Noe Valley Voice April 2010

Jimmy Goetz gets plenty of fan support at home—from wife Leslie Thorndike (of Thorndike Travel fame), daughters Madeleine and Gigi (with arm around Dad), and, of course, Annie the dog.
Photo by Pamela Gerard

Goetz Gets Back to Music

By Jeff Kaliss

On Feb. 10, Jimmy Goetz sent out a financial SOS from his home office to a group mostly made up of fellow parents at Miraloma Elementary School:

"As you are probably aware, Leslie [his wife] and I have a travel agency, and I have been doing real estate for a number of years now," the email began. "Due to the economic slowdown, both businesses have been hit hard, and we are therefore looking for new ways to generate income."

The new way, it turned out, was not really new to Goetz: he wanted to start making money by teaching kids and adults to make music, and by making more of it himself through performing.

"I never thought of music as a way to supplement a living," Goetz said while relaxing in the living room of his residence on Castro Street near 26th. "Isn't it: Find out what you love and do best, and do it, and the money will follow? But I never really did that, because my parents were always scared that I'd be going into music, and that sunk in deep."

Goetz, 50, was raised the sixth of seven kids in a large extended family, Irish on his mom's side and German on his dad's, on Philadelphia's Main Line. Aside from the Irish ditties intoned by his many maternal aunts and uncles, "the first things I remember musically are Beatles songs," tuned in by his older siblings on "the little plastic radio." Goetz, to this day, loves to play the Fab Four.

"Didn't somebody once say that the Beatles are roots music for white people? There's somehow a connection between them and Irish and English folk music, and that's my ethnicity too." His cell phone rings with "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."

By the time he'd reached the fifth grade--his daughter Madeleine's current level at Miraloma--Goetz had realized that playing guitar rendered him "cool." After graduating from high school and gigs with his older brothers, he moved on to electric bass "and 'Rock 'n' Roll College' for 10 years. I pursued rock stardom," instead of an academic degree.

"I learned a lot about the music business, and a lot about performing, and that culminated, in 1986, in a record deal with A&M Records. The band was called Bricklin. We toured, and we played Madison Square Garden. We had a song on the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure soundtrack. But we did not get picked up for a second record. It was a sad story, we just didn't have the songs, and the people who'd signed us weren't there anymore at the record label. I started having thoughts of, What the heck am I gonna do with my life now?"

A non-music work connection through a family friend and the offer of a room from his sister Peggy prompted a relocation west to Mill Valley, where Goetz spent his weekends jamming around the town's Depot with "the progeny of Grateful Dead people."

In 1991 he was introduced to Leslie Thorndike--another displaced East Coaster--by a bartender buddy. The couple moved across the Bridge to her apartment on 27th near Castro, and he became a partner in her business, Thorndike Travel, which catered and still caters to local musicians and small businesses. "I'm the point man, I sort of speak their language. Leslie's part is, she does the books and pays the bills." (And she keeps both business and home running smoothly.)

A couple of years before Madeleine was born, in 1998, the couple acquired their current home for a modest $222,000. Needing more room for a growing family, they channeled the profits from their successful travel agency into expanding their property on three levels. Goetz turned his youthful experience with his parents, in real estate and remodeling, towards an additional source of income. He acquired a real estate license in 2000 and allied himself with Prudential Realty, marketing single-family and multi-unit residential dwellings, mostly in Noe Valley. Baby Julia, nicknamed Gigi, came along in 2002.

By the time Madeleine had begun kindergarten at Miraloma Elementary, Goetz found that his offspring not only inspired him to play more guitar but also connected him with fans and people to perform with, in the form of some of the school's moms and dads. The Goetz/ Thorndike residence, with its landscaped back yard, upright piano, and walls bedecked with stringed instruments, became the place of choice for parental soirees. Out of these grew Playdate, a band formed mostly from parents, which played several Noe Valley Harvest Festivals and other neighborhood events. The band's repertoire ranged from contemporary kids' tunes to the groups from Goetz's own youth, especially, of course, the Beatles.

After Thorndike's mother Marguerite (nicknamed P.T.) came out from Massachusetts to live with her daughter and son-in-law in 2006, she became a beloved figure at the soirees and around the neighborhood. Though she's now 81 and in a moderate stage of Alzheimer's, Goetz believes that "city living and the situation we have in our home is a perfect alternative to a nursing home. We have a cat and a dog and an 11-year-old and a 7-year-old that interact with her. Even when some of the interactions aren't always the greatest, it's good for the kids to see that they need to take care of their own." The care extends outside the home, to nearby Angel's Market, where P.T. shops and checks in before taking a stroll, and to neighbors who can keep an eye on her if she becomes disoriented.

In late 2008, like many Noe Valleyans, the Goetz/Thorndikes began to sense the impact of a bad economy on their own balance sheet.

"Small businesses were not finding the money to travel anymore," Goetz points out. "And the real estate market changed drastically in a couple of years. Mostly the sellers were timid, not wanting to go with someone who's not as seasoned as someone else. So just recently, we're realizing that we're spending more than we're making."

Although Thorndike Travel remains in operation, Goetz separated himself from Prudential. Once again, "I found myself thinking, What the heck am I gonna do?

"Then the light bulb went off in my head, and I went: I could teach music! We'd made tons of great, great friends, and I realized I had tons of people to reach out to."

Within days of issuing his email, Goetz had secured a pair of eager students, one from Madeleine's fifth-grade class and the other a 7-year-old from the house he'd sold, right next door. A Fairmount Elementary father became the third.

"One of the most important things that I'm teaching the kids is how to hold the guitar," says Goetz. "You have to hold the guitar like you own it, like you love it--sit up straight, because that's where it belongs."

Goetz also found a paying way to return to his rock 'n' roll fantasy, through a Los Angeles firm that maintains a stable of bands covering various genres. As bassist for the band Metal Shop, Goetz gets to don a blond wig, sunglasses, and metal accessories, and rock out at Irish bars, rec centers, and (more lucratively) corporate gigs, playing the songbooks of AC/DC, Def Leppard, Night Ranger, and Judas Priest. Though heavy metal wasn't ever his favorite repertoire, "it's as easy as sitting down in front of YouTube, putting on the official video of the song, and copying it."

Now that music is enhancing financial harmony, Goetz is hoping that Madeleine, a gifted singer, will go on to James Lick Middle School a couple of blocks away.

"I think they have a rock band there," he grins, "and she and I could get involved with that, too."

You can reach Jimmy Goetz and Thorndike Travel at 415-648-4400.

As bassist for the band Metal Shop, Goetz dons a blond wig and trades in his Beatles songs for the hard rock of Judas Priest and AC/DC.
Photo by Seth Affoumado