[11 April 2010]
Dan Aykroyd looks like a cop in a crowd of Ghost Busters, Blues Brothers and Blues sisters. The shades are reminiscent of the erstwhile Elwood, but the black button-up shirt with insignia above the breast pocket and black University of Maryland Police ball cap reminds one of a police officer, secret service or DEA agent arriving to survey a scene. It makes it somewhat fitting, then, when the celebrity’s first actions in late March at the Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlet in Iselin, New Jersey, include shuffling off overzealous press photographers in an officious “show’s over” manner and getting a snaking line of bedecked fans moving for an afternoon of photos, autographs, meet-and-greets—and skull signings.
Despite Aykroyd’s physical similarities to a police officer – a comparison he’d likely appreciate considering his longstanding fascination and relationship with law enforcement agencies in the United States and his native Canada – the skulls he’s signing aren’t human bones that hold forensic clues, but are instead connected to legend, made of glass and contain quadruple-distilled, triple-filtered, additive-free Crystal Head Vodka. Aside from being just another premium vodka that retails for about $50 and happens to come in a wicked cool glass bottle, ‘CHV’—as Dan Aykroyd tells it in between each Sharpie marker signature applied to fans’ alcoholic acquisition—is inspired by the crystal skull myth popularized in the last Indiana Jones flick and is the drinkable incarnation of his work as an entertainer and his lifelong association with the paranormal and mysticism.
“All my life I’ve been giving people recordings, radio shows, television broadcasts, sketch comedy, film,” he says. “Now I’m actually making something that I can put in their mouths- - a tangible, tactile experience.”
Launched in Southern California in 2008 (with a viral video some were convinced was an elaborate joke) before rolled out to other regions throughout 2009, the CHV “experience” is the latest endeavor of a man who has created, written and performed as several iconic comedic characters from the past 35 years. Since graduating from Chicago’s Second City improv comedy troupe and joining Saturday Night Live as an original repertory member in 1975, the lines Dan Aykroyd has penned or spoken could fill a sizable volume of pop-culture quotable quotes – and no true fan of ’80s movies could call his DVD collection complete without at least owning The Blues Brothers, Trading Places and Ghost Busters. Also, under the auspices of his cool man-in-black alias Elwood Blues, Aykroyd created the House of Blues restaurant and concert hall chain, and educated newcomers to the music genre through his “House of Blues Radio Hour”.
What may be surprising to some is that Aykroyd is also well known as a Spiritualist who holds the belief that spirits and ghosts communicate with the living—a family tradition covered in his father Peter’s book, A History of Ghosts for which he wrote the forward – and has extensive knowledge on UFOs. His openness on such paranormal topics makes it all the more engaging when he describes the pure Newfoundland deep aquifer vodka filtered through Herkimer Diamonds, polished crystals that are supposed to emit positive energy.
The positive energy is a recurring theme with the crystal skulls legend, which involves 13 ancient, quartz rock human skull carvings that supposedly possess mystical properties that, if brought together, will usher in a new era, or cause the end of the world – possibly all happening on 21 December 2012, which of course marks the grand finalé of the Mayan calendar. The British Museum and Smithsonian, both of which possess a skull, determined the objects aren’t as old as the tales suggests, but Aykroyd isn’t as easily convinced; he claims other cultures believed the heads were “from another star, a gift from above.”
“There are some who are skeptics and say that they’re all fakes. That’s what the Smithsonian said,” says Aykroyd. “But I can’t quite believe that because the Navajo spoke of them, the Aztec spoke of them, the Maya spoke of them. And they spoke of them as a very integral part of the tribe’s responsibility.”
The decision to connect vodka with the heads was natural, he says. After his friend and renowned artist John Alexander designed the bottle based on their shared loved of the Mexican Day of the Dead, Aykroyd decided to put something pure in it to be “enlightened” drinkers and then trade off the legends of “positive thinking and self-empowerment”.
Although it’s only coincidence, the release of supernatural-themed booze couldn’t be timed more perfectly considering the popularity of scripted entertainment like Paranormal Activity and 2012 and the glut of reality-TV shows such as“Paranormal State and Ghost Lab, which are all dedicated to ethereal matters or paranormal investigations. However, even though he says there’s a big difference between mediums, channeling and other Spiritualist beliefs he holds and “ghost hunting”, Aykroyd thinks the overall effect of such shows is positive.
“I think it’s great that people are employed. It’s giving work to people, it’s enlightening the public and it’s opening the subject up to discussion and debate.” He also adds there is a parallel between the current paranormal trend in the mainstream and how Spiritualism was especially en vogue in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
“Well now, with the digital cameras and all the electronic voice phenomena (EVP), people now have a lot more tools to go out and hunt this stuff. You know, virtually every county in America has a ghost hunting society… But you know, as my dad’s book points out, there’s always been an interest in it because… it’s always been a part of our existence.”
If there is such a thing as a mashed-up meta-pop-culture irony, it definitely applies when talking to Aykroyd, a true believer in ghosts and maker of supernatural spirits, yet also the alter ego and creator of the fictional Dr. Raymond Stantz—one-third of the most famous paranormal investigation team in history. It only seems more meta after watching Aykroyd and his Spiritualist father appear on Larry King Live last October alongside “real-life” busters Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of Ghost Hunters and medium Chip Coffey of Psychic Kids.
For his part, Aykroyd sees a similarity between the gadgets, the special vehicles and the team dynamics of the reality-TV ghost shows and his own Ghost Busters characters.
“No doubt they’re inspired by us; I think so.” As far as his own foray into the reality-TV ghost genre, Aykroyd will confine his work to fantasy, so there will be no guest spots on the shows. Still, the entertainer isn’t done with ghosts yet and he confirms there will be a third installment in the adventures of Stantz, Venkman and Spengler. While mum on plot details, he will admit, “It’s happening.”
“We’re closer now than we ever have been; it’s a matter of a script and a screenplay.” Aykroyd even affirms “everybody’s on board” for Ghostbusters 3 and he thinks Ivan Reitman will return to direct.
In the meantime, Aykroyd remains busy as an actor. In addition to voicing Yogi Bear in the upcoming live action/animated film ala Alvin and the Chipmunks, Aykroyd made a cameo in an October 2009 episode of Family Guy, reprising his role from Spies Like Us with costar Chevy Chase. He also popped up in an Saturday Night Live skit in February as U.S. House Minority Leader, Republican John Boehner.
Most recently, he appeared as Jimmy Carter in the Ron Howard-directed FunnyorDie.com advocacy short also starring Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Dana Carvey and Chevy Chase aimed at encouraging the creation of a consumer financial protection agency. “Like in so many of my entertainment experiences, I was awestruck by the talent in the room,” he says. “To be in that company was a real honor.”
Acting aside, Aykroyd has his Crystal Head Vodka, which he promotes through bottle signings much like the one in Iselin. So far, he’s pretty amused with the reactions he is getting about the spirit. He jokes his father is a “big consumer of the vodka” because he can “have six shots and not get a hangover.” As for non-familial reactions, “we’ve gotten the full range of emotional responses to it. People have hated it. It’s banned in two areas of the world. It’s banned in Idaho and it’s banned in the province of Ontario. They will not sell it.”
That’s only half correct. The vodka has actually been doing well in Idaho; Bill Applegate, the product manager with the Idaho State Liquor Division says the brand has been quite successful and done much better than he ever expected it would. He adds that, even though the vodka isn’t inexpensive, it “apparently has quite a following.” However, Chris Layton, a spokesperson with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), confirms they won’t sell CHV because consumers might find the skull bottle’s “symbol of death” imagery offensive —and that it runs contrary to the LCBO’s mandate and brand vision of social responsibility.
Still, even if powers-that-be in his home of Ontario have yet to embrace the booze, Aykroyd is proud of Crystal Head. He laughs that, “I’m not selling used battery acid here, and it looks really nice in the bottle.” Plus, he thinks it has an “old-time moonshine type of feel,” and prefers his with one-and-a-half ounces of the vodka mixed with three-quarters of a cup of fresh-squeezed tangerine juice and a little splash of soda.
So what if the crystal skull legends are true, and the world ends in 2012? Dan Aykroyd will take it in stride with his Crystal Head Vodka. “I’ll probably be sitting at home at my farm in Canada with all my friends and we will be drinking it cold off the ice, off the snow—and I’m hoping that the end of the world is the end of just perception as we know it rather than the ‘end’ of the world.”