A lot of people, myself included, have a specific image of what they expect from King Bacchus in the Bacchus parade during Mardi Gras.
First, he has to be kingly. He has to be up on that float, behaving royally. Not with sunglasses on like Val Kilmer.
If Bacchus is an actor, he should approach it like a role. He is a king. He should behave like one. He can sit on his throne or stand or do whatever, but it should, if nothing else, be played royally and with imminence.
Hulk Hogan I thought was a poor choice initially. But when I gazed my judgmental eyes upon him actually in the parade, giant, chin up, regal, tossing beads and doubloons from the float like offerings to his court, it elevated him in my eyes. A good king. Perhaps it was the years of posing and posturing in front of throngs of live fans that made him a natural fit. But he played the role well.
Will Farrell was entertaining enough. Drew Brees was Drew Brees. G.W. Bailey, eh. These were decent Kings.
But let us not forget what Bacchus is in his essence. He is the god of wine and ecstasy. Andy Garcia played this role too well. When his float rolled by I didn’t even see him up there and the never-confirmed rumor was he had passed out. Raucous but not so kingly.
One man played it best: James Gandolfini.
In 2007, from my perspective on Canal Street I saw him go by. He was perched atop that float, a jovial gregariousness spewing forth from him and necklaces and coins coming with it. Large bundles of beads he haphazardly threw without designated targets, like an erupting volcano of trinkets. Not able to sit still, he rocked back and forth in his throne and dug into piles of plastic and flung them far. He had a large crowd of riders around him and the energy was frenetic, they were loving it. I saw him grab a handler and excitedly shake him. The guy loved it. It seemed like such a thrill.
And then there was Gandolfini’s face. He had this great big smile, large, ear-to-ear across that huge head of his. His cheeks were rosy red, flushed all the way up to his balding hairline. And his excitement and energy were unconstrained. He wasn’t some elevated, dignified king. He was a jolly, jubilant monarch of the people. Most importantly, he certainly appeared true to the essence of the great Dionysus by appearing to be quite spirited.
It was only for a few seconds but, he was a sight to see. It was glorious. He was the best Bacchus.
In the clip below he says “You got the right guy for Bachus” and he was right.