Sweaty Teddy

For this maestro, the weddings go on forever and the receptions never change

Jill, the happy bride, is effusive about the night's music.

"Ted was awesome," Jill gushes. "He was very good. We had so much fun, we don't want to leave."

But they do, and as the clock drifts to the other side of midnight, one last worker waits to lock up the hall as Ted clears his equipment. On a table next to where he stacks his gear lie what looks like two soaked bar towels. They're actually Ted's tuxedo shirt and undershirt, dripping wet.

Jennifer Silverberg
Ted doesn't play "YMCA" at every wedding reception he DJs, but he comes prepared.
Jennifer Silverberg
Ted doesn't play "YMCA" at every wedding reception he DJs, but he comes prepared.

Ted has changed out of his tux and is loading speakers, lights and CDs into his 1986 Chevy Celebrity, which is parked outside a side door, across two handicap spaces in the empty parking lot. The only other car left on the lot belongs to the security guard, who is changing a flat tire about 50 yards away.

Ted is still taking care of business after his car is loaded. Kneeling on one knee and using his car's trunk as a table, he fills out paperwork and writes a thank-you note to Tim and Jill. He makes sure the check from the father of the bride is in his wallet. Years ago, a check written with a felt-tip pen was ruined when Ted put it in his pocket early in the evening. His perspiration soaked through, making the ink run and leaving the check illegible.

Tonight's check, for $545, is made out to Complete Music Inc., Ted's employer. On its Web site, Complete Music bills itself as the "nation's largest mobile disc jockey entertainment service," with franchises in 156 cities. Ted will get $100 to $120 for his work, including the pre-call and other prep work. He showed up at the hall around 5 p.m. He won't unload his gear until about 1 a.m.

If Ted owned his own equipment, if he booked his own gigs, all the money would he his. But that would mean buying and maintaining the audio arsenal and sweating such details as marketing and scheduling that he doesn't have to worry about now. If something had broken down during Jill and Tim's party, one phone call to a supervisor would have brought Ted new equipment.

"I'm not a salesman, I'm a product," Ted says, writing his thank-you note. "After eleven-and-a-half years of doing this, I'm doing it because it's fun."

Part of the upside for Ted is the traditional Saturday-night gathering back at Complete Music's offices, located in a converted ranch house on Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur. What used to be the garage holds wooden stalls where each DJ stores equipment. Every Saturday night, the DJs gather on the driveway to drink a few beers and swap war stories for an hour or so. It's clear that Ted loves the camaraderie, the wind-down from the rush of a performance.

The note to Tim and Jill makes references to topics the three discussed that night. A promptly dispatched note is one way to keep the customer satisfied -- and get referrals. Ted knows that the bride and groom are movie buffs, so in a postscript he reminds them to rent Ed Wood. He signs it "Cordially, Sweaty Teddy."

"Remember the trailer for that movie?" Ted asks, looking up from finishing the note. "It said, 'They had no money, they had no talent, they had no clue. But that didn't stop them.'"

The lines come out of Ted's mouth with no hint of self-awareness. He's laughing. He's talking about a movie about Ed Wood, a horrible director of horrible horror movies.

The unkind might say that the catchphrase also describes wedding-music maestros and the contrived conviviality they create each Saturday night.

To the unduly judgmental, these DJs may look as if they have no money, no talent, no clue. Kneeling next to his sixteen-year-old Celebrity, its paint peeling and its wheels missing two hubcaps, carrying a paycheck that will go mostly to his employer, Ted knows there isn't much money in this for him. That doesn't seem to bother him. It's a trade-off for the weekly buzz and the lack of hassles guaranteed by having somebody responsible for the business side of things.

Talent? "Talent" is a loose term. Ted knows his craft and pulls it off week after week.

Ted does have a clue. He knows what he's doing, he does it well and he enjoys his work. He can get people to dance. He can make them laugh, even if it's sometimes at him as much as it is with him. He provides a service, he's in demand and he hustles. He sweats for a reason.

And, outside of the groom, Ted has the best chance that night of making the bride happy.

For those who show up at one of his receptions and don't dance, don't have a good time, don't laugh -- well, maybe they should stay home on their couches and listen to Journey.

Hoo-ah, indeed.

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