One of the more intimidating responsibilities that many deal with as they get older is the prospect of one day having to host a family gathering in your home. Worse still is if you’re chosen to host your family’s annual holiday get-together. It’s up there with “paying off student loans” and “finding hair growing out of your ears” near the top of the list of things that suck about becoming an (gulp) “adult.”
Last year, my number was finally pulled and I was tasked with putting together our extended family’s holly, jolly Christmas dinner party.
I knew I could handle cleaning, decorating and making food (that’s what maid services, gay friends and caterers are for), but I was most freaked about what kind of music to play. See, my family’s “special,” and some of our biggest fist fights have been over music. No way was I choosing the playlist.
Out of dazed desperation, my sweaty fingers typed “holiday dinner DJ?” into Google and a Christmas miracle occurred.
As I was checking out page results, I clicked on a stray pop-up ad that had all my problems solved. Perhaps a malware-infested web advertisement from Jesus himself, the ad was for a company called Humbug X-Terminators, a full purpose DJ company that specializes in intimate family gatherings.
I reluctantly explained that my family was a little unusual (i.e. major alco- and rage-a-holics), then told them about last year’s unfortunate brawl, which ultimately led to 27 of my family members spending Christmas night in jail after a “disagreement” spilled out into the street.
The man on the phone let out a jolly laugh and told me, “Don’t worry. We hear that all the time.”
A DJ’s most important duty is to gauge the crowd and keep them happy by choosing the just-right song to play at that just-right moment. I was told by the DJ company that a truly great DJ doesn’t just spin records — if he or she is good enough, they can act almost like a Pied Piper. And, he assured me, the DJ I’d been assigned is one of their best — DJ Scrooge McRock.
Ultimately, my first grown-up holiday-dinner-hosting gig was a total success. Here are a few scenarios in which DJ McRock saved my Christmas last year, as well as the tracks he pulled to make it happen, in case you want to try it out for your own holiday get-together.
• As guests arrived, McRock played a lot of eerie, ambient Brian Eno music. I was tempted to fire him on the spot (Eno’s not “holiday” music!), but as he segued into several selections from Enya’s light, airy take on “Adeste Fideles” from her Sounds of the Season album, I began to appreciate what he was doing.
• About a half hour after the guests arrived, McRock quickly noticed that Grandpa was doing his “fall asleep, tilt head back, snore and drool with impunity,” and that usually doesn’t happen until immediately after dinner. Time to change the vibe. In an instant, “My First Christmas as a Women,” a 1996 chestnut by SoCal Punk Rock band The Vandals, came screaming out of the speakers. Gramps shot up in his seat so fast that his stream of spittle hit him right in the eye! Though the music was high-charged, the Enya/Vandals segue had turned my brood into a family of zombies. They sat silently as the words “Chop it off! Chop it off! Chop it off!/My penis, chop it off” rattled the foundation of the house.
• While most of the guests had been beaten into stunned submission, my mom was her usual hot holiday mess. After insisting on handling kitchen duties, she finally burst into hysterical tears when the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes were accidentally cooked to a dark “polished-mahogany brown” instead of the recommended “tan-dark brown.” Such a people-pleaser!
This scenario was so common that it was the first page in McRock’s playbook. I don’t know what kind of voodoo spell Simon Cowell mixed into the hunky Pop/Opera singing ensemble Il Divo when he created them, but every single mother on the planet loves Il Divo. Even if they’ve never heard of them. McRock gracefully slipped on the quartet’s swoony “O Holy Night” and it was like Mom had just taken her massive daily dose of anti-psychotic medication. She just smiled, slow and wide, and silently kicked her brother-in-law out of the giant comfy chair in front of the TV, where she sat quietly with a bottle of tequila the rest of the night.
• Dinner was over, so it was time for my bulimic sister-in-law to shine. She usually “gets the food out” before anyone else leaves the table, and then the rest of the evening is plagued by the powerful nagging of my aunts and the loud, hysterical refrain of “I’m fine!” repeated ad nauseum.
The DJ masterfully solved the crisis with a dash of cruel humor. The moment Soft Rock legend and bulimia poster-child Karen Carpenter’s voice — on The Carpenters’ “Christmas Song” (a.k.a. “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire Contain 450 calories and 38 grams of Fat Per Serving, In Case You Were Wondering”) — wafted from the speakers, sis grabbed her coat, flipped everyone off and stormed out. Mission accomplished.
• My cousin Kenny dropped out of college this year and also had a few run-ins with Johnny Law, but, according to his mom’s annual holiday letter, it was simply because he had a really bad case of chicken pox. But when he arrived — very late — looking skinnier than my sister-in-law and scratching his arms like he really did have chicken pox, we all knew our little Kenny was all grown up now. And a tweaker. Kenny came in like a madman, yelling something like, “Obama’s right behind me! Someone get my toaster oven!”
McRock again went to his area of expertise — what he calls “Emergency Guest Extraction” — and knew it was on him to get Kenny out. He did a really trippy mash-up using DJ Kudzu’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — an experimental sound collage that sounds like what they’d play for the holidays in a mental institution or to torture prisoners of war on Christmas morning — and Tenacious D’s “The Twelve Drugs of Christmas.” With an assist from my 4-year-old niece — who was telling Kenny “a story” about a sponge who can talk and works at an underwater fast food restaurant — Kenny grabbed his meth pipe and was out of the door in a flash.
• My family is awful at taking hints (such as “You guys really need to go now”). So, with the drinking pushing “alcohol-poisoning” levels, I was fearful I’d have a lot of overnight guests. Here, McRock really earned his $7.50-an-hour rate.
As the already noisy din of 30 or so very drunk relatives gradually grew to ear-splitting levels and we received our first visit from the police (actually, they had briefly stopped by earlier, but only because they hadn’t had any calls about us and were worried), it was time to wrap this thing up. I gave the DJ a nod and he blasted Eazy-E’s “Merry Muthaphukkin’ Christmas” at max volume.
As my guests rushed for their coats and a line formed out my front door, I got a little misty-eyed, relieved that the night was not ending with a mad scramble for bail money.
When the last guest was gone, I turned to give a giant hug to my savior, DJ Scrooge McRock. But he and his equipment had magically disappeared. Guess that’s why he wanted to be paid upfront.
(*Some names and facts in this story have been changed ... but all of the songs actually exist.)