Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying (or, in Max’s case, not enjoying) this week.
If finding improbable, but actual, things in Arkansas — and we’re not talking politics here — gives you a thrill, I’ve got the thing for you. It’s a message board that will email you tips hot off the keyboard to things rare and wonderful. Sign up to be among the first of your peers to know that if you hurry, you’ll see a greater roadrunner in the parking lot of the Other Center. That there was an albino American robin in Conway, “snow white with pink eyes and legs.” That nine Western kingbirds are checking out Frazier Pike as a summer home, and that speaking of Western kingbirds, a scissor-tailed flycatcher/Western kingbird hybrid is being seen — and photographed — in Arkansas. That a Snowy Owl had flown way out of its range to perch on a LR port authority building. That in April there was, yes, a two-headed bluebird hanging out in North Little Rock (both heads functional). This is good stuff, no? Rara avis city!
Here’s how to get in on the chase: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with and put in the message body “subscribe ARBIRD-L” and your name. Nothing else. Leave the subject line blank. You’ll get a confirmation from the University of Arkansas site and subscription instructions, sort of like Mission Impossible, but not. You can also go to the listserv website, https://listserv.uark.edu, and read from there after you’ve registered. The latest string provided a woman in Newton County advice on how to see a scarlet tanager. Asked and answered immediately (“anyplace where you can bird in mature forest at high elevation in Newton County”). — Leslie Newell Peacock
Out on assignment the other day in the wilds of Northwest and North Central Arkansas, Times photographer Brian Chilson and I drove to Winslow and then made a big, treacherous arc through the mountains, stopping for interviews along the way, before dropping down to Clarksville and the freeway. If you’ve ever been up in that part of the country, you know there’s not much grub out there, other than a few barbecue joints that look like they should have a handy swamp out back to dispose of The Outsiders. So, by 4 p.m., we hadn’t eaten anything except for stale McDonalds’ McMuffins, M&Ms and a whole lot of coffee. It was a great time, then, to try CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers in Russellville on our way home. An old-fashioned burger joint with a very simple menu, CJ’s is just the kind of spot you hope to find at the foot of the off-ramp after a long and hungry jaunt through the food desert. Featuring huge, well-seasoned, hand-pattied cheeseburgers on grilled buns, plus perfect hand-cut fries, it’s definitely a homegrown standout on a highway salted with mediocre chain restaurants. — David Koon
A 39-year-wait was worth it. Herman’s Ribhouse, a 50-year-old roadhouse on College in Fayetteville, still serves draft beer in frozen mugs, heaping plates of peppery ribs, bargain-priced giant boiled shrimp, slab steaks and monstrous burgers in the cozy confines of a wood-paneled, red-checked curtain highway joint. R&B on the sound system completes the old school vibe, though I’d still substitute Schlitz for one of the many craft beers on tap, including a couple from local microbreweries like Core of Springdale.
Last time I was there, Bill Clinton was a law professor and spinning campaign stories from 1974. Forty years later both Herman and Bill seem to be doing OK, though skinny Bill could do with a burger. — Max Brantley
I first heard Meg Wolitzer talk about her book the “The Interestings” on NPR and knew I wanted to read it because I thought the main character’s (Jules Jacobsons) story resonated with mine. I was so wrong! However, the book is still a must read. It is beautifully written, revolving around the lives of six friends who meet at an arts camp in the ’70s and decide to call their group ‘The Interestings’ only half jokingly. The story is narrated from their idealistic, awkward teenage years through adulthood and into middle age. There are a couple of chapters towards the end that both a friend and I agree were unnecessary. Otherwise, it was a book that on most days was extremely hard to put down and stayed, well, interesting 🙂 —Darielle D’Mello
I’m driving up to Fayetteville this afternoon, and will probably fall back on the same songs I’ve been cycling through all week, a rotation that typically starts first thing in the morning with a quick listen to Kenny Loggins’ “This Is It,” a near-perfect pop song I rediscovered before I had a very brief conversation with the man a few days ago. We talked about the invasion of Iraq. Next up is usually T.I.’s “About the Money,” featuring Young Thug — maybe the best T.I. single I’ve heard since high school, and one of the better songs Young Thug has done in a couple of weeks (he can’t be stopped). Then I’ve been zoning out to RVNG’s new FRKWYS record, a collaboration between the Brooklyn-based, former Kurt Vile affiliate Steve Gunn and British country-blues legend Mike Cooper called “Cantos de Lisboa.” The album came about after the two spent time hanging out in Lisbon, “sharing their vision over lengthy living room guitar sessions and evenings of cold wine in Fado taverns,” which is exactly what the record sounds like. It’s a reflective drone: out-folk with shades of weird, continental nostalgia, and it’s great. Then comes something from Randy Newman’s “Good Old Boys,” and after that I usually just listen to the new Jim Mize record for the rest of the day. If you missed his set at Riverfest, you know who you are (also I was there, so I know who you are), and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. — Will Stephenson
All of that sounds great, but I recommend spending the weekend seeing how many times you can play 5th Ward Weebie’s “Let Me Find Out” on repeat while dancing like this. The song starts off gently, with Weebie professing his love for his lady and promising her “new shoes and a bag of hair” among other things. But things turn quickly. Maybe his lady doesn’t want a bag of hair? Weebie snaps and tells her that he knows she’s so lowdown that, if he offered, she’d have sex with him in exchange from wings from a popular wing place in New Orleans. Most of the rest of the song is Weebie cataloging all the shady things that people might be keeping secret. Among the things he doesn’t approve of: men wearing sandals, still using flip phones, driving without insurance, putting rims on a rental car, fake booties, watching the Lifetime Channel. Perhaps needless to say, this song is not safe for playing at work, at home, in the car with people you don’t know very well or just most places. Sidenote: Rap Genius really needs to step it up on this song. — Lindsey Millar
I’m going to piggyback off of Leslie’s recent review and give a second endorsement to the eleven short films produced by the Arkansas Arts Council and the Historic Arkansas Museum’s Arkansas Made program about “Arkansas Living Treasures.” So these are brief little narratives about the state’s best artisan craftspeople — makers of knives, baskets, pottery, fiddles, furniture, etc. For someone like my wife, this is basically like “Terminator 2.” For me, honestly, I was expecting to fall asleep when we went to the opening earlier this week at Ron Robinson. Instead — the word I keep thinking to use is “inspiring.” And I don’t mean that lightly: These are stories and people that make you feel a little richer about life’s possibilities. In particular, let me highly recommend that you spend ten minutes out of your day with the amazing Violet Hensley of Yellville, Arkansas. I’ve re-watched it twice and am now a better and happier human being. Not every film is a mini-classic on that level, but the project as a whole is really an A+. It was an ambitious and noble endeavor and they pulled off something rare: something enthographically important and artistically compelling. I suspect that not only will these films document these traditions – these stories are so moving in their outlook on life that they’ll inspire (that word again!) young artists and craftspeople in Arkansas to start traditions of their own. You can watch all eleven here. — David Ramsey