Jonathan Toubin Talks for the First Time About His Freak Accident - Rolling Stone
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Jonathan Toubin Talks for the First Time About His Freak Accident

The DJ was hit by a cab that crashed into his hotel room while he was sleeping

One Wednesday evening in December, Jonathan Toubin, a DJ known for his “maximum rock and soul” 45rpm sets, was taking it easy at the Jupiter Hotel in Portland. He was in town for a local gig the following night to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the I’ve Got A Hole in My Soul 45 rpm dance party. After a heavy week playing his records in New York, Miami, L.A. and San Francisco, he’d booked a night off at this Portland motor-inn-turned-boutique-hotel. It was his first night staying in for a long time.DJ Jonathan Toubin at the 2011 Bruise Cruise Festival.

Matt Weingarden – a.k.a. Mr. Fine Wine – was also in town for the gig and the two planned to go record shopping together the next day. But when Weingarden took a cab to the Jupiter on Thursday morning to check into his own room, he was met with a scary sight: “I found a crime-scene investigation going on, with cops and yellow tape everywhere,” he says. “No one would tell me what was up, I so checked in and waited for Jonathan to call back. It was only hours later, when I got a panicky call from the promoter, that I realized that the ‘crime scene’ I’d seen was the aftermath of this horrible accident that had befallen my buddy.”

The accident was one-in-a-billion. Just before 11:00 that morning, a cab driver had what appeared to be a diabetic seizure, and her taxi crashed through the side of the hotel, directly into Toubin’s room. One moment he was lying in bed, the next he was pinned beneath the front of a cab. Four men lifted the rear tires over the remains of the outer wall, and a hotel worker slowly backed the car off of Toubin’s body. The sheets were bloody – veteran police officers and medics on the scene said it didn’t look good. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where a team of trauma specialists went to work.

As Toubin lay sedated in the hospital, doctors worked to repair the fractures in his skull base, pelvis, collarbones, ribs, sternum, as well as a host of internal injuries including a punctured liver and crushed lungs.

Up until then, things were going well for Toubin; working through his New York Night Train production company, he had a full spring ahead of him. There was the Bruise Cruise, a “three-day tropical rock ’n’ roll vacation” from Miami to Nassau, set for mid-February. From there he’d fly to Europe for a month-long tour, then return to his native Austin just in time for South by Southwest. For the second year in a row, the festival had given him a whole night to officially showcase his Soul Clap and Dance Off party and dance contest – a rare honor for any DJ. He’d spent the last few years building a community of like-minded DJs and a fan base for them across the country.

In the weeks following his accident, it would be the help and support of this community, in part, that saved him. Benefit concerts and parties were set up in nearly every major city in the country. In his adopted home of New York, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs even played a concert in his honor. The international press picked up the story of the DJ/promoter’s freak accident and the unprecedented fervor of his friends and fans trying to give any support they could. For the rest of the month, it seemed the only person who didn’t know what happened to Toubin was Toubin himself.

But the outpouring of love made a difference. The operations were successful, and around January 8th, a month after the accident, Toubin regained consciousness. So far, his recovery has gone well, beyond anyone’s expectations. On January 14th, his father notified the world via Facebook that Toubin was three months ahead of where the doctors had expected. Nonetheless, Toubin is being rightfully cautious and taking his recovery slowly, despite his strong desire to get back home to New York. In his first interview since the accident, Toubin spoke to from his extended-stay residence in Portland.

RS: So the night before the accident, you stayed in and went to bed. What happened next?

JT: I woke up a month later. There were some friends and family there, and I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t even know what year if was. Everyone had to explain it to me, and it was kind of unbelievable. I was really horrified at first – the thing is that when they woke me up, they weren’t sure how long I was gonna be there and didn’t know how normal I was gonna be. Turns out things are gonna be a lot better than they thought, so that’s good. But the first thing that happened when I woke up in the hospital was like, I gotta get out of this place. They showed me some of the news articles and, wow. Some were depressing, but there have been a couple about what people have been doing for me, which really, I’m just bowled over that anyone went to any trouble.

Of course they did!

Well I was really lucky. I was unlucky to be hit by a cab in my hotel room, but I was lucky to be in a place where they have one of the best trauma teams in the country. So they were ready for me, and then they had all the specialists fixing different parts at the same time when I came in.  Oh yeah, and those guys were nice enough to flip that car off of me. [Laughs]

That was nice of them.

It’s pretty amazing. I mean they lifted a car, which is no easy feat.

What are some of the lingering effects of the accident?

I’m in the process of getting my hands working again as the lacerated tendons and resulting scar tissue prevent them from functioning properly. I’m also going to physical therapy as my pelvic fractures have caused complications in my walking and a lot of my bones (and their replacements) have made it difficult to move my arms and shoulders normally. Doctors assure me that with hard work and patience I will take care of all of these issues and be functional and able to return to NYC and work in a few months – and hopefully be fully recovered by the end of the year. I completely lost hearing in one ear and some of the other so I’ll also now need to go through life with a hearing aid. While every now and then there may be complications in my future due to all of the broken bones and damaged organs, I am lucky that, after an accident of that magnitude, not only did I survive but I didn’t get any brain or facial damage, I’m walking and talking, and, with a lot of work and time to heal, my life and body shouldn’t be all that different than it was before – except for the fact that I now have cooler scars than anybody I know….

And your friends have been helping you get through this?

It’s been really overwhelming. When I heard that everybody was so nice, you know all the friends all over the place, I think it just kind of helped me keep on a bit. It made me wanna really work hard and fight to get normal. I guess I felt extremely lucky on many levels during this, just to have so many good people around me, and rooting for me. I can’t get over how good my people are.

So how did you become the most-liked man in the soul music scene?

[Laughs] I was putting on rock shows in New York, then started mixing in dance parties. It seemed to be a dry time for dance parties in New York. Around 2006, I started DJing them myself because it was economical, I didn’t really like the way everyone else was doing it, and also I kept discovering things that would bring different people together – mostly older music, these really powerful, elegant statements from our height of music recording. And I kept finding that I didn’t know about that music, or about the wealth of obscure, great stuff. I became a sort of specialist in the 45 medium. I was trying to bring together interesting people looking for an alternative to the suburbanized pop radio, 80s and electro that had been dominating the sound of New York nightlife for the past few years.

You made a name for yourself with New York Night Train, your production company that puts on the parties you DJ, like Soul Clap. But now you’ve been finding other DJs to come in, and promoting shows where you’re not even in the booth. How did that start?

I was flying in my favorite DJs, and finding some in New York, because there was no place, really, for these people to do what they do. So I started Great Parties, where every week I would fly in a different great 45 DJ from a different town, to try to help them build a following in New York. I want to create a larger, national community, and I wanted to set an example. You know, a lot of places people are really territorial about this kind of thing, and for me I want to spread the magic. I know that, for what I do, I’m pretty significant, but I can’t be that significant if I’m not part of a bigger thing, you know? I think that everybody benefits if it’s like a whole ocean of stuff that people can check out, like all these different perspectives. It’s like a conversation.

So what’s next for you?

I can’t wait to come back. I’ve been here for almost two months now – I mean, I like Portland, not that I really get to see any of it, but you know it would be amazing to be in New York. Things were going so well, it was really bad timing. Part of the reason I got so good is that I played so often, I was in tune with dancers and people, every night, playing these two-minute songs. I chose to be really consistent with my work and just – a lot of people only play once a month or something to get a bigger crowd. But I just play all the time and give people something to do every night. So over time, more and more, people got in the habit of just going, and now I gotta retrain everybody. Fortunately, I mean, all the clubs are holding my spots.

Are you going to jump right back in?

I’ll definitely slow down this year. They told me it takes a year to fully recover from this kind of thing. So I guess I’m gonna work a little less and not push myself – I mean, I was doing hundreds of gigs every year between 2007 and 2011. But I’m healing slowly. I’m just so grateful to everybody that’s helped me. It’s just one of these things that sadly tends to be a slow, long process. You know, you can’t rush all this stuff.  


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