When Is It Time to Retire?

Einstein DJ

By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete DJ”

Well, once again I’ve survived another trip around the sun. Yes, it’s my birthday. This year it’s the big 5-8! Having started my DJ career in 1979, that means I’ve been entertaining for 36 years; over half of my life! And the fact that I’m just 2 years away from 60 isn’t lost on me. I’ve never been one to get introspective, somber and reflective on my birthday, but this year has been a bit tumultuous. Only a few days ago, a good friend of mine, who I just had a great time with at a summer picnic, passed away suddenly. She was much older than I, but she had been telling me how great she’d been feeling, and had been a bundle of energy on that day, the last time I saw her.

Last Saturday, I was excited by the prospect of being the DJ for another couple of friends. Much younger, they host some truly epic parties every summer. This year, however, the party got canceled. The father of one of them passed away unexpectedly. They were too stunned and saddened to party.

Too Close for Comfort

Naturally, no matter how great I might feel myself, it’s hard to ignore these up-close-and-personal events and wonder: how long should I keep going?

Genetically, I seem to have hit the lottery. I still have a thick head of hair, and while I’ve got a bit of grey, mostly in the beard, few people ever guess my true age. I’m still in decent shape, able to hump my gear, lift my speakers and otherwise get the job done physically. I’ve recently dropped nearly 100 lbs, and have kept it off, my waist size nearly back to what it had been in High School. All in all, health issues aren’t an obstacle. At least not yet.

I pay attention to new music and can mix as well as any of the younger DJs. I talk to people of all ages, watch all too much TV, take in the occasional movie, read a LOT, am a news junkie and don’t miss many pop culture references. So I haven’t become as out of touch as a lot of my contemporaries. At least not yet.

Not that there aren’t any problems! Age takes a toll, as does lifestyle. For instance, my hearing has taken a serious hit. As a pre-teen/teenager, I learned to play drums. I even did a stint with a bar band, back when I needed fake ID to play in them. I’ve always been into firearms, often “plinking” with my .22 in the woods with my friends. Back then, only “sissies” would worry about hearing protection! When I started my DJ career, I worked everything from roller rinks to nightclubs. And I played LOUD. As an intern at WRIF in Detroit, I got to see dozens of concerts, often right up front at center-stage. And THEY played LOUD. Needless to say, I’ve got measurable hearing loss and a decent case of tinnitus. I’m jealously guarding what hearing I’ve got left.

Every now and then, my back goes out, my feet hurt, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. But all of that said, I’m not only still able to perform, but still have the passion for it. I’m excited to try new mixes, learn new software, practice new skills and invent new routines. When people ask me what I’d do if I did retire, I tell them that I’m already doing what I love. I’d just be a whole lot more picky about WHO I would work for if I was retired and money wasn’t an issue, I say. So I still haven’t become incapable. At least not yet.

“Brides Don’t Want Grandpa…”

About this time last year, I wrote in this publication about a comment by a noted leader in the DJ industry who blindsided older DJs in a major bridal publication, saying that a bride “doesn’t want a DJ that reminds her of her grandpa regardless of how good he is.” When I wrote to him, saying his remarks were hurtful to older DJs who are already hard-pressed to find sufficient work due to the still poor economy, and how we have been seemingly been abandoned by a leader who should be an advocate, he chided me, saying “I stand by my comments,” and telling me that I should be coloring my hair, working out and “adapting.” In short, I can pay my dues, but don’t expect any respect. Or help.

The question, of course, is whether or not this is true. Back when DJs used to feature their gear on their websites, industry gurus let them in on the fact that most brides don’t really care about their gear. They simply want a great party. Perusing “The Knot,” I once saw a post from a bride complaining about a DJ who kept hitting on her bridesmaids. “Can’t a DJ be good and professional at the same time?” My bet is that she could care less how old the guy behind the decks is. In fact, unless you look like the Elephant Man, my bet is that this is a non-issue.

Who Decides?

In short, this issue is all about YOU. If you’re still capable, mentally and physically, and still have a passion for your work, then why bail out of the career you worked so hard to excel in? Why would anyone waste those years of experience and expertise? On the other hand, if you no longer have the “fire in the belly,” or simply cannot perform the job for whatever reason, then you may well decide that it’s time for a change. It’s your call. As it should be.

I say this having just witnessed my friend, a DJ in Michigan who calls himself Billy Dee, entertain some 300+ cruisers and guests at his weekly summer car cruise. Billy is much older than I am and recently had surgery on his knees. He’s bald, wears glasses and has a few extra pounds on him. And none of that matters. He’s passionate about his music and it shows. His audience loves him and he never fails to surprise and delight them. He’s the right guy at the right time at the right place. I suspects he’ll retire when he damned well wants to, if ever. Good for him!

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