HIGHLY RECOMMENDED W/ FREDRICK ARNOLD

Welcome to the 6th edition of this totally re-occurring feature of the blog. Y'know, the one where I ask an internet acquaintance to give us all some recommendations off their top shelf in 5 important categories: Music. TV/Film. Books. Internet-ing. And the last one: ANYTHING (to make sure all bases are completely covered).

This time around we are joined by Fredrick '@FutureOak' Arnold. If you are not familiar with Future Oak Records yet, you are in luck, because today is the day that they drop a lovingly crafted new Califone record (yes, that Califone) into the world (with digital downloads on wooden tokens!). I'm going to keep my intro short because Fredrick has provided some great words to go along with some ace picks and I don't want to burn any more of your attention span up with my scribbling. Also, I have just been reunited with my 3 nieces and they don't seem too concerned with me needing to finish a blog post before playing. So onwards with the things!

#1 - WHAT IS THE ONE ALBUM (OR EP OR SONG) THAT YOU THINK SHOULD BE THE VERY NEXT MUSICAL THING THAT EVERYONE PRESSES PLAY ON THE NEXT TIME THEY FIND THEMSELVES THINKING “WHAT SHOULD I LISTEN TO NOW”?

I knew this would be the hardest of all the five recommendations. I labored over this as I cut my way across the great state of Texas. Twice. Just when I thought I had it figured out "Oh, yes, this is the record I'd love to share with the world" I'd put on some album or other and realize it was a much greater candidate. I seriously did this for probably 5,000 solid miles of empty America. I was so conflicted about this particular recommendation that I wrote three separate essays; one for each of the final contenders before finally settling on this. The one record I kept coming back to, and my first inclination when I set about writing this, was Roger Miller's 'A Tender Look at Love'.

Unbeknownst to me, I'd been indoctrinated by Miller's unique blend of tragedy and joy when I was just a sprout. As quietly pervasive as his catalog of hits was, and continues to be, my first exposure was actually when he lent his talents to Disney as the voice of Allan-A-Dale in my then-and-now all time favorite film Robin Hood. Through this vehicle Roger Miller demonstrated his range from the silly to the sincere as he sang out 'oo-de-lally' or crooned the downright tear-jerking 'Not in Nottingham'. His predilection for being a figurehead of rhythmic humor was further illustrated years later when he stopped by for an episode of The Muppet show -- an episode which I still champion as a national treasure.

It’s a tough call putting A Tender Look at Love ahead of some of his other more critically acclaimed releases. Not only is it considered one of the least beloved records in his discography, many critics have gone so far as to pan it as a complete failure. In an attempt to prove that he was more than just a rodeo clown, Miller used this as a showcase of his more poetic side. Whereas many insist he failed, or that his efforts were better spent on novelties, I feel he excelled in unique and wonderful ways which have yet to be touched on.

Thematically this is a collection of love songs, but unlike others who have tackled such played out territory, there’s something beautifully humanistic about Miller’s approach. Tracks like Honey and My Elusive Dreams are anchored in love - true love - the flawed and imperfect kind of love that has dimensions beyond the good times or bad times. This record thrives in those unremarkable realms of love. When Miller sings “She was always young at heart / kinda dumb and kinda smart / I loved her so” it feels like it comes from that place deep in the thick of a relationship no one else seeks to emulate. Further still, the gritty brilliance of Little Green Apples still stops my heart a few beats whenever I flip that record to the b-side.

Miller is an anomaly in the history of country music - fuck, he’s an anomaly in the history of humanity. I remember watching this early career performance of his first hit Dang Me, a black & white affair from those awkward early days of television. Some 60’s square interviews him afterwards, futilely trying to define his approach to art. Humorist, musician; Roger seems vexed at the questions and replies, smoothly, "I just want to be an entertainer."

(should your curiosity be eating you alive, the others I had been considering were Eric Johnson’s criminally overlooked post-Fruit Bats solo endeavor EDJ and Blur’s heroin-fueled masterpiece 13.)

#2 - WHAT IS THE ONE MOVIE OR TV SHOW THAT YOU THINK SHOULD BE NEXT IN EVERYBODY’S NETFLIX QUEUE (OK, DOESN’T HAVE TO BE NETFLIX, WE’RE ALL INTERNET ADULTS HERE AND KNOW HOW TO FIND ANYTHING ONLINE, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER)?

The greatest thing happening in just about any medium  is a cartoon show about a chubby twelve year old boy being raised by three superpowered female aliens who have only the vaguest grasp on modern human culture, relationships and needs. If it sounds stupid, you’re wrong, it’s not stupid. You’re stupid.

I am a certified animation glutton. This segment gets published on my 31st birthday, chances are it’s not just a phase. I watched every bad cartoon they put on tv from the mid 80’s through to the late 90’s. I’d wake up at the crack of dawn to watch the weird japanese shit they’d air before the honest American stuff and I’d come home from school to watch whatever was waiting for me then, too. I remember being a dopey, big eared kid who’d hurry home from the Cub Scouts every Thursday evening to watch The Simpsons during its initial airing of the first season. I’d sulk all week if the meetings ran long and I missed it.

No disrespect to Fleischer and Avery, but we live in the golden age of animation today.  What started with Groening has developed into a rich cultural landscape of cartoons that have depth and emotions appealing, not only to adults, but to the diverse and tumultuous emotional landscape of the in-between realms of life. To write a 12 - 24 minute script that resonates with people spanning a twenty year age differential is true art; not to mention cartoons are just awesome to look at.

Survey the animated landscape and consider the beautiful world we have at our disposal. Adventure Time has grown from a stupid animated short into a beautiful and deep series with a rich and living world. The Venture Bros. is a thrilling toy box of hilarious nostalgic brilliance. Mission Hill so perfectly captured my generation in a twenty minute episode; shame it was cancelled before it even finished airing its first season. Regular Show, Futurama, Over the Garden Wall, Bob’s Burgers, Rick & Morty… I could rattle off dozens of deserving brilliant cartoons that make this an exciting time to be alive for sophisticated animation fans.

But let’s talk about Steven Universe. The son of an aging never-was rockstar and the leader of a righteous band of intergalactic rebels from an all-female race of imperialistic aliens, Steven is a bubbly 12 year old boy who struggles to fill the void left by his mother who, naturally, had to sacrifice her physical form to give birth. Not only does he wrestle with the inadequacies of not being able to harness the power of the gem he inherited from the mother he never knew and being an outgoing male member in a band of female outcasts; he’s very much a sweet hearted boy who matures and feels and overcomes the challenges of being raised by the three remaining members of The Crystal Gems.

Playing into its second season, Steven Universe is a show that has, in 70-some-odd episodes, grown into one of the most moving and progressive shows on the air today. The Crystal Gems work together to protect the world from their home in an ancient temple in the fictional coastal New Jersey vacation town of Beach City. The deeper narrative unfolds slowly as we learn more about Steven’s mother, Rose Quartz, and the home world she rejected. A glimpse into her relationship with Greg Universe, Steven’s dad, give a deeper glimpse into the lives and conflicts of the Gems that carry on her vision. Steven grows, too, aging each year along with the viewers.

While I feel like it doesn’t need to be said, I would be remiss not to mention that this is also the first show produced by Cartoon Network that was created by a woman; the brilliant Rebecca Sugar. It shows in it’s gentle approach to progressive ideas that have yet to be presented in such a genuine way; unconventional families, same sex relationships and the perils of being an optimist. There’s something for anyone with a heart in Steven Universe and I seriously encourage you to check it out. My only tip is to stick with it -- this isn’t a show that feels like it owes you an explanation. Steven’s world is one you explore episodically, which gives it a great sense of wonder as the history unfolds.

3. I (AND BY “I” I MEAN “THE PERSON THAT IS READING THIS”) AM GOING TO THE BOOK STORE (OK, PROBABLY AMAZON) TO FIND THE VERY NEXT BOOK THAT I WILL BE PUTTING SOME EXTREMELY VALUABLE ‘ME-TIME' ASIDE FOR. WHICH BOOK WOULD YOU GET, IF YOU WERE ME (AND, I SUPPOSE, YOU HADN’T ALREADY READ WHAT YOU’RE ABOUT TO SUGGEST)?

My favorite book has been with me for ages; it has accompanied me through every heavy crisis of my life and I’ve carried it on every international journey I’ve embarked on. In fact, I pick up a native language copy in every country I visit. I have copies on my bookshelf, in my glove box and a heavily worn copy with bookmarks and notes in the margins that I keep in my backpack at all times. This book has taught me so much about the beauty of loss, the nobility of life’s struggle and about being a benevolent and responsible leader.

Yeah, it’s The Little Prince - could it possibly be any other? Aviation pioneer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote this semi-autobiographical novella which focuses on a boy who fell to Earth and forms a brief and intense friendship with a stranded pilot in the middle of the Sahara desert. Largely a monument to the unyielding wisdom of youth, this book hides more brilliance than the pages of any dusty tome of philosophy. Masked by the childish sketches and the innocent vernacular, the lessons on the pages on this book are serious, but not for grown-ups.

little_prince.jpg

It seems ludicrous that anyone would need a summary of this book; if you’ve made it this far in life without reading it you owe it to yourself to open a new tab and add it to your next Amazon order. There’s no end to the wisdom contained in this tiny book; I’ve read this at least twelve hundred times  yet never fail to find something new to take away from it. It’s that kind of book - the kind that only reveals its lessons when you need them most. One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.

#4 - WHAT IS THE ONE WEBSITE (OR JUST ANY OLD INTERNET THING: APP, GIF, SERVICE, WHATEVER) THAT YOU WOULD GET REALLY DOWN IN THE DUMPS ABOUT IF IT WERE TO SUDDENLY GO AWAY?

I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to make commentaries on the matters of the world wide web. I’m terrible at the internet. Most of it disgusts me; I don’t participate on the face page and mainly I only use twitter to publicly announce when I’m weeping. But there is one corner of the ‘net that I’m particularly fond of, though I admit I was dubious of it at first. Between Amazon, Insound, Tonevendor, eBay, Bandcamp or any number of other online retailers, does the world really need another music marketplace? Apparently, yes. It does.

I wasn’t sold on Discogs right off the bat. It’d pop up on the Google search results sometimes when searching for whatever album, but it just seemed like a superfluous service I passed by in favor of more familiar destinations. Vainly enough, it wasn’t until I discovered that someone had created a label page for Future Oak Record Co. that I realized I couldn’t live without it. It wasn’t even for one of our official releases, someone had tagged us as the manufacturer of one of the lathe cut jobs we did for a local artist. Later when the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy/Cairo Gang EP came out suddenly people were making edits and adding products. It was weird.

But, yeah. Discogs is a digital marketplace for analog music. Moreover, it has become a go-to for people pricing records in brick and mortar shops. In that sense, it has become a sort of equalizer -- a bridge that has brought the price of some records down and some records up. Next time you find the ultra obscure record at some backwoods record shop priced accordingly high, you probably have Discogs to thank. On the other hand, thank your lucky stars that you can jump online and grab that elusive release you’ve been hunting for without having to wait for it to surface, and having the option to buy from many sellers encourages a competitive marketplace.

Probably a decade ago, now, I spent years searching for Stands for Decibels. Not only did it fail to surface in any of my neighborhood record shops, but it was one of the elusive releases that never popped up on eBay either. Right now, however, there are dozens of copies on Discogs that could be yours for as low as $15 (as long as you’re willing to pay for European shipping). No need to compete in a bidding war, no need to wait for one to filter through your local record store.

On a more, well, self indulgent note it’s also the closest thing to a legacy that I’ll ever have. I’ll never be important enough for my own Wikipedia page and I’m not ambitious enough to be deserving of a monument or statue. Sometimes you just have to settle, and honestly I could do a lot worse than Discogs.

#5 - AND FINALLY… PLEASE GIVE ONE COMPLETELY UNAIDED RECOMMENDATION THAT YOU THINK EVERYONE SHOULD START DOING / USING / WATCHING / EATING / THINKING / QUITING / ETC-ING TO MAKE THEIR LIVES A LITTLE BIT MORE BETTER AND/OR BEARABLE.

This one is a bit vexing to me. As you can see from my list of favorite things it’s pretty clear to see I’m essentially a giant toddler. I have such a weak grasp on this whole ‘life’ thing that I feel entirely unqualified to give advice on anything heavier than ‘here’s a record you should check out’. The only thing I’ve ever really clung to is stubbornly marching forward in hopes that I’ll recognize the good life if I ever accidentally stumble into it. While I almost hesitate to suggest this, because I often wonder if I’d be happier if I could just settle for mediocrity, I think we could all benefit from disrupting the complacency in our lives.

I really want to keep this brief, both because you’ve been sweet and patient in humoring my childish suggestions, but also because I’m always struggling with these insecurities and I hardly wish that on anyone else. Simply put, if you spend any portion of your day feeling woefully trapped you should make a sincere effort to change that. Stability is a fallacy, don’t stop wanting more. We all deserve to be happy. Money should not buy your humanity, don’t sell your dreams.

OK folks, there you have it. 5 things that Fredrick thinks you should consider incorporating into your day/life. Since asking these questions was as much for my benefit as yours, here are my initial thoughts on his recommendations (although these thoughts are being typed while 3 girls under the age of 6 are vying for my undivided attention)…

  1. I love Roger Miller. This album is not the easiest to track down (and by that I mean that it was not available on Spotify and a quick Youtube search only brought up a few tracks & some had been removed by the music suits), but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for ahead (crossing my fingers that I can score it in my next thrift shop visit). Until then, I'll keep revisiting the hits.
  2. I have not seen Stevens Universe but am totally onboard with Fredrick's opinion about us being in the golden age of cartoon's. I've been mildly obsessed with Regular Show for awhile now & have recently got into Rick & Morty. Will be tracking down Stevens Universe shortly, perhaps I can talk the girls into watching it with me.
  3. Believe it or not, I don't think I have read The Little Prince. I am back in Canada though, so it's time for me to place one of those free shipping orders on Amazon (my shopping cart has been accumulating while I've been away). 
  4. Haven't used Discogs before, as my vinyl collecting has not quite got past thrift store / garage sale hunting yet, but I can easily see getting pulled into that world. Consider yourself warned paypal account.
  5. There be some wise words in the last recommendation, let's all take a moment to internalise them.

Well, those are my hurried thoughts on Fredrick's recommendations, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section below. Or on Twitter, Or facebook. Or don't. It's your call. But at the very least, you should go follow Future Oak on Twitter + like them on Facebook and wish Fredrick a happy birthday (I think it's today) and then you should go buy some sweet musical artefacts from Future Oak (oh IDK, like maybe that dope ass Califone one)

And finally, how about we all agree to meet back here in 2 weeks time for some more things of high recommend from someone else, ok? OK.