Musician, Mark Goffeney - There’s No Business Like Toe Business
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Musician Mark Goffeney playing guitar with toes

More than a decade since the release of his debut album, the new year finds Mark Goffeney hard at work on a collection of infectious rock that blends the poeticism of Death Cab for Cutie with the heavy indie flavor of the Foo Fighters. “It’ll knock you over, ask you if you’re okay, and pick you up again,” musician Goffeney said in an interview with ABILITY’s Dana Nelson.

Though his album’s title remains under wraps, Goffeney says the upcoming release will contain a few tracks from his original album, as well as several new pieces that reflect the artist at a more mature stage of life and introspection, a stage at which he finds his music has become more honest, irreverent, and optimistic.

Produced at Tunetown Recording Studio in La Mesa, CA, the album is a labor of love for Goffeney’s band, Big Toe. “This album is going to be a compilation of some really cool, heartfelt stuff,” said guitarist Sammy Carini, who is co-producing the album alongside Don Hambrick. Carini also said the album is a step towards marketing Big Toe music around the world and going on tour.

Long before his emergence as Big Toe’s frontman, Goffeney had become well acquainted with fame. Born without arms, he was discovered at age four by Variety Club and the March of Dimes and assisted in raising money for children’s hospitals during telethons. Outfitted with prosthetic limbs, Goffeney interviewed such celebrities as Magic Johnson, Henry Winkler and Prince Charles. Though he liked the work and enjoyed hanging out with stars, Goffeney recalls that the prostheses were painful when worn for hours on end. “As soon as I would get done with filming for the Variety Club,” Goffeney said, “I would just ditch them as soon as I could.”

Not that he needed them, anyway. At an early age, Goffeney had learned to use his feet to manipulate objects, just as many other children were learning to use their hands. Prostheses, Goffeney said, were for everyone else to feel more comfortable, regardless of his own discomfort. “Visibly, it’s not as dramatic when you see somebody with all their limbs as opposed to seeing them without.”

While Goffeney recognizes his lack of arms may still register as a shock for some people, he no longer worries that others might feel uncomfortable around him. Instead, the musician relies on humor to alleviate awkward situations. Carini recalls being terrified the first time he got into a car with Goffeney and found him with one foot on the floor pedals and the other on the steering wheel. When Carini asked to drive, Goffeney merely quipped, “I just want you to sit there and be nervous.”

Throughout childhood, Goffeney learned to use his prostheses as sources of amusement, sometimes telling other children that his arms were bionic, and that he could lift a car or tear down a school any time he wanted. Though many of his classmates were in awe of Goffeney’s alleged superhuman strength, most had a harder time believing he was hanging out in limousines with celebrities on the weekend.

Goffeney’s musical career was sparked in his school band, beginning with a brief stint on trombone before his father brought home a guitar. Eleven-year-old Goffeney, raised listening to musicians such as Paul McCartney and James Taylor, crudely strummed the guitar with his feet, in an attempt to emulate his heroes. The result, however, was that he only played one string at a time. A neighborhood teen told Goffeney that if he wanted to be a real guitarist, he’d have to learn to play with all of his toes. As he diligently worked to learn guitar and bass, Goffeney simultaneously pressured his Hollywood friends to help him break into television as an actor.

Goffeney’s break arrived when a writer for The Young and the Restless agreed to write the young man in as the son of Dr. Snapper Foster, a character played by David Hasslehoff. At the last minute, however, the program’s board of directors decided a character with no arms would be too shocking for older viewers of the show, and Goffeney’s character was replaced by a boy with leukemia. “I was heartbroken,” Goffeney said. “I was just devastated. I was like, ‘they wrote that part for me!’”

The disheartening experience prompted Goffeney to focus more intently on pursuing a career in music. He formed a high school band known as the Wicked Misfits that, like many other popular bands of the 1980s, emulated heavy metal hair groups such as Poison and Ratt. Goffeney also grew his hair out, a decision which he remembers aggravated his cheeky British mother. “She would say things to me like, ‘you know you’d make a right nice mop!’,” Goffeney said, imitating his mother’s dialect. “‘We could stand you in the corner, nothing to get in the way. I’ll just hold you by your feet!’”

Though Goffeney admits he was frequently a “punk” during his teenage years, resisting authority and getting kicked out of school a few times, he married shortly after graduation and became the father of three children: Beth, Luke and Amanda. “I had to trade in my Camaro for a Minivan. It was tragically tough!” Goffeney said. “I had to grow up really fast, but it was also a really rewarding experience.”

After dropping out of college, Goffeney worked an assortment of odd jobs while raising his children and juggling late-night gigs with his new band, Big Toe. When he was in his mid-twenties, a friend suggested Goffeney and his band play at San Diego’s Balboa Park, a popular public venue for street performers. “You’ll make a dollar a minute,” the friend had said.

Goffeney set out for the park, skeptical of his chances at success, but willing to give the experience a try. He set up his guitar and began singing. As Goffeney sang and strummed his guitar with his toes, a crowd began to form, .... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Articles in the Virgina Madsen Issue; Humor — Livin’ on a Prayer; Harkin — A Step Toward Health Reform; VSA — A Gallery of Talent; Rudy Garcia-Tolson — I Am Ironman; Ashley’s column — Maintaining My Edge; Bad Boys — EEOC Tackles Job Discrimination; Assistive Technology — Suzanne Robitaille; The Eyes Have it — A Sneak Peek at Blindness; Joey Pants — No Kidding... Him Too!; Mark Goffeney — There’s No Business Like Toe Business; Haiti — Rebuilding an Accessible Future;Michael Roman — Faster Than the Speed of Pain; Endocrine Disruptors — The Dirt on Pollution; Madsen Women — Two Women Like That; Josh Sundquist — A Man in Uniform; Post Surgery Guide — A Patient Doctor; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

Feb/Mar 2010

Excerpts from the Virgina Madsen Issue:

Virgina Madsen and Elaine Madsen — Interview

Joey Pants — No Kidding... Him Too!

Post Surgery Guide — A Patient Doctor

Mark Goffeney — There’s No Business Like Toe Business

Rudy Garcia-Tolson – I Am Ironman

Assistive Technology — Suzanne Robitaille

Josh Sundquist — A Man in Uniform

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