Jonathan Toubin, Comeback Kid

Getting back to the business of making people dance

Yet Toubin is no mere snob. "What makes culture is inclusiveness and showing people that the world doesn't have to be what they see," he says. His regular Friday night at the Lower East Side bar Home Sweet Home demonstrates that inclusiveness. "You get a bunch of stragglers from the street. Those people are my favorite. I love it when people walk in like, 'I don't get it.' I don't consider regular people wrong at all.

"I can't tell you how many times my guests that were collector guys criticized the people for not dancing, saying they just don't know what anything is," he continues. "No. It's never their fault. Even if they don't really care for it, you should be the guy [who makes them say], 'I don't really like Thai food, but this restaurant's really good.'"

Toubin, who is 40, grew up a radical in conservative Houston, Texas. "I was putting on punk shows in high school for anti-nuclear causes in the hardcore era," he remembers. At 17, he moved to Austin—home of his beloved Butthole Surfers—to be with his dad. Toubin stayed there nine years, playing guitar and singing in bands like the Paranoids, and making friends with everyone in the scene.

He moved to New York in 1998. Williamsburg became home base, and he joined Grand Mal, who'd signed with Slash, then signed to a ritzy PolyGram distribution deal. "I was getting a check just to be in the band, on retainer," Toubin says. "All we had to do was go to England every now and then and play gigs."

By the mid '00s, Toubin had returned to grad school at CUNY, beginning his American history Ph.D. while living in the East Village. But after a breakup in 2005, he chucked his thesis, returned to Williamsburg, and began playing music (this time with art punks Cause for Applause) and promoting events again.

In 2006, Toubin released a Kid Congo Powers album, Solo Cholo, on his label New York Night Train, which would become Toubin's umbrella for promoting events and shows with a historically acute bent. Powers's record-release party, for instance, featured Ian Svenonius, MC Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, "Twin Peaks lady" Julee Cruise, Judah Bauer from Blues Explosion, and Stu Spasm from Lubricated Goat.

"Jonathan knows a lot of people from diverse scenes and understands what connects them and makes them all valuable," Svenonius wrote in an e-mail. "He has big ideas and a conceptual, artistic understanding of show throwing and event promoting."

At first, Toubin simply put together bills. "Every time King Khan or Black Lips or Jay Reatard came around, I'd do the after-parties," he says. "I had a big [mailing] list, so people frequently were getting in touch with me if they were coming to New York: 'We need someone to put on a last-minute show.' I could get 300 people the day of." He started playing records at the events simply because he could. Like a lot of rockers, he'd snickered at DJ culture for years. But he soon began to warm to it.

"Immediately, I realized that every place has a two turntables at the bar," he says. "I'd play some bar gig, and it would be a crappy night, but the people there that night, I'd see again next week. Not all of them, but the ones who related to it. Once people started offering me stuff, because of economic necessity, I played everything."

He soon got good at it. "I always quit things right when I was doing well. I told myself: 'Next time you show success at something, don't look back. Don't question. Just do it.' And it happened to be this weird DJ thing. It wasn't my life ambition, but ended up being something that I love. I remember a friend saying: 'Work on your band, your shoes, you love life. Don't make a big deal about this.'"

Toubin ignored him. "I learned it working at Kinko's," he says with a big smile. "I said, 'I'm going to be the best copy guy.' I had more fun doing a good job."

Early last December, Toubin went on a quick West Coast run with Soul Clap, his "bread and butter" night featuring a dance contest with a $100 prize. On December 4, he played San Francisco, followed by L.A. two days later. On December 7, Toubin flew up to Portland, which was to be the final stop before he went back to New York to play his usual local gigs. He checked into the Jupiter Hotel, an old motor inn that, not unlike Toubin's rock and soul 45s, had been remade into a boutique throwback.

He was still asleep at 11 a.m. when Radio Cab driver Terry Uding was wheeling into the Jupiter's parking lot. Suddenly, Uding fell into a diabetic seizure and lost control of the vehicle. The taxi ran through the side of the hotel—and into Toubin's room. The car ran him over; it took several people to remove it from atop him. Blood was everywhere. Bones were broken in his skull, his shoulders, his chest; his liver was punctured, and his lungs were crushed.

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