He Started A Scene: Josh Gottheil

Holly Rushakoff
The Octopus

October 24, 1997

Flip through The Octopus, tune in to radio station WEFT 90.1 FM or stroll down the flier-decorated campustown. On any given night, the CU community stages a famous band or an out-of-state, Chicago, local, jazz, reggae, punk, house, noise, acoustic or amp-armed act.

CU’s musical roots are veining quickly and growing feverishly, with music innovators from each decade, but the music scene wasn’t always pumped with constant vitality.

One of CU’s most prosperous times was when the community boasted of bands like Hurn, the Poster Children and Menthol (originally Mother). And Josh Gottheil was the local promoter who single-handedly booked bands like the Pixies, Ministry, Throwing Muses and Jane’s Addiction.

Josh is a legend who had a professional Chicago job in the music industry lined up before he left his teenage years.

At 19, many kids might have a year of college experience and a history of some summer or part-time jobs necessary for extra income.

By that age, in 1989, Josh already had a partnership with Chicago promoter Tony Polous in Concert One Productions—to rival Jam Productions—a Mercantile-building office rented, and a stock market dealer millionaire to fund Josh’s company, Fred Gottheil, Josh’s father, said.

But the future Josh created for himself throughout his teenage years never came to fruition. Josh died of lymphoma, a form of leukemia, April 4, 1989, three months before his 20th birthday. ‘Im sure he would have stayed in the music industry,” Diane Gottheil, Josh’s mother, said.

Though that tragedy occurred more than eight years ago, the local music scene still keeps Josh’s name alive by organizing benefit shows with all proceeds going to the fund he help set up: the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research.

“Josh was a really sweet, honest person,” his sister Lisa Gottheil said. He was really passionate about his job, Lisa, president of New York’s 2:30 Publicity added, and people appreciate that. When booking shows, Josh could make it all come together: the audience, the bands and the music.

“This was the one thing he was absolutely sure he loved,” Diane Gottheil said. “He was a 16-year-old kid booking shows out of his bedroom,” Geoff Merritt, owner of Mud Records; Parasol Records and Parasol Mail Order, said.

Josh’s magic that enabled him to network with prominent musicians was almost indescribable to the people that knew him. “It was kind of a mystery to us, in a way,” Diane Gottheil said, about Josh’s passion for music. “It just kind of emerged. He just connected with people very well. He had this winning way, this sweetness, but also a strength.”

“I knew him for six or seven years and lived with him for a year,” Merritt said. “He was the greatest kid in the world. He was bringing in bands that have since become huge. Josh had a lot of foresight in terms of who was going to go on to be a big band.”

“Josh booked innovative, new, young bands who wouldn’t necessarily draw big crowds,” Charlie Edwards, who worked with him at Record Swap, said. “He could get them to come by the nature of his personality,” said Josh’s Chicago roommate. Throughout their friendship, Josh and Edwards helped each other grow. Introducing him to different bands, Edwards, 20 years older than Josh, felt like a parental figure at first. But talking about music frequently, they became equals. “I was eventually learning things about life from him,” Edwards said. “It felt good to be around him,” said Nick Rudd, who works at Record Swap. Ruda also remembered Josh talking about music all the time.

“He was a very vibrant person; he had a very positive personality,” Rudd, who saw the Throwing Muses in Chicago with Josh, added. Josh’s love of music, which sparkled through his demeanor, perhaps began at age 10 with his desire to play drums. His lessons paid off as Josh set up the Dangerous Acquaintances during high school with Joel Spencer and Balti DeLey, who are members of Menthol now. Later, Josh played in the Dead Relatives with Dave Holtgrave, an influential friend, and other grad students.

Through those experiences, Josh saw what draws bands in. “Josh looked around and was learning from everyone,” Diane Gottheil said. “He was passionate about good people and good causes.” “He thought, ‘I’m really interested in music and people.’ so he started his own production group, (and worked) essentially solo,” said Josh’s father, Fred Gottheil.

At age 16, Josh created Subversive Sounds. He booked 10,000 Maniacs at Mabel’s when he was younger than their entrance age. Josh also booked Billy Bragg, They Might Be Giants, Urge Overkill. Big Black and Timbuck 3, to name a few.

“Josh brought a lot of unknown musical talent down here,” DeLey said, “that fostered the music scene.”

One of the venues that Josh livened was the Channing-Murray Foundation where he booked shows so underage kids could be exposed to musicians.

Many contacts and shows later, after high school, Josh decided to move to Chicago with Edwards, who was a DJ at WEFT.

“He tried to balance dealing with college, lymphoma and a music career,” Edwards said. Edwards now runs Quaker Goes Deaf, a “radically alternative music store” in Chicago.

In Chicago, Josh teamed up with Tony Polous, but soon got sick, although he would talk to Polous from his hospital bed about what bands to bring in, how much to pay them and other business details.

“I remember when he got sick,” Fred Gottheil, an economics professor, said, “the telephones were ringing; people all over the country were concerned about him.”

Kim Deal of the Pixies and the Breeders called and invited Josh to San Francisco. Josh got to sing on stage with the Pixies. Edwards remembers having dinner at the Gottheil’s house with the Pixies, a band that grew close to the family. A photo of Josh and Deal hangs in Fred Gottheil’s office, among large framed photos of Josh and his smiles. Deal later did a benefit show for Josh’s Fund. Josh truly impacted everyone around him.

“I remember when I got the call that he died,” Edwards said. “For 48 hours, it just seemed like it wasn’t real. It just seemed like he wouldn’t die. He was too vibrant, too alive. “After this many years, he’s still in my mind,” Edwards said.

Sometimes, Edwards reaches in his cupboard for a ceramic coffee cup with Josh’s name on it. “When I need inspiration … it gives me a lift,” Edwards said.

His name, his appeal, his character, was so renowned that Throwing Muses headlined a show at Mabel’s in memory of Josh in May of 1989. All proceeds went to Josh’s Fund, which awards grants to nurses in bone marrow transplant units.

Local musician Henry Frayne, of Lanterna and Moon Seven Times, saw that show. “The bands that he brought here had some effect on me,” Frayne said. “Like Throwing Muses; I probably would not have known about them until years later.”

What demonstrates Josh’s impact even more is that, eight years after he died, Tanya Donelly—who co-founded Throwing Muses, the Breeders and Belly —came back this month to perform again for Josh’s Fund.

Donelly returned to CU in 1995 when touring with Belly. Frayne saw that concert and heard Donelly dedicate a song to Josh and announce her intention of coming back sometime to do a benefit show. “I thought to myself that probably not too many of the students in the crowd knew who he was,” Frayne said.

Frayne contacted Donelly, trying to set up the next benefit show. Two years later, with the help of Lisa Gottheil, Donelly was scheduled to perform, along with Lanterna and the local Space-Age Polymers, of which Charlie Dold was friends with Josh.

Since 1989, there have been at least four benefit shows. Josh’s Jam, created this year, celebrated Josh through famous and locally rooted bands, in the type of concert he was a natural at organizing and promoting. The main organizers of Josh’s Jam were Josh’s father Fred and sister Lisa and Frayne.

Luna, Hum, Menthol and Sarge played at Foellinger Auditorium last month. Frayne, a few years older than Josh, knew of Josh because of his involvement in the music scene, too. Before Josh’s Jam, Frayne found an old fanzine from ‘86 or ‘87, when he had just left a band and there was an article written about himself. Coincidentally, on the other page was a guest article by Josh about how to book bands.

“I understood what he was doing,” Frayne said, “he was just going out and doing it. I told Fred the night of (Josh’s Jam),” Frayne added, “I’ve been in bands for 15 years but this is the most gratifying show I’ve ever been involved in. I felt like I had done something good for the soul.”

A second Josh’s Jam is a good possibility. Lisa Gottheil said she was thinking of asking Girls Against Boys, who are good friends of hers, if they would be a part of Josh’s Jam next year. “He did more for the local scene and got it more set up than anyone has in the past or ever will.” Merritt said.

CU is a well-organized playground full of action when it comes to the music scene; that, in itself, is an aspect to revel in. But even more notable is the fact that the close community beating with creative hearts doesn’t forget its friends.