Music News

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.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith