For more than a decade I’ve written for Southern Jewelry News and I love my job! I love telling the stories of people who’ve made a way for themselves and their families by choosing the jewelry industry as their career. I’ve spoken with 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation families who’ve passed down their businesses leaving a legacy that their great grandchildren can call their own. I’ve covered people who give more back to their communities and to the industry than they do to themselves and I’m continually surprised by the amazing people I meet.However, my recent interview with Danny Clark of Gold Art Jewelry in Mobile, AL was a little different. Nothing could have prepared me for the surprise he was about to unfold when I asked him to tell me about his television debut on Discovery’s reality show “Dirty Jobs.”
What started out as “normal” interview in terms of how he got his start in the industry quickly turned to quirky when he mentioned mystical societies. From there the topic of conversation took a sharp turn right into crazy as he dove into discussions about bovine body parts.
My mind raced trying to categorize the information into a more sane explanation. Maybe this mystical society works for the betterment of bovines everywhere? The journalist in me hoped, but the Georgian in me doubted it.
Little did I know...
5 minutes into the interview Danny explains that the “Dirty Jobs” segment had nothing to do with his business. Instead it had to do with Mardi Gras, the Knights of Revelry and (you’ll never guess)... COW BLADDERS!
Seriously? Did he just say “cow bladders?”I held my phone out to make sure I’d dialed the right number. Having grown up in Georgia, I, like the rest of the state’s residents, already believe the folks in Alabama do things, well, a little different. Now I’m sitting in a Panera restaurant listening to a grown man, who sounded reasonable at the beginning of the conversation, tell me he’s a member of a mystical society that requires him to dress in costume and beat cow bladders?
Really? My mama warned me about those Alabama boys.
My mind raced with questions as scenes from the movie “Stand By Me” flashed in my head. Did this mystical society have a secret knock? Tap, tap, tap, pause, pause, tap, tap? Did they have a secret fort in Danny’s back yard with a sign that said ‘No Girls Allowed!’ What’s the password into the fort when you’re a grown man? Is it still ‘Boys rule and girls....’
As I reeled myself back into the conversation Danny was providing greater detail about the cow bladders. I kept telling myself this topic wouldn’t compromise my serious journalistic standards since, actually, I’ve never had any, but I was having trouble picturing the words ‘cow bladder’ published in Southern Jewelry News with my name beside it.
At this point I started looking around Panera for alcohol. If he wanted to talk secret societies and the beatings of cow bladders I needed more than just a bagel and a large latte. This kinky stuff was starting to sound like something only people from Alabama consider normal.
Danny heard the dismay, or confusion, or maybe disbelief in my voice and he, very kindly, started over at very beginning. The longer I listened the more intrigued I became. Who knows, maybe I’d get a shot at meeting Mike Rowe.
So welcome to an SJN article about jesters, Death and the always current jewelry topic of COW BLADDERS! Oh yeah! There is the mention of silver, but it refers to paint, not the metal.
In the beginning...Many people don’t know that Mobile, Alabama holds the title of hosting the first, official Mardi Gras celebration back in the eighteenth century. No! It wasn’t New Orleans. Started by the Catholics, the celebration began when Mobile was a French colony, an entire century before the founding of Alabama. Essential to the celebration are the parades hosted by the local mystic societies or krewe, some of which began back in the mid-1800s. Membership is by invitation only and member identities are kept a secret. The societies hold balls and galas and create a parade float each year symbolizing what their society is all about.
Danny is a member of one of these societies that has, as its symbolic emblem, a jester named Folly (I’m talking colored tights, pointy hat and all!). Folly’s goal is to chase Death or the evil spirits (a man in a skeleton costume) around a large champagne glass or broken Greek column symbolizing life. Throughout the chase he has in his hand a stick with emptied, dried, inflated and spray painted (in aluminum) cow bladders attached to it. This entire scene is meant to symbolize our human dance with death as a “Lost Cause.” (No wonder they all drink heavily!)
Folly uses this stick with bladders (did I really just type that?) to beat Death, well... to death. The banging of the bladders makes a loud noise which adds to the excitement of the parade.
Stay with me, it gets better
The Knights of Revelry prepare over 250 cow bladders (pig bladders were too small) by trimming and purging the organs of their contents. That’s right! They have to get the urine out of the bladder before they can expand them.
After they are inflated with air they hang to dry for several weeks, at which point they are ready to be painted and attached to the sticks.
Danny plays the role of Folly in the parade which gives him the distinct honor of being in charge of the bladder preparation. This is no small task, but the reward is great. As Folly, he gets to wear blue and white tights, the jester costume complete with silver mask and, for almost 2 hours, stand atop a large glass while banging bladders. (Really, this is his reward?)
Mike Rowe and his “Dirty Jobs” team found the process of readying the bladders and banging them too good to pass up. So, Danny and his secret society allowed the popular TV host to film the entire, amazing and disgusting process!
“We had such a great time filming with the ‘Dirty Jobs’ crew,” states Danny. “They really are just like regular people. We filmed in June of 2011 starting at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t stop until 7 p.m. that night. The crew was so laid back. They were like normal people.”
Hmm.... normal as in what? Grown men who dress up in tights and carry sticks with cow bladders on them normal?
But believe it or not, the entire thing is steeped in more than a decade of tradition, folklore and, well, strangeness. Danny conveyed the importance of Mardi Gras, the krewe and the parades in Mobile life. It is a part of the culture, the people and Mobile history that carries great symbolism and significance with it. It also helps to generate much needed tourist revenue for the city.
“Mardi Gras is so much fun,” gushes Danny. “And we had a blast watching Mike Rowe work with the bladders. He was a good sport and there were plenty of opportunities to make jokes. I loved it when he spray painted the camera. We all had a good laugh.”
You can bet Mike Rowe had many a clever comment about working with cow bladders. The entire show is hysterical and worthy of watching. It first aired in November 2011 but is being seen again and again in reruns. Simply go to Discovery.com and search for the Mardi Gras Bladder Banger episode. There’s only one show with that name!
Danny Clark is, by all standards, somewhat like Superman. He is the mild mannered, even tempered, kind custom jeweler by day and the crazy, bladder banging Folly during Mardi Gras. Who wouldn’t want him to be their jeweler?
Let Danny know what you thought of the show by calling him at 251-342-6306.