’Twas the eve before All Hallow’s Eve (as in, Friday night) and Anne Rice, author of vampire lore, was being welcomed back to her native home of New Orleans with all the fanfare of the Queen of the Damned. At least twenty dancers, singers, and drummers, their faces painted like skeletons and their heads plumed with feathers, marked her arrival with a personal Day of the Dead parade, led by two fabulous Mardi Gras Indian chiefs. The petite Rice, wearing an adorable grey bob, marched in their midst, beaming. Though she could have easily found a dozen disciples eager to carry her parasol, she is a queen of the people, and carried it herself. It was black and bejeweled and rimmed with fringe.
Inside New Orleans’s Generations Hall was the 27th annual Gathering of the Ancients Ball, where members of the Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat Fan Club (ARVLFC) had come from all over the country in their fangs and antebellum finest to spend but a few moments in the presence of the woman who’d introduced them to Gothic romance. From a balcony, the author watched as the swirling skeletons serenaded her with songs like Depeche Mode’s “Stripped,” performed like a tribal incantation. The emcee Aurelio Voltaire, a black-haired man dressed in all black, invited Rice to the stage to sit on a throne made just for her, as he regaled her with the tale of how Interview With the Vampire had made him who he is, and serenaded her yet again. He was so excited, he said, that he just wanted to bite her. Rice smiled coyly and pointed to a silver sequined scarf wrapped around her neck; she’d come protected.
She’d soon be craning that neck to watch a clip from an as-yet-unfinished documentary on the cultural history of vampires, A Place Among The Undead, directed by Juliet Landau (Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), featuring the likes of Joss Whedon and Tim Burton extolling Rice as their everything. The video projection failed twice, and every time it repeated the news that Rice was writing a new book about her greatest creation, the Vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, the crowd gasped. Pepper from American Horror Story (Naomi Grossman) was there, too, in a giant red-and-black feathered headdress. She’d come a previous year in a Tinkerbell costume, and was so embarrassed, she’d had to return and bring it to redeem herself.
At last it was time for Rice to speak. The ancients gathered around. One had wondered, watching her through all that serenading and feting, if this event was just something she endures to keep her fan base loyal. But she couldn’t have been more effusive and gracious. She brought out a woman named Suzie Q, who nearly 30 years earlier had approached her at a book signing to ask about starting a fan club. Ms. Rice said she wouldn’t want one for herself, but she thought that Lestat would love it, and ARVLFC was born.
Rice recalled her first Vampire Ball, attended by 100 people, and the second, which had nearly tripled in size, and the one when she really knew they were onto something, when the crowd poured out onto the street outside Tipitina’s, a rock club with a capacity of 1,000. A later ball would bring in 8,000. Kirsten Dunst was there, dressed as Claudia from Interview, as was James Cameron. Rice attended with a lawyer friend who’d come only in gold paint and loincloth, and she says, “I was so delighted!” One woman had come completely naked. “Later I found out that she’d been asked to leave and I was outraged!” said Rice. “I said, ‘You asked her to leave? She was completely welcome! What are you talking about?!’ They said, ‘Well, children were there.’ I said, ‘Well, children know what naked bodies look like!’ Anyway, my apologies to that naked lady, wherever you are. She should not have been kicked out of the Vampire Ball. That was a mistake.”
Rumors are that this will be Rice’s last Vampire Ball for a while. She lives in California near her beloved son, Christopher, and the travel is a bit much for her, though she hopes to one day retire to a condo in the French Quarter. She would depart before the night was long, leaving her little gothlings to get fitted for custom-made fangs; pose for photos between statues of original Queen of the Damned, Akasha, and her husband Enkil; and vamp to classics like Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” as spun by a DJ clad in gladiatorial leather.
Before she left, though, she gave her blessing for a wonderful night of embracing one’s own uniqueness. “I kind of want to put into words, just briefly, the same thing I said last year,” Rice began, “that I love you all for what you do and how you are and how you express yourselves and how you are part of a romantic vision of life, a truly romantic vision in which there is room for everybody and every gender, every orientation, every kind of outcast. The Vampire Chronicles have always been for us outcasts, us people that think differently. You are so great. Thank you, all of you!” In other words, do you, you glorious freak. Just do you.