Carrying on a Local Legacy

Troy Michael
The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette

May 21, 2009

Every so often, a person comes into the local music scene, ventures down the path less taken and makes a difference. That person does what he or she does because of a passion for music, possibly an obsession you could say. It’s not about the money. It’s about the music, pure and simple, the love for the music.

Back in the 1980s, Josh Gottheil was one of those special people and became an integral part of the Champaign-Urbana music scene. Sadly, Gottheil’s life was cut short when, at age 19, he succumbed to lymphoma cancer—a blood-related cancer that attacks and destroys the body’s immune system—on April 4, 1989.

As a 14-year-old booking big rock shows, Gottheil was ahead of the game. Even when he was diagnosed with cancer and was too sick to leave his bed, he still worked on booking shows. After his death, the Gottheil family founded the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research.

The fund is a not-for-profit organization which establishes grants to aid nurses directly involved in patient care in bone marrow and stem cell transplant units. Specifically, grants help to further their education and training—many pursuing advanced degrees in bone marrow and stem cell transplantation—and their work in basic research. The money raised by the Gottheil fund goes directly to the Oncology Nursing Society of America who administers the grants. Four grants are awarded each year. Grant allocations began in 1995. To date, a total of 52 grants to oncology nurses have been awarded. In 1997, the Oncology Nursing Society selected the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research as a recipient of ONS’s Distinguished Honor and Appreciation awards.

Since the Gottheil fund was established, there have been several benefit concerts held in his name. The next one will feature the Poster Children this Sunday night at the Highdive in downtown Champaign.

“We knew Josh from playing on and going to see shows he had set up,” Rick Valentin of the Poster Children said. “My first memory of Josh was seeing him on the Quad in the mid-’80s with [his band] the Dead Relatives. The Dead Relatives were real punk rock—not some kind of punk stereotype—a crazy hippie lead singer, a couple of college students and Josh, looking half the age of his band mates, pounding away on the drums. The songs were antagonistic, and the band really put people on edge. It was great! And then, talking to Josh, you realized he wasn’t just some kid tagging along for the ride. He was a true music fan. He knew all the cool bands and new records. Later on, he actually knew the bands that we were all talking about.”

Gottheil branched out by booking some of those bands when he was just 14. He brought in such acts as Black Flag, Minutemen, The Pixies and Throwing Muses. These groups went on to become some of the most influential bands in indie rock.

“I’m not sure what drove Josh, but my guess is that he was never told he couldn’t book shows, or if anyone told him he couldn’t do it, he ignored them. It was something he wanted to do, so he did it,” Valentin said.

“I think in many ways the early-mid ’80s scene was very different. The punk/indie bands really were alternative. There was a whole underground ecosystem built to promote the music—fanzines, indie record stores, college/community radio and makeshift venues. A touring punk band couldn’t get a show at a bar through regular channels. They had to rely on local fans to find a space, put together a bill and convince all their friends to come out. A lot of times, these fans were in high school, so it wasn’t unusual to have someone really young promoting shows. I don’t know how much that kind of thing happens these days.”

Even though the music industry and the local music scene have changed over the last 20 years since Gottheil left us, his memory and accomplishments are still immense. It is with great respect and gratitude that these benefit shows come around on a regular basis.

“Thanks to Josh and others in the scene, Champaign became a welcome stop for touring bands in the ‘80s. It’s one thing to listen to records, but to have been able to see The Minutemen, The Pixies, Throwing Muses and so many other amazing groups up close was inspirational,” said Valentin. “I think that exposure really set the foundation for the blossoming of the local music scene in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and those of us from that era feel some regret that Josh wasn’t able to see the full results of his efforts. Keeping his memory alive is the least we can do.”

The legacy of Josh Gottheil will live on Sunday night at the Highdive in Champaign with the Poster Children playing a rare live show. Also scheduled to perform are The Outnumbered (Jon Ginoli’s pre-Pansy Division jangle punk band), Lonely Trailer (hugely influential C-U quirk rockers), and Cowboy X (Trashcan Records power poppers).

“I hope there will be some people in the audience who never got a chance to see Lonely Trailer, The Outnumbered or Cowboy X back in the day, and they’ll get a glimpse into how amazing and varied the local scene was,” Valentin said. “I don’t think it’s just nostalgia on my part. Those bands were inspirational! I remember seeing Lonely Trailer for the first time and being blown away. Here was a local band that was as good as any band on SST Records! And The Outnumbered—they wrote such great pop songs and were label mates with Naked Raygun, Sonic Youth and Big Black! And I never saw a bad Cowboy X show. They were always tight and completely on. They raised the bar for everyone.”

Doors will open at 7 p.m., and the show will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15, with all proceeds going to the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research.