Marie Krien-Schmidt and Mark Hall live in the heart of the Irish Channel, in a two-story house that could only be found in New Orleans. The walls are strewn with old Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest prints, along with Meyersdorf watercolors, an old trombone, a jester head, and a replica bowsprit from the HMS Britannia, whose ample bosoms greet visitors at the door. And then there are the nine cats and Ingrid the dog. Marie works in environmental management, and Mark’s “an artist and I cook her dinner.”
“Economically we might qualify as yuppies but psychologically we’ll never qualify,” Mark explains.
“I don’t wear the right clothes,” Marie says.
And thus, Mark and Marie are co-captains of the Krewe of C.R.U.D.E. (Council to Revive Urban Decadence and Entertainment), just one degenerate sub-krewe of the monster—the blasphemous, shameless, vexatious, scatological, shocking Krewe du Vieux, the only official Mardi Gras parade in the French Quarter, slated to hit the streets Saturday, February 11 at 7 p.m. “Hey!” Mark says. “I want you to use the word ‘onliest’. We’re the onliest parade in the Quarter!”
Krewe du Vieux (KDV) welcomes everyone of “any race, sex, creed, profession or perversion.” Most are represented. New krewes find their way to KDV like bloodhounds sniffing for contraband. The Knights of Mondu, for instance, used to march in LaPlace, but got kicked out for not being “family-oriented.” “So they far-surpassed our entry requirements,” Mark notes. The Krewe of Drips and Discharges are trauma-stricken medics from the Touro emergency room. And then there’s C.R.U.D.E.
“Ingrid, leave that poor little cat alone!” Marie scolds, as dog and cat skitter across the floor. Another of the cats is asleep on a scratching post covered with “pubic hair” from last year’s parade.
“I have tons of it,” she says. “I have yards and yards of pubic hair left.
“We all wore large, black, furry triangular pieces of hair and decorated them according to our own inimitable styles. Most everyone had some little plastic crabs clinging on, and two women in particular dressed as Donald Mints, sticking red and white minties all over their pubes.”
Mark finds a leather Mardi Gras mask and tells me to try it on. “What’s it signify?” I ask.
“Oh! I have a dickhead leather mask!” Marie says. And then she fishes out a photograph of Carol and Fred from Pennsylvania, a couple they met at a St. Paddy’s Day parade, brought home, and dressed up. The picture shows Carol and Fred, each wearing a big dick on their head, smiling politely.
“That’s the thing about Krewe du Vieux,” Marie says. “You tend to have a whole closet or room in your home full of costumes. Where the hell do you put this shit?” She traipses upstairs past some cats to show off the costume room, opening every door and drawer. “See this? This is costumes. This is costumes. This is costumes—they’re everywhere! I gotta see if I can find that penis mask. I love that penis mask.”
Marie discovered the KDV by chance. She happened upon the Krewe’s post-parade “Doo” about five years ago in what was then Storyville, and crashed it. Two years later she tried joining the KDV’s Krewe of Underwear, but didn’t feel at home amidst that krewe’s predominance of happy, young, married couples. Hearing that C.R.U.D.E. needed a new captain, Marie volunteered.
“In the most humiliating experience of our life, Marie stepped up and said, ‘I can do that,’ and dragged me kicking and screaming into the fray,” Mark says.
In its ninth year as a premiere event on the underground social scene, KDV’s roots go way back.
“It all started in the Dark Ages,” says KDV Captain Ray “plaine” Kern (no known relation to float-builder Blaine). “And then in the Middle Ages, once a year around this time, the townspeople would invite social outcasts—misfits, crazy people, buffoons—to come to town and they would mock the people who threw them out. Many people take themselves too seriously. This gave them an opportunity to look at themselves in a different way.”
KDV itself had its beginnings in 1979, when a group of artists from the Contemporary Arts Center formed the Krewe of Clones to march and poke fun at social conventions. That first year, Kern says, about 50 people dressed as roaches and marched around the block of the CAC. In following years the cockroaches multiplied, forming several sub-krewes. In 1986, the Krewe of Clones parade was scheduled the night before Superbowl XX, which took place In New Orleans. Fearing the Irreverent revelers would embarrass the city on national television, city officials yanked the permit.
And then Yuppiedom reared its ugly head when a few Clone leaders wanted to go in a different direction. “They wanted to get rid of the rabble, the riffraff,” Kern laments. “They were going to raise the dues to $300—from $15—and make it a more arty presentation. More respectability.”
The Clones fractured, and four of the krewes paraded in Mid-City, holding a Clones funeral. The cops tried to stop the parade because it was blocking the streets. So the undaunted ex-Clones moved to the sidewalks while six or seven police cars cruised alongside, blocking the streets.
It was then that Don Marshall, one of the instigators of the original Clones and at the time a director of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, suggested parading in the Quarter. “Nobody had any parade in the French Quarter since they’d been banned in the 1970s,” Kern says. “But they hadn’t banned marching clubs.” So, the Krewe of Underwear and the Seeds of Decline were joined by Mid City White Trash (now the Krewe of L.E.W.D.—Loose Ensemble of Whacked Degenerates), Wigs of the World (now Krewe of the Mystic Inane), and the Krewe of C.R.U.D.E. for their first march through the Vieux Carre as the Krewe Du Vieux, on Valentine’s Day 1987. The theme: “Get a Heart On,” with Charmaine Neville for Queen and an effigy of Sheriff Harry Lee for King.
Highlights of subsequent years:
In 1988 it was “New Orleans Eats Out” (read it how you will), with Chef Paul Prudhomme as King, riding in a giant gumbo pot.
1989: “KDV Predicts” with Queen Lois Simbach, and her king, a 12-foot juju doll. Krewe of Underwear, in a salute to Ronald Reagan, acted out “Bedtime With Bonzo,” where two people dressed as The Gipper and a chimpanzee fornicated on a rolling bed. “The cops are still talking about that one,” reminisces Ray.
King Fish Al Scaramuzza reigned during 1990’s “KDV Smells Something Fishy.” The Krewe of C.R.U.D.E. did a “Tampon Rodeo,” dressing up as cowboys riding red cotton ponies.
Comedians Becky Allen and Ricky Graham presided in 1991. The Krewe of Space Age Love dressed as proctologists with a float of Saddam Hussein bending over with a patriot missile going up his ass.
1992 was a media roast, “Rights the News,” with Angus and Anne Lind for royalty. This was the first year the Krewe published its annual newspaper, Le Monde de Merde.
In 1993, the headline of the Merde screamed “Krewe du Vieux Laughs at Death.” Proteus and Comus master float designer Henri Schindler, his services no longer needed, became King of KDV. Many marchers wore newspaper headlines on their head; one screamed “Jim Garrison: ‘I Killed Kennedy!'”
1994’s theme was “The Ballot of New Orleans.” The king was jazz legend Danny Barker, in what was to be his last public appearance before his death. Credited with spawning the resurgence of brass bands, and possessing a bawdy sense of humor, Barker was a natural choice for the parade, which had always featured brass bands. “He didn’t have a whole lot to do with the elections, but if anyone could give the public a song and dance, it would be him,” Ray says. The red plastic cups thrown that year with Barker’s likeness are now coveted.
This year, the Queen will be none other than burlesque strip-tease artist GiO, who will perform at the bash after the parade. More than 500 are marching, with themes such as: “Lestat Family Blood Drive,” “Holy Rollers: The Casino,” “Survival of the Fattest,” and “Blizzard of ’94: Snow Guaranteed by the NOPD.”
The bash, or Krewe du Vieux Doo, is “instant magic,” Ray says. “Most bands love to play for us. There’s no such thing as a warm-up, ’cause we’ve been warmed up since 12 noon.” To his knowledge, past parties have resulted in three marriages, two pregnancies, “and maybe a divorce in there—I’m not sure.” The featured artist this year is the Iguanas.
“I’d also like to mention that I alone am not responsible for this parade. I underline not responsible,” Ray calmly explains, as he goes on to thank all the sub-krewes, the parade marshals, blah blah blah, accepting his own well-deserved lifetime achievement award for surviving his captainship. An overworked systems analyst and software engineer, Kern is proud of his creative outlet, the KDV, the way a mother might be proud of her little kid who gets all the attention in Schwegmann’s by poking people in the butt. (“Ain’t he cuuute?”).
“I haven’t ever come across anyone who’s ever been offended,” Ray says. “But then again, they don’t know where I live.”