Eric looked around the cozy 7-feet by 7-feet booth. The white gypsum board walls behind and around him were covered by black squares of sound deadening foam. The overhead lighting was dimmed just enough to set a “chill” mood. In that moment—the calm before the storm—he was glad they’d decided to install the LED lighting bank recessed into the low ceiling. The air inside the new booth was still rich with the intermingled smells of newly-laid carpet and spray paint. Three feet in front of him, the neon green graffiti-tag painted along the bottom half-wall underneath the see-through Plexiglas window read, “Cut It ‘Till It Bleeds the Music”. Eric glanced out beyond the window and flashed a quick thumbs up, before settling his hand on top of the left deck’s 7-inch diameter steel platter of his Pioneer DJ controller. His right hand instinctively gravitated to the mixer’s crossfader and slid the smooth knob right. Eric clicked the crossfader—between thumb and middle finger—and simultaneously flicked his left wrist back and forth; two quick jabs. Underneath his hand, the platter skipped in time, filling his ears with the beautiful sound of chirp-scratch. He grinned and leaned toward the microphone setup left of the controller.
“I’m good here boys.”
“Alright E. We’re rolling.” Jerry’s voice resonated inside Eric’s oversized studio-headphones. “Take me back, bro. I need to feel it, not just hear it.”
“Word. Like ’89 summertime backyard Bar-B-Ques and Faygo red.”
Eric tapped the “Play” key, below the deck-2 platter. A 4/4 House Music beat instantly blared through the headphones, at 120 beats per minute. The bump was infectious.
My body may be middle-aged and slightly pudgy, he thought, but I still know how to two-step.
Eric glanced up at his Macbook Pro laptop perched on its stand above his DJ controller. He smiled at the camera image reflected back. Purple Adidas track suit; purple vintage Kangol hat flipped backwards; Gazelle-sunglasses—all bobbing to the beat. He looked down at the left white shell-toe of his classic Adidas, tapping in sync with the music. His kids hated his apparel, but his wife loved it. She said his style reminded her of their high-school days. To some, he might have stepped right out of a 1980s time-warp. But to brother-E, a nickname his brothers had dubbed him two decades ago, tonight he was simply the DJ.
On the opposite side of the Plexiglas window, the new Engineer studio was on full jam as the two soundboard operators and six spectators swayed with the beat. The music pumped crystal clear through dual 15-inch diameter Mackie-brand studio loudspeakers setup on the carpeted floor; each on either side of a brand new 32-channel Behringer studio-mixer, permanently fastened to a smooth cherrywood table pushed against the opposite side of the DJ-booth’s Plexiglas half-wall. Sound deadening foam attached to the white-walls and ceiling of the 7-feet by 12-feet Engineer studio left no echo; just crisp music thumping in the currently cramped space.
The side door next to Jerry—Eric’s twin brother and lead sound engineer—suddenly flung open. Marcus stepped over the threshold of the packed Engineer room, bobbing and dancing. Despite his thinning hairline and salt-n-pepper goatee, he moved with youthful fluidity.
“Shut the door lil brother,” Jerry yelled over the loud music.
“Dang!” Marcus squealed. “That’s ‘Blow Your House Down—A Guy Named Gerald.’ Ain’t heard this one in a minute, bro. Eric really opened up with a classic banger. He’s not messin’ around tonight. Goin’ straight for the jugular!”
Zeek, a young protégé engineer-in-training seated to Jerry’s right, looked up from the studio-mixer’s volume-knobs and pushed his horn-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose, through his unkempt dreadlocks. He glanced left and slapped his dad—Marcus—a high-five behind uncle Jerry’s nodding head.
“Pop’s,” Zeek yelled, “what’s the name of this old-school joint, again?”
Jerry and Marcus exchanged agitated looks, before the brothers set their stone gazes on Zeek.
“Boy,” Jerry yelled, “get your scrawny lil’ butt out of my new seat—”
“In fact,” Marcus shifted a thumb toward the door, “get out of this studio. How you gonna become a sound engineer when you don’t even know the music? Beat it, and take all six of your young Thundercat friends with you!”
“Out.” Marcus yelled. “Tell your momma I’m gonna be home late. Me and your uncles got work to do.”
“Nephew,” Jerry said, “you’ve got to be a student of the music first, before you sit down and start pushing buttons.” He smacked the teenaged boy across the butt, as Zeek walked out behind his entourage.
“Yes sir, uncle Jerry.”
As the side door slammed shut, the music dimmed. Eric’s low voice rumbled through the studio speakers.
“Yo, where’d the kids go? I need them to test out the music. That’s my target audience, right there.”
Jerry punched a blinking button on the mixer. “No. You don’t. You’ve got your brothers.”
“Heh, the three musketeers,” Marcus laughed, “back in the saddles!”
“Three musketeers, back in the saddles,” Eric said, looking at his two brothers behind the window. “Bar-B-Ques and Faygo red?”
“Bar-B-Ques—” Jerry started.
“And Faygo red, big brothers!” Marcus yelled.
“Word. Marc, we’re gonna do it like we used to, back then.” Eric punched the play button on deck-2. The music slowly ground to a halt.
“What’ve you got in mind?” Jerry asked, over the studio PA system.
Inside the DJ booth, Eric’s fingers worked feverishly over the laptop’s touch pad. Scrolling. Sifting. Searching, until he found it. Marcus’ all-time favorite song.
“Let’s get this throwback session going, boys,” Eric said into the booth’s microphone. “We ready to record?”
“No dry run, bro?” Marcus asked; Jerry still holding down the PA button.
“Nah, we’re good. ‘Blow Your House Down’ was the dry run.”
“Alright, E,” Jerry announced. “I’m gonna say it again: Take me back, bro. I need to feel it, not just hear it.” Jerry turned toward Marcus. “Rollin’ lil brother?”
“Sound’s recording’. Once you start the feed, we’re good to go. Drop it when you’re ready, E.”
Jerry released the PA button and spun his black leather swivel chair toward a Microsoft ergo keyboard sitting next to the studio mixer. As he typed, a 24-inch flat-screen monitor mounted to the wall, just left of the Plexiglas window, flashed to life displaying a Windows wallpaper logo—cartooned, purple-themed graffiti—of DJ Brother-E standing beside a vintage boombox. Jerry tapped the “Enter” key. The screen suddenly displayed two live video feeds; one beside the other. The left feed showed a Facebook-Live video of the adjoining DJ booth; its camera lens seemingly trained on the entire little room, from a ceiling corner, over the laptop and DJ table. The right feed was a close-up video of Eric—the laptop camera—wringing his hands together; eager to get started. Jerry typed.
“Going live in 3, 2, 1…” he said. He wheeled the chair over to the mixer, and depressed the blinking PA button again.
“We’re live, E. Bring it.” Jerry released the button, and punched Marcus in the left shoulder.
Inside the DJ booth, Eric nodded at the tiny Go-Pro camera mounted in the right corner of the low ceiling, then tapped a button labeled “Sample 1” on the DJ controller. Instantly, his headphones lit up with a voice over tag he’d used for every DJ set ever recorded over the last 20 years.
“Brother-E is on the Beat!”
Eric leaned into the microphone. “Yeah, yeah, yeah party people! You know what it is, and you know who it is. It’s ya man, brother-E, comin’ to you live and direct from the new headquarters. That’s right, after months of renovating, and bouncing between satellite locations, I’ve finally landed in my new home studio. This maiden voyage episode of ‘Brother-E on the Beat’ is executively produced by Jerry Smith, mixed by Marcus Smith, with yours truly manning the ones-n-twos. You know how we do it. House Music is life; one hour strong to get your dance, jog, or workout on! Tonight, I’m takin’ y’all back on a lil journey through the old school, strictly for my Generation-X family. Nothing but them classics, yo! In fact, we’re gonna kick this thing off with an eternal anthem. This is the ‘Jungle Brothers—I’ll House You.’ Let’s go to work people! Brother-E is on the beat!”
Eric tapped the “Play” key under the deck-2 platter, and glanced up through the window to see Marcus pump two fists in the air. Jerry pointed back at Eric through the window. His toothy grin was all the confirmation Eric needed; signifying tonight’s session would be epic.
Inside the Engineer room, “♪ Girl I’ll house You; girl I’ll house you; girl I’ll house you; you in my hut now… ♪” blared through the loudspeakers. The highs, crisp; the mids, sharp; the lows explosive. Marcus’ teeth seemed to rattle in his skull. He loved every moment of it, allowing the music to awaken memories of family parties in the backyard of Ma and Pop’s old house; his brothers manning the turntables and old mixer, while he handed over vinyl records when needed.
The bassline kicked so hard, Eric could feel the vibrations emanating from the Engineer studio rumble through the DJ-booth floor; in perfect time with the music blaring through his headphones. As he bobbed with the beat, knobs on the controller were adjusted, buttons were pushed and level-meters jumped between green and orange hues with each beat-kick. Eric looked into the laptop camera and pointed at the lens, then back to himself before spreading his arms wide, while bouncing to the beat; playing to his live-stream audience. A tally app in the top left corner of the screen displayed 3,021 and climbing already. Thirty seconds into the set, his faithful audience was savoring the music. It was a good start. Three minutes into the first track, his virtual audience had doubled.
In the Engineer studio, Jerry punched the PA button. The music blasting through the loudspeakers momentarily died, as he spoke.
“E, I’m gonna need some of that Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, bro. The requests are rollin’ in already.”
Jerry released the button and the music roared through the loudspeakers again. He spun toward the flat-screen monitor. The Facebook-Live feed still streamed live video of Eric commanding the DJ controller and dancing. Below the image, a steady stream of viewer comments scrolled upscreen. He saw Eric flash a thumbs up toward the Plexiglas window, before hunkering close to the laptop. On the close-up feed, Jerry watched as Eric’s fingers flew across the touchpad. The live-recording elapsed time stamp read 3:24-minutes. Jerry knew his brother would transition into the next song within 20 seconds. He glanced at Marcus bobbing in the next seat. Their younger brother had always been Eric’s number one fan since the beginning.
“He hasn’t lost a step in 20 years, has he Marc?” Jerry yelled over the music.
Marcus looked at Jerry. “What?!” he yelled.
Jerry leaned closer to Marcus. “I said, he hasn’t lost a step in 20 years!”
“Oh! Naw, he hasn’t! You know in 20 years, all three of us will be deaf, by the time you guys are 65 and I’m 62, right?” Marcus leaned closer and punched Jerry in the right shoulder.
Jerry nodded and fist-bumped his little brother, before turning back to the board. Over the loudspeakers, a beat juggle scratched over the music and then his favorite track blended in seamlessly. Jerry closed his eyes, smiled wide and felt the music transport his heart back to a time when they were simply the three Smith brothers, with no cares in the world; just the music between them.
Eric was in the zone. The Jungle Brothers track was midway through its pace and he was setting up to transition into “Royal House—Can You Party”. Suddenly, Jerry’s voice interrupted the groove blaring through his headphones.
“E, I’m gonna need some of that Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, bro. The requests are rollin’ in already.”
Eric glanced through the Plexiglas window to flash a thumbs up at Jerry, who was already staring at the studio’s flat-screen monitor. That impromptu request would alter his set a little, but not much. He knew his twin brother’s favorite track and simply needed to drop it into the set, as his second track for the night. Eric’s fingers navigated the laptop touchpad flawlessly. He methodically scrolled through Serato DJ digital crates until he found the prize: “Jack Your Body” by Steve “Silk” Hurley. He dropped the track into deck-1and thumbed the pitch knob, raising its tempo to 120 beats per minute. As the main track continued to dominate his ears, Eric closed his eyes and pushed the deck-1 “Cue” button then began to manipulate the deck-1 platter using the tips of his middle and ring-fingers. His left ear registered the new track, while his right ear registered the original track now entering the bridge of the song. He played with the two songs until the beats were precisely where he wanted them. Eric opened his eyes and punched the “Cue” button again, then set his right middle-finger and thumb on the cross-fader held wide open, right. The original track blared through both ears. He looked up through the window and saw his brothers immersed in conversation. While holding the deck-1 platter in place, Eric punched the deck-1 “Play” button, then returned his right hand to the cross-fader. He clicked the cross-fader and simultaneously wrist-flicked the left platter. The new track beat-juggled in perfect time with the Jungle Brothers track—two half beats; two quarter beats—and then…
“JACK! Jack; jack; jack, jack, jack…” echoed over the original track.
Eric slid the cross-fader left toward the mixer’s middle position and let the dual beats of both tracks ride together in perfect sync. He slowly spun the deck-2 Bass equalizer knob counter-clockwise, and lowered the deck-2 volume effectively fading out the first song. Onscreen, the tally app suddenly exploded from 6, 567 viewers to 8, 982 with the new track blended. DJ Brother-E’s throwback set was shaping up to be one for the books, and his fans loved every minute of his set. For 56 minutes straight, he took his audience back in time on a musical journey. As he DJed, Eric remembered a time when he and his brothers cared for nothing but the music. It wasn’t even about the crowds, the fans nor the prestige tied to their skills. It was only about their love for the music. For the moment, that time was once again…right now.
~ END ~
For my man…Bro. E
Remember the movie, “Larry Crowne” starring Tom Hanks as a middle-aged college student? It’s one of my favorite contemporary films. I love the fact that Larry made the decision (at his age) to start over. Forget the house, the mortgage and the SUV. Larry trimmed the fat and started a whole new life as a student of higher learning. Sure, he didn’t really have much of a choice, but he made the most of his situation and circumstances.
Believe it or not, Larry Crowne was a deciding factor in my choice to return to college. That’s right; I’ve decided to make it public. In the fall of 2018, I have officially returned to go after my elusive degree in Construction Management. Wanna know what’s funny about the return? My core classes were all closed, so I decided to complete a course that would fulfill my ART requirement. I enrolled in Creative Writing 201. For the first time in my life, I’m learning writing skills in a class setting! How cool is that?!
Like Larry, I am the old guy in class. It was a bit intimidating to be surrounded by so many young and hip undergraduate students, on day one. I honestly doubted whether or not I actually possess the writing skills and talent to be able to keep up with the younger generation of future professional Wordsmiths. I sat in the back of the class at a lone table and simply listened to the their interactions with our vibrant and passionate young professor, Mr. Jesse Eagle. While some students are more vocal and eager to participate than others, I slowly settled into my newfound roll of creative writing student.
Here comes my public announcement segment. You’re never too old to restart, or continue. Did you start a task early in life and somewhere along the journey, you lost focus? Find that focus again. Reignite the fire, and get back into the saddle. Finish what you started.
I spoke with a thunder cat today–millennial for you old people–who told me a story of how he’d decided to give up on a pursuit because it proved to be “just too hard to accomplish”. I tried to talk him into giving his dream one more chance, citing his youthful age, the technological wonders of today’s culture and the promise of a fulfilled future once his dream was realized. After all, at 22 years old, adulting was surely just beginning.
Nope. He wasn’t buying my particular brand of encouragement. Maybe I should have packaged it in skinny jeans and served it over a trap beat. At least then he might have given it a serious listen. I left the young man, discouraged at his lack of self confidence, his apathetic attitude and (most of all) his lack of stamina.
I remember my grandfather telling me, he fought hard for civil rights so that one day his grandchildren and great grandchildren would have the equal freedom to pursue whatever they desired. He said we’d have to work hard for the goal, but the opportunity would be there for the taking. All we would need is focus and sheer will.
Sheer will’s got me up at 12:13AM tapping away at my computer. Sheer will keeps me glued to my piano and drum machines on a regular basis. Sheer will keeps me grinding on the job, making it possible to complete every task I’m assigned. It’s an unstoppable tenacity, that keeps the feet moving forward.
Funny side note: today I pulled up on my job, hopped out of the truck and was greeted by Jerry–the site foreman.
“There he is,” Jerry says, to no one in particular. “I need to shake your hand.”
Jerry starts walking my way, pulling a worn leather glove from his arthritic right hand. We meet with genuine smiles and as strong a handshake as the old man can muster.
“What’d I do,” I ask.
“That’s just it. I can’t explain it. I knew there was something about you, from the first moment I met you on Tuesday. In all of my years working projects for *AJAX Company, I’ve never seen a problem get resolved as fast as you getting involved. I mean never! You’ve got something special, son. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there. I see it.”
I smile and say, “It’s Jesus, Jerry. All honor is given to Him. I can’t do anything without Him.”
Jerry’s face went blank for a split second, before he flashed an embarrassed smile. “Well, I don’t know much about that…but you’ve got something!”
Sheer will, says “Go another route, but make it to the destination”. When you’re ready to give up, sheer will says, “Try one more time”. It pushes you further, when you have nothing left.
Why do I continue to do what I do? Simple. I don’t know how to stop. Even when I want to quit, I can’t turn it off.
Finish that book you started.
Go back to school and finish.
Complete the song you started writing some time ago.
Try one more time to learn that new skill.
Fight against that cancer until you have nothing left to fight with. I believe in you.
Whatever it is, don’t give up.
* AJAX Company is, in fact, a fictional name to protect the identity of the actual company *
* Just…listen *
It’s a funny thing, living as a creative. It’s like a double-edged sword at times. On the one hand, I’m constantly dreaming. Ideas on top of ideas seem to stack up so fast I can barely get them written down or recorded. On the other hand, I’m constantly dreaming. Sometimes, the realities of ever-day life make it hard to nurture ideas. I have to constantly choose the battle: chase the dream or focus on reality. I spend a lot of late nights at a computer, when I should probably being sleeping in preparation for the next day’s professional demands. But somehow, I manage to cater to both lives.
Just once, I’d like to see what it’s like to devote every ounce of myself toward something I love, and to see that effort benefit my family. Just once.
I took a small break from writing, to put some new music out on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube. Deep House music has always held a special place in my heart since I was a kid. Back then, it was just called HOUSE. Now, the culture’s grown so big, there are different genres and sub-genres of the music. One can hardly keep up. All I know is, I know my genre when I hear it. King David danced all the way back into the city when he returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. That brings me comfort, because I still love to dance…even if it is in private…or in the front row of my church, on Sunday morning. So I figured God would be okay with me praising Him in my own way.
I wrote a song to you, Lord. I hope you like it. I hope it makes you dance up there. I can’t wait to party with you, Jesus.
I’m not much of a sports fanatic. Occasionally, I’ll watch a basketball game (haven’t been interested in my Pistons since the 2004 squad disbanded); maybe even a football game (my Lions–nevermind). The second half is usually the turning point for a lot of teams who find themselves falling behind. It’s the time to refocus on the mission; to rally the individual players into a single unit, with the singular purpose of winning the game.
If we look at life as the ultimate game, then why shouldn’t we treat the second half the same way? Six months after my 45th birthday, I’m really looking back on the first half of my life, and taking stock of where I am. I’m also regrouping to plan on the second half.
For discussion purposes, we’re going to assume that I’ll live to be 90 years old. If I live longer than that…we’ll say I was granted that “1UP” life. You gamers know what I’m talking about. Anyway, I digress.
Did you know that many people deal with bouts of depression right around age 45? Of course you did. That’s where the term “Midlife Crisis” comes into play. Instead of replaying self-appointed shortcomings and failures in my personal game, I’d like to look at the lessons learned and accomplishments achieved. Successes and failures in life really boil down to perspective. It’s all in the way you look at things, that determine your attitude.
In my first half, I saw my wife and kids grow; wrote and published a book; wrote, produced and published music; and (most importantly) gained a relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, I found myself running life’s hamster wheel for more years than I care to count. Because of that, there are regrets of experiences I wish I could have given my family. But, I’m a firm believer in Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I have been called, according to his purpose. I have faith in that knowledge, so I know that the good and bad plays of my first half will only strengthen my gameplay in the second half. Someone might ask, “Enn, how do you plan to play your second half? What are you going to do different than the first two quarters of the game? Some might think your play pattern is set.” Well, that’s a great question.
If I take up the mantle of “coach” for a second, let’s pretend we’re in the locker room regrouping. My personal talents, attributes and dreams represent my offense, defense and special-teams factions of the squad. These are some things I might say to my team.
Gel, execute, defend. These are the tactics for my second half. Maybe you’re in a season of life when you’re looking backward instead of moving forward. Maybe midlife has you questioning where you go from here. Maybe you just need to take a breather and refocus, friend. It’s never too late to refocus your efforts, or repurpose your God-given gifts. Make your second half count.
Romans 3:23 (NIV) – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
Do you know how much pressure we impose on ourselves by trying to live a life of perfection? Oh c’mon. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, you uber Christian, you. Everyday, we struggle against the earthly desires we crave, while trying to uphold our Christian duties. Duties; as in works. You’re not convinced you’re one of them? Fine. Let me give some examples of what we tend to do. Check out my fancy-shmancy color coding:
“Christians should really stay away from ‘Harry Potter’ movies, because they promote demon worship and witchcraft. We can finish this conversation later, after I return from watching “Solo”.
Yep: an actual statement made by one of God’s children. Here’s another one.
“You let your kid listen to that ‘Kendrick Lamar’ crap? My kid only listens to ‘Bizzle’ and ‘Sevin’. Yeah, they drop ‘Nigga’ in their lyrics too, but they’re promoting Jesus by speaking the language of their folks.”
Yes, actual statement. I really can’t make this stuff up. Here’s one more for you.
“I give to the needy every chance I get. We have to give to the less fortunate. It’s in the bible, you know.”
“What about that homeless guy we saw Downtown?”
“Oh, he probably just wanted money for drugs or something.”
That was an actual conversation.
Sometimes I think we try too hard to adhere to rituals and rules, and forget that at the end of the day we’re all just people prone to fall short of God’s standard. In our quest to be perfect, we often come off as judgemental and hypocritical. If that’s the way we present ourselves in front of unbelievers, why would they want to follow us?
I tend to get caught up in ritual practices, too. Sometimes, I cross the line between following the Lord and I going off the deep end, in my own quest to earn His favor. I reason to myself, “This is what God wants me to do, so I’ll do it and prove myself perfect in His eyes.” Now, no one is going to admit that’s what we do, but it’s the truth of who we are. We try to live super Holy lives despite partaking in straight-up pagan and carnal activities.
Did you NOT know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th? Did you also NOT know that the December 25th celebration was originally a pagan feast, we Christians adopted? We need to cut out all the Pharisee acts, and just live life to the best of our abilities. Celebrate the birth of our Lord, absolutely. But don’t judge the family that doesn’t celebrate Christmas as being sacrilegious! That’s their choice. Let God sort that out, in His timing.
Let me say this: God knows our hearts and He knows our flaws. It was because of His love for us, despite our failed nature, that He sent the only one of perfection–that’s His son, Jesus–to die sacrificially for our sins. We can’t earn Salvation through any acts of super Christianity. Salvation is a free gift of God, through faith in His son Jesus Christ.
I am a God fearing, flawed man. Everyday–every single day–I mess up one of God’s Old Testament laws. There is no way I could ever live up to any of them. That’s why I love Jesus. He knew me before I was born. He knew what kind of a failure Christian I would become. In that knowledge, He still said, “Father, I’ll go down and take one for the team. Ennis is going to be out there someday. I need to do this for him.”
In His perfection, Jesus chose to become a living sacrifice so that I personally would be set free to live my life for Him, complete with my everyday failures. I could never repay Him for that! I can’t mimic His perfection!
I see Christians get mad over Donald Trump tweets. I see Christians hate on each other, over clothing. I see Christians judging other Christians who show love to Muslims. I see Christians judging others over music, food, even the type of car one drives.
I think (and this is just my opinion) we ought to get on with the business of focusing on our own personal relationships with Jesus, as opposed to following rituals and judging others who may not live up to our standards. That’s why I like Romans 3:23. It reminds me that we all fall short of God’s Holy standards. Who am I to judge someone else, as I’m enjoying Sevin lyrics,on my way to watch a Star Wars flick and eat cheese Ballpark Franks with my gay cousin. Did I mention I was wearing my anti-Trump T-Shirt to the movie theater?
You hate me right now, don’t you uber Christian conservative?
Jesus loves you.