Grieving for the Afterthought (pt. 2) —Opus 8

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Last week I took us on a sad ride through the first three stages of grief for the Afterthought’s closing. We all know grief isn’t complete without the full five stages (sure I know some sources list seven stages of grief, but writing about more than five is above my pay grade), so I’m going to continue my process of grief for you this week with the final two sages (depression and acceptance). A word of caution: it is going to get worse before it gets better. If I were you I would turn away from this blog post right now, go outside and eat an ice cream cone.

Depression

I played solo guitar at the Afterthought nearly every Sunday morning for the past two years and I performed there countless wild nights with bands such as That Arkansas Weather, Mellow Dee Groove, Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe, Sean Fresh, Good Foot, and Rouxster. Both in the restaurant during brunch or in the bar at night, I loved seeing and talking to the regulars who helped make the Afterthought the wonderful community that it was. I also grew so fond of the employees at the Afterthought who (whether they realized it or not) always provided me with acceptance and encouragement. The Afterthought closing is a significant loss for me financially, but a far greater loss in terms of a home, and a family.

Furthermore, I truly came to identify with The Afterthought. I’ve been on tour with bands both in the U.S. and abroad and I consistently play at nearly every major venue here in Little Rock. Yet whenever describing my livelihood to someone new, the first thing I would mention was that I played solo Classical and Jazz guitar every Sunday at the Afterthought. For this consistent gig at a reputable restaurant and bar lent me an air of credibility that helped alleviate the insecurity I have about being a professional musician. Other professions have prestige built in to the name: if you tell someone you are a doctor or a lawyer, you can then rest in a content silence, knowing that the person is somewhat impressed. If you tell someone that you are a musician, that same silence seems to scream “explain yourself!”. I used to fill in that silence with a description of my musical activities at the Afterthought. Now what? I have a blog? I’m recording a song every week that only 20 people listen to? I’m playing at Whitewater tomorrow?! (It is true I am playing at Whitewater tomorrow with Big Piph and Tomorrow Maybe if you readers want to come).

In the Afterthought I’ve lost a job, a community, a place to express myself, and a part of my identity. This is truly depressing for me. Yet it is even more depressing when I think of all of the employees, patrons, and musicians who are experiencing these same feelings of loss.

Acceptance

As much as I loved The Afterthought, I realize that it wasn’t perfect. And as sad as it is that The Afterthought is closing, I realize that it is closing for a reason. I’m not here to tell you everything that lead up to the Afterthought being sold and closed because I truly don’t know; but I do know that there was a big fireplace in the middle of the bar that oddly divided the space, that the piano was perpetually out of tune, and that there was an electrical socket falling out of the wall on to the stage. Some of the Afterthought’s imperfections added to it’s authenticity and charm, but it is possible that the Afterthought was trying to prop up too many quirky flaws to be sustainable. It’s time for a change.

I admit that I insulted the owner of Mylo (and new buyer of the Afterthought) in my last blog post— I was partly trying to be funny (as I do), partly expressing a true criticism, and mostly just being a brat— but I am actually hopeful that he will be successful in reviving and sustaining the Afterthought. Whatever your (or my) opinion is about Mylo Coffee co., it appears to be a thriving business, and it is encouraging that the owner of that business bought the Afterthought. Furthermore, one of my musician friends (who also frequently performed at the Afterthought) told me just this morning that the owner of Mylo asked to meet with him to talk about the new Afterthought. This makes me happy— not every venue owner would think to or be willing to meet with musical artists to discuss plans for the venue. I wish the owners and operators of the new Afterthought all the best, and believe that they will put in the thought and effort necessary to make the Afterthought a thriving venue and community hub once again. By the way good Mylo people, I too am available to lend you my thoughts about the new Afterthought if you care to hear them— I certainly have opinions.

As difficult as it is for me to drive by a now vacant Afterthought, I understand that I now have a great opportunity (and necessity) to explore other musical endeavors. Although I loved that place, my identity, livelihood, and sense of musical community are not dependent on The Afterthought and never were. For I am not a musician at the Afterthought; I am simply a musician, and I can and will play music anywhere. I thank the Afterthought for all it gave me, bid it a fond farewell, and wish it all the best in it’s afterlife.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New Music

Week 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

Week 7—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt.1)

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Grieving for The Afterthought (pt. 1)—Opus 7

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Last night at the Afterthought I watched the Good Time Ramblers play for over four hours to a packed room of familiar faces. Around midnight we all raised our glasses in honor of the bar, around 1am we all danced to the final song, and around 2am Jeff Jackson announced the (truly) last call. It was a bittersweet goodbye to that quirky little corner spot that has seen thousands of performances from both musical giants and local heroes since the late 70’s. The Afterthought meant a great deal to me personally— I’ve been going to hear music there since I was in high school (this was before the 21 and up rule was imposed for all shows at the Afterthought), and in my young musical career I’ve performed there far more than any other venue. The Afterthought’s closing has been hard for me to handle, and for that reason I want to walk myself through the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) for the Afterthought. (Note: I do realize that in real life you can’t just walk through the stages of grief in one day, but this isn’t real life, this is my blog and I get to do what I want)

1. Denial

Last week I heard about the Afterthought closing by reading my friend Olivia’s Facebook post. I played guitar at the Afterthought every Sunday for two years and I hadn’t been told about the Afterthought closing, so my first reaction was indeed denial: She doesn’t know what she was talking about! She doesn’t work there! What does she know! That can’t be true. Even as all the facts of The Afterthought’s closing surfaced, I still went to play brunch on Sunday and treated it just like any other Sunday. Though it was indeed my last Sunday brunch performance at the Afterthought, I didn’t do any special song or send off, I just played and went home like I always do. I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was happening.

2. Anger

The most enraging fact in this whole saga is that I and all of the other performers/employees at the Afterthought were given so little notice about it closing. I was initially angry at the Afterthought’s manager, because I mistakenly believed it was him who had not informed everyone. I can’t apologize enough to Richard Muse for even thinking this— I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how much he cares about the Afterthought and all of the employees, and Richard was in fact given the same short notice as the rest of us. The truth is, the new buyer of the Afterthought is shutting it down for renovations and from what I understand it was he who gave only about a week of notice to everyone working at the Afterthought. It is an enraging injustice that some good, hardworking people are without jobs today because they were not given enough time or notice to find new work before the Afterthought closed. My outrage is amplified by the thought of who the new buyer is. You can look up who that is on your own, I don’t want to mention the name in my blog, but here are some clues: they already turned one long-standing cozy Hillcrest spot into a soulless hipster laptop hell, their coffee tastes terrible, and they make a real good sandwich.

3. Bargaining

Hey Stephanos, sorry about what I said just now about Mylo’s Coffee Co. I didn’t mean it—I’m just upset. Will you just promise to keep the music alive at the Afterthought? I’ll be totally on your side, I’ll put ads up for you on my website, I’ll drink your coffee everyday! Just please keep booking local bands (like mine) to play in that wonderful space. Please!

Ok readers, let me pause for a second and tell you some truth. I’m a bit hungover right now. I had a few too many drinks in honor of the Afterthought last night— what can I say, I love that place. I have some important things I want to say concerning the final two stages of grief about the Afterthought’s closing, but I don’t think I can express those thoughts right now. Instead of over-extending my foggy brain, I’m going to do myself and you readers a favor and make this a two part blog post. Stay tuned next week for Depression and Acceptance! Is this a cop out? Yes. Do I care? No.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New MusicWeek 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

I suck.

DisplaySomaLucas

Disclaimer: I’m late with this post. The following events refer to last week.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling like a crumpled piece of notebook paper— four hours of sleep is not enough to relieve the effects of a night of steady debauchery. Yet at the sound of my 9:30am alarm I dutifully unfurled my limbs and stood up to prepare for my solo guitar gig at the Afterthought’s Sunday Brunch. During my performance, I focused intensely on the music, and performed with a loose, expressive, nuanced delivery — yet I also made a handful of stupid mistakes (missing familiar passages, dropping the tempo, blanking completely, etc…), undoubtedly a result of copious amounts of shenanigans the night before. I do regret perpetuating the stereotype of the partied out musician, but sometimes I just like to cut loose with my friends. I disagree, however, with the myth that musicians play or write better when they are drunk or high; and I reject the romanticized image of the freewheeling artist who sleeps, eats, drinks, smokes, writes, performs, travels, and has sex simply whenever the spirit moves him. Believe me, I’m as attracted to this picture as anyone, but it isn’t real. Life lived in an unbroken stream of creativity would be incoherent— musicians (like everyone else) benefit from structure and routine.

With this fact in mind, monday morning I woke at 6am, loosened up with a chi-kung routine, drank a cup of tea, and practiced Jazz guitar for an hour and a half. I ate breakfast and then worked on the drum and guitar tracks for a Pop-Rock song I’m recording. After Lunch I took a long siesta, and then drove to River City Coffee to drink a cup and begin writing this blog post. Lastly, I enjoyed a pleasant dinner date with a pretty girl I met on Tinder (I’m not ashamed). On paper, this was my perfect work-day: I woke up early and engaged in the art (recording), craft (practicing), and critique (blogging) of music before some relaxing social time. In reality, I wasn’t all that effective at any particular task; I went through the motions during practice, didn’t record any great guitar tracks, and wrote a grand total of four sentences of this blog (easily distracted by fellow coffee shoppers). Overall my brain was sluggish from little sleep and I was creatively uninspired, yet I am happy with this day because I made myself do the work that I’ve set out to do. I know that I can’t practice only when I have a gig to prepare for, or write/record only when I am inspired, or blog only when I’ve had a great idea or experience. If I wish to make a livelihood out of the art, craft, and critique of music, I must make a habit of practicing these things.

Tuesday morning I woke again at 6am and repeated my morning routine of chi-kung, caffeine ingestion and practice (this must be a habit now right?). After breakfast I worked on this blog post, writing most of the previous two paragraphs. I ate lunch, took a nap, and then gave three guitar lessons in the evening. Done with work for the day, I went to Allsopp Park to play basketball and workout with my roommate Read (insert shameless plug for Read’s awesome new composting business here). I finished off the night by drinking beers and admiring the full Strawberry Moon with a fond friend. Another perfect day.

Wednesday morning I meant to wake at 6am again, but instead I pushed snooze a thousand times and slid out of bed around 10am, disappointed in my lack of willpower. I did some chi-kung, journaled, and ate breakfast while talking about the stages of life with my other roommate John (insert shameless plug for John’s awesome music here). I reluctantly practiced classical guitar for an hour and had planned to work on this blog, but my practice session flowed into a songwriting session instead. After finishing the song, I ate lunch, took a nap, and then gave a guitar lesson. I finally worked on this blog post starting around 9:30pm. Thus, I didn’t follow my routine. I was slow-witted and weak-willed all day, easily distracted from my work by internet articles and endless Tinder swipes. But ultimately, I did everything I set out to do: I practiced/taught (the craft), wrote a song (the art), and worked on this blog (the critique). I may have been disappointed in myself during the day, but ultimately this is a positive step. It offers nothing for me to be disappointed in. I am here to build habits, and even when my schedule gets thrown off a little, I know that if I am working on the art, craft, and critique everyday, then my work will bear fruit. Good job, Lucas

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” As I sit here and congratulate myself for my efforts at being a good musician, I can hear this quote spoken by Terence Fletcher in the brilliantly unnerving film Whiplash. While I don’t ascribe to Fletcher’s brutal motivational tactics (if you haven’t seen the film, here’s another quote demonstrating Fletcher’s pedagogy: “Nieman, you earned the part. Alternates, will you clean the blood off my drumset.”), I do understand this sentiment. To stop and congratulate yourself at any moment, especially early on in your musical development, is to lose the edge that could make you great. The combination of desire for mastery and awareness of where you need to improve will lead to growth. By contrast, contentment with your skills and ignorance of your shortcomings will lead to stagnation.

I had a wonderful guitar teacher at UALR named Michael Carenbauer who approached this point in a more humorous mood than the surly Spencer Fletcher. When I arrived at UALR I thought I was pretty good at the guitar— I could play fast and people seemed to like how I sounded. Yet in an early lesson Mike described what our goal was for learning any Jazz tune: be able to play the chords/melody, know what scale to use for improvising at any moment in the tune, and don’t get lost, all without looking at the music (things I couldn’t yet do). He said that “when you can finally do all of that, you suck.” There I was, a 19 year old who had been playing guitar for nearly a decade, being told that I wasn’t even good enough to suck yet. I was below the suck level! Up until that point, I had always been told I was really good at the guitar, and I think it was no coincidence that I never really practiced very hard either. Determined to at least suck, I consequently practiced and practiced until I could accomplish those tasks. Yet what I learned in the process of practicing hard, is that there is always something else to learn; there’s always something I suck at. This is what is beautiful and frustrating about music: the journey is never over. This is what leads some musicians to such great heights and makes others give up completely. I know that I couldn’t give up music if I tried, thus the only way I can be satisfied is to be conscious of where I can improve and continue to take on the next musical challenge.

I began this post thinking it was going to be about the importance of routine, and it would have been had I kept it up. Having lost my focus and abandoned my routine, I am obviously in a better position to write about how much I suck. The awareness that I suck is after all what compels me to wake up early and practice. What is often unacknowledged is that all great musicians, artists, and writers sucked at one point. Bob Dylan sucked, Aretha Franklin sucked, Picasso sucked, and Shakespeare sucked, but they all stuck with their craft long enough to become great. I suck too, but dammit I’m going to stick with it.