The hefty man behind the turntables fans himself with an LP as a dozen bare-armed young women angle for space on the tiny dance floor, each one trying to outdo the other. It's near midnight at Nacional, a lounge in Hollywood favored, at the moment, by the fair-weather club set. A well-accessorized crowd forms a line at the entrance, a sure sign that this is the place to be on an otherwise slow Wednesday night.
This, however, is one of the less glamorous gigs for DJ A.M., a 29-year-old Philadelphia native also known as Adam Michael Goldstein who, in the past two years, has become one of Hollywood's most essential party-makers. His resume reads like an A-list: the bar mitzvah of Steven Spielberg's son, Russell Crowe's dinner party, and the birthday parties of Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Tobey Maguire and Demi Moore, to name a few.
The industry's infatuation with Goldstein started after Melissa Etheridge booked him to spin at her 40th birthday party in May 2001. There, he made the stars dance and won a new, very influential following. "It was ridiculous how many people came up to me at that party and asked me for my card," he says, taking a swift drag from his cigarette, the glow revealing dark half-moons under his eyes.
Goldstein doesn't sleep much these days. He's on the road most nights, earning as much as $1,000 an hour. Last weekend started with a flight to Las Vegas for a private party on Friday, followed 24 hours later by a limo ride to San Diego for the W hotel opening on Saturday. He was back at his steady gig at Ivar in Hollywood Wednesday, followed by a Niketown party Thursday and a Golden Globes after-party tonight.
At Nacional, four young men -- each wearing expensive athletic shoes, cockeyed baseball hats and baggy denim -- bob and sway in unison to the deep bass of rapper Nas pounding out of Goldstein's speakers. One of them, Sugar Ray's DJ Homicide (a.k.a. Craig Bullock), tries to explain the essence of his friend's success. "It's his musical ear, his timing," he says. "He can play at everything from Demi Moore's party to an underground hip-hop crowd."
Goldstein has another barometer. "Screams," he says, with a subtle smile. "When I drop a new record and you hear screams, you know you got 'em." Behind him are four durable carrying cases, fresh from baggage claim, each packed with 100 records. Goldstein likes to mix up musical genres, depending on the crowd, interspersing Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" with a song from hip-hop artist 50 Cent to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" spun with a funky break beat. "I know every record that's here," he says, giving the stack an affectionate pat. "And I know where it is."
Goldstein's DJ days started back in Philly. He grew up in Center City, an ethnically mixed area, and became an earnest fan of hip-hop in the late 1980s. "My sister was a die-hard punk rocker," he says, "and I was in my room listening to Boogie Down Productions." When his parents bought him a boombox, he balanced it on the family television, recorded samples of commercials and sitcoms, and interspersed them with music. "The first thing I made was something that sounded like a porno. And it was 'Gumby.' ... I really truly think I was born to do this."
At age 14, after his parents divorced, Goldstein and his mother, a psychotherapist, moved to her hometown, Los Angeles. Goldstein acknowledges these traumatic years without regret. For him, the experience only served to deepen his sense of self and his fortitude. "It forced me to grow," he says.
In 1995, when he worked in the mailroom at Creative Artists, Goldstein was asked to DJ an after-hours party for some assistants on the vacant second floor of a rental car office on La Brea Avenue. The party was so successful that it became a regular scene, called the Boiler Room. "I had, like, 20 records then," he says. "So I said, 'Pay me in records.' " It was around this time that Goldstein chose a DJ moniker -- his childhood nickname, "A.M." for Adam Michael. "People used to say, 'You only DJ in the a.m.? What's up with that?"
He also DJ'ed in his then-best friend Seth Binzer's band Crazy Town, which hit in 2000 with the single "Butterfly." "We had that one annoying song," says Goldstein, dragging off his cigarette with contempt. He left the band after his friendship with Binzer disintegrated, got his own manager and started spinning records full time. "While I was on the road [with the band], I'd have Jim Carrey wanting to book me for his birthday party," he says.
Back at the turntable, DJ A.M. is laying down vinyl, winding it up to the next song. The dance floor is slick with spilled martinis, but the writhing young women are wearing platform shoes, oblivious. Even the shy people at the bar move to the beat. Goldstein flips another LP on the platter, and this time he sings along with rapper Special Ed as the vocals blast from the speakers: "I got it made!"