Blues Brothers fan Perry Medlock and Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd
Monday afternoon, in the rear of the Rouses supermarket on Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue, right between the misty fresh vegetable section and the wine selection, sat comedian Dan Aykroyd, signing one clear glass skull after another.
The 60-year-old star was promoting a special top-shelf vodka that earns its $45 price tag, in part, by being filtered through Herkimer diamonds (a sort of quartz crystal) and bottled in a human skull-shaped flask reminiscent of a mysterious Mayan artifact. Scores of "Blues Brothers," "Ghostbusters," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Saturday Night Live" fans lined the grocery store aisles, awaiting a short visit with the Canadian comic icon.
He didn’t disappoint. With impeccable politeness and endless patter, Aykroyd greeted each guest personally, posing for photos, indulging anecdotes, and signing mementos as well as skulls. Skulls, skulls, skulls; Aykroyd has a remarkable capacity to carry on relatively complicated conversations while continuously applying his autograph to the frontal cranium. It may be a matter of sheer practice. Aykroyd said he’s signed 30,000 since he got into the vodka business.
As he signed, Aykroyd recalled his favorite memory from "Saturday Night Live’s" legendary 1977 Mardi Gras show in New Orleans. He and the late John Belushi made their way through the crowded streets on Harley-Davidsons, which allowed them to circumvent road closings, jump curbs and otherwise expedite Carnival travel. Arriving at Jackson Square, Belushi quickly stripped off his bee costume, immediately donned a Benito Mussolini outfit, then took his place on a Cabildo balcony, where he satirically imitated the Italian dictator. The Carnival crowd below, Aykroyd said, was instructed to shout duce, duce, duce, the traditional tribute to Mussolini. It was just like World War II, Aykroyd said.
How should New Orleanians handle the combined Carnival and Super Bowl 2013 traffic congestion? Harleys, Aykroyd advised.
It was a promotional event, after all, so Aykroyd took every chance to tout the grocery store, the House of Blues club that he helped found decades ago, "The Campaign," a movie filmed in New Orleans and, of course, the vodka. The Herkimer diamond filtering adds a certain psychic finish to the booze, Aykroyd said, suppressing a smile.
When asked to describe his next film project, Aykroyd became suddenly opaque. Instead of answering directly, he discussed his enthusiasm for a series of UFO sightings and milestone alien abduction case and that took place in New England, not far from the source of Herkimer diamonds. I’m just letting my imagination run wild here, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a movie about the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill extraterrestrial encounter in the offing.
Speaking of crystal-filtered vodka, in Aykroyd’s telling, UFOs have a relationship with a mysterious Mayan crystal skull used to predict the future and better understand the past.
When I pointed out that the credibility of the ancient Mayan clairvoyants had suffered lately because of the failed end of the world scenario, Aykroyd countered that planetary change takes time. Changing the direction of the world is like changing the direction of an aircraft carrier, he said. And boy does the world need changing, he added, citing the trouble in Syria and Mali.
About that time, a guy who looked remarkably like Jake Blues appeared at the head of line of fans. I took my exit as Elwood paused in his skull signing to shake Jake’s hand.