My friend Brent loved music. That was our common bond. I’m being a little selfish with my words, because I know that was probably his common bond with a lot of people. But, that’s how we got to know each other on nights at bars or at shows around Austin in the early part of this century. We talked about a lot of bands and a lot of jukeboxes in Austin. He told me which ones I had to find. I will say, we weren’t very close on a personal level. I knew he had a wife and a lot of really cool friends. I only met her a couple of times and I didn’t know any of the others. But we had some great talks about music. The past, present, future, love and importance of it.
When I moved there in 2003, I had never been to Austin before. I’m not sure I’d even driven through it. I was young and very excited to be somewhere new and on my own – in a city saturated in music, steeped in history, and ready to give me my first taste of SxSW. Brent was one of the first people I met in Austin and he was as excited about that as I was, even though he’d been there for god knows how long by that point (with quite a remarkable history, I’m discovering). Upstairs at Opal Divine’s, we sat at the small bar, ordering drinks, talking about music. I made a joke about dolphin mating, and walked around with my hands on my head like a fin, making ear-piercing dolphin squawks. He laughed, and from that, could tell I was definitely a silly kid. There was probably 20 years of daylight between us. But, that never mattered. He knew I was excited about music and sponge-like in my thirst for information. He never patronized me or did that thing where older, cooler people tell you “You weren’t even born when that band was around!” because like all true music lovers, he knew that it transcends time, birthdates, everything.
We exchanged phone numbers but our meetings were charmingly random and sporadic. For me, the only times I called were when I was getting itchy to talk about new music over a few drinks or I was creeping around for a free SxSW badge. He never gave me one. Instead, he told me to come volunteer, for which I’m thankful. Because of that, I built a relationship with the city, the festival and the music. Like a lot of friendships, after a few years, the time between our meetings was longer and longer. SxSW was becoming bigger and bigger. His personal life was filling out with a family and I was entrenched in my own goings-on. When we did see each other, often when bands were nearby, the visits were short, but lovely and sweet.
My friend Brent died suddenly, unexpectedly yesterday morning and I found out a few hours later. To say the least, I was devastated. Not because we were now so close, but because it’s shocking that he was so young — too young — and because of that, I always assumed I’d see him again. I took for granted that I’d see him again. And now I won’t.
He’ll never even know his influence on me. Because, like a careless human, I never got around to telling him.
Now, the greatest tribute I can personally pay him is to tell you all that he is part of the reason I am so passionate about music today. It’s always been a part of my life, and I have always loved it. But, Brent was my blueprint because of his love and enthusiasm for it. His thirst for it. His constant craving. I want to never, ever lose my passion for or become cynical about what music is, was or can be.
The second greatest tribute I can pay him is to let you all know that if you’ve ever been to Austin or SxSW, if you’ve fallen in love with a band that got its break there, been to a day party there, have seen a movie from the film festival, heard about tech from Interactive, read about it, or even just know who I am, then you’ve also been influenced by Brent Grulke. Every single one of you reading this has.
The loss of Brent is a disastrous blow for all that knew him and all that didn’t. That is to say, for everyone. Austin and SxSW will never be the same. Music will never be the same. I’ll never be the same. Not just because he died. Also, because he lived.
Thank you, Brent, for remaining a true believer and showing me how to be one. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a small part of your extraordinary life. You will always be a huge part of mine.