NAPLES — How’s this for a Saturday Night Live skit?
A guy sets off on a cross country tour to promote vodka in a clear bottle shaped like a skull. On the way he talks music, movies, comedy and a little golf. He even checks out reports of a UFO and offers to party with the aliens.
For SNL veteran and screen star Dan Aykroyd, it’s not a bit. He’s really doing it, traveling from coast to coast pushing Crystal Head Vodka, a libation he and a friend first envisioned just two years ago. The tour is headed to Naples Monday with a stop planned at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, 6425 Naples Blvd., from 4 to 6 p.m.
Aykroyd tells the story, repeated no doubt at every stop of the tour, of his fascination with the legend of the 13 crystal heads. Of how seven are in the possession of individuals and museums, found in locations as far flung as the Yucatan Peninsula and Tibet. Of how modern science can’t determine exactly how they were made and the idea that they are of extraterrestrial origin. While today we may regard the skull of a symbol of death, in other cultures around the world it has life-affirming properties. It is widely seen as a repository of knowledge and power. “It’s a statement of our common humanity,” Aykroyd says.
He shares that fascination with artist John Alexander. One day Alexander came up with the idea of creating a bottle based on the legend. Aykroyd, busy with film and music projects, his own winery and his family, told Alexander to work on it and bring something back.
Before he could turn around, Alexander had sketched out his idea for the bottle. Aykroyd was immediately taken with the work, but he knew it couldn’t be a wine bottle. “The only thing to put in this was something clear. We’ve got to do an unadulterated spirit,” Aykroyd told Alexander.
Thus the idea of Crystal Head vodka was born.
Aykroyd and Alexander teamed with a Canadian distillery to make their concept vodka as pure as possible. The water comes from Newfoundland off Canada’s east coast, far away from modern pollutants. “It’s a throwback to another world. It’s like a part of Ireland broke off and floated over,” Aykroyd says.
Sweet corn, rather than hopper corn, is used as the primary grain. There’s a laborious quadruple distillation process and multi-stage filtering, once through Herkimer diamonds, which, according to New Age belief systems, embody positive energy and good will. The diamonds come from upstate New York, an area with a high level of “unexplained aerial activity,” Aykroyd said. They reject the additives and flavorings other makers use, counting on the sweet corn to give it its described, “creamy and slightly sweet finish.”
The brand is nearing 1 million bottles sold, at about $50 a bottle. Aykroyd says he’s personally signed 30,000 at events like the one planned for Naples. The present tour has taken him from San Francisco to Houston and Dallas. “It’s fun. I like to meet people and see what they think (of the product),” Aykroyd said.
As the story of Crystal Head Vodka suggests, Aykroyd has an abiding interest in matters of spirituality, mysticism and extraterrestrial life.
He’s also the possessor of a pedigree in humor that few can match, dating back to the original SNL cast in 1975 and carrying into the new millennium. He transitions easily between the many faces of Dan as he looks back on his career, looks forward to his stop in Southwest Florida, and surveys today’s comedy, music and movie scenes.
Asked if his Naples event might really be cover for an investigation into recent UFO sightings around Isles of Capri, Aykroyd states flatly that he’s not aware of such sightings. Most of the recent UFO activity has been around Pensacola, as far as he’s aware. But if the Mutual UFO Network is on it — a representative of the group held a town hall meeting at Isles of Capri Tuesday — then the matter is in good hands, he said.
“They do real investigations,” he said of the group, praising the expertise of its founders in fields of science and aeronautics. They’re willing to dismiss claims of alien ships as hoaxes or known phenomena when the evidence dictates. “John Schuessler (MUFON’s director from 2000 to 2006) is not some nut out of the woods. They’re very realistic.”
That having been said, if there are aliens hovering around Collier County, Aykroyd would love to meet them. “I hope they come out (to the bottle signing). I might as well start them drinking.”
By introducing John Belushi to early blues recordings then teaming with him to make “The Blues Brothers,” Aykroyd almost single-handedly brought a whole generation to the music at the root of rock and roll. He’s still listening to blues, with names like Sharon Jones, Larry McCray and the Imperial Crowns filling his iPod. And yes, it’s OK for even an old bluesman to have an iPod.
The blues is very much alive as a music genre but it mostly lives on the concert and festival circuit, not getting much airplay on radio or space in record stores. Aykroyd is in his 18th year hosting the syndicated House of Blues Radio Hour, promoting the art form. “It’s our mission from God to sell tickets and keep people coming to the shows.”
Likewise he stays close to his roots when it comes to comedy. SNL is still the cutting edge, in his estimation, listing cast members Fred Armisen and Will Forte as among the best comedic talents working today.
Will there be a Ghostbusters III? “It looks very good. A year ago I couldn’t have said so,” Aykroyd said. Screenwriters have produced a draft and he’s added 50 pages of notes. “I’m really happy to be back in the trenches working on something real. The premise is good, the story is good. It looks promising.”
Aykroyd’s ill-conceived appearance in the disastrous Caddyshack II earned him a Razzie in 1989 for Worst Supporting Actor. Did the experience sour him on the sport that so permeates Naples?
“That movie could have ruined anybody’s taste for golf,” he admits, adding that if you see him around a golf course, chances are he’s tinkering on a golf cart, yet another of his hobbies.
Aykroyd’s been doing the promotional junket thing since Jimmy Carter was president — and Aykroyd was impersonating him on stage — but he says there’s something different this time.
“In my time I’ve toured behind some bad movies. Movies you’re selling on Wednesday and you know it’s going to be dead by Friday. It’s a lot more fun riding a winner,” he said. “I’ve made movies, made TV, made music. I think I’ve done a pretty good job putting something in people’s eyes and ears. Now I’m putting something on people’s tongues. This is the next level of vodka.”
Which of Aykroyd’s characters would make the best spokesman for Crystal Head?
Without a doubt, Beldar Conehead. “He would be able to consume mass quantities without it affecting him. He could drink anyone under the table. He’d be the man,” Aykroyd said.
Who knows, maybe the little green men from Isles of Capri would join him for a drink.
Connect with Brent Batten at www.naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten