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It’s 1959 in San Francisco’s low rent district. At the local beatnik hangout, Walter Paisley busses tables and pines for a comely hipster artist chick named Carla. He’s an outsider the hip kids make fun of and he can never seem to fit in. The place is full of beat poets who recite their self righteous, overly hip poetry to bongo drums. One night Walter is home trying to become a sculptor so he can impress Carla and accidentally kills his neighbor’s cat. He decides to cover the cat in clay and calls it “Dead Cat,” which Carla thinks is genius. This spurs him on to kill other living things and make sculptures out of them. This is the inspired plot of Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, which was shot in its entirety in five days. Corman and writer Charles B. Griffith developed the basic plot and idea for this film in a single day. The sets would later be used for Corman’s next film, The Little Shop of Horrors, in 1960.

Last week Roger Corman received a long overdue honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement from the Academy for his life’s work - 350 movies. He crafted incredible, low budget, lurid B-movie spectaculars starting in the 1950’s and provided career launches for artists like John Sayles, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese. His films featured the nascent talents of Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, William Shatner, Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone and others.

I salute the genius of Roger Corman. And that’s my Way Cool Item of the Day.

March 21 - April 19 Aries
It’s 2009, people (finally)! I know you Aries people like to be prepared, so be it known that tomorrow, Sunday Jan. 11 the planet Mercury will go retrograde and stay that way until February 1. I know you’re all ‘what does this have to do with me’ and like that. Well, the planet Mercury affects us all, in a plethora of ways that range from the mildly annoying to a huge pain in the ass. It’s the astrological equivalent of Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong, it will, and usually during this time. This is when your computer can crash for no reason, letters somehow get lost in the mail, office machines break down. Basically it affects anything to do with communication on just about any level. Try to avoid signing any legal documents or making any big decisions. Or, for that matter, starting new projects. However, your powers of focus are enhanced during this time and therefore it can be a very good time to do research, catch up on paperwork, and complete projects you’ve already started. And keep in mind that there are two more Mercury retrograde periods later this year: May 6 to 30 and September 6 to 29.

April 20 - May 20 Taurus
If there’s one thing Taureans adore, it’s finding cool things off the beaten path. For instance, I had a meeting with a friend in Times Square the other day. We planned to meet at Starbucks and did. It was jam packed, no tables, long lines to order, etc. However, across the street (literally) was the Juan Valdez Café. Who knew? We headed over there and were pleasantly surprised to find no lines, tables, and interesting food items like arepas topped with cheese. Plus the counter people were pleasant and helpful! In other words it was as unlike Starbucks as it could be. Naturally they have coffee, hot chocolate, etc. They also have free wifi available. Seriously, if you have to go to a chain coffee place, keep this one in mind. Apparently there are 4 locations in Manhattan, 4 in Philadelphia, 2 in D.C., and 1 in Seattle. Que bueno!

May 21 - June 20 Gemini
If you’re anything like most Gemini folks, you have retained a soupçon of childhood innocence no matter what your biological age happens to be. This is exactly the part of you that will dig watching the DVD’s that are available of the brilliant children’s TV show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Five seasons of this show aired between 1986 and 1990. These programs were remarkable in their psychedelic graphics and art direction (even today they look cutting edge), the original music (written by lightweights like Mitchell Froom, Van Dyke Parks, George Clinton, Danny Elfman, Todd Rundgren, Mark Mothersbaugh and more), the recurring characters (Cowboy Curtis played by Laurence Fishburne! Captain Carl played by Phil Hartman! Miss Yvonne! Reba the Mail Lady! The King of Cartoons! Jambi the <totally gay> Genie! Chairry – the chair that hugged! Clockey! Globey! Penny! And of course Conky, the robot who gave us the Secret Word every week). This show was so far ahead of its time I don’t think we’ve even caught up to it yet. Go buy those DVD’s now and achieve hours of endless fun. Official website here. And my final words on the subject are mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho.

June 21 - July 22 Cancer
Let’s tap into the contemplative side of the Cancer persona this week, the side that adores curling up in bed with a good book and reading for hours on end. Which brings us to the indie bookstore of the week. That would be Blue Hill Books in Blue Hill, Maine, the oldest and most complete bookstore on the Blue Hill Peninsula. They’ve existed since 1986, and kudos to them for that! And therefore in honor of the Changing of the Guard taking place soon (how many hours? can you tell I can’t wait?) in Washington, D.C. I suggest you pick up a copy of Howard Zinn’s remarkable A People’s History of the United States (1492 – Present). You may have the experience I had when I first read this book many years ago; I felt like everything I had been taught in school was now the Bizarro World version of actual events. Zinn’s a genius and a scholar and this book reads like a novel, but every word is true.

July 23 - August 22 Leo
My older music historian Leo friends might remember the 1968 hit Games People Play, written and performed by Joe South. A song well worth revisiting or discovering. The song (though this has never been confirmed) is thought to refer to the 1964 book about transactional analysis by the same name written by Dr. Eric Berne. The extremely innovative guitar sequence at the beginning was played on a Danelectro Guitar Sitar. The song has been covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, Tesla, The Georgia Satellites, Ike and Tina Turner, Dreadzone, Hank Williams Jr., and countless others. South, himself an accomplished songwriter (Down in the Boondocks, Hush, Walk A Mile in My Shoes, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden), is also a reknowned session musician. Among other things he was the guitar player behind the distinctive sound in Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools. Games People Play is a masterpiece that examines human nature’s saddest tendencies, that of the endless game playing which causes heartbreak and the loss of love and friendship. Oh the games people play now, every night and every day now; never meanin’ what they say now, never sayin’ what they mean. © Joe South.

August 23 - September 22 Virgo
If you’re like most people I know right now, even if you’re a very careful Virgo who has serious control issues, you’ve either lost your job or you’re hanging onto it with both hands for dear life and frightened to death by the carnage around you. U.S. unemployment rates skyrocketed to 7.2% in December and we lost 2.6 million jobs during 2008. It’s been 16 years since we’ve seen statistics quite this dire and all predictions point to this number going possibly as high as 10% of the population being unemployed by year’s end. Every single day another company announces more personnel being pink slipped. I don’t mean to scare you more than you’re already scared. But even if you are one of the lucky ones that are still employed, it’s time to fine tune your resume. The folks at Shop Around Your Resume provide that service. Do you need your c.v. assessed, polished, or even completely written from scratch? They can do all that and it won’t break the bank either. Drop them a note: They’ll even give you a free consultation. This is the most important $ you’ll spend all year.

September 23 - October 22 Libra
Librans, assuming you are working and getting paid, if you’re in that indulgent mood I know you can sometimes get into, how about going all out and visiting Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro? You want cheese? They have cheese. This place beautifully showcases the formidable creativity and passion of Chef-Proprietor Terrance Brennan who adds playful twists to classic French bistro dishes. Selecting only premium ingredients, Brennan’s commitment to the use of artisanal, sustainable and organic products is evident in the quality of each dish. Very much in the style of a Parisian bistro, Artisanal’s interior was designed by noted architect Adam Tihany. A mural-sized painting, which had hung in French restaurants since the 1930’s, presides over the Art Deco space. When the bistro opened in 2001 Gourmet Magazine wrote, “as cheese-intensive as Artisanal is, as profoundly as it caters to the basest of lactic desires, the restaurant may already be one of the best bistros in New York, remarkable even without the cheese.” Yes – cheese or not, this place truly rocks. They also have a gift shop and tasting events.

October 23 - November 21 Scorpio
If there’s anything that can keep a Scorpio entertained, it’s a wacky website that delightfully sucks you in until you suddenly wake up hours later as if from a technicolor dream. Such a site is Retrocrush, which calls itself the World’s Greatest Pop Culture Site. And it is. You want articles? They got ‘em. Interviews? Yes, here. Podcasts even? Si, Señor. A gallery of retrobabes, literally hundreds? Come on down. Seriously, this is like someone looked into my head and said, what website would delight Holly Cara Price the mostest ever – and created it. I could do whole horoscoop columns about this site alone. Go there. And good luck getting out of it. I’m living inside my computer now, just paging through it. Oh yeah, join it on MySpace. Join it on Facebook. Read their blog. See ya there.

November 22 - December 21 Sagittarius
The Sagittarius of the week is Bill Hicks, born December 16, 1961. Unfortunately he left us way too soon after being felled by pancreatic cancer in 1994. A stand up comic, he described his own work as “Chomsky with dick jokes.” He skewered politics, culture, religion, sent darts towards every sacred cow you can name. He was brilliant, cutting, intense, truthful, philosophical, and diabolical. It’s such a goddam shame we didn’t have his voice of sanity around during the Bush Years. Said Hicks: “I was told when I grew up I could be anything I wanted: a fireman, a policeman, a doctor - even President, it seemed. And for the first time in the history of mankind, something new, called an astronaut. But like so many kids brought up on a steady diet of Westerns, I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. And in my heart of hearts I still track the remnants of that dream wherever I go, in my endless ride into the setting sun.” Bill Hicks had a deep and profound love of animals and stated many times he preferred them to people. Since 1995, the Bill Hicks Foundation continues to make a lasting contribution, in Bill’s memory, towards a cause he loved and cared about: helping animals. Check them out. February 26, 2009 marks the 15th anniversary of Hicks’ death. Several tributes are in the works, more info here. (Thanks to Amanda Palmer for reminding me of Hicks’ greatness)

December 22 - January 19 Capricorn
My little Capricorn, ma petite cherie, I want you to listen to me very carefully. In these recessionary times we need to eschew expensive concert tickets and opt for the Netflix moments instead. I’ve got the perfect film for you; my favorite horror film ever, Roger Corman’s 1959 masterpiece A Bucket of Blood. Roger Corman produced many many great films but this is my hands down favorite. The film was shot in five days on a budget of $50,000; writer Charles B. Griffith and Corman actually came up with the premise and outline in one day. Basically the storyline is about a nerdy bus boy who works at a beatnik café called The Yellow Door. After accidentally killing his landlady’s cat, he covers it in clay, calls it “Dead Cat,” and is acclaimed as a great sculptor. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next as, for the first time in his miserable life, he is feted as an artistic genius. Lots of people start to disappear. It’s a real period piece, and some of the best scenes take place in The Yellow Door. During a poetry reading, one of the beatnik poets intones, “Life is a hobo…hitching a ride to eternity.” Buy it, rent it, see it. Some trivia: the sets used in this film were later used in Corman’s film The Little Shop of Horrors.

January 20 - February 18 Aquarius
The freewheeling, free thinking Aquarian mind will no doubt be engaged by the current exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out is resident there until February 2. MOMA commissioned the Swiss artist to create a monumental site-specific installation that immerses the Museum’s Marron Atrium in twenty-five-foot-high moving images. Visitors will be able to experience the work while walking through the space or sitting upon a sculptural seating island designed by the artist. Rist’s lush multimedia installations are known to playfully and provocatively merge fantasy and reality. Go there and be enchanted. (Thanks Sue L for this item!)

February 19 - March 20 Pisces
Haven’t you longed to find a saint for every occasion? I know I have. And now it’s easier than 1-2-3. Check out the Saints & Angels page. Sign up for the Saint of the Day email list. There are lists of the most popular saints, female saints, Irish saints, Japanese saints, Black saints, martyr saints. There’s a whole section on stigmata (with a picture gallery). There’s a list of feast days (Happy St. Petronius Day by the way). And there’s a fascinating list of Saints Fun Facts which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. Bless you, my child.