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 this week.
Tonight, is the Arkansas Times annual holiday party. As usual, I’ve been asked to DJ. That means putting together a playlist on iTunes and Spotify that starts with not-lame Christmas music, gradually transitions into mid-tempo party music, moves to Stax and Motown so the boomers on staff will dance and then, maybe after Beyonce and Justin Timberlake, is just “Back That Azz Up” played on a loop. It’s a winning formula. We start all sport coat and cocktail dress-y and end up like this.
The most important part of the playlist, of course, is not-lame Christmas music. Because there’s nothing more soul-sucking and party-ruining than cheeseball Christmas music. Over years of doing this, I’ve come up with about two CDs of excellent not-lame holiday tunes. In the spirit of the season, I’ll recommend three of my favorites to help you start building your not-lame holiday mix around:
Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson: “Fat Daddy.” Johnson was the “300-pound King of Soul,” a legendary Baltimore R&B DJ. I got turned on to the song thanks to filmmaker John Waters, always a great champion of all things Baltimore, who put it on his excellent Christmas CD collection.
Lee Perry and Sandra Robinson: “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.” You can’t go wrong with a dubbed out holiday duet about giving love another chance. I found this song on the Trojan Christmas Box Set. Looks like it’s easily available elsewhere, too.
Craig Le Roq: “Little Drummer Boy.” I don’t know where I found this, and I can’t find it anywhere online now. That’s too bad because this is my No. 1 Christmas song. I know nothing about it other than Le Roq is (was?) a Detroit DJ and it sort of sounds like Funkadelic doing “Little Drummer Boy.” — Lindsey Millar
When the National Book Award for fiction was awarded to Phil Klay last month for his book of short stories “Redeployment,” my reaction was: Who’s Phil Klay? So I tracked down the title piece, originally published in Granta, and it languishedin my tabs until I finally turned my attention to it this week. It’s the story of an American marine returning home from a seven-month tour in Irag. Narrated in a distant and terse manner, “Redeployment” is essential reading for Americans, especially those of us who have never been near a war-zone, and we are legion. And that’s why Klay’s book was awarded one of our top literary awards. To get you started, here’s the brilliant opening paragraph:
“We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose and we called it ‘Operation Scooby’. I’m a dog person, so I thought about that a lot.” — Maxwell George
I recommend the song “Baby,” recorded by Donnie & Joe Emerson in the 1970s, when they were teenagers living in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific northwest. Their dad took out a loan against the family farm to build the boys a home recording studio, where the two young amateurs made an out-of-this-world pop masterpiece LP, “Dreamin’ Wild,” that basically no one outside their family knew about until a record collector happened upon a copy decades later. There’s a pretty amazing outsider-art story of how this vanity press album, basically a family memento, became a critically acclaimed re-release in 2012 with a loving cult following (you can read more here). Also the art on the album cover is out of sight. Maybe you’ve heard this story already; if you haven’t, it’s pretty fun. But my recommendation is to forget everything I’ve just told you for a moment. Let’s skip the narrative for now so you can give full attention to one of the best tracks on the LP, “Baby.” And even if you’ve heard this song before, close your eyes and listen one more time. Let “Baby” be “Baby”: a dream, a circle, its own perfect universe. — David Ramsey
My recommendation this week is for “Fanny Says,” a collection of poems by University of Arkansas at Little Rock poetry professor Nickole Brown. The book will be released in April by BOA Editions. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.com now for $12.99. If you love good writing, buy it.
The poems in the collection are all tied together by the woman who raised Brown: the wry, ass-kicking, feminist-before-feminism-was-a-thing Kentucky grandmother whose name is in the title. I’m working my way through a review copy of the book right now, taking little sips to make it last longer, and constantly marveling at what Brown has captured: a plainspun epic about a woman who would have likely fanned her hand and shushed at the idea that she was epic. In painting this intimate, intricate portrait of her grandmother, Brown has somehow managed to create an ode to all strong women everywhere, no matter what their age. Each poem is simply a delight from beginning to end.
Here, for example, is the second poem from “Fanny Says” It’s gloriously vulgar, but somehow as soothing and lovely as a mother’s lullaby:
is what she said, but what mattered was the tone—
not a drive-by spondee and never the fricative
connotation as verb, but from her mouth
voweled, often preceded by well, with the “u” low
as if dipping up homemade ice cream, waiting to be served
last so she’d scoop the fruit from the bottom, where
all the good stuff had settled down.
Imagine: not a word cold-cocked or screwed to the wall
but something almost resigned—a sigh, an oh, well,
the f-word made so fat and slow it was basset hound,
chunky with an extra syllable, just enough weight
to make a jab to the ribs more of a shoulder shrug.
Think of what’s done to “shit” in the South; this is
sheeee-aaatt but flicked with a whip, made a little more
tart. Well, fuck, Betty Sue, I never did see that coming.
Can you believe?
Or my favorite, not as expletive but noun — fucker,
she said, but what she meant was darlin, sugar pie, sweet beets,
a curse word made into a term of endearment, as in
Come here, you little fucker, and give your grandma a kiss.
If the child was young enough for diapers, he’d still be a shitass,
but big enough to lift his arms and touch his hands together
over his toddling tow head, he was so big, all grown, a cute little
fucker, watch him go.
Fuck is what she said, but what she needed
was a drum, a percussion to beat story into song, a chisel
to tap honey from the meanest rock,
not just fuck if I know or fuck me running or fuck me
sideways or beats the fuck out of me but said tender,
knowing there was only one thing in this whole world
you needed to hear most: You fucker you, don’t you know
there wasn’t a day when you weren’t loved?
If you still don’t understand, try this: a woman
up from poor soil, bad dirt, pure clay. A woman as
succulent, something used to precious little
water, hard sun. Rock crop maybe, threading roots
to suck nutrients from the nothing
of gravel, the nothing of stone, a thriving thing
sturdy, thorned, green out of mere
spite and, because you least expect it,
laughing, cussing up a storm—my grandmother
who didn’t ask for power but took it
in bright, full, fuck-it-all bloom.
— David Koon
On record, Oakland rapper The Jacka worries a lot about writing and addiction and how he should best spend his time, psychologically and creatively. He is lonely. He is paranoid. He is prone to despair: “I threw my life away for rap thinking I’d be rich,” he says here. Elsewhere: “I should’ve stayed in school or something.” Or: “No matter how much I smoke, I keep seeing ghosts.” He is, above all, disappointed, which shouldn’t make for invigorating listening but really does. — Will Stephenson
The fifth floor of the Main Library. It’s peaceful, it has huge windows that offer a view of downtown, books to read and nooks in which to read them. There is little cafe to buy coffee (though I’m not sure it’s open regularly). The librarians are nice. You may not feel that you can take the time, what with the presents to buy, the rum cakes to bake, the tree to prop up, the ornaments to drag down from the attic, the company coming, the dirty house, the panic that the lights on the other houses on your street are creating in your heart of hearts and the hangovers from your office party. In fact, you probably don’t have time. It will still be there, a quiet oasis, after the holidays are over. — Leslie Newell Peacock
I recommend being aware of (if not viewing) Danish artist Uwe Max Jensen’s painting of the recently famous Kim Kardashian cover of Paper magazine (above). Not the most amazing painting the world. But it is at least um … interesting to know that he painted it with his penis. Yep. That’s what I said. Follow the link, but beware, only the first three images are safe for work. — Bryan Moats
Publicized in 1985 as the first “ramen western,” Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” (“Dandelion”) is a bizarre and beautiful set of vignettes about food, lust, and taboo. The central story follows a noodle shop owner on her path to the perfect bowl of ramen, and the wandering gang of noodle gurus that helps her develop (and steal) trade secrets. It’s somehow both story and poem, simultaneously dreamy and gritty. — Stephanie Smittle