I am taking a step back today and instead of sharing what you should be checking out this weekend I wanted to share the story of my dear friend, Brent Alwin, and his impact on me and the local music scene. We lost Brent two weeks ago in California after he moved out there in January to start anew; those of you who follow me on Facebook might remember our chronicles from the road.
Brent and I met in seventh grade when he moved to Lakeville and we had English with Ms. Novak. I was one of Brent’s first friends in Lakeville and through the next thirty years we weaved in and out of each other’s lives while we were growing up and going our own ways, we always reconnected around our mutual love of music. Through high school Brent was always on the leading edge of what the cool music was and we enjoyed sharing new artists and even in high school were focusing on the local music scene, especially The Suburbs. Brent and I shared many hours enjoying the Sex Pistols, U2, and Billy Idol, just to name a few. Brent was not a traditional music student through high school, never being in choir or band, but through his love of music he began his music career playing in small bands like the “Radio Active Tomatoes” in high school. Besides enjoying music together we also spent many hours of juvenile delinquency including epic high school parties at both of our parents’ homes and senseless teenage vandalism; it all played into our perspective of cutting-edge kids in a rural community (back then Lakeville was still rural).
We spent many nights watching SCTV and had a love of AWA professional wrestling. This brought us to the creation of our wrestling tag team “The Afghan Rebels”. I was known as the Masked Assassin who never wore a mask and Brent was the Tree Man who actually did wear a mask. It is these off-beat memories that are the most memorable. Even now in the Facebook generation I was always excited to see what band or YouTube clip Brent had posted, knowing it was going to be off-beat, entertaining and memorable. It is my perception that Brent loved sharing these things with others to increase their world view and expand their horizons.
In high school everyone loved Brent, he was extremely likeable. As I have reconnected with friends since his death I was amazed how many female friends mentioned that they had a crush on him. Brent always had a friendly disposition and reached out beyond his usual circle of friends; it was this endearing trait that served him well as he entered adulthood. Brent was always dating a pretty girl. We hung out hoping some of their friends would hang out with us! Brent was also an exceptional athlete who participated in Cross Country, Cross Country Skiing, and Long Distance Track, and lettered sixteen times.
After high school we went our separate ways, I took a more traditional path with college while Brent moved onto one year of college and then several years of deciding what he was going to do next. I missed several of those years but the stories of the parties and good times by mutual friends I suspect Brent was still using his natural charm and good nature to expand his circle of friends. Brent’s first successful band was Die Kunce Decadence, which had some local success and got him involved in the local music scene. I remember catching them one night at 7th Street Entry, the music might not have been perfect but the vibe in the room was great. Brent was doing what I thought was the coolest thing: living the rock and roll lifestyle.
Brent’s most musical success was found as the bassist for the Style Monkeez back in the 1990’s. This was around the time that Red Hot Chili Peppers were popular and in my opinion the Style Monkeez were the RHCP of the Twin Cities. When the album came out I was a crew foreman for a construction company and some of the kids working for me were big fans and had the CD, we rocked that CD back and forth to work in the Ford Ranger. The Style Monkeez were very popular in the Twin Cities, playing venues like First Avenue and also some incredible house parties. They toured nationally and some internationally I believe. When Brent and I were together he always had stories to share about crazy antics on the road. Most of them are at least “R” rated but always worth a laugh, it sounds like his band mates must have been very tolerant of his antics. To me the best Style Monkeez song was a cover of Madonna’s “Justify My Love” – it had all the elements of a great cover including a completely new take on the original artist’s work. Again Brent was forging his way in the world on his own terms while still working and mentoring other young artists who were playing with him.
After the Style Monkeez, Brent enrolled at Music Tech in the Twin Cities and became a sound technician. He began a successful career working for national artists around the world and had great stories of the road, hard drinking and crazy partying. Brent definitely had an ear for good production, when we attended shows he could always point out what was good and more importantly what could be improved in the sound quality. We could walk into a venue and he could tell you what the struggles would be there, from where the sound board was located to the basics of amp placement. Brent told me that he enjoyed most working front of house, making sure the band could hear themselves and their band mates. Working front-of-house makes sense to me for Brent, there he could be in the inner circle and keep the artists happy. As we all do, Brent did some work that he didn’t always enjoy (like a regional piano artist who will go unmentioned) but paid well. Those stories were almost better than the hard rocking stories though, it was more about human nature and Brent’s take on that.
After getting married Brent began working for the Walker and from a sound perspective spearheaded events like “Rock the Garden” and “Movies and Music”. Also I understand Brent started a wall of fame of artists who played the Walker which lives on today. I think we all knew Brent would have preferred to have been on the road but he definitely wanted to make sure he gave his marriage every chance to succeed. Brent still got the opportunity to head out on the road now and then.
Brent eventually got divorced. While we had always kept in touch and quite often ended up doing something together (like a Liz Phair show on my birthday), it was after the divorce that we started spending more time together and catching up. He teased me that I should be the one in the music business because I had more passion to check out new bands but I always appreciated his insight into any band that we saw together. It was during these outings that I realized how well-connected Brent was in the Twin Cities music scene. We always ran into someone who either had seen him play, worked with him, or was a mutual friend through someone else in the scene. Brent was his usual genuine self to everyone; I assume that is why they all liked him. Brent was always Brent, there was no alternate personality to him. Everyone I have connected with since his death have been the some of the nicest people, I think that is because Brent never had much time for negativity and those persons quickly were off of Brent’s radar.
Since Brent’s divorce I had been fortunate to spend a lot of time with him. A couple of winters ago we took a road trip to Lutsen to see The Suburbs with two other former classmates, Troy Carrick and Brad Mares. It was a typical trip with Brent, we laughed a lot, critiqued the music we were listening to, and drove most jokes into the ground. The most incredible part of the trip was the four of us staying up until 4:00 in the morning watching old Little House on the Prairie episodes (including the finale where they blow up Walnut Creek) and reminiscing. Other times we spent up at my family’s cabin where we would get up late and stay up late just doing whatever we wanted. I know that Brent really treasured his time with his friends and that I was not the only one who was fortunate enough to share so much time with him. Those of us who were close to him were lucky to know him and share in the experience that was Brent.
For many months Brent had talked about getting out of Minnesota and moving to California, I was excited for him and encouraged him to head west. In January of this year he finally made his decision and we were off to California in his Dodge Durango with the CLASH license plates. What a great trip it was. We dealt with a temperamental overheating problem due to pulling a U-Haul trailer with two huge amps and his cat of thirteen years, Audrey. I must have lost four pounds in my ankles on that trip because when we had to go up a hill we had to put the heat on full blast and roll down the windows. When we got to our motel every evening one of the first things that came out were his guitars to make sure they were safe, I think he was really hoping to get more playing in once he got to California. We made it safely to California and when I left he was excited to start a new life and reconnect with some of his close friends down there. To Kirk, Tim, and Darcy in California, I want to thank you for watching over Brent and all the difficult work you had to do after Brent passed away. Brent had ordered a boogie board that had not been delivered before he passed; he was planning on trying new things and creating a new life for himself. One of the last times we spoke he was very encouraging about my new blog even though sometimes I struggle with my grammar and sentence structure, he thought it was really cool I was doing it and encouraged me to continue.
When Brent’s sister Liz called me to break the news I was devastated to say the least. As I began to reach out to our circle of friends we all realized the same thing; Brent had touched each of us in some way by his kindness and always knew when to reach out when things were not going well for one of his friends. Whether it was a short note, a Facebook post, or a voicemail, Brent always could make you feel better and realized that there was plenty of good in the world.
We are having a memorial service for Brent tonight. I can only expect that it will be a night of great stories, great music, and laughter remembering a truly great man. Brent, my friend, I am going to miss you but one thing I want to do in your memory is live my life more like you. My goal is to see more of the positive and encourage others to do the same; I think this is the best way to keep your legacy alive.