DR. T - IN THE MEDIA
From autopsy reports to red carpet, 'CSI's' Dr. Telgenhoff has it covered
ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES
During Saturday’s “CSI: The Experience” gala opening at MGM Grand, “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker is joined by two men instrumental in the formation of the franchise: Metro crime scene analyst Daniel Holstein and Clark County forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Telgenhoff.
By John Katsilometes · September 15, 2009 · 6:35 PM
Sometimes it takes a red carpet event at a behemoth resort-casino to remind just how uniquely small Las Vegas can seem. It is a city where even a county-employed forensic pathologist can be the focus of celebrity photographers during a teeming-with-stars media event.
That scene unfolded just this weekend on the Strip, and we … were … there.
On Saturday at the MGM Grand, which soon should supplant Reno as the Biggest Little City in the World, “CSI: The Experience” celebrated its grand opening gala VIP/media event. Paraded across the blood red carpet were executives and actors connected with the project, chief among them series creator and Las Vegas resident Anthony Zuiker. Also walking the strobe-lit carpet were “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” mainstays Marg Helgenberger, George Eads, Liz Vassey, Jorja Fox, Robert David Hall, David Berman, Wallace Langham, Paul Guilfoyle and Eric Szmanda.
And hanging around this crew was our favorite Pete Barbutti look-alike, Clark County forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Telgenhoff. I’d not seen this man since June, at a radically contrasting event: the announcement by Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy that Las Vegas entertainer Danny Gans died of a toxic response to the powerful painkiller Dilaudid.
During that event, Telgenhoff and Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy were stoically informing the public of how Gans perished on May 1 at age 52. But Saturday, Telgenhoff was a lot more ebullient, explaining his participation in the “CSI” event and his role as consultant for the series and the new interactive attraction.
“A long time ago, Anthony approached me about this idea he had for a TV show about forensic medicine and wanted to see what went on in a morgue,” Telgenhoff said during a quick red carpet chat (and this is the only type of chat you’ll participate in on a red carpet) as photographers fired away at Zuiker and the more-recognizable celebs. “I wasn’t sure what he was up to other than that, but I’ll talk to anybody with an idea.” In a story that has since become part of Las Vegas lore, Zuiker was working as a Mirage tram operator at the time (and as Zuiker success blooms, his former low-level employment has taken on even less and less prominence, and soon I’m expecting him to say, “I was but a lowly tram operator, being fed only the spare pizza crusts of kindly tourists,”). In his early research phase, Zuiker culled the needed technical forensic education to produce a sensible storyline for a TV series, and consequently cut loose with a hit with the explicitly detailed “CSI.”
The show has since branched out to two other death-defying series, “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: New York,” and has even taken the form of a board game. The attraction at MGM seems the next logical step, if your interpretation of logic is to follow the inspired “Star Trek Experience,” which was a hit at the Las Vegas Hilton for a decade.
Even beyond his role as a “CSI” consultant, Telgenhoff favors entertainment. He’s a drummer and vocalist for the Vegas heavy metal band SkinnerRat, which this month released the aptly titled CD “You Kill Me.” (Telgenhoff’s dual life has been previously reported by then-Las Vegas Sun music writer Spencer Patterson back in our Accent heyday, click here for that story; and more recently, in August, by colleague Abigail Goldman; click here for her Six Questions piece.) A song sampling: “Mama’s in a Can,” “Cold Dead Hands” and “Mabel’s Marbeling.”
As a songwriter, Telgenhoff urns every accolade.
Telgenhoff describes his position with Clark County as “my day job,” and Saturday did offer that he was relieved inquiries into Gans’ death had finally ceased. He’s not big on the celebrity-autopsy form of newsmaking, saying, “I’m just glad Michael Jackson didn’t come through here.” Then he turned away, off to the carpet to pose for the camera on a different sort of crime scene investigation.
The first time I met Zuiker was a few years ago in one of the more random circumstances, ever. He was standing next to me at the Green Valley Ranch sports book looking over college football betting lines. On Saturday, I asked him who he liked in the afternoon games. “Today, USC,” he said. I’d just been watching the referred-to game, USC-Ohio State, and said, “It’s 10-3 OSU, second quarter.”
“No!” he said. “It’s 10-10 now! I’m ahead of you.” He snuck a peek at his handheld, I guess, but he lost the bet as USC won 18-15, failing to cover the 7. I’m sure as a result he’s in financial ruin …
Rock Around the Doc: SkinnerRat founder Dr. Gary Telgenhoff balances career, music
On May 28, Dr. Gary Telgenhoff watched as an orderly wheeled up a gurney carrying a body covered with a white sheet.
The experience was hardly new for Telgenhoff. As a forensic pathologist for Clark County, he works with cadavers every day.
Except that on this night, he wasn't in the coroner's office. He was onstage at the Fiesta Rancho.
And on this occasion the body on the gurney didn't remain prone, awaiting Telgenhoff's autopsy.
This time, the sheet pulled back to reveal a very animated personage, guitarist Dick Wagner, who is known for his work with Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel and Lou Reed, among others.
The event marked the first live appearance of Telgenhoff's rock 'n' roll project, known as SkinnerRat.
Though his position as a medical examiner pays his bills, the 47-year-old drummer and vocalist said he relishes his evenings and days off, when he can write, record and rehearse his original musical compositions. "This is just my day job," Telgenhoff said. "The other stuff is what I love. Rock 'n' roll is my passion."
A love for drumming
Long before he ever considered attending medical school, Telgenhoff was a drummer, pounding away on cardboard boxes at his childhood home in Cadillac, Mich., when his parents balked at the idea of buying him a drum set.
"I was raised in a baptist home," Telgenhoff said. "They didn't want any rock 'n' roll influence going on."
Undaunted, Telgenhoff continued to mimic Ringo Starr's Beatles' parts on his makeshift skins, until his parents eventually acquiesced.
"They found out it wasn't a passing fad," he said.
Hardly. Telgenhoff went on to play in bands throughout high school and college, and made a career in music for 10 years after graduating from Spring Arbor College.
"I was making a living at music," Telgenhoff said. "It wasn't great, but life was fun. I had no responsibilities, so it was all beer and cigarette money, even though I didn't smoke."
In time, however, work began to dry up for Telgenhoff's bands, as the music business in Michigan began to change.
"We were playing clubs and bars, and you could see that times were changing," he said. "Bars were phasing out bands and going with DJs."
Back to school
Telgenhoff decided to return to graduate school, studying physiology and biology at Eastern Michigan University and then attending medical school at Michigan State. He said the latter step was one he took rather grudgingly.
"If you look at me, I'm just not the physician type," said Telgenhoff, a silver-haired gentleman with a slightly sinister glint in his eye. "And as soon as I got around patient care, I knew I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to be responsible for people's well-being."
It didn't take long for Telgenhoff to find something more suited to his tastes, however.
"I had my first rotation in forensic pathology and I knew it was for me," Telgenhoff said. "I'd always been more into the science of medicine."
Telgenhoff also vowed to jump-start the music side of his life again, writing and home recording.
He performed as a one-man band called Badd Medisin, playing half of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album onstage alone.
"I did it to keep my sanity," he said.
Then, six years ago, Telgenhoff moved from Michigan to Las Vegas, taking his job at the coroner's office. And it wasn't long before the next musical opportunity came knocking at his door.
Birth of a rat
While doing research for then-fledgling television series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," producer and creator Anthony Zuiker met Telgenhoff one day while Telgenhoff was performing an autopsy.
The two struck up an immediate friendship, and Telgenhoff began working as a frequent consultant for the show. He said the program's medical examiner, Dr. David Robbins, is in part based on his own character.
"I enjoy teaching and answering all (Zuiker's) questions," Telgenhoff said.
In an e-mail exchange with the Sun this week, Suiker said Telgenhoff "is instrumental in 'CSI' being a success."
"He was crucial during the pilot-writing stage. I was awestruck by his calm demeanor and wry sense of humor," Zuiker said. "I experienced my first autopsy with Dr. T."
Telgenhoff is not paid for his assistance, but at the end of "CSI" season No. 1, the Las Vegan received something he considers far more valuable: musical exposure.
One of his songs, titled "Speak For You," was featured on the season finale, and his name was even mentioned on screen.
Excited by the turn of events, Telgenhoff immediately hatched an idea for an ongoing musical project. SkinnerRat was born.
Since then, Telgenhoff has self-released two CDs under the SkinnerRat moniker, 2001's "Speak For You" and 2002's "In the Box."
The latter features Wagner, a longtime Michigan acquaintance of Telgenhoff's, on lead guitar.
"He called me up and asked if I would play guitar on it," Wagner said. "I said, 'Send me the music,' and when I got it, I was very impressed. His concept is perfect for rock 'n' roll songs."
That SkinnerRat concept centers around psychologist BF Skinner and his principal regarding behaviorism. Skinner held that pleasure and pain could be learned and unlearned, and devised a "Skinner Box" -- in which rats pressed on levers for food rewards -- to prove his theories.
Telgenhoff observed similar patterns in his hometown,
"I see people in casinos tapping on machines and they look like a bunch of rats in a Skinner Box," he said. "We're all out there just trying to satisfy our desires without any thought. We're just pressing down on the food lever."
Telgenhoff approached his first SkinnerRat album from the point of view of a medical examiner. The results, not surprisingly, were rather dark.
"It's not for the suicidal," he said.
The follow-up CD, on the other hand, is more about observations relating to the Skinner theme, bringing together metallic tunes with titles such as "Pain and Pleasure," "In the Box" and "Food Chain."
Out of the box
In May, Telgenhoff brought SkinnerRat to the stage. Wagner flew in from Michigan to participate, providing veteran guitar chops and a healthy dose of name recognition.
"I'm so honored to work with him," Telgenhoff said. "He's such a great musician and such a great friend. It means a lot to me to have his approval."
Filling out the band for the visually spectacular event: local musicians Jeff Isom, Rudy Miller, Keith Larson and Terry Lively, along with performer Shawna Shields.
Telgenhoff expects to have DVD versions of the event available soon through his Web site, www.skinnerrat.com.
Wagner said he would love to see SkinnerRat mount a full-fledged tour, but don't look for Telgenhoff to leave forensic pathology behind anytime soon to do so.
"That's my dream, but it costs money and you have to have a good job to afford it," Telgenhoff said. "So if your dream ever comes through, what happens to that job you studied so hard to do?"
For now, Telgenhoff said he'll be satisfied trying to perform a few times a year, working on his next album and continuing to work days in order to sit down at his drum set at night.
"I may be a doctor, but I don't think of myself that way," he said. "I've always just been a musician, and that's what I'm most proud of."
SIX QUESTIONS FOR:
A CLARK COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER, MUSICIAN
Gary Telgenhoff’s day job as a medical examiner in the Clark County coroner’s office influences his night job as writer of heavy-metal songs for his band.
Monday, Aug. 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Gary Telgenhoff is a dark human being. He’s also a doctor. The Clark County medical examiner does autopsies by day and writes morose heavy-metal music by night, as the front man of band Skinner Rat.
Next month, Telgenhoff’s newest album, “You Kill Me,” comes out, featuring Blue Oyster Cult current and former members Eric Boom and Danny Miranda.
What don’t people know about being a medical examiner?
There is no black and white in this profession. You study medicine, but what you see every day is really not based on hard science. You get stuck with cases in the gray zone. You rely on daily experience, street smarts, common sense and other ingredients.
Does your work influence your music?
Directly. My music is about what I do. I was a musician before I went to medical school, but I had no ideas for tunes. As soon as I got into the profession, ideas started falling from the sky and I can’t stop writing. Everything I do really wraps up into one strange package.
You give slide show presentations of curious deaths — do you delight in grossing people out?
I enjoy it and I feel safe doing it because I’ve found almost everybody has this side to them. Everybody has got that morbid curiosity and I exploit that. Why not?
What is it about the work of behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner that prompted you to name your group after him?
He showed how behavior can be influenced. I see the way we are socialized is the way we behave; not only are movies and music reflecting culture, they’re forming culture. I see a lot of the result of that in the morgue.
What scares you?
People who have no self-imposed control. Extremists. People that can’t use logic, that I can’t present an argument to. People who are so sure of what they believe that they ignore all other evidence. Ignorant superstition scares me. In 2008, I’m not sure we have progressed much from the cave.
Has your job made you a misanthrope?
I was a dark person before, but this job hasn’t helped. I have a lot more faith in human nature, I know what people are going to do — the wrong thing. I was born a little adult, and I spent a lifetime perfecting cynicism.
Taken from SLY IN THE MORNING - WTDY MADISON 1670
Interview with Dr. Gary Telgenhoff (click to listen to MP3 file)
Dr. Gary Telgenhoff is a forensic pathologist for the Clark County Coroner's Office in Las Vegas, Nevada. He's a real-life crime scene investigator and consults for the hit CBS show CSI. Telgenhoff also has had a lifelong passion for music. We hear a track from his band Skinner Rat. A great guest and a great interview with not your average doctor or musician.
Dr. Telgenhoff is in Madison for the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation Fundraiser tonight at the Monona Terrace Convention Center.