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After Freak Accident, Jonathan Toubin Gets Homecoming in New York

'I'm so thankful to be back,' says DJ, who was struck by a cab in his hotel room last year

Jonathan Toubin performs during his homecoming performance at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York.
Griffin Lotz for RollingStone.com
May 7, 2012 4:30 PM ET

It's an hour before doors open at his official welcome home party in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday night, and Jonathan Toubin – the popular DJ made suddenly famous by a freak accident in Portland last December – is still putting together the guest list. He's trying to compile ten different people's submissions and format them in Microsoft Word, all while tuning out the small posse of friends gathered in the green room of Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. (Literally, tune them out – Toubin has hearing aids in both ears now, so every sound comes in at the same volume.) Most of the names are listed by association, further complicating the process. ("What's Hannah's last name? You know, 'rock & roll Hannah!'" "I'll just call him 'Danny Splish-Splash.'") Never mind the hassle, though. Toubin would rather spend an hour on the guest list himself than risk having his supporters turned away at the door. "No one gets mad at you when you've been in the hospital," Toubin says with a wicked grin, before turning earnest: "I just don't want to inconvenience people who came all the way out."

Toubin has built a successful DJ career not only by being talented, but by being the nicest and most positive guy in the room. Another example: Toubin first realized he was deaf after the accident when he tried to call the promoter of his Portland show to apologize for missing it. While in town a gig last December, he was lying in bed in his hotel room when a taxi driver in diabetic shock smashed her cab through the window, pinning him against the wall. Initial reports were grim, but six months, two hearing aids and a few scars later, he's back in action, a feat that doctors had warned him was nearly impossible. As soon as he could, Toubin went back behind the booth to spin his trademark soul 45s: first in Portland, then at surprise sets at his regular haunts since late April, when he finally returned to New York. Countless benefits have been thrown in his honor over the last few months, including a Yeah Yeah Yeahs show also held at Brooklyn Bowl. But on Sunday night, Toubin wasn't just the honoree but the night's headliner.

After finalizing the guest list, Toubin excitedly rummages through a silver box of vintage singles. "The Rust Belt has the best record stores," he notes. "Cleveland, Toledo, Pittsburgh – Detroit is like a record mecca." Toubin specializes in obscure soul and R&B gems:"Real Wild Child" was later made famous by Iggy Pop, but in his trove is the original, recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets under the band name Ivan, with the drummer on lead vocals. "You can definitely recognize Buddy Holly on guitar," Toubin says. There's also Clint West's "Night Train" and an early single by Chuck Rio, famous for his hit "Tequila," called "Margarita." About half the records in here, I don't know," he says, flipping through the surprisingly small box. "If things are going well, I'll play things that are a challenge for me. If not, I'll play things I know." He pulls out the Contours' "Whole Lotta Woman," written by Smokey Robinson and released in 1961 by Motown. "This one's in case of emergency," he says.

There would be no emergency at this show. The packed house was warmed up by a swarm of Toubin's musician colleagues and friends, including the Andy Animal Family Band (fronted by the singer of Brooklyn mainstays the Stalkers), former Bad Seeds member Kid Congo, blues outfit Daddy Long Legs, Melissa Anne "the hula hoop queen," punk saxophonist James Chance, Gories guitarist Mick Collins and "Chick Habit" singer April March. By the time Toubin took control of the DJ booth after midnight, the floor was mobbed with dancers. It was the kind of party he'd been used to throwing five or six times a week until the accident, and he's eager for more. "I'm only working two nights a week now," he says, referring to his Friday night gigs at New York's Home Sweet Home and his touring Saturday night dance-off, Soul Clap. "I'm so thankful to be back in the city – the town, the culture, the people I know. But it's like my body hasn't caught up with my mind."

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