Death of a DJ
Wandering into the burrow of the unwell while making an enemy of the future and anyone who gives a damn. Turning the body to a toxic trash can. Insurmountable and unjustified self-hatred with a healthy sense of martyrdom and the dramatic. All trite finger-wagging signs of a suicide waiting to happen, my experience, at least.
On December 5, 1993, one of my pals, Doug Hopkins, blew his head off. Hopkins was a musician -- brilliant and caustic and funny and idolized by many. He was also fucked up. With Hopkins, a self-mutilating booze obsession and an inflated sense of self-loathing foretold the gunshot.
When Hopkins shot himself, he had already stretched the limits of the plausible and tolerable, so the act itself made sense, whether or not we agreed. And whether or not we agreed had nothing to do with it. People execute themselves all the time. Hopkins' death showed me that suicide demands an unimaginable level of pain.
Now I am confronted by another death. Randall Goodwin, better known to Phoenix industrial/goth/rock 'n' roll cognoscenti as DJ Randall, died on November 3, in Austin, Texas. DJ Randall, the owner of the former Atomic Café in Scottsdale and its sequel, the still-thriving Atomic Café of Austin, was 34.
A spokesman for the Austin Police Department says the case is being treated as a suicide. I find that hard to believe, and Randall's relatives say they are pushing for a homicide investigation.
I was his friend. I'm not a detective. So this column is about him and our loss, not the cause of death.
Have you ever met anyone who exuded uncorrupted decency? Someone you try to emulate?
DJ Randall was that type of cat.
He was, in my book, bucking for sainthood. And I say that at the risk of sounding maudlin.
Generally, the death of someone close lends itself to an instant poignancy. We take to a kind of spiritual souvenir collecting, giving the dead a polished, shiny spot in our remembrances.
And unlike Doug Hopkins, Randall, by all accounts, was okay. His club in Austin was continually in the black. No mean feat considering Austin is a town crammed with theme-night DJs and live-music venues. In Scottsdale and Phoenix throughout the '90s, Randall did the same at various venues until the local Atomic Café shut down last year.
He had a reputation of being laid-back and too trusting of those he really didn't know too well. Yet he was skilled at making things happen. He also had a clue of pop movements to come, trends before they set. He was a record company's dream club DJ.
There was this generosity about him. He had been known to hire the homeless and those deemed virtually unemployable elsewhere. He hired bikers, nude dancers, ex-cons, the abundantly pierced and tatted, ex-addicts and others in whom he saw a wealth of qualities. Randall had attitude backed with real strength of character.
"He was always there to give people a chance. He was never really looking for anything from anybody," says Randall's only surviving sibling, his sister, Karen Grossman. "He was willing to help anybody and do whatever he could. He had a guy living upstairs in the club that was a homeless person. Randall took him up off the street and gave him a job, a little bit of money, and the guy is doing much better than he was. Now he's the janitor there."
The last time I hung out with Randall was at the Austin Atomic Café during South by Southwest in '97. There he was, friendly faced, hair pulled back, in black leather jacket, and the drinks, as always, were comped. The Phunk Junkeez were onstage and the place was packed, kids bouncing up and down. I remember thinking that wherever Randall is is where it's at.
Randall learned the DJ ropes from DJ Ricky D at a Valley club called Out of Water in the mid-1980s. Randall then spun at Six Feet Under at Utopia, followed by brief stints at Impressions and Reflections. The Asylum in Scottsdale was next, and there Randall began to establish relationships with local bands. When The Asylum closed, Randall ventured out on his own and started Mulysa's (Asylum spelled backward). From there he went to Java Works, Club Encounters and Planet Earth. When he got to The Source, Randall started spinning for the door -- pocketing the cover charged -- when the owner had trouble managing the place. When the door at The Source started bringing in exorbitant amounts of cash, Randall and the owner started the Paradox. After the Paradox came the Atomic Café.
"I mean the Paradox was an amazing club," William "Willobee" Carlan says. Carlan, erstwhile music director at the KEDJ "The Edge," and fellow KEDJ DJ Christopher "The Minister" Allen were fresh from out-of-state radio gigs and roaming Phoenix in search of a non-college club. Upon stepping into the Paradox and meeting Randall, they became close friends.
"Randall just took us in and we became fast friends. I mean, we were freaky looking guys," Carlan continues. "And we got along with Randall right away. Here's a guy that was so into the indie and underground music scene that he was far more alternative than so-called 'alternative' music clubs.
"The Paradox, like the Atomic, was a great place to hang. I remember being onstage one night and introducing the Smashing Pumpkins. I mean, that is amazing. He had the college kids and the frat boys and the sorority girls, the bikers, the titty dancers, the hard-core kids, the goths, the punk kids -- everybody."
In a phone voice at times unsteady with remorse, Christopher Allen, now of Los Angeles, recalls, "I would be in the DJ booth with Randall at his club, turning on all these people to all these new tunes, and later we'd do the same on the radio shows.
"He became my best friend. And I still can't believe this, I can't believe what happened. I'm just devastated."
Allen and Randall had a mutual affection and knowledge for heavy industrial and noisy dance. Allen noticed Randall was championing bands not yet heard in Phoenix and got him involved in his new weekly industrial show on KZRX, suitably termed Underground Café. The radio show morphed shortly thereafter into a Sunday-night staple, The Noisy Donut Shop, on sister station KEDJ. The well-received new music showcase featured guesting local and national touring acts, tons of "risky" new music and irreverent dialogue. It was probably the closest a corporate broadcast cow like KEDJ will ever come to real "alternative" radio.
Figures showed the Donut Shop had an impact on sales of up-and-coming bands it played, the same bands Randall was spinning in his clubs. Bands like Prong, Stabbing Westward and, later, Korn, all got the DJ Randall treatment that led to area recognition. When Allen resigned from KEDJ nearly four years ago, with him went The Noisy Donut Shop. Carlan currently manages bands.
In roundabout ways, through his clubs and radio, Randall directly helped a handful of Valley bands hurdle dreaded "local band" status and see regional, national and even international praise. Crushed, Phunk Junkeez, and Windigo are but three of many.
"That guy did more for my career and more for bands in this town than anybody," Phunk Junkeez singer Joe Valiente said through Junkeez manager Carlan. (The band was out of town and I couldn't reach Valiente for comment.) Early on, Randall hired Valiente to DJ at the Paradox on weekends. Randall understood.
"There's definitely some landmarks I can put on my relationship with him in regards to the band at least," says Matt Strangwayes, singer for Windigo, which started gigging at the Atomic regularly after only one show. "When we started, our third show was at the Atomic in the end of '94 and he paid us more than fairly. He consistently booked us with better bands and bigger bands. He and Christopher ['The Minister'] put us on their Noisy Donut Shop show. That was the first time we were ever interviewed on the radio. So I associate my first being on the radio, my first CD release, our first big gigs all with the Atomic and Randall."
Atomic Café is owned by a corporation that was run by both Randall and his parents. The second Atomic Café opened in Austin in early 1997, and Randall relocated to Texas soon after. The Atomic in Scottsdale closed its doors one year ago.
"At one point, it got a lot more goth and scene-specific," says Strangwayes. "Before, it was kind of a little bit of everything. In the last months, I couldn't figure out what was going on at Atomic. Part of my assumption was maybe what he was doing in Austin with the other club, then coming here on the weekends, was taking its toll. I guess he moved because Austin was a boom town.
"Anybody who has come up in this town in the music scene other than the last two years had been through there," Strangwayes continues. "It was really a Phoenix rock institution. Genuinely, it was the end of era."
The jury is still out on the fate of the Atomic Café in Austin. The obvious if not overly optimistic hope among company and friends would be to continue with Randall's nonconformist ideals and keep the Atomic afloat.
At Randall's memorial service in Scottsdale, a few hundred showed to pay their respects. No surprise.
"I have to say I always knew my brother was kind and loving and forgiving and just a neat guy," Grossman says. "We were just overwhelmed by the outpouring of people to Randall and to what happened. I had no idea how many lives my brother had touched. It is just amazing to me.
"My mom and I were in the club in Texas and this guy comes up to us and he gave my mom a big hug and he said, 'Thank you for having such a beautiful son. Randall showed me the way to get off heroin.' And my mom and I were just shocked."
Contact Brian Smith at his online address: email@example.com
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.