Tragic news has reached the Austin Fanzine Project (formerly Geek Weekly HQ): Brent Grulke, creative director of SXSW has died. In his memory/honor, we wanted to repost this interview which was originally published in Geek Weekly #9 in the spring of 2001. It will be digitized and indexed during Phase Two of this project. Our hearts go out to Brent’s family, especially. He will be greatly missed by many…
Here is the audio. Here is the non-truncated audio.
The Brent Grulke Interview
interview by Susan LaInferioria
Geek Weekly: I want to mention before we begin that you volunteered for this interview.
Brent Grulke: Absolutely. As a Geek Weekly fan, I wanted to be subjected to the rigors of your interviewing.
I’d like to apologize for the absence of Jennifer LaSuprema tonight.
That is too bad.
You don’t really get the full treatment. But then again, I had to do the Rob Patterson interview by myself as well. Not that I’m comparing these two. But I wanted to ask you why you volunteered.
Honestly, I just — the interviews with Rob and Margaret, and the general take that you have on things, it sounded fun and challenging, both. You get a lot out of people that otherwise – I’ve never seen anything like with Michael Corcoran – all of those people I never have seen be quite so frank and I thought that was impressive.
We always like to start put at the beginning, and as far as I know you started out as a Cornhusker.
I’m originally from Nebraska. I was born in Nebraska and spent most of my first 13 years in Nebraska. I moved to Texas just before I entered high school, I moved to Houston. I went to school at UT, so I’m not actually a Cornhusker. I never went to the University of Nebraska, but I grew up with the University of Nebraska in my heart.
And you root for Big Red?
Oh yeah. Unless they’re playing Texas, and then I get conflicted. The only surety is that I will never ever root for Oklahoma in anything.
So, everyone talks about how great Austin was back in the day, but I want to know what was horrible back in the old days.
Well, the most horrible thing about Austin in the old days was that it was really hard to find a job. As a consequence, it was really hard for anybody to make any money at all. It was just really hard to make money — job or pursuit of art. It was really cheap, but it was really hard to find any work.
So, were you a journalism major?
I was an RTF major.
And there was no student radio – did you get to work at KUT?
How the hell did they teach you radio when there was no student radio station?
Not very well. The thing that was great about it was that I was around a lot of like-minded people, including many of the people I work with today. Louis Black was a TA of mine originally, and his roommate at the time, Ed Lowry, was one of the founders of the Chronicle. Ed was the one that said, “Hey, Brent, you need to come write at the Daily Texan.” When I first came to school, some of the best shows in town would be at the Union and pitchers were something like two dollars and they had these parties that would last all night and sell pitchers all night to 18 year olds. It just seems so improbable, given today’s political climate. Prop an 18-year-old down on the University of Texas campus, give him a bunch of crazy rock and roll bands, and really cheap beer and all night parties. Ultimately paid for by Texas taxpayers’ dollars.
That’s great. So there were no jobs, what else was bad about Austin? This is something I really want to pursue.
The thing is that everybody’s experience of a place changes over time, and the thing that I love about Austin now isn’t dependent on whether or not there’s money in Austin, whether or not Austin’s booming or not, whether there’s a great music scene or cultural scene. At this point what I love about Austin is I have so many friends here. I don’t like the idea that change is inherently bad. Yeah, there are a lot of things I do miss, but I would miss a lot of things about being 19 regardless of where I was. Now, the things that were bad about Austin, a lot of them are still bad. It’s insufferably hot, the allergies here are horrid, if you have any allergies at all — if you don’t have allergies, you will in Austin. In a lot of ways it’s really provincial, a lot of the things that bigger cities have it doesn’t have, a lot of the amenities that bigger cities have it doesn’t have and never has, and it increasingly has had more of the problems of bigger cities without those amenities.
Houston traffic without Houston museums.
But overall, it still beats Houston.
Although I like Houston. Houston’s a good place to visit.
Without a doubt. So what did you do when you got out of school? Did you leave town?
I did both. I left town multiple times. I left town for periods of time with bands. I was a sound engineer. And that’s part of what I studied at UT, and part of how I got into doing it was friends of mine at UT who were really good musicians and poor engineers, and I was a more competent engineer. I’d record for them in the studio at UT and my friends in Max and the Make-Ups said, “Well, Brent, if you can do studio sound you can do live sound.” I was foolish and arrogant enough to believe that I could, and they let me mix sound for them at Club Foot. I jumped in the van and traveled with them locally and regionally, and continued to do it, and did it long enough to where I thought I knew what I was doing. I did it for four or five years. About the point where I got really competent, I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. Obviously everybody knows a band’s life on the road is really hard. I at that point was not only a sound man but was a tour manager and a road manager, and a road manager’s job generally means that you’re the first one up and the last one to bed. I’d gotten to the point where I could make some money doing it, which was nice. I’d never done it to make money, I’d done it with my friends, and that was the fun of it
What kind of bands were you working with?
I went out with a whole lot of Austin bands, the bands that were dubbed the New Sincerity bands, virtually all of them at one point or another. Doctor’s Mob, the Wild Seeds, the True Believers, the Reivers, and I went out with the reggae band the Killer Bees, and went out with the Prime Movers from Boston – they were a really, really good band.
So what was it like touring in the Reagan era?
It was great fun. There was a big live music audience around the country. There wasn’t much money but there was enough money to keep being able to do it. And it was cheap enough for me to keep living in Austin – I remember when I first went out with Doctor’s Mob and they promised me, I wanna say $400 for the month, but my rent was $182 and my bills were next to nothing. I got free beer and food, so it seemed like a good deal to me. I had so much fun.
And that’s not feasible unless you’re with a successful touring band these days.
And it was a lucky thing and something that’s really different and does concern me about Austin now in terms of musicians. I had all these friends that were musicians and you could make a little money on the road and play a few shows in Austin. It would be enough money to encourage you to continue doing it to where you might be good enough to make some kind of living at it. Or at least make some kind of creative statement, even if you didn’t make a living at it, at least be able to make a good record or two. And it was inexpensive enough to live in Austin to be able to do that. Now I can’t imagine anyone being able to do that. I can’t imagine that being possible. A lot of writer friends of mine and musician friends of mine and were allowed to think of ourselves as these creative types, because we could survive with a part—time job or a relatively low—paying job, something that didn’t demand all of our attention. We could still write or play music or mix sound or paint or whatever we wanted to do, and do it long enough to where we might have some semblance of a career. I don’t know that it really made for better art – certainly people have made great art, lasting art, under much more difficult circumstances, but it did allow a lot of people to think of being a musician or a creative person as a viable way to live your life.
So, you’ve been around Austin bands for going on 20 years now, so you must get a certain amount of harassment in your position at the conference.
Surprisingly little. Some, but there’s a fine line between harassment and someone saying, “Pay attention to me.” I always kind of respect someone who’s saying, “Pay attention to me,” even if that sometimes is a “Fuck you.” I’m not so thin-skinned that somebody – if somebody won’t demand that they be recognized, it’s hard for me to think that anybody else is going to pay attention to them anyway. It requires a certain degree of belief in oneself and I think connected to that is if you’ve got something to say you want to make sure people hear it. There’s a line there, but somebody bitching or being a bit of a pain — I respect that.
What are some good examples of crossing the line?
There’s this sense among certain creative people, musicians that I’ve encountered, that you hold their ticket to success. If you would give them something, the world would recognize their obvious talent. You can’t tell somebody, “Hey, everybody knows who you are, it’s just that your audience is limited,” Or that you lack something creatively that engages more people. A lot of people think that if they don’t have an audience or they don’t have the recognition that they believe that they’re due, it’s somebody else’s fault.
So when they think it’s your fault, what form does it take?
Sometimes I get nasty emails and sometimes I get verbally —
Feel free to name names.
They know who they are. And truthfully, and this is a bit patronizing, but in cases like that, I kind of feel sorry for them. If your presupposition is, “This guy is fucking me over, if I can just yell at him for a while, something better is going to happen,” or whatever sort of response they expect — like I said, I feel sorry for them.
I understand people at the Chronicle take a lot of that because they’re seen as the only venue—
Well, the thing that’s really funny is that the Chronicle was largely founded by fans and like-minded people. I think there’s probably room in town for something else. Do it yourself! At this point the editors are 50, they’re not out in clubs every night. I wouldn’t expect them to be. And the political coverage now, and in terms of what it means to the city politically is really valuable. Things change over time, and if people think there are cultural gaps, well, there not doubt are and there would be in anything. But, do it yourself.
But I think that as the arts paper of record in Austin there is a certain responsibility —
As a former editor, I will say this. For an obvious example, when Jason [Cohen] came into my office and said, “Hey, I wanna write.” Jason had an agenda of things he wanted to do. Things got covered, he already knew. I didn’t have to say, “Oh, this needs to get covered.” If you have talented people that want to work, it’s an easy thing to make sure that things get covered.
I love the stuff that Greg Beets writes, and Kelly Petrash when she wrote about music, but for whatever reason it seems to have been difficult to retain people. Obviously some people go off to do other things.
Tim [Stegall] went off to be a rock star.
Tim also walked into the office, too. When I was there, I was lucky, Tim walks in, Jason walks in –
Wait a minute, somebody else claimed to have ‘discovered’ Tim Stegall.
I would never claim to ‘discover’ somebody. That’s an ego trip, anyways. I mean, for Christ’s sake, the man had been writing for years. That’s nuts. Anybody who’d been sitting at that desk would have said, “Oh, great! Here’s a talented professional journalist who wants to do things!” I would love an Austin where there were terrific, inspired writers that wanted to be heard, and I’m sure that some of them exist and I’m sure that some of them don’t have their voice heard –
They all write for us. Annually.
Back in the old days, the difference was that there were a lot of fanzines where people wrote about their friends and wrote about the bands that they loved. And that wasn’t even very long ago. And it was a really organic thing. It wasn’t someone saying, “You need to write about these bands,” it was the same people that were a part of the audience. It was a scene, it was a community. Truth be told, if I went and wrote about a bunch of punk bands right now, they might be really energetic and really good. I saw it 20 years ago and I’m too old now to where their concerns – I’d be, “Well, what do you know, a bunch of pissed—off kids.” Great, I’m glad, but I’m not going to identify with them the way that I would if I were 20.
Greil Marcus can identify with Sleater-Kinney.
Identify – I don’t know if that’s exactly right. Instead he can analyze them and decide why they’re culturally significant, but that’s an entirely different process. I can do that too, don’t get me wrong. I like snotty 20-year-old punk bands as much as anybody. I’m glad they’re around. That’s sort of the difference now – I’m glad they exist more than, “Boy, this does something for me!”
Have you experienced phases of burnout?
Absolutely. I listen to music really differently now than when I was younger. I had sort of a critic’s perspective all of the time. I love music now as much as I ever have but it functions for me differently. When I saw a band when I was 20, 25, I’d look at that band and say, “Oh, they could be a great band if only,” or “They’re almost great.” I’d compare them to the canon of great rock works and think of them along those kind of lines and sheer aesthetics and what they’d mean in the grand scheme of rock’n'roll. Now, my friends having fun playing music at the Hole in the Wall is a lot more meaningful to me. I don’t think “His voice is a little bit too thin and that guitar tone needs some work and these arrangements are a little bit screwy and that lyric makes me crazy.” I don’t bring this fine-toothed critical comb to things now. Moreover, I don’t bring the disdain – I used to have complete disdain for bands that didn’t measure up to my critical standards
Did you used to require music to have more worth?
A different kind of worth. Part of it was that my sense of cool was attached to that. My ego was attached to the music that I was into –
That’s a very guy thing.
It’s definitely a guy thing. It’s definitely a High Fidelity kind of guy thing. It never goes completely away. My closest friends and I play poker every week –
That would be the media-controlling poker cabal I’ve been trying to crack.
We’ll put you on the list.
No, no, no, I don’t want to play. I wanted to get somebody from the inside to write a story about how it does control the Austin media. Excepting Rich Oppel.
We do spend a great deal of time every week viciously arguing about music, because whoever’s house it is plays music, and we’re for the most part really like-minded people and how many times we’ve argued about the Grateful Dead I couldn’t tell you.
Are you pro or con?
I’m mostly con. I’m pro the idea, I’m pro the community for the most part, but it’s something that I’ve tried – I feel like it’s my shortcoming at this point, that I should see more value there, but I still hear mostly people improvising that can’t play very well. I don’t get it. Giant Sand will do that same kind of free form, psychedelic thing and Giant Sand has worked for me and they’re great. I saw the Grateful Dead a couple of times and I’ve listened to Grateful Dead records, I did the drugs, multiple times. It would be really great if I could find that avenue that would suddenly make me a fan, because there’s tons of it! But I’ve never found that. Instead I go, “Aw, man.”
You don’t think you’d feel guilty at all if you woke up one morning and were a Grateful Dead fan?
No, no, no. I’d like it. Access to more music to listen to would be a great thing.
There’s very little nationally that I’ve been enjoying. What is there that you like?
I think that part of it is that there are so many more records put out now than there have ever been, so you can’t keep track, and it’s all really fragmented. In the mid 80′s I had a sense of really being part of the “scene.” And there were bands that knew about the bands I was working with everywhere I went and we knew about them and the audiences weren’t really big, but we all knew about each other. There was a good sense of how everybody fit together.
It has gotten a lot more divisive. If you think about college radio in the 80′s you think about college radio as one thing and now it’s very cliquey.
And now, the things that I see that is the most creative and that I do feel left behind on a lot of the time but really does fascinate me is a lot of the electronic music and a lot of the hip-hop. There’s genuinely creative – there’s a real scene around both of them and there’s a real overlap with both of them and there’s a lot of really interesting music being made and music that still challenges me that makes me go, “Now, what is that?” I was just last night having an argument with a friend of mine and he was saying how offensive he found all hip-hop. Gangster hip-hop in particular and hip-hop as a genre he just had no use for. I swear, it sounded like the stereotype of the 50′s parent when they first heard rock’n'roll. “It’s just noise, it’s vulgar and it’s offensive!” And I’m thinking, “Doesn’t a lot of art strive to be offensive? Yeah, it’s offensive, it’s striving to be offensive! Do you think that somehow they’re stupid about it, they don’t know they’re being offensive?” Especially when I hear it related to African-American based forms of music. I always think, “Hmm, better get my radar up”. That sounds like veiled racism to me. “Their vulgarity is really vulgar.”
Is there hip-hop that you really like, that you listen to?
There’s a bunch of hip-hop that I like. I just got the new Pharcyde record, I like that. Heck, I like Eminem. I like the sound of Eminem. I like DMX, the sound of DMX is just unbelievable. I do speak as a former sound engineer, but the sound of those DMX records is just ridiculous. The “Conscious” hip-hop stuff, there’s a whole bunch. The Black Eyed Peas are really cool, Jurassic 5. There’s tons of hip-hop that I listen to, but I won’t claim that I’m some great hip-hop expert. I definitely feel like an outsider looking in on hip-hop. And that’s fine.
I find hip-hop and dance music to be entirely unto themselves.
I don’t know, this is a half-baked thought – but because it’s not fully informed by mainstream commercial culture, it is a culture that exists as something more than just product.
Because it doesn’t have to pander to a pop audience, it’s got an established audience that’s big enough.
And that’s certainly true for Tejano music, which because of my poor Spanish-language skills I miss a lot of, but I’m interested in anything that’s – I hate to ever use the word “authentic” because that’s a slippery term, but I like things that strike me as real and immediate. My tastes are really catholic. I still buy tons of records – I bought 7 CDs yesterday.
What’d you get? Don’t lie so you’ll seem cool.
I won’t. I’m trying to remember, that’s the problem. I bought the Little Feat box, which I’d had but I lost it. And you should listen to Little Feat. You really should.
I’ll take your word for that. If Jason has any lying around I’ll borrow his. I remember being quite surprised when I found out he was into the Allman Brothers.
Little Feat’s different, Little Feat were much funnier.
I think there’s a lot of humor to the Allman Brothers.
I don’t think much of that was intentional.
Plane crashes are humorous.
I have been trying for years at South by Southwest – on Sunday nights we always do Hoot Nights –
Oh, wait, the plane crash was Lynrd Skynrd. I was wrong.
Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash, but with the plane crash – for years I’d been wanting to do a Hoot Night called “Leaving on A Jet Plane,” and it’s all people who died in plane crashes. There’s tons of really great artists who, unfortunately, perished in the air. Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Lynrd Skynrd, Otis Redding and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
That’s a great idea. Why isn’t it happening?
Some people think it’s a little bit morbid.
So, what’s your title now?
My title is Creative Director.
And that means?
Mostly that I’m in charge of the music festival, that’s mostly what I do. Coordinate what venues we use and how many bands we’ll have and what bands and I work on the panels too.
And how long have you been doing that?
I think 8 years now? I did panels the first year I came back, maybe this is my 7th year of doing the music fest. I’m really bad with time.
I saw the toilet [part of a band's application] in your office today – do you get a lot of crap like that from bands?
Oh yeah, somebody sent a stripper in with a case that had a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in it.
Did she actually dance?
No, and you know what’s kind of dumb is, I’m kind of stupid, because they said, “Hey Brent, would you come downstairs, somebody’s got something for you,” and I came downstairs and there was a woman there, and I didn’t quite figure it out. I didn’t know she was a stripper, and everybody kind of pointed it out afterwards. I was just kind of embarrassed, because everybody was like, “Hey, somebody wants to give you something,” and I was like, “Hey, I’m busy, why do I have to come downstairs?” There were all these people gathered around to watch. She didn’t take her shirt off, and I don’t know if she was predisposed to or not, but I wasn’t predisposed to have her do it.
That would have considerably lightened the workplace mood.
The thing is – this sounds jaded, I suppose, if you don’t notice a stripper walking into your office, you’re clearly jaded, but there was – people have come in and done all kinds of nutty things, people have sent kegs –
So did the band get in?
I don’t even know who it was. I made sure I wasn’t going to pay attention.
So do you feel you’re performing a great service for these bands? Do you feel gratified when stuff happens for them?
Absolutely. I know that people have fun. On one hand you just feel like you’re being one of the hosts of a great big party, and who doesn’t like to be host of a party? That’s always gratifying. Just that simple thing. But on top of that, if people are able to find it useful, more importantly if they’re able to find it useful and actually get something that they find useful whatever that may be, that’s what’s gratifying. It’s not enjoyable for the people that work on it, it’s really hard work and nobody has much fun. You don’t get to attend South by Southwest if you’re working on it, so you wanna have that thrill vicariously. The reward is in a job well done. If the prospect of being able to have other people have fun and get business done doesn’t give you a sense of satisfaction, then it’s not going to work out.
I know that you sit around and listen to all of these completely unknown bands before SXSW, but then you get to invite the famous people to come down. I want to know the really good requests you get when you deal with acts like that.
It varies. My favorite was Tom Waits. It was a really miraculous show. Every year we have a wish list, “We ought to see if Tom Waits wants to play,” and I said, “Oh, Tom Waits doesn’t have any reason to play SXSW. I don’t see why he would be at SXSW, he doesn’t have a record, blah blah blah blah,” I just didn’t see it happening. And Tom Waits’ manager called like two weeks out and said, “Tom wants to play, but he’ll only play a theatre, and blah blah blah.” So everybody really worked hard. My favorite thing was, the thing that really sticks in my mind, the most telling detail, because Tom was really detail oriented and his manager was also, and his manager was excellent. He’d just gotten contact lenses, so I got a call a day or two before the show and he said, “Brent, can you get me the name of an optometrist in town who can put Tom’s contacts in and take them out?”
What the hell?
A friend of mine who’s also a terrific guitarist in Prescott Curlywolf, Ron Byrd, he’s a doctor, and Ron stays on call during SXSW for musician’s concerns. So I called Ron up and he went down and his sole responsibility was putting Tom’s contacts in and taking them out.
I got contacts when I was 9 – he’s a grown man. That’s ridiculous. How did you deal with everyone trying to get tickets to that show?
People that had wristbands could line up, and then we gave them to registrants, and I’d miscounted, I’ll admit it. We ended up with a few more tickets than we thought we had. So what we did with the tickets that were left over – which, maybe if I’d been better at math, I’d have had a different life anyway – but if I’d counted right, they wouldn’t have been left over. We took them down to the Paramount the night of the show, and scalpers of course had laid hands on a number of them, so anybody that approached a scalper, we’d walk up and give them to them. And did that to the point where every single person that showed up there and hung out long enough that really wanted to see the show, and there were people that were just huge Tom Waits fans that stayed there all night, got a ticket. Because we had a few left.
Because you couldn’t count!
As a consequence, obviously we had rabid fans in there, and it was a great show. And I watched that show, I’ll confess. I turned off my radio and watched that show. I was not gonna miss Tom waits.
How did this Bloodshot thing come to be such an integral part of the festival? We’re running a Bloodshot piece our friend Ian wrote in this issue.
I can’t even remember when the Bloodshot stuff started. It’s been many years now, I’m gonna say maybe 6 years now. Early on it was real simple, they were just cool bands. The fact that they were on Bloodshot didn’t necessarily mean anything to us at the time. At SXSW the fit’s perfect. The kind of bands that Bloodshot does are kind of the bands that people at SXSW expect to see, with the idea of Austin being this rootsy, countryish place with rock’n'roll too. And Alejandro, who I learned a whole lot about music from – the True Believers, when I was really starting to work in music, if they weren’t the coolest band, everybody else thought they might be. There was a ton of competition and I worked with a ton of really cool bands, but the True Believers had something that everybody kind of recognized. Alejandro’s concern about music as art remains really high. Whether it’s good music or bad music matters a lot to Alejandro.
And Bloodshot’s probably the most stable label relationship he’s had.
He was the other day telling me he knew how many records he’d sell on Bloodshot, he’d like to figure out ways to sell more and he thought with Bloodshot he could, and he got his checks regularly from Bloodshot.
That’s the same exact thing Jon Langford said. They sent his checks on time.
That’s no small accomplishment. I worked at an independent label in Los Angeles for a couple of years, Spindletop, which originally was a Texas-based label. We did roots stuff and we did what’s called “New Adult Contemporary,” which – the less said the better.
You couldn’t say that with a straight face, could you?
No, I could not. But boy, those things sold a lot of records. It would blow your mind how many records that you could sell in that format. The point of that only being, I know because of that how hard it is for an indie label to manage their money well enough just to make sure that they’re responsible and their obligations to their artists are made. It’s really hard to make it go as an indie label, even an indie label with integrity has a really hard time paying their artists what they’re due. So the fact that Bloodshot manages this and convinces artists like Jon Langford and Alejandro, who are smart people, that speaks really well of them.
Besides Bloodshot, who throws your favorite party?
I don’t get to go to any parties. I go to the barbecue.
Whose is the biggest hassle, then?
Oh, this year it’s Revolver.
So why is it a hassle? Is it just the fact that they’re bringing in a big band that’s not playing the conference? Do you feel you’re getting shown up?
No, it’s not being shown up. In my mind – now mind you, I’m 100% biased about this – but if you want the benefits of SXSW, if you have a reason to be at SXSW, then work with us and allow all of our registrants to be able to see the acts that you’re bringing.
The Cult didn’t apply and get rejected?
No, they didn’t.
Last year it was a to-do because of Guided By Voices.
Yeah, it was. And we believed they were going to work with us this year and they chose not to.
So what did they give up?
They give up their immediate relationship with us. I’d like to think they might reconsider. I’d never close that door, I’m not against that, but evidently they don’t want to work with us.
Working with you would be having somebody that was playing the festival play their party?
That’s the only thing that we ask. We want our registrants to be able to see all the acts.
And yet you also encourage bands in Austin that don’t get in to play non-conference shows.
But that’s completely different. Bands that don’t get in, if we’re not able to take the band, and we can’t take nearly all the bands that deserve to play, and if a band can’t get in and they can create something, that’s great. That’s the kind of do-it-yourselfism that we encourage. And there always are some places in town that are going to book those bands during SXSW. That’s fine. We want those bands to play, and if they can make something of it, great. But that’s an entirely different thing than the big guys coming in.
I have to say, the thought of people clamoring for invites to see the Cult is pretty sad. I can only see going in there to have a good laugh. I’m not saying I’m not trying to go, though . . . So, we got rejected for our rock critic interview for this issue, which makes me wanna ask you why Raoul Hernandez doesn’t play poker with you guys.
The thing is about our poker group, is that our poker group genuinely is friends. It’s just friends.
It’s just friends that happen to control the media in Austin.
Yeah, we control it. There’s gonna be a buyout of Geek Weekly anyday.
We’re for sale cheap.
Our poker group is – this poker game has existed in some form or fashion for 17 years, and it’s friends, and anyone who’s ever joined the game has been a friend of a friend. And that’s just it.
Raoul’s not your friend?
I’m not saying that, I’m saying that right now we have too many people, we couldn’t add people.
Should one of your members drop out, you’d be glad to take his money, though.
Adding members to poker, part of it’s serendipity. When Jeff Salamon first came to town, he was introduced to us by Pat Blashill. It just happened that somebody had left town around the same time, and Jeff had been invited over, a friend of a friend, and was gonna move to Austin.
Do you usually come out on top?
I think I’ve probably broken even. I think that’s the case for most of us.
No big winners?
No, and everyone knows each other’s bullshit.
Well, anyway, we were turned down by Raoul and we were very hurt by this.
Why did he turn you down?
We’ll get into that in the rest of the issue. Basically he said, “I don’t consider myself a geek, I’ll have to decline.” We’re very hurt by this. First of all, by definition, he’s a rock critic -
He’s clearly a geek, but some people are proudly geeks, and some people are not.
I think we can say that he’s in the closet, and I think we can also say we’re prepared to out him as a geek.
I think we should. I’ll go on the record as saying that I consider this really unfortunately poor form on Raoul’s part.
I’m sure he’s not losing any sleep over it. I’d like to think we’re good enough for any rock critic in Austin. That’s the first time we’ve ever been turned down for an interview. Salamon might be a target in the future.
You should, because Jeff’s an interesting guy.
And one of these days we’ll do the all-Jewish issue.
I’ve noticed your affection for Jews.
Well, Jennifer is Jewish and she wanted to do a section in this one but we couldn’t get it together in time. We’d have to have the Jewish sports section, Jewish rock bands. Well, this is the point in our interviews where we like to have everyone run down our list of fellow writers and comment on them, but I didn’t prepare my list this time because I didn’t know if not being a practicing rock critic you’d have the same view.
Oh, I know the rock critics.
Well, we’ve got Raoul. What’s your opinion of him as a writer?
Raoul is a man of genuine integrity. I respect that. He’s very serious-minded, he’s professional. At times I wish he would loosen up a little bit. If you’re going to be a rock critic, you should have fun with it, too, and I don’t have the sense that he’s having as much fun with it as he should. On the other hand, it’s a little bit like asking a horse to be a giraffe. He’s good at being a horse.
Chris has a lot more fun, obviously. I’d like to see Chris have a wider audience. I think that he – early on, he was so geeky that I had of course a great degree of affection for his geekiness and at the same time because I recognized so much of myself in him, and also said, “He’ll grow out of it.” He’s grown out of it and he’s become a much better writer and I’d like to think that Chris could have a bigger audience. He’s got good insights and he works hard. And like I said, I identified with Chris the first time I saw Chris because he was paying a lot of attention, and standing in a corner kind of quietly, but paying a lot of attention.
Greg Beets, who’s sporadic at the Chronicle
And Greg is a terrific writer and he’s a really great humor writer. He’s really great at being funny. But writing for him is just one of the things that he does. It’s just a creative outlet. I think that if it’s what he decided he wanted to do all of the time, he could do it all the time. He’s got a lot of interests and it’s just one of the things that he does.
Ken’s kind of really impossible for me to comment on in any objective way because Ken’s been my friend for so long. And I sort of apply the same standards to Ken that I do to the Austin bands I like right now. I’m just glad that Ken still does what he does. Ken at his best is really really funny and he does this job that is a hard thing to do and it’s sure hard to do week after week after week. Yet he manages to do it most of the time with at least several good pieces of news and a couple of good jokes and at times, it’s better than that. But Ken’s the same way as my old friends who are in bands, Ken’s comfortable. He might not like that thought, but the fact that Ken’s voice is there all the time, I like.
What’s with the hair?
Oh, God. Ken’s sartorial sense is – has he never had anybody in his life teach him how to dress? He doesn’t care.
Margaret Moser she’s more than a rock writer, though.
Margaret’s always kind of been big sister to me. When I really was even dumber than I am now, Margaret clued me in to a lot of things that I didn’t know about and has always treated me just terrifically. Margaret does memoirs, personal experience, very, very well and has become increasingly good at it. In terms of her opinion and being able to use that opinion to gauge whether you’ll like something or not, I don’t know how reliable I’ve ever found Margaret in terms of that. Instead it’s if Margaret loves something – and in fact, that’s the thing I’ve always looked for in rock writers. First and foremost, you’re a writer. If you can’t write, who cares? If you can write, who cares what your opinion is? I mean, hell, I’ve agreed with about three of Corcoran’s opinions musically in my life, but when Michael writes really well, he’s a terrifically entertaining writer. I don’t care what his opinion is, and the fact is that he’s oh so frequently just wrong, wrong, wrong in his opinions.
What was it like working with Rob Patterson?
Rob and I personally have always had a good working relationship. We got a lot done together, we always worked well together. But Rob can be difficult. Other people don’t necessarily find Rob easy to work with. He’s opinionated. He’ll have a vision of how things should be, and with people that he respects, that kind of interaction can be one that will produce positive results. But if Rob doesn’t respect somebody or if he thinks that they’re wrong or something, he can be – he can make people angry. And he’ll make people angry in ways that a lot of writers make people angry.
He was your successor at the Chronicle, right?
He was. And prior to that, Rob was a writer for me. He did a bunch of really good work and did it really well and didn’t cause me any grief at all.
Let’s see, over at the Statesman, you already talked about Corcoran.
Now, Michael, I just want to mention that Michael and I have been friends for a very, very long time. Michael and I lived together twice.
Couldn’t work it out?
He was a bad lay. No, when it comes to Michael doing his job, if people would ever get the sense that – like the kind of thing you talk about, the poker game that controls the media, or all of my friends who are journalists or musicians, Michael sort of is proof that this does not preclude conflict. With that column, sometimes he’ll do things that make me crazy. He’ll also do things that are helpful. But he has his own agenda and I have mine, and of course I feel like mine is right, and how could he possibly fail to see that my side is the correct one?
I have to ask you one final question that was requested by an outside party. I was told that for women of a certain age, Brent Grulke was a rite of passage.
I can only answer that by saying that no one can talk about his or her love life without bragging or confessing, and who wants to hear either one?