Jonathan Toubin, Comeback Kid

Getting back to the business of making people dance

Toubin barely survived. He fell into a coma that lasted for a month. Several surgeries were required to fix his lungs. There was instant support from throughout Toubin's community. His previously booked DJ gigs were turned into benefit shows; proceeds from concerts featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Chain and the Gang and Eleanor Friedberger went to pay hospital bills. When Toubin regained consciousness, he was overwhelmed, both with the outpouring and by the fact that he couldn't jump back into work. "I really look forward to the day when people don't look at me and think 'accident,'" he told The New York Times in May. "I don't want everybody to see me like that."

He made an astonishingly swift recovery—the Times reported that his doctors had dubbed him "the miracle guy"—and in April, he began to make unannounced DJ appearances again, first in Portland and then, upon returning home, in New York. "I got a lot of high fives and weird handshakes I don't understand," he says of those first appearances. "People were really happy."

But Toubin wasn't. He'd lost a good deal of hearing, forcing him to wear two hearing aids, though he keeps his right ear free to EQ when he DJs. Losing step on a craft he'd spent years perfecting—as well as his chronic workaholism—sent him batty for a while.

Christopher Farber
Christopher Farber

"Every month for a while, I was making a quota of 100 new records in the repertoire," he explains. "I don't want people to get bored, and I don't want to get bored." After the accident, though, his confidence wavered: "The big frustration was going out and not being able to achieve the sort of command of the dancefloor that I had. Every week since I've been home has been me trying to get back where I was, and it's working. You get a good ride in life. You just keep doing it, and you keep learning, and keep getting better at that thing."

Toubin puts on another 45: Angie Hester's "The Bump Step," on ABC Records—an r&b disc from 1967, featuring the title chanted by a male vocal group and Hester whispering the names of dances over a vamp flavored with Middle Eastern colors seemingly borrowed from the I Dream of Jeannie theme. It shows its age, but in an alluring way.

"You hear that through a big sound system—if you're an interesting person, you'd probably go, 'What the heck just happened?'" says Toubin. "And that's what I want."

Jonathan Toubin hosts the 4Knots Music Festival After-Party at Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club on Saturday, July 14.

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