Behind the Scenes with DJ Neil Armstrong

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Thomas Neil Rodriguez — aka DJ Neil Armstrong — has toured with Jay-Z, played at the Glastonbury Festival in England, and even performed at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. A long-time Jersey City resident, Neil takes a breather to talk about three things close to his heart — his late dog Poh, food, and life in Jersey City.

As a native New Yorker, what drew you to Jersey City?

Neil Armstrong: I had lived in Queens my whole life, but I was looking for a change, somewhere closer to Manhattan, but affordable. Everyone was moving to Williamsburg and Brooklyn. Jersey City came onto my radar and I was hesitant. Being from New York, Jersey does have some strange stigma. When my friends who lived out there would be like, “hey, let’s hang out in Jersey,” my immediate reply was — why the hell would we go to Jersey, shoot we live in New York City!

But I did my due diligence and checked out the condos in the waterfront area and found the perfect place. I was able to purchase a spot that would get me twice as much space as an equivalent space in Manhattan or Brooklyn, but right on the Hudson River. So I put down a hefty down payment, crossed two rivers, and called Jersey City my home. It hadn’t quite made the transformation to what it is today, but it was on its way at the time and it’s pretty cool having seen it first hand. Downtown by Grove Street where I am now? Shoot, I remember when I wouldn’t even go there past 9pm.

 

Downtown by Grove Street? Shoot, I remember when I wouldn’t even go there past 9pm.

 

How long have you lived in Jersey City?

NA: I’ve lived in Jersey City since the end of 2007, almost 10 years! Time flies for sure.

As a DJ, you’ve gotten to visit various countries. What’s been your most memorable trip in terms of food?

NA: That’s always a really tough question because food is part of every trip that I take, can’t really say that one is that much more memorable than the next or the last. In general, going to Japan I consistently get to eat really high-quality food coupled with amazing service. The seafood there is top-notch and the Wagyu beef is real. There are no standards here in the U.S. about Wagyu. You can say a steak from Wendy’s is Wagyu, no laws against it, so just cause it says Wagyu out here, it probably isn’t. The ramen [in Japan] is also real and cheap.

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Any food spots here in Jersey City that you particularly like?

NA: Jersey City definitely has a little food culture going. Eating here is a bit different for me since I live here. So where I eat is often based on price point and proximity to my crib. Talde JC, of course, is on my go-to list, Taqueria, and Porta. I gotta say, I got a pretty good slice [at Porta] and that’s coming from a snob New Yorker. Bucket & Bay and Torico’s for ice cream. I end up ordering from John’s Cafe and Hudson’s Grill for sandwiches all the time.

Back in 2015 you took your senior dog Poh on a cross-country trip and became an overnight Internet sensation. What was the experience like and what was Poh’s favorite state?

NA: Our experience was a great one. People were pretty welcoming overall — even in areas that get a bad reputation for supposedly not being inclusive. Poh just loved the ocean. The water would invigorate him and he would just come out with so much energy and calmness after a dip. So I would say California. If we could have stayed out there by the beach he would’ve been a happy camper.

 

LiveLikePoh became our Instagram account to help spread the word about animals who need to be fostered or find their forever homes.

 

Tell me about Live Like Poh and the Poh Fund. Why did you start them? 

NA: After Poh passed in February, he ended up with about 130,000 followers on Instagram. Yuko [my wife] and I felt it would be a waste if we didn’t continue to use his platform to do some good.

Yuko and I decided that we would start fostering animals and help bring light to adopting animals by leading by example. So LiveLikePoh became our Instagram account to document our adoption stories and to help spread the word about animals who need to be fostered or find their forever homes.

Pohthedogsbigadventure also became this information center for senior dog care and we wanted to continue to provide that as a lot of the information and treatments we used to care for Poh are not nearly as widespread as they should be. So our plan is to create a website that people can use as a reference for caring for their senior pets.

The Poh Fund, is our way of keeping Poh’s legacy alive. The hospital where we brought Poh for his holistic treatments, which kept him comfortable, allowed us to start this fund with them, which will be financed entirely by us. Usually funds of this nature have a single wealthy benefactor who puts up all the money to make it happen. We’re utilizing crowd-funding to make it happen. So far without a real fundraising push we have collected a little over $18,000. In the upcoming months we are putting together some events where we plan to complete our goal.

The purpose of the Poh Fund is to provide palliative care for senior dogs and cats, and provide financial relief for the owners. With the special treatments that we were giving Poh — the acupuncture, hydrotherapy, etc. — we were able to give Poh an extra year of life. But it’s an expense that many pet owners can’t afford. Having the Poh Fund removes the financial aspect as an obstacle.

We’re still accepting donations and the Animal Medical Center is a recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit veterinary hospital, so all donations are tax deductible.

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You helped Poh hit every item on his “bucket list.” What would you personally like to scratch off your bucket list?

NA: I’d love to DJ in Antarctica, so I can say that I’ve DJed on every continent in the world. That would be a good one.

What advice would you give parents of senior dogs?

NA: Find a vet who is versed in taking care of senior dogs and recognizing their needs. There are a lot of vets out there who have never had to deal with a dog in the late stages of life. Our standards for euthanasia often make it so that our pets don’t make it to their true golden years. Make sure to find a vet who knows what’s up. A doctor who does integrated medicine — both western and eastern treatments — is the best scenario. In the New York and New Jersey area, the rehab center at the Animal Medical Center has an amazing team.

Be patient with your pet and be there to the best of your ability. They will need you as their bodies start to fail them, just like your parents and grandparents. If your dog has life in them and wants to live, help them do it.

Only you know when it’s time for your pet to cross over. I truly believe your pet will let you know when they’re ready to let go. No one will be with them as much as you, even doctors can be wrong, and definitely outside eyes who view your dog for just moments. But you and your pet, you will know when it’s time to let your pet finally rest.

(Photos: DJ Neil Armstrong)