He couldn’t say what happened last night. “I have a decent selective memory,” he said. “My memory remembers things when my memory remembers to remember them.” Or even what he might play that night. “I never know what I’m going to do, and I still won’t know until after I’ve done it, and even then, I might not remember it. I’m going to play some of the records in this room.
“Music’s the gift that never stops giving,” he continued. “I turn somebody on to a song they’ve never heard before, and now that’s there for them. They know that that pushes the happy button for them. It’s like, okay, hi, life sucks. What makes me happy in this life that sucks? These little things, songs—it’s called music.”
Dinner was served and quickly devoured. Mike told Lily Cho that the grilled cheese was “so there.” She called him the greatest. I asked what it was like being around beautiful women every night. “It’s fucking horrible,” he said. “It’s miserable. Pity me.”
At 10:45, he began pulling records from the shelves. He didn’t know how many he might pick out: “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be ambiguous about answers, but I don’t know. There’s a great Ozzy song, ‘Don’t Ask Me, I Don’t Know.’ Because I don’t know!”
At 11:02, he entered the deejay booth. It was time to get ready, make sure his shit was together, find his flashlight, check the power supply, mixing board, wires. He has about 15 crates of records back there, tried and true stuff, safe bets—the less organized the better.
His first selection was the “Batman Theme” by The Ventures. He cleaned the next LP off. Put headphones on. Put the needle on the groove. Took the headphones off. The Stones’ “Undercover of the Night” was a perfect segue. “I do a very relaxed style of deejay, not as mix-intensive as a lot of the other folks out there,” he confided. “I try to do the best version of me possible, rather than a lousy version of other people. DJ Uncle Mike does the best version of DJ Uncle Mike that DJ Uncle Mike could possibly do.”
Better than anyone?
“No, somebody could probably do me a little better than me. But it’s not an exact science.”
Russell Simmons and his date left. It was just the two of us again. Soon, though, we had company. Mike watched as pockets of people began to coalesce. Two party-starters were starting to feel it after he played the Police, followed by the Brothers Johnson, Blancmange, more Stones, Billy Idol, Stevie Wonder, ABC, Earth, Wind & Fire, Spandau Ballet, B.T. Express and David Bowie.
By 1 a.m., things were getting crazy. People dancing on tables, grinding on one another, falling over. Mike calls this stage “drunk o’clock.” It can happen anytime. With help from Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Blondie, more Stones, Aerosmith, Grandmaster Flash, Steve Miller, Talking Heads, Cheap Trick, the Monkees, the Bangles and more Stones, DJ Uncle Mike made sure it stayed drunk o’clock until 4 a.m.
UNCLE MIKE’S SCHEDULE is “fluid,” so there is no “usually.” But around 6 a.m., he often returns to his doorman building on the Upper East Side, where he has lived alone more than half his life. One late afternoon, he gave me a tour of his one-bedroom “cave,” which is like a museum of Mike then and now. There are childhood toys (Star Wars figures, a race car set, a Gumby doll), an 8-track player (a bar mitzvah present), a CB radio, a full can of Billy beer, a giant empty bottle of Beefeater, four pairs of Puma suedes and a life-size poster of Bill Cosby. Lots of rock ’n’ roll stuff, too.
On the bookshelves: The Cat in the Hat, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish, Writing Television Sitcoms, No One Gets Out of Here Alive, Crazy From the Heat, Hammer of the Gods, and two copies each of Wiseguy and Please Kill Me. On the walls: show posters, gold records of bands he has worked with, and framed photos of Mike with Ozzy Osbourne, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Alice Cooper and Joey Ramone.
On his computer: 25,000 songs, a list of the 266 bands he has seen in concert (“that I can remember”), and more photos of him: with Ozzy and Joe Frazier, Dickey Betts, Charlie Daniels, Joe Strummer, members of AC/DC and Cheap Trick, the drummer from the Sex Pistols, Evel Knievel, Liza Minnelli, Pia Zadora, Morton Downey Jr., posing next to a bummed-out Tommy Chong at a High Times event, by a dead body on a stretcher outside CBGB’s, being choked for real by the lead singer of Venom (“dude, it hurt”), with guys from Slayer, Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies, Rage Against the Machine, Pia Zadora again, Ronald McDonald, and backstage at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in 1995 with Lemmy at the Motorhead singer’s 50th birthday.
Michael Schnapp was born late one night in Queens. He grew up in the Five Towns area, close to the airport, the city, the beach. “Nice area, nice family, nice house, nice friends,” he said. “Nothing too bizarre. No drama, didn’t get arrested, didn’t kill anybody. What can I say? We definitely had a good time. Definitely burned our hands on the flame of life a lot.” His father was in the perfume and garbage business, and before having kids, his mother had been a secretary at Look magazine. Mike was always a big, tall, kid, never skinny, popular but a loner.
Music was his first and only real passion. He remembers the first time he heard “Light My Fire” at age 7, the same year he went to his first concert: Roberta Flack. Before sending him to camp, his mother bought him a portable record player and a bunch of singles. He liked the ones by Elton John and Edgar Winter, and “Hocus Pocus” by the band Focus. “I also learned that records melt in the sun that summer,” he recalled. “The next thing you know, they’re like the Alps, up and down, up and down. Wow, can’t play that fucking thing no more! See ya!”