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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Reason (or "The Black Bag In The Closet")

Two interesting things happened recently, oddly related to one another.

For DJing at karaoke shows and private parties, I use a fairly clunky old HP laptop running either PCDJ Red or Virtual DJ. I can mix but I'm often too indifferent/underpaid to do so. I've run a lot of shows, and I used to keep "the DJ machine" fairly near me at all times, just in case I needed to set the party off at the drop of a dime, baby.(1)

The other night, I put my familiar black DJing laptop bag in the back of the office closet. I did it without a lot of fanfare -- that closet's already jam packed with too much stuff, and for a split second I debated taking it all the way to my storage until I remembered that I needed to clean up the music database -- and really kind of closed a door on a previously pretty big part of my life. Quietly, without anyone around, without anyone noticing or any discussion.

I started working as a karaoke host in December of 2003, going from "bumper music" on an iPod to running in iTunes to a fully dedicated standalone computer. I loved the work, I loved discovering new music, I loved the feeling I got when a crowd really started to have a good time and get wild. The control of it was intoxicating, and to be honest, I never thought I was only "pretty good."(3) I tried to stay current on music, I tried to pay attention to what people wanted, but I'm nowhere near as good a DJ as, say, my USC classmate DJ Kaleem (I remember when he was "DJ Assault").(3) I was, I believe, one of the best karaoke hosts I had ever seen,(4) due to my technical abilities and general show knowledge, and I loved what I did.

That said, it's over. I mean done. The owner of one of the bars I worked at still calls, desperate to get me back in any capacity, and I can't. Why?

Last night, I saw my new little girl, inside my wife's stomach, not only respond to the sound of my voice but move towards it. The taut flesh of the pregnant belly showed it clearly, and when I put my hand there, she reached for me. That never happened before.


I've seen some stuff in my life. Physics-defying things. Things that are illegal in most of the South. All kinds of things many people probably don't even have the mental hardware to comprehend. But I've never known a sense of wonder like I did when I saw that.

"Ha ha, Hannibal, you've gone soft, you're just an old husband now, ha ha." Laugh it up, fuzzball. I've got something so cool that I never even imagined anything like that. The connection I feel to this new life, this daughter-to-be, defies wordsmithing. (5) Catching myself singing Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" under my breath as I walk from place to place.(6) Putting together the little speeches in my head about this event to come or that one.

It's got my wig completely twisted, and I love it. So yeah, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," and I feel good about it. I went out on top, and I'm enjoying something so much more rewarding than the boozy handshakes and cheering of even the best bar in the south bay.(7) I have something now that pushes me towards my office job with renewed vigor and determination, happy to provide for one more smiling face in my home.

So the dust can settle on that black bag a bit, and maybe I won't recognize every single song on every single radio station anymore. I think that's just fine. Just fine, indeed.

Playing (Music): "Walking On The Moon" by The-Dream feat. Kanye West


(1) = I'm not mad if you don't get the reference. Mostly.

(2) = Seriously, Kaleem's a killer. If I'd have known what a musical monster he would have been when he showed up interviewing for a job at USC's Annual Fund Phone Program, trying desperately to seem like he wasn't crazy, I'd ... well, I don't know what would have happened, but it probably would have been more interesting, that's for certain! Easily one of the best DJs in hip hop today, maybe ever.

(3) = I knew what I could do at a show, and my skill level. However, I knew less skillful karaoke hosts with more popular and profitable shows. People who weren't as good as me who could develop bigger crowds and make more money for bars. I didn't have a desire to develop the skills they had at promoting or ingratiating themselves with people to make my own shows bigger. I focused on what I was good at -- sound, wires, music selections, technical issues -- and let everything else work or not based on fate.

(4) = I learned from some of the best -- Dana Walker, Mikey de Lara, Michelle Velasco -- and I believe incorporated all their lessons into an even better hybrid. There are, however, two hosts I feel are better than me. Number 2 is Aaron, who ran karaoke at Miyagi's on Sunset. He's a beast -- slammin' music, great sound, brisk paced show. The only one better -- a man who can literally do it all, from working the crowd to concert-grade sound to fantastic charisma and technical skills -- is Levi Strauss (stage name, probably) from Blue Jeans and Black Tie Entertainment. If I could do half the show he does every Sunday at Henry's in Gaslamp, I could be a freakin' legend. I don't have the ability to be social and rock the show the same way, I don't have the energy he has, I don't have the focus. It's less jealousy and more awe, honestly. If Fatman Scoop was a karaoke host, could sing almost anything, had Kaleem spinning in between songs and had three times more energy, he'd be Levi. Still, that said, after the top ten or eleven hosts I've seen, most other shows are pretty limp.

(5) = I used to believe I could have something to say about everything. This ... this is more than my verbal ability can handle. Seriously. I'm so grateful to my wife for the opportunity here.

(6) = I wiggle some of the lyrics. I'm having a girl, for example.

(7) = The night of my retirement, I found out that Sully's had been named "the best bar in the south bay" by The Daily Breeze. In between the next two songs, I told the crowd, "The Daily Breeze thinks this is the best bar in the south bay! We already knew that! This is the best bar in the south bay, and that has nothing to do with me. It has to do with you, and you, and that guy over there, and those hot girls at the bar! This is Sully's, y'all, you better believe it!" The crowd was whipped into an appropriate frenzy, and I felt good. Not "see your unborn daughter respond to your voice and touch for the first time" good, but pretty good nonetheless.


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