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Against All Odds: Saying Good-bye to our Friend Mark

Mark Goffeney

Goffeney performing at Lestat’s. Photo by Dennis Andersen.

Many members of the San Diego music scene have surely already heard of the passing of Mark Goffeney. Admittedly, this article is a bit tardy, but we at the Troubadour wanted to respect the mourning of Mark’s family and friends left behind. We also wanted to wait for more details surrounding the cause of Mark’s death. Mark was found dead in his El Cajon apartment with his ex-wife on March 2, 2021. Not surprisingly, this stirred up a lot of questions for folks both in Mark’s inner and outer circle. Mark had just enough notoriety that there were bound to be a plethora of articles written about him in local rags, almost immediately. Unfortunately, we also realize that it is unlikely follow-up articles would be written as more news and information become available. Many folks have waited with bated breath to find out what happened.

News of Mark’s passing seemed to first spread on social media: posts from prominent SoCal artists mourning a talented man who seemed to bring a special spark of admiration to all who knew him. How could you not respect a man who was never short on smiles, despite his obvious challenges? Mark never outwardly wallowed in remonstrance of life as a man with no arms. Rather, he defied naysayers at birth. It takes a certain character to take up the trombone in grammar school with no one there to teach you any known technique for your needs. But Mark knew what he wanted and never let an ableist world slow him down.

I vividly remember meeting Mark for the first time over a decade ago when he played for San Diego’s (now retired) Indiefest. Playing under the banner of “Big Toe,” I could tell instantly that this man had a sense of humor that tickled me. Standing on stage with him, prepping for his set, he caught my eye as I stopped myself from tossing a rolled-up instrument cable his way. “Let ’er rip!” he shouted over to me, explaining to me that there was no need to “tip toe” around him. I stood in awe of this human who was setting up his bass so expeditiously with his feet. I had no idea what I was in for! Comments came from the sides of the stage expressing shock that I had never seen Mark play before. I was obviously late to the party. My friend Alicia Champion encouraged me to stick around and watch his set. I was mesmerized as I watched this man sing and play bass with no hands. Mark’s charm on stage was impressive—quick with self-deprecating jokes and one liners; he was even a bit of a flirt. There was no shortage of women around, happy to lovingly wrap their arms around him and caress his face for photos after his set.

“Mark was so many things, I could write a list that goes on and on. He was brilliantly gifted, handsome, funny, sweet, approachable, and beyond inspiring…. I mean, I could go on and on. It was a true HONOR to feature him at IndieFest. We are grieving for him and his partner. He will live on, beyond any shadow of a doubt. There is no way to forget an artist of his caliber and grace. San Diego would be forever proud to be home to Big Toe.” (Danielle LoPresti, Indiefest co-founder).

Here is a wonderful documentary on Mark Goffeney, showing his positive spirit and fearless approach to living.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4rrz8ZEUyw

Mark’s incredible talent was often overshadowed by his disabilities and his incredible story of overcoming them but many who knew him and saw him perform know that it was no accident that this charismatic performer had become a San Diego legend. A simple Google search will bring up dozens of videos and articles about a musician who drove with his feet and toured with Mana. But Mark was a performer on every level. He loved the limelight; he thrived in it. His absence of limbs was incidental. Mark’s brain was like a carousel on fire, ablaze with musical ideas and stories.

There is no shortage of such tributes to Mark floating around the internet. His Facebook page is overflowing with memorials and testimonies. This was a man beloved by our community. For weeks following his death, friends and cohorts have reached out to me asking for more details. Did I know what happened? How did I find out? What was his cause of death? There were many more questions than answers, unfortunately. And with Covid keeping gatherings small, our community has been left with not only unanswered questions but also little ability to celebrate the life of this incredible person that left such a mark on everyone he met.

Currently, there is little more known about the circumstances surrounding Mark’s death but there is some new information. On March 20, Mark’s brother Nicholas announced that while they were still waiting for the medical examiner’s official report, Mark and his ex-wife passed “peacefully” from an “accidental opiate overdose.” Alongside Mark’s siblings grieve his adult children who lost both parents in this tragic incident. A family still in mourning over the death of Mark’s father earlier this year, their loss is particularly unyielding.

One can only hope there is some solace found in Mark’s death being deemed accidental. Nevertheless, it puts this multi-talented performer on a long list of deaths caused by opioids. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses (National Institute of Drug Abuse). And while the numbers for 2020 have yet to be released, with deaths by drug overdose and suicide on the rise, Covid is expected to have pushed those numbers even higher. 2020 and 2021 may be forever remembered as the years that the world shut down due to the Covid pandemic. However, the CDC reports that deaths from opioids have quadrupled since 1999. You read that correctly, quadrupled. As the Covid pandemic slows, the opioid epidemic has only gotten exponentially worse.

The arts community is particularly affected by the opioid crisis. Artists commonly revered for their vulnerability tend to live in a world of exaggerated emotion as a means of creation, frustrated by the grueling demands of an industry with a history of exploitation and hard knocks. Songs have been written about it; movies made about it. Hooks like “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll,” slip off the tongues of countless artists. We have watched artist after artist pass away accidentally and intentionally, and mourned their losses as “tragic,” “unexpected,” and “premature.” We know the crisis exists, but little has changed. With Covid keeping most performers from the stage, gutting the finances of performing artists and shutting many folks in, it is no wonder these numbers are only expected to get worse.

There are many who want to know how to celebrate Mark, and I believe the best we can do is to reflect on what took him from us. Today may be the day to check in on your local performers, to shoot over some support to their websites. For there is cost in living a life of public expression. The weight can be heavy, the road can be long, and not everyone makes it out alive.

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