New York Night Train‘s Jonathan Toubin solidified his reputation as the premier soul party engineer and the hardest working guy in New York with packed parties at underground venues like Glasslands and the recently opened Bushwick Beauty Bar. This summer, at the urging of Tel Aviv band Monotonix, Toubin took his boxes of rare and obscure soul and funk floor-shaking 45rpms to the Middle East on the hippest trip from Istanbul to Jerusalem. Heeb recently talked to the self-proclaimed Jewish atheist about his first time to the Holy Land and the sort of music Israelis request at soul parties.
Have you gone sightseeing?
A bit. In Jerusalem I saw the Wailing Wall and, accidentally, Jesus’ tomb–he was a lot shorter than he looks in pictures. Though they closed Masada too early for me (3 p.m.), I did manage to make it to the lowest point on earth and float in the Dead Sea.
Did you go wail at the Western Wall?
I did not wail, but I did tidy up all of these ragged scraps of paper I found stuck in it. Seriously, I put on the paper yarmulke that they give you at the gate and did my best to keep it from blowing off of my Jew-fro.
When DJing, what song got the best response?
By far the Turkish psych, pop and traditional singles I picked up in Istanbul got the best response. In terms of soul music, the Israelis, like most folks, are most interested in familiar material, so I spin obscure soul covers of famous songs. They were particularly fond of Jeanette Williams’s super gritty and soulful 1969 take on ‘Hound Dog’– words and music of course by the Jewish songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.
Did you get any requests for trance music?
No, but I did get hip-hop and Michael Jackson. I also got a lone Supremes request, and my friend Yonatan from Monotonix kept on me about playing the new Turbo Fruits. But I know what you mean–those Israelis can’t eat, drink or dance without ’90s-ish fast post-house-thump blaring. It’s preventing that part of the world from getting along…
Did you play the late King of Pop?
No, I told them I didn’t come halfway across the world to play music they could find in even the most unhip of kibbutzes. I also told them that the records they were hearing were by black men whose appeal to white folks such as myself had nothing to do with the bleaching of their skin nor their castration…
Has your visit to Israel helped you find your faith or will you keep on playing that devil’s music?
Maybe I could’ve found my faith and then some if they paid famous New York soul DJs even a fraction of what they do in other places! In fact, the compensation was so bad that I abandoned my agnosticism to become bona fide old-fashioned Jewish atheist. How can there be a God when the money’s so bad? The eternal question! But really, while the religious end of it oddly didn’t even cross my mind, I was fascinated by the culture. I met a lot of wonderful people, ate some incredible food, visited interesting places and learned how to view the universe from right to left. As for whether I will continue to play the ‘devil’s music,’ what’s more Jewish than soul music? Don’t you remember Lenny Bruce’s ‘Jewish/Goyish’ routine? ‘Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor’s goyish.’ Who do you think produced and manufactured most of those records I play? I’d also like to point out that soul brother number one, Mr. James Brown, wore the Star of David around his neck. So I don’t know, maybe James Brown is Jewish and Benjamin Netanyahu’s goyish?