I first attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1984, with Steven Durland and assorted members of the High Performance Travel Club. The club was open to anybody who wanted to go on a trip with us. We drove from L.A. to NOLA, bringing along San Francisco performance artist Michael Peppe and writer Marian Kester.
[Tangent: Michael Peppe is highly talented at manipulating torrents of words in performance. He won Steve Durland’s Five-Minute Performance Olympics, a true cut-throat competition. Here’s a sample of Peppe’s work from High Performance: The Record. Once you’ve heard that, you’ll realize that Peppe was and probably still is very peppy and a bit of a challenge on a long car trip. On the way home we left him in the middle of the desert because he was the only one who wanted to go to the Grand Canyon and he wouldn’t shut up about it.]
We met other members of the Travel Club in NOLA and we all stayed in the loft of an obliging performance artist, making forays into the parade and bar scene. It was very cold, so in between parades we would dash into a bar and drink gin and eat oysters.
During one parade we hooked up with some members of the Church of the SubGenius from Dallas and Little Rock. They were on acid and into some High Weirdness. We were all sitting in a bar on the parade route, viewing a parade through the window, but we could only see the middle third of each float. Arms went by throwing beads. Parts of enormous animals made of papier mache. Naked bulbous tummies, filling the window with an inexplicable voodoo dread. The Subgenii were bugeyed with astonishment. What?!! they wanted to know. Here’s a recent picture of the Rev. Ivan Stang, Church cult leader, still at least as weird as he was then.
One of our Travel Club companions stands out as unforgettable, and I will call him Dr. Fred. He was a sex fiend and easily the strangest looking one in the U.S. at that time. He complained constantly that he hadn’t brought his wife, with whom he had sex four times a day. One afternoon in the loft we were being subjected to one of Peppe’s tirades about the accommodations and the entire Mardi Gras scene when Dr. Fred arrived beaming. He announced he had just witnessed an event in front of a bar on Bourbon Street and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen: a man [insert sexual euphemism] with a dog. After that, he informed Steve that he was in love with me and warned him that he would steal me away at the earliest opportunity. Steve and I excused ourselves and went out for lots more drinks.
The rest is pretty much of a blur, except for the part where I ate four servings of crawfish right before we left for L.A. and we had to stop at every restroom we passed.