyrics of Juvenile’s “Ha” back and forth to each other, or the woman eating her dinner at the bar who swiveled in her chair to salute when I played Erykah Badu to the two waitresses who both stopped at the cash register to erupt into song, it was exhilarating.
I gave them that moment, and while they didn’t have to acknowledge my contribution to it, I got so much satisfaction from watching them celebrate the music I chose to share with them.
More than a few wine glasses were raised in my direction when a new song’s rhythm would pop through the speakers; blasting rap beats over the heads of patrons like a confetti cannon of sound and trading fist-bumps and head nods with complete strangers was elation I had never known.
What I found that I really wanted was to play the best music I could find and play those tunes that define who we are as Houstonians. When Z-Ro’s slow heaviness filled the room, I wanted nothing more than to open the doors and pump those beats like a heart pulsing lifeblood through the city's asphalt arteries.
I wanted nothing more for these families than to keep smiling and laughing.
I wanted nothing more than for these friends to bond over drinks and my music.
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I wanted these couples to feel the rhythm, go home to their apartments above our heads and make love for hours.
I wanted this city to feel what I felt in those tunes: Art is everything. It binds us together, communicates love and connection, builds community and, most of all, crosses all those social barriers that keep us apart.
Long live Houston music.
Guest DJs spin tunes from 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays at MKT Bar, 1001 Austin. Tonight, Live Nation talent buyer Quinn Donahue takes over the 1's and 2's.