With music, I honestly don’t want it that way

Having a boogie to the Backstreet Boys is as close as Rob Long gets to dancing. Casey Curry / Invision / AP
Having a boogie to the Backstreet Boys is as close as Rob Long gets to dancing. Casey Curry / Invision / AP

When I read in Forbes magazine that Calvin Harris made $63 million (Dh231m) last year and David Guetta made $28m, my first thought was: “Who are Calvin Harris and David Guetta?”

Let me explain my ignorance.

Not long ago, I was stomping around my office in a foul mood. I was trying to conduct a rewrite on a script – something television comedy writers do in a group, with an assistant writing it all down – and nothing was going right. The office was too hot, the lights were too dim and flickery; I had a cascade of complaints. Eventually, one of my colleagues – a guy about my age, maybe a few years older – handed me his reading glasses.

“Just try these,” he said.

I growled and groused but did, in fact, put them on and did, in fact, suddenly see everything more clearly. It turns out that the office was not too dark, nor the lights too unstable. It turns out that the only problem I faced that day – and continue to face, alas – is that I’m old.

I tell you that story because it’s important that you know that I know that I’m up there in the age department, but I nevertheless feel that I have an important thing to say about contemporary music. I’ll cut, as we say in Hollywood, to the chase: DJs shouldn’t make so much money just for standing on a platform and clicking on a trackpad.

Look, I have no problem with the current crop of pop singers and hitmakers. I’ll even admit to having some boy bands on my Spotify playlists. Once, in a hotel bar in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, I was treated to about a dozen young men singing along with the video of the Backstreet Boys’ international smash hit, I Want It That Way, and was thoroughly entertained. On my iPhone you’ll find Beyoncé, Frank Ocean and a lot of contemporary music that’s probably age-inappropriate for me, but I’m old, not dead.

At least, not dead yet. I came pretty close, though, last week when I was in Las Vegas for a conference. We were gathered at the fun and elegant Wynn – one of Las Vegas’s most over-the-top and dazzling resorts. After a day’s worth of meetings, we all decided to visit one of the Wynn’s world-famous nightclubs, headlined by a superstar DJ, to unwind.

I am, as you might imagine, not really a nightclub kind of person. I’m the kind of person who walks around irritated and furious when all he needs is a cheap pair of reading glasses. When absolutely forced to dance, I’ll make a few bounces to the beat and maybe rock my head from side to side, but that’s about all of the boogie that’s in me.

If you’re a young person, you won’t need to read the next few sentences, but if you’re not, here’s what happens in a popular, up-to-the-minute nightclub: first, you wait in line. This is an important step, because it reinforces your subconscious feelings of inadequacy (“I’m not cool enough or young enough or attractive enough to be here ...”) and then lifts you up when you eventually are let inside.

The nightclubs at the Wynn are, I discovered, the most egalitarian of the bunch – we got in without waiting at all – but I did regret, as I surveyed the pretty young things in line with us, that I had eaten so many carbohydrates in the previous 30 years.

The next thing that happens after you are allowed inside is that your brain begins to rattle inside your skull and your chest begins to throb – symptoms of a heart attack or stroke – but in this instance due to the insane volume of the music, especially the bass. After a moment or two, though, this no longer seems like a problem because the flashing lights have anaesthetised whatever part of your brain is responsible for logical thought and someone drags you onto the dance floor and before you know it, you’ve forgotten the mini-stroke and are rocking your head from side to side, which in my book is called “dancing”.

At the front of the room there’s a guy – and it’s always a guy – in some kind of T-shirt working on his MacBook Pro. In another context, he’d be like any other scruffy person sitting alone in a million coffee shops pounding out a million unread novels and screenplays, but here he’s the king. This is the DJ, and he is paid an immense and disconcerting amount of money to play repetitive electronic dance music, but it looks an awful lot like wearing expensive headphones and playing with iTunes. There are no musical instruments or even musicians anywhere. It’s just a dude with a computer.

The important thing to grasp, here, is that DJs don’t play a musical instrument. They don’t lay down guitar licks or tickle the ivories. DJs don’t even sing. What they do, really, is type on a keyboard, at a workstation. And that, for some reason, is “cool”.

I type at a keyboard, at a workstation, too – I have yet to attract a crowd of young, fashionable people. Maybe I’m just wearing the wrong glasses.

Rob Long is a writer and producer in Los Angeles

On Twitter: @rcbl

Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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