I Don't Make My Jukebox Selections For The Recognition

T. Eric Mayhew

It's no secret that when it comes to rocking the jukebox, I'm the best. I've essentially revolutionized the practice by stringing together seemingly impossible songs, and I've done it for years. Of course, with skills like these comes a certain amount of renown. But no matter how much I continue to innovate and break new, unthought-of ground, I never seek the spotlight. I prefer to let the jukebox speak for itself.

Because for me, it's always been about the music, not who selects it.

Sometimes people need a hero to present them with a special gift—like when someone comes along and breathes new life into an otherwise sleepy bar by singling out Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues" rather than merely going with a standard like "I Walk the Line," and then follows it up with a totally unexpected switch to Britpop with the classic Squeeze track "Tempted." A move like that has knocked the socks off more bar-goers than I can count. But even when the miracle takes place, you don't see me going around nudging everybody on the shoulder and taking credit for it.


To do that would cheapen the moment for everyone.

Some people walk into a bar and saunter right up to the jukebox, making a big production of their selections, taking their time so everyone is sure to see them. Well, that's amateur-hour all the way and it's certainly not what motivates a master like me, someone who considers jukeboxing an art, and not a cheap plea for notoriety. When I'm up there, no one can predict what I'm about to punch in, but they can rest assured that, for the next 20 minutes to half an hour, the jams are going to keep coming like a fantastic hurricane dream.


Sure, I get my share of knowing glances—that brief eye contact from a stranger that silently says "Hey, way to pick 'em, bro." But I don't need people to personally thank me every time one of my carefully chosen songs blows their mind. I pour my heart and soul into it, but the sight of someone bobbing their head, biting their lip, is what makes it all worthwhile.

Doing what I do is not easy. It took years to hone my craft and reach such a level of facility with this complex instrument. Say I open up with something fast and loud like Motörhead. Anyone could ride that out with Diamond Head or Iron Maiden. But not me: I'll do a complete pivot and play Nancy Sinatra's haunting duet with Lee Hazlewood, the psychedelic-era oddity "Some Velvet Morning," just when everybody's least expecting it. Bam. (Few people know this, but that "obscure track" happens to be on her greatest hits record.) Slam.


And I'll keep you guessing. I'll play a '70s one-hit wonder like Sammy Johns' "Chevy Van" right after some blistering DC hardcore from Minor Threat. I'll lay down some early New Orleans funk from The Meters just after surprising you with Public Enemy's collaboration with Anthrax. I'll go from mid-period Willie Nelson to early Funkadelic, and then plunge right into "Jump Into the Fire" by Harry Nillson. You won't know what hit you. You'll be thinking, "Who's the badass that programmed this mix? I want to buy that guy a drink!"

But like I said, I'm not in it for the glory. Even after the long, unbearable wait for your songs to come on, it's still about more than hollow posturing. As soon as the wonderful cacophony begins, I'll be a shadow in the corner somewhere, silently air-guitaring with the knowledge that I just made your night.


I won't deny it can be tempting to let the cat out of the bag. I'm not made of stone. Hell, sometimes I even impress myself! When I transform an ordinary Tuesday afternoon into the climactic scene of a Vincent Gallo movie by busting out "Heart of the Sunrise," it's a real challenge not to let everybody know who just lit the night on fire.

But eight or nine times out of 10, I don't even say a word. I don't need your gratitude.


So the next time you're sitting alone in a bar somewhere and a madhouse mélange of strangely complementary jams comes on, you can look around, but you won't find me. I'll already be off to the next jukebox.

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