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There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.
-Gertrude Stein

I don’t know if I can adequately describe what it was like when Freak Out!, the debut album of The Mothers of Invention was released on June 27, 1966. The 1960’s were finally becoming The Sixties by that point, the world was realizing that the staid and arid Fifties had left forever; people were dressing weird, acting weird, taking drugs, having sex, growing their hair. The radio stations were full of cool music by cool bands. And then into the middle of this cultural renaissance came Frank Zappa and his pals blowing everyone’s mind to smithereens with songs like It Can’t Happen Here, Who Are the Brain Police?, and Hungry Freaks, Daddy. We’re still not ready for these guys.

Third-grader Stella Ehrhart is my new hero. Eight-year-old Stella, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, starts each school day the same way every day: she opens up a book called “The 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century” and decides who she’s going to dress up like that day. She’s been doing this since the second day of second grade. She’s been Joan Baez, Rosa Parks, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Georgia O’Keeffe, Queen Elizabeth, Billie Holiday, Grace Kelly, Aung San Suu Kyi. Sometimes she strays from the historical theme to honor women of her own day; she has dressed up as her best friend Virginia (“My favorite costume,” said Virginia), her police officer Aunt Pam, and as the school principal. It’s stories like this that make life worth living, n’est-ce pas? You can see some of her costumes in this slideshow.

Speaking of cool creative girls with an attitude, Amy Gore & Her Valentines have a new album and video out. Gore, a Detroit legend, founded the Gore Gore Girls and helped to establish the modern American garage rock scene of the late 1990’s. “Gore Gore Girls mix Stooges spit with Supremes soul like an itching in my heart full of napalm,” raved the Village Voice. After a successful collaboration with cult-hero Nikki Corvette to form Gorevette, Ms. Gore steered herself straight into rock & roll with a power pop edge aided and abetted by Her Valentines (bassist Leann Banks; Jackson Smith on guitar; and Smokin’ Joe Leone on drums). Their first album, In Love, was released last week. Check out their brand spankin’ new music video for one of the tracks, “Fine Without You.”

This past weekend, the country of Bangladesh honored George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez for the staging of the celebrated 1971 Concert for Bangladesh a staggering 41 years ago. These two shows at Madison Square Garden were the first of their kind; organized to raise international awareness of a dire political situation and to fund relief efforts for refugees in the region who were fleeing the atrocities there. A best-selling live album boxed set and documentary followed. “In one day, the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh,” said Ravi Shankar many years later.

They called her the Lily of the Mohawks. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, was canonized in Rome today. Tekakwitha, born in what is now upstate New York, died in 1680 at the age of 24 in Canada. Saint-wise, she kicked it old school for sure; after being baptized at the age of 20 she joined a Jesuit missionary and devoted herself to chastity, prayer, and sleeping on a bed of thorns. “Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in North America,” said the Pope at the ceremony, “May God bless the first nations.” You can purchase beautiful hand painted saint medallions of Kateri or any of her glorious saintly brothers and sisters from my dear friends at Saints for Sinners in New Orleans.

Fifty Reasons to Watch the Sun City Video, thanks to the folks at Thrillist. We celebrated the music of Little Steven last week at Little Kids Rock and Tom Morello nailed this song to the ground, speaking eloquently of his school days at Harvard when he and friends built a shantytown on the campus to highlight the horrors of apartheid in South Africa. “I wrote my senior thesis at Harvard University about student uprisings in South Africa,” he told the sold out crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom Tuesday night. “So imagine my wonder and surprise when in the midst of well-intentioned charity songs like “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” Little Steven dropped a seven minute political bombshell called “Sun City.”” Per Thrillist: “Despite its incredible star wattage, the song never rose higher than #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but there are thousands of reasons why you should watch the music video. In the interest of time and sanity, here are a mere 50.”

Gillian Flynn’s spectacular book Gone Girl, which I read earlier this year, started me off into an obsession with mysteries and true crime novels. One of the best I’ve read is Richard Lloyd Parry’s book People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up, which was published in May. Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, covered the case of 21-year-old Lucie Blackman for many years. This book is the story of how a young British girl set off for adventure in Tokyo, became a bar hostess as so many foreign girls do there, and was the victim of one of the most heinous crimes ever to be seen in Japan. It’s terrifying, fascinating, and a complex study of not only Lucie and her family and friends, but also the killer and Japanese society and the justice system in general.

Cute Baby Walrus Time! If you haven’t seen this beautiful video of a walrus calf getting fed at the New York Aquarium and then peacefully sleeping in the lap of the lucky lady who gets to do this for a living, then go here please. It will, dare I say it, warm your heart all the way down to your toes. This particular baby walrus is named Mitik, and he is one of many animals who reside in one of the five wildlife parks in New York City. You can see lots more cool animal videos thoughtfully curated for you by the Wildlife Conservation Society on their Youtube Channel.  The WCS was founded in 1895 to save wildlife and wild places around the globe. Their NYC parks include the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo. More about their work, and how to help them, here.

Halloween’s on the horizon. Yes, my favorite holiday of the year is almost upon us. This year, thanks to Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, the world’s finest gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is back in the zeitgeist. Thanks to this you can trick yourself out as Barnabas Collins on All Hallow’s Eve this year, with a natty Barnabas cape, a Barnabas ring, and even a Barnabas wig so you can attempt to get the weird hairstyle going as well to complete the picture.  No matter what, you’re bound to do better than Mr. Depp, who, much as I love and respect him, just didn’t scream Barnabas to me. He made a much better Hunter S. Thompson methinks. In my mind, Jonathan Frid (RIP) is and will always be Barnabas Collins, the mysterious cousin from England who drops in on his Collinwood ancestors one dark and stormy night.

George McGovern has died at the age of 90. This was yet another huge plonk on the baby boomer heartstrings Chez Snoop du Jour due to the fact that the 1972 election when McGovern valiantly tried to prevail against Richard Nixon was the first election I ever voted in. I was in college at the time in Michigan, and I hitchhiked back to Philadelphia to proudly pull that lever. McGovern, born in 1922, was a war hero who later vehemently opposed the war in Vietnam (“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in”), and he became the first Democrat elected to the Senate from South Dakota in 26 years when he took office in 1962.  One of my favorite quotes of his, which resonates deeply today as we head towards the Presidential Election November 6, is this: No man should advocate a course in private that he’s ashamed to admit in public.

If you have any books, music, film, television, or other nugget of pop culture you’d like to submit to me for this column please contact me here


March 21 - April 19 Aries
Ah, Aries, you enthusiastic pioneering soul. I’m sure you’re well aware that LOST has returned to the airwaves to further mess up our minds. We’re about to learn what John Locke already knows; the island sees and knows all, and is a greater power than we can yet dream of. And like that. The zany shenanigans Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Hurley and the gang get up to every Wednesday night will keep us raptly engaged, verily. So two more things for your radar: Previously On Lost is a Brooklyn band that hilariously posts a song on their MySpace page after each episode airs which recaps what happened that week. And, finally, am I the only the person that remembers a show called The New People? It aired during the 1969/1970 TV season on Monday nights. Aaron Spelling produced this program about a plane full of college kids who crash on a deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. The island is fully equipped with buildings and food, due to it previously being a test side for atomic bombs. It was very Lord of the Flies; the earthy crunchy version. Tyne Daly, Richard Dreyfuss, and Billy Dee Williams are a few of the actors who were part of this show.

April 20 - May 20 Taurus
Get off your bum, my Taurus friends, and immediately go to a movie theater and see Slumdog Millionaire if you haven’t already. Recession? Yes, I know. Just bite the bullet and spend a few bucks on this film. Because it’s wide open, breathtakingly full of incredible images, and full of heart. And yes you could Netflix it later, but nothing’s like the big screen sometimes, especially for this film. All I knew about it was that it’s a love story, and about a TV game show, and set in India. That’s the perfect amount of information so that you will be surprised and stunned by the twists and turns of the plot. Go, go, go. And don’t leave before the credits come on, because they’re magical.

May 21 - June 20 Gemini
You’re so versatile, Gemini! You’re always open to new ideas and experiences. Did someone say change we can believe in? Well, you can Obamanize all your photos and whatever else there is around the house with the Obamicon.Me app. You can take the look and feel of artist Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama poster and run it through the Obamiconizer, then choose a word to add to the bottom of the image (as in, um, “Hope”). The fun part is that the possibilities are endless. Talk about a supremely fun time-waster! You can also upload your work of art to the site and view other people’s Obamicons. From Paste Magazine’s genius division who created this bit o fun: The longest election season in memory is now over, and we wanted to help you unwind and express yourself as we head into the new era.

June 21 - July 22 Cancer
You Cancerians love to feather the nest, perhaps to a fault. You’re intuitive, you’re a tad spiritual, and you have a really good memory (sometimes too good, n’est-ce pas?). Something tells me that you’d love to know about all the weird and wacky holidays that the month of February has on tap because, well, why not. Did you know February is Sweet Potato Month? Pet Dental Health Month? Time Management Month? Black History Month? Marijuana Awareness Month? And by the way, in addition to the annual testosterone fest, the Super Bowl, tomorrow, Sunday, Feb. 1, you can also celebrate Hula in the Coola Day, Robinson Crusoe Day, and Freedom Day. And put this one on your calendar now: Ferris Wheel Day is Feb. 14 (that date sounds familiar. Not sure why…).

July 23 - August 22 Leo
Leo the Lion. You’re creative, broad-minded, and a really good, loyal companion to those lucky enough to be your friend. And you do love your books and learning new things. So if you happen to be in Lititz, Pennsylvania (in the heart of Lancaster County) anytime soon stop in to Aaron’s Books and marvel at the incredible selection of new and used books. Curl up in the Reading Lounge and indulge in free wireless internet. Park your kids in their children’s room. Have some organic and Fair Trade Tea. Aaron’s is Family Owned and Operated. They are open every day except Sunday. They buy and trade used books. You can order books online through their site. And they have a really cool blog. And hey, by the way, congratulations to Lititz for being chosen a Distinctive Destination of 2009 by The National Trust for Historic Preservation!

August 23 - September 22 Virgo
Submitted for your approval: Follow Me Caffe. If I know Virgos (and I think I do…), you love comfort and good food. You’re all about a latte or hot chocolate and a sandwich or a pastry sitting there on the plate in front of you. Perhaps a good friend across the table from you, or a great book to read, or you’re just doodling and daydreaming. And chocolate always helps. Follow Me Caffe is located on East 62nd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue. Try a crepe with a scoop of gelato. Or the red beet salad with goat cheese, cornichons, apricots, and chives. Or the Viking’s Dream Omelette. Or perhaps the ricotta pancakes with melted raspberries. And it’s comfy and cozy, just perfect for these freezing cold winter days. Thanks to Angelica C. for turning me on to this!

September 23 - October 22 Libra
Well, the new TV season has started up in case you haven’t noticed, and that means Big Love is back on HBO with Season 3. God, I’ve missed that twisted fictional polygamist web of intrigue in suburban Sandy, Utah. Bill Henrickson and his three wives and a hot looking waitress on the side. Can you beat this show? I don’t think you can. The acting is superlative. There is not one dud in this cast. Not one! Nominated for serious ass-kicking greatness: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Grace Zabriskie, Matt Ross, and Harry Dean Stanton. And that’s not even half of the cast. Watch it on Sunday nights and follow up on the summary posted every week by Pop Culture Critic Mark Blankenship on the Huffington Post. Mark runs it all down like it’s a play by play at the Super Bowl and also has a feature called Wife Watch, where he writes about the most powerful wife on the show each week. Because Mark knows, even if the fictional Bill Henrickson does not, that it’s the wives who secretly run this particular universe.

October 23 - November 21 Scorpio
You may be a powerful, mysterious Fixed Water Sign, a Scorpio in fact, but even you will become undone before an amazing slice of coconut cream pie. And when you’ve had the best, there’s no going back to mediocre imitations. The best can be had at the world famous Sokolowski’s University Inn in Cleveland, Ohio. Established in 1923, the University Inn’s name comes from its address on University Road in Cleveland’s Tremont district. It’s currently run by the third generation of the Sokolowski family. The place is cafeteria style, so grab your tray and load up on some pierogis or schnitzel or stuffed cabbage. Just be sure to save room for that pie. I feel like getting on a plane right now and heading for Cleveland!

November 22 - December 21 Sagittarius
Our website of the week this week is Crackberry.com, for all you Blackberry addicts out there. I know there are plenty of Sagittarian users, because you love to stay organized and productive, and that’s what this little gadget is all about. Crackberry.com gathers all things blackberry for your obsessive viewing pleasure: you can shop for accessories and software here, read discussion forums, get wallpapers, get free MP3 ringtones, or read a blog that caters to whatever you happen to be stuck on at the moment – from news & rumors to media to tips to games to apps. And if you are not under a rock somewhere, then you probably know that President Obama was able to keep his beloved blackberry (the 8830, for you geeks out there) after taking office. Because nothing says plugged in like a blackberry. And I don’t know about you, but I like knowing that the Prez is an information junkie blackberry user like myself.

December 22 - January 19 Capricorn
Capricorn, thy name is prudence and practicality. But once in awhile you gotta let down your hair and think outside the box. So the next time you need a great baby gift I want you to consider the Ramones Too Tough to Cry onesie for only $20. I mean, seriously. Don’t you suddenly want to make friends with someone who is having a baby – just so you can give this gift? Hey ho let’s go all out and get the Baby Ramones Shoes too – for $21!!! These cuties are teeny tiny black and white striped canvas trimmed in red with the Ramones logo on the side, and the word “Ramones” repeats around the bottom of the shoes. Any infant sporting these items is sure to grow up to be a rock and roll star. Brought to you by a very hip company called Sourpuss.

January 20 - February 18 Aquarius
When you enter the store Clearly First at 980 Madison Ave. in Gotham City, you’ll immediately catch an Aquarian vibe. Meaning intellectual, inventive, and friendly. This is a store / showroom that specializes in distinctive objects from art pieces to vintage toys to international design, all sharing a kind of charisma and an across the board Scandinavian élan. Fashion – Accessories – Furniture – Toys – Books – and Bicycles the likes of which you’ve never seen before. If you need something that is not food or drink, odds are you can find it here. And you’ll find a really interesting and unique items as well.

February 19 - March 20 Pisces
Pull up a chair and let’s talk about my all-time favorite Pisces, George Harrison (of Speke). You know I still can’t believe that George is no longer with us. He’s so quiet and all, it’s like he slipped out and went into the next room or something. Back in the day, we’re talking 1970 here, not even a month after the Beatles broke up (if you didn’t live through that you can’t imagine how traumatizing it was for fans) George suddenly released a triple album set presciently called All Things Must Pass. And suddenly all those years when he didn’t have a lot of songs on Beatles records were seen in a new light. This record was freaking incredible. George roped in a number of famous sidemen to play on it like Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Phil Collins, and Alan White. The single, My Sweet Lord, caused a storm of controversy for copyright infringement of the ChiffonsHe’s So Fine. But there are dozens of songs better than that here. What Is Life, Isn’t It A Pity, Wah-Wah, Behind That Locked Door, Beware of Darkness, and my personal favorite, Awaiting on You All. Some of this material had been percolating in Harrison-Land since 1966. A thirtieth anniversary edition with bonus tracks is now available, with a booklet containing photos from the recording sessions, a video commentary and an essay by George. Thanks for the Pepperoni is all I can say.