So long, old buddy: SXSW creative director Brent Grulke dies at 52



  • Grulke
The music world lost a huge friend and tireless supporter Monday when Brent Grulke, the creative director of the South By Southwest Music Festival and Conference in Austin, Tex., died from a heart attack after undergoing oral surgery. He was 52 and leaves behind his wife Kristen, 6-year-old son Graham, and music-industry friends and acquaintances literally all over the world.

Brent had worked for SXSW from its beginnings in 1987, although he lived away from Texas briefly in the early 1990s to work in other areas of the music business. He returned to Austin in 1994, becoming the music confab’s permanent creative director. Brent was responsible for booking the artists who appeared at SXSW, and he did it better than anyone could. He not only helped give SXSW its reputation for presenting an eclectic roster of quality artists, but Brent and his friends and colleagues in Austin also helped grow the conference from a small gathering of music-industry insiders into the massive, Mardi Gras-like gathering it is today. Brent was a huge supporter of regional and independent artists, and in his position as creative director of SXSW, he has directly helped to nurture numerous stars of all genres over the past quarter-century, particularly the more critically acclaimed artists often buzzed about in music publications. Brent’s excellent taste and deep knowledge of all kinds of music was formidable.

This is where the obituary turns personal, as many tributes to Brent have done and will continue to do throughout the day. He was a friend to many music journalists, this one included.

Brent was an usher at my wedding in 1996. I had met him when I was the editor of the music magazine Option in Los Angeles. One of the magazine’s writers, Jason Cohen, brought Brent by my West Hollywood home in 1991, and we all went out to see Primal Scream play. Brent had just moved to L.A. and the two of us became fast friends. Among my many indelible memories of Brent is the time the two of us sat in my 1968 Mustang for hours after a night of music, talking about whether George Jones’ early honky-tonk records were better than the country singer’s smoother years in the ’70s as a countrypolitan balladeer under producer Billy Sherrill. I said the former; Brent said the latter. Brent was right and he changed my mind. Brent and I would walk around the canyons and go record shopping together. When I broke up with a girlfriend once, Brent's partner at the time tried to hook me up with their actress friend (remember Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks?) in a complete mismatch that Brent had warned me against. "Dude, trust me, she is not your type," he told me, laughing. Once again, Brent was right.

When Brent returned to Austin in 1994 and I moved on to Rolling Stone in 1996, we remained friends, although both of us got busier and busier over the years. Eventually, those early days of gallivanting around L.A. talking endlessly about everything from Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine to George Jones and Otis Redding to Public Enemy and Dr. Dre to Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner became smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. Eventually, there was no time to really talk, and our relationship faded, as so many do.

I deeply appreciate those memories and regret not talking to my old friend one more time. You always wish you had a chance to say just one more thing, have just one more conversation, apologize for that thing you did or said, offer congratulations for that honor or tears for that loss. But you don’t always get one more time. So you have to make do with having gratitude for what you got. And I’m grateful my friend Jason brought Brent Grulke into my life for that Primal Scream show back in 1991. So long, old buddy.

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