TRUE BELIEVER

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.

 

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A RAMBLING POST ABOUT AUTONOMY

I talk a lot about autonomy, and the pros and cons of curating a life to achieve it. My family was never dictated by any particular dogma, religious or community-based. The tools we were given by my Mom were sensibility and practicality at all costs. In fact, we were all sort of allowed to choose our own lives, which I’ve noticed doesn’t happen a lot. We never had curfews and Mom never limited our experiences. We were allowed to go to any church or not go at all, if we wanted to. We weren’t forced into choosing a particular school or sports program. We were taught about responsibility and consequence. When I was 16, my Mom gave me and my younger sister and brother some money, filled up my gas tank, and let us schlep up to Oklahoma by ourselves to visit family and friends for spring break. It’s a simple example, but I didn’t recognize this was abnormal until I returned home and other friend’s parents were horrified, asking “WHAT? YOU WENT ALONE?” Yeah, we did. I didn’t think that was a big deal.

It’s not that I think being dictated by a structured way of life is bad. Most of my friends growing up were pretty sheltered or religious and have normal, successful adult lives. But, I know for sure my adult life is diametrically different than theirs. Not better, not worse, but different. If anything, I live a life of more freedom than anyone I know. When I say freedom, I don’t mean just that go-anywhere, do-anything type of freedom, but an independence I gained because I was allowed to participate in the creation of my own system of morality and deciding what things are valuable to me, instead of being told just “this is wrong, that is right”.

This is not to say that everything I’ve done has been acceptable because I have more of a laissez-faire attitude toward people and life. I’ve committed some personal atrocities toward individuals I’ve cared about and have harmed myself in the process of figuring out love and how to live a life worthy of mention. Or worthy of sharing. Those are the cons I mentioned before. These are the frightening, horrific, keep you awake at night, scared of the dark parts where traditional doctrines or articles of faith could’ve come in useful. The unintended result is that I’ve never been very ambitious about or confident in my ability to love people. And by that, I do mean romantic love above all other forms.

But while that exists and keeps me feeling broken, I have never had a single doubt about my ability to revel in adventure and new experiences, scary as they may be. What really got me thinking about this post is a close friend who expressed her own fear about leaving a place she’s lived her whole life to attempt to forge another one in a new city. I feel confident enough in my sense of adventure to encourage not only the move, but the fear as well. The advice I give (and I’m using the term advice liberally) is: Embrace the fear. It is the only way to become fearless. Be afraid of it. But, take the shot. Rip off the band-aid. Jump behind the wheel. Conquer it. Free yourself from it. You are stronger than you think you are. Platitude, platitude, platitude. I may at some point figure out a way to transition my attitude about adventure to my attitude about love.

I guess the truth is that autonomy and autodidactism is not for everybody. Like I pointed out earlier, I recognize my life is different than a lot of other lives. I’m very aware that speaking of myself like this is kind of obnoxious and self-congratulatory. I also see the irony in creating an autonomous life and then talking about sharing it. It’s a tricky road with directions other than left or right. Infinite possibilities, including sideways and backwards. Liberty is a long, hard, scary, uphill journey only to find your destination is a kind of lonely place. Decide what’s valuable to you and curate your environment to the point of exhaustion. That, to me, is a life well lived. That, to me, is happiness.

Oddly enough, the place to start is likely a place you’ve never spent much time in before.

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SAY HELL YES TO HELL YES FEST

 

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I know I haven’t posted since Moontower in Austin, which is funny (funny odd, not funny haha) because this post is also about a comedy festival. Except this time, the comedy festival is in my much beloved h ometown of New Orleans.

You all know about my raging love for The New Movement Theater. I know you’ve embraced them in the past year because I see you at the shows. So, now let me tell you about Hell Yes Fest: Last year’s festival was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I kicked around town with some brilliant, funny people during the day and was treated to outstanding comedy and improv shows every night. I spent the better part of a week laughing myself to tears, drinking beer, watching rap battles, dancing, showing people around town, enjoying hecklers being demolished, introducing people, being introduced to people, and drinking more beer.

I went every night and attended a show for every single time slot. It sealed my crazy love for the people at TNM and devotion to what their ultimate goal is: to instill the notion in the city and the world that New Orleans is a hub for great comedy.

While the jokes and hanging out with funny people was great, my favorite part of the fest made me a little misty-eyed. At the closing night party, Sean Patton, an amazing comedian and New Orleans homeboy, came up to me, bear hugged me and told me “Thank you so much for being a part of what we’re doing here, Champ.”

For the recor d, I was a low-level sponsor, but was treated as if I had actually done something for real, when all I pretty much did was show up. That’s how grateful this group is to have other people believe in what they’re doing, because they certainly do. I went to bed that night (well, every night) feeling like I was a part of something. Something huge.

Now I want everyone I know to be a part of that, too.

And just so everyone knows, nobody asked me to write this. I’m no salesperson. I’m writing this because I love New Orleans and I love that people like Chris Trew and everyone at TNM exist within it. I’m writing this because I think this is a great festival that deserves all the sponsorship, press, and love it can possibly get. I want the festival to have more money and support than they know what to do with. They proved it could be done successfully. There was not one single night at the festival where there wasn’t a line or an empty seat.

I know I’m definitely sponsoring again this year (at a higher level, of course) and I want you all to really think about doing it, as well. Get your company to sponsor or just throw a bill their way. If you can’t do that, I understand. You can still support by attending TNM shows for a mere pittance every night of the weekend.

Anyway, to the business at hand – Here’s the information you need to become a sponsor.

(Please know that sponsorship is also a binding contract with ME indicating I will worship you and be a patron to your business for life and will also likely be high-fiving you forever.)

Do it and then join me at Hell Yes Fest in November. I’ll be there for every show.

 

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REPORTING FROM: MOONTOWER COMEDY FESTIVAL, AUSTIN, TX

I’m at the Moontower Comedy Festival this week! I personally kicked it off last night with crawfish at the Chuggin’ Monkey and an Air Sex show at The Highball. But, tonight is the official kick off happy hour at 5 PM at the Stephen F. Austin Int’l Hotel. Here is my calendar for this festival, always subject to change. If you’re here, holler. Let’s catch a show!

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FILE UNDER: AMAZING EMAILS TO CHAMP

Just a glimpse into the communications I have with the amazing people in my life. An email I got this morning:

“Here’s the last thing I picked up – an Ovation 12 string – it’s got a bunch of custom features because it was built for one of the guys in Grinderswitch. Yes that’s right Grinderswitch. The only thing cooler than that is if it had been one of the guys in Ram Jam.

The guy I bought it from said if I played Aminor to Fmajor just right that one of the Wilson sisters would magically appear. (inside joke – those are the opening chords to “Crazy on you” and Heart were known to use these guitars)

So I played that and Ann Wilson did indeed show up but it was the modern version and not the hot version from the 70’s. Turns out we didn’t have a lot to talk about. So I played the chords backwards and she vanished.”

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SxSW GOOGLE CALENDAR

Hopefully, this embedding works. Here’s where I’ll be over SxSW. I’m not done with it, but I’ve got to go have lunch!

 

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GRAFFITI AND STREET ART

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Something easy I can post is a few pictures I took of graffiti and street art in Lisbon. There is a lot of it. Most of it, sadly, is hideous, artless tagging. But, a little of it is political and some of it actually art. Anyway, here are a few pictures of stuff I thought was interesting.

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