The night I cleared Ringler’s Pub
There used to be a DJ acquaintance of mine who lived in Portland and went by the name of DJ Miranda. I first met him DJing one of the few parties at Nick and Mark’s on Haight St. that I didn’t DJ, five years back or so. We ended up doing a few parties there together after that point. Eventually DJ Miranda got a regular gig DJing at Ringler’s Pub every Saturday night. He had been doing the gig for quite some time, and when he needed to take a week off, he asked me to fill in for him. Having DJed several house parties with me he felt that he could trust me to play the ’80s and hip-hop party favorites that the crowd there subsisted on. However, he wanted to make absolutely sure that I was prepared to play exactly what the crowd there expected, so he even invited me over to his record den (quite impressive in size) to play for me the crowd’s favorites. I remember him singling out the Madonna
“Like a Virgin” 12″, Cindi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce,” Tupac’s “California Love,” and probably a Dr. Dre song off of the Chronic, among others. Miranda knew how fussy and particular his crowd was, and he wanted to make sure I would get it absolutely right. Having played for plenty of lowest common denominator crowds, I didn’t see myself as having any problem playing for the regular attendees at Ringler’s Pub.
The night of the gig Anjali accompanied me as a roadie, and I set up in the pub while it was still light. Since it was just a sitting crowd, and much older than I expected, plenty of white-haired attendees and stuff, I started out with an assorted downtempo set, mixing in Arabic instrumentals and Sidestepper, and other things as is my wont. I was being sensitive to the “mainstream,” “normal” makeup of the patrons, and wasn’t trying to do anything too aggressive or unusual. I knew I was going to have to go super-mainstream for the dancing portion of the evening, but since it was early and everyone was sitting I figured I had a little more leeway to play things a little off the beaten track. The crowd seemed like such a sit-down crowd, that it took me a while before I started playing more uptempo material. Everyone stayed far from the small dance floor, but at one point a young woman approached me to ask what I was playing when I put on Special Ed’s “I Got It Made.” Eventually I realized that enough time had passed that I had better go for broke in terms of getting people on the dance floor if it was ever going to happen.
I got a handful of girls and a few guys onto the floor when I started playing some more obvious dance songs. So many years have passed, I don’t know exactly what I played, but I imagine I played Cindi Lauper’s “She Bop,” Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance,” maybe some Missy? I remember playing primarily a girly set for the girls. The dancing probably lasted for a half hour or so, (Anjali claims it was an hour) with only a small group of dancers that Anjali noticed paired up into heterosexual couplings before all exiting the floor. Now, I was trying to get people to dance. I wasn’t trying to be perverse, avant-garde, or experimental. Yet I still sensed that the staff and the crowd at Ringler’s were not feeling what I was doing. At all. Despite my efforts. At one point I had to use the loo and Anjali played a song while I stepped out, a very fast, aggressive electro-bhangra song by RDB which was far more edgy and outside of the mainstream American norm from anything I had played all night. I was trying to blend in. Leave it to Anjali to play something really progressive and startling, despite the environment. I was afraid of pissing off the staff too much, and Anjali proved herself the true artist and obviously didn’t give a shit about kowtowing to the taste of the normals. More power to her.
Hours before I was to be done a seemingly frustrated bar manager explained to me that I needed to go upstairs to get paid. I didn’t see how he thought I was going to continue DJing and also go upstairs and get paid. As it was Anjali was with me, but she didn’t have any experience DJing mainstream schlock, and as my trip to the bathroom proved, she was hardly going to tone down her avant-garde tendencies for Ringler’s, so I was still committed to DJing, and finishing out my shift. If Anjali hadn’t been with me, I absolutely don’t know how I was supposed to get paid, because there was no way I would have left all my music and equipment in the middle of the pub. A while later the bar manager came up to me even more frustrated and annoyed with my check and the announcement that I was done, well before my shift was supposed to be over. Apparently he wanted me to stop what I was doing and get paid and leave, back when he first approached me, but I had no idea. I had the plug pulled on me. I looked around and realized that the few people left in the pub were essentially pressed against the walls at the farthest points away from my speakers, far at the other end of the establishment, and it wasn’t like I was playing that loud. Apparently even when I tried to play my most mainstream lowball set ever, I still managed to alienate this pub of normals. Allison from the Crystal Ballroom came down to apologize to me. As pissed as the bar manager appeared, no one had actually complained to my face at any point, but she must have feared the worst, because not only was she apologetic, but she said I was one of the best DJs in town. Not that I would hold her to that all these years later, though it was really sweet of her to try to make me feel better after what she surmised must have been a pretty brutal night.
After I shut down my sound, the bar staff began to immediately crank AC/DC or something very similar, much louder than my music had been, apparently to cleanse their palate of the awful unfamiliarity of my music. Believe me: I wasn’t trying to be weird, perverse, experimental, or anything. I was honestly trying to please the regular crowd, even if I wasn’t going to play exactly what Miranda had instructed. After all, I’ve played to lots of mainstream crowds at bars, weddings, birthdays, house parties, corporate parties, etc. I honestly believed I could do it my way (or my way of lowballing) and still come out on top. Although I told Miranda later that I knew it didn’t go too well, he never passed on any feedback or uttered a word about my performance. However you better believe that no matter how many vacations he took after that point, I was never asked to be his DJ replacement at Ringler’s Pub ever again.