In the last, glorious years of the Shanti, the Soulard bar was often filled on Saturday afternoons by fans of the band Liquid Gold. It was also filled, quite literally, by the band itself. They were often playing as a seven-piece, the country-and-western group taking up the entire western wall of the barroom, as players stretched in a thin alignment from the front door to the bathrooms. The musicians were no more than an arm's length from their fans, who were usually greeted with smiles and hellos as they shimmied through the narrow path between talent and tables.
On the left side of the Liquid Gold roster of that moment was a vintage-stylish young man, usually slashing away on a banjo, a shock of asymmetrical black hair bouncing across his face or tied back in a ponytail under a seaman's cap. By then, Miles Arshille Long was firmly into his mid-twenties, though he could always pass for a couple of years shy of the number tied to his birth certificate. On that stage, he was the junior member by a decade or two or four. Though younger than his comrades, his spirit and musical inclinations didn't mark him as wholly different. The time of his arrival on the planet may have differed, but he'd found kith and kin in the band, which included his father Mike "Shorty" Long on the drums as well as the latter's wife, Jackie Niebylski, on bass. The balance of the band were unofficial uncles, the group a tight-knit affair by any measure.
In the wake of Miles Long's death on December 5 at age 31, images of this sort have been shared throughout social media circles — the settings differing, but the stories basically looking back on a young man with a Zelig-like quality of fitting into all types of social, musical and nightlife scenarios. Though a member of Liquid Gold, he also played with a slew of other groups and co-hosted the Venice Cafe open mic for the better part of a decade. Becoming a welder, he'd (mostly) transitioned away from service industry work, including past stints at long-running places like the Venice and Off Broadway, as well as the Whiskey Ring and Gooseberries, both of which he helped open. At all those stops, he developed the fondness of regulars, who were drawn to his leftfield observations and well-considered opinions and who turned out in large numbers for gatherings at those places in musical memorials/celebrations of life.
While Facebook walls are typically insufficient in summing up a person's real life, as we each curate our own outward-facing realities, the wall of Miles Long has filled with anecdotes, photos and recollections of a singular and unique upbringing. The collective tone of it all does feel as if it's a true reflection of a person. (Not lost here is the fact that Miles Long always seemed like more of an analog cat than a digital one.) The stories have flowed and created a fascinating look at an ever-evolving life. Say, photos of Miles as child on the back of a motorcycle or shots of him presiding over a marital service. Stills from the Whiskey Ring, in particular, highlight his impish sense of humor, as he checked into the work computer while "hidden" in plants or peering through the bottom of a shot glass.
A selection from friends there ...
Jesse Irwin: "Miles Arshille Long worked full time at making people feel included, making gifts, being positive, listening and giving sincere compliments. He just gave a damn, about everyone.The only thing we can do now is pick up the slack. We've got to be better friends to each other, check in on each other more often and get closer. I will be thinking about Miles in 2020, the year of deepening friendship. The year of dinner parties, deep conversations, birthday wishes and long hugs."
Kelsey Meigs: "Back in 2012, I was still pretty fresh to St. Louis and brand new on the scene. I was looking for new people and experiences after hitting a personal low. I met Derek [Parker] at Foam, and he urged me to attend the next Venice open mic. When I arrived, I was stupid early, sitting off by myself, and Miles was the first one to greet me. He introduced me to the regulars and made me feel at home in STL for the first time. After becoming a loyal Monday night Venice-goer, Miles gave me a pin as a thank-you. I was so honored, I pinned it to my jacket and have worn it proudly on cold nights ever since. I'll always remember Miles as a creative, genuine and positive force."
Becca Yelich: "The last time I saw Miles Arshille Long, we were huddled closely on a bench at CBGB, where he spoke passionately about St. Louis, and his family's long, rich history here. We spoke of him wanting to love people enough to make them see better for themselves. For a while, I felt like we were the only two people who existed. I was grateful for his way of connecting from such a deeply tender and genuine place. Everyone that crossed his path knows of his many talents, a true Renaissance man, a poet, a welder, a musician and an artist in every possible sense, especially in the ways he shared these gifts with us all."
Justin Paul Brown: "The thing I really admire/envy most about Miles Arshille Long is the way he was always making little manifestations of his affection for people. He did it through song and through his drawings and crafts and in the way he would make a goofy face or wear a funny pair of pants just to make people laugh. He was wise and generous, and he should have lived to be an old man."
Mark Pannebecker: "I met Miles Arshille Long when he was a child sitting in the sidecar of his father's Ducati down at the Leather Trades building where Mike had a sign-painting shop on the first floor. I was always amazed at how genuinely friendly and positive he was every time we met as he grew to manhood. Years would go by and I wouldn't see him, but every time we did meet, he welcomed me like his favorite uncle. He grew up to be a damn fine young man."
Jon Cournouyer: "We met at the Leather Trades building on Locust Street. You were on the back of your dad's motorcycle, you might have been four. Twelve years later it was the garden at the Venice Cafe; you were wearing PJs and Batman high tops carrying your notebook. We spoke of poetry and art, particularly about Basquiat and Steppenwolf by Hesse. Later on we spent celebrating your 21st along with Sallie Durbin's birthday at Balabans, drinking French 75s and eating oysters and talking about Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal and whether Baudelaire was the Kerouac of the nineteenth century. I hadn't seen you in a while but always knew when we met up there would be deep conversation, laughter and love." And from his obituary, via his mother Julie Jany-Carnahan: "Miles Arshille Long lived his life with an open mind and an open heart. He didn't want to be judged and he didn't judge others. We should all follow his example. Miles was a masterpiece."