It’s the first week of October and leukemia survivor Jeff Walker is on a bit of a roll. On Friday, he saw Beck at the Hollywood Bowl with his 16-year-old daughter, and, on Sunday, Broken Social Scene in a surprise gig at the tiny Troubadour in the heart of Hollywood. On Monday, he was at home with his girlfriend for a quiet night before a calendar notification flashed letting him know about a gig he had bought tickets for months ago. He ate a quick dinner and headed off.
“Someone posted a Facebook article and it said ‘If you see more than two shows a month, you’ll live an additional seven more years,’ and my girlfriend chimes in and she says, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to live forever!’” he says.
He doesn’t work in the industry, nor is this part of some bucket list for the music obsessed. Jeff heads to concerts because that’s what he’s done since he was 11. On average, he hits between 80 to 100 concerts a year. Yes, you read that right.
For those doubting music’s claim as a fountain of youth, look no further than the Stones or Joan Jett. But Jeff’s fascination isn’t rooted in the desire to tap into the glory years that preceded his all-consuming job as an industrial designer, and the work trips that send him up and down the coast.
Jeff goes to gigs because he loves both the spontaneity of the live experience and the balance it brings to his life. And when, last year, his doctor noticed something wrong on his X-Rays, they became one of the lifelines he used to pull himself up the road of recovery.
His love for music
Born and raised in Ohio, Jeff went to college in Cincinnati but soon felt the pull of the West Coast and moved out to San Francisco in 1986. In the last 32 years he’s only ever called the City by the Bay and Los Angeles home.
His career progressed at various design studios, rarely intersecting with his true passion, with one exception: the opportunity to work on the first exhibitions at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in his native Ohio. “You can’t imagine how great that was for me,” he says.
Each project has offered him an opportunity to grow, a feeling that hasn’t changed, even as he’s nearing 60. There are probably few industries that value experience as much as the design and construction of buildings. He co-leads a studio at Gensler, the respected design outfit that, among other major builds, designed the first Tesla showrooms.
Most of his projects are mixed-use developments and managing the significant budgets that accompany them. But the biggest challenges and the rewards are in piecing interdisciplinary teams together, of varying ages and skill sets, on any one project.
“It’s kind of like a movie producer’s role, but for architecture,” he says.
The pace can be hectic, which means that going out on school nights come with limits on the booze and late nights. But they’re not out of the question.
“I’d say more than anything, [live music] is a release for me,” he says.
Change in his life
Which is why, when he was diagnosed in May 2017 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the gigs would not stop. They simply couldn’t. Twice a week, for six months, he’d go in for cancer treatments, and then head into work afterward. A friend of his who worked at McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica made sure to get him in to store concerts whenever he wanted. On the nights he had concert tickets, he’d often spend a few moments deliberating whether or not he had the energy for it.
“We’d come home and I’d always feel better that I’d went,” he says. “I always went home feeling there was a little bit more life inside of me.”
Since going into remission, Jeff’s started cycling again, watching what he eats a bit better and doubling down on the things that bring him joy.
“It kind of taught me to embrace each day,” he says. “If you’re passionate about something, grab it now, don’t wait around. It gets back to what I touched upon. How many five-year plans do you really have left when you’re 60? How many summers do you have?”