Saunders: The ruler of the turntable controls the sounds

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 20, 2014 

What? You mean all you have to do is ask?

All those unfinished meals, all those gulped drinks could’ve been finished leisurely had I merely asked the disc jockey to cease playing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”?

UNC student Liz Hawryluk didn’t leave anything unfinished when she heard a song she found offensive while at Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub in Chapel Hill earlier this month. At least, not on purpose. In some accounts, Hawryluk was asked to leave the DJ’s booth. That’s the pub’s account. Some of her supporters said she was escorted from the joint by bouncers.

The DJ, inexplicably, apparently played Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” one time too many for Hawryluk. “Inexplicably” because the song, a wan ripoff of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” is at least a year past its sell-by date.

Regardless of what one thinks of Hawryluk’s asking – or, depending upon whose account one reads, demanding – that the DJ stop playing a song which she felt promoted rape culture, you should admire the nerve it took to tell him she didn’t like his playlist. Most DJs I know consider themselves spin artists who are just as important as the music itself.

I’m just glad Liz wasn’t in my former stomping grounds in Raleigh, a club called 30 Plus – so named because everybody in there was supposed to be at least that old. The DJ, on this particular night several years ago, must’ve thought he was at a hip-hop convention and played music more suited to 15 and under. After being goaded by equally disaffected buddies, I sauntered over and, just as kindly as you please, asked if he had anything slow, like some vintage Luther, that he could play.

He didn’t take the suggestion well. Last December, while tracking Santa Claus, NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command – reported seeing the string of profanity he unleashed toward me around 1998 still floating in earth’s atmosphere.

Guess who has never, ever asked another DJ to play a request?

My call to Fitzgerald’s for some insight into the pub’s decision was not returned. In published comments, though, pub spokeswoman Lauren Shoaf apologized to Hawryluk and said employees are now more aware of things that could offend people.

Say what? Does that mean the pub will try to avoid playing music that offends anyone?

Good luck with that, and good luck with getting people to buy beer and wings while listening to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Music is essential to a business’s success, and several years ago, my own musical choice cost a restaurant on Chicago’s South Side a lot of business. When my friend Avis and I first entered The Soul Queen, we were the only two customers in the joint. With all-you-can-eat pig’s feet, potato salad, ribs and – get this, on the South Side of Chicago – delicious sweet tea, could the situation get any better?

I submit that it could – and did, because moments after entering I spotted in the corner an unattended jukebox that contained Z.Z. Hill’s “Cheatin’ in the Next Room.” I deposited $5 worth of quarters, hit K-7 20 times and sat back, prepared to enjoy Z.Z. and those pig trotters until I just couldn’t see straight.

Hog heaven, indeed – until about the 13th play. That’s when more customers started filing in and shooting me dirty looks, muttering and cursing under their breath, each time the needle dropped and the song began anew. Some left.

The owner, perhaps fearing a mutiny or a mass exodus, wisely unplugged the jukebox.

Didn’t matter, though: by that time, I was already full of Z.Z. and pig’s feet.

The lesson in Chapel Hill and in Chicago seems to be that, as one gets older, you learn certain things, things such as living in a free society means that other people are free to – EGADS! – listen to music you may detest or find offensive.

Especially if they get to the jukebox first.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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