I first met the MAN when he was still on the hay bales. Oh how he loved those hay bales.
Back in those days he was almost standing on the playa with the rest of us. There were no arching staircases, no MAN BASES, no contraptions to turn him, no snarky clowns in porticos, no pavilions or groves or observatories, no nothing but HIM atop a pyramid of highly flammable hay bale possibility.
Sure, I’d heard the MAN’s story, repeated incessantly by my friend who was an acolyte who’d known him for several years prior. My friend told me how the MAN was just a BOY on Baker Beach, born from the fertile loins of Larry and Jerry and how, at that tender age HE was raised and how HE drew the lucky few to him who happened to be there on that fortuitous day: punks, drunk ascetics and hippies, lackeys and MAN CURIOUS revelers. It was evidently the Solstice way back when there was the first MAN RISE.
I’d heard about his rebellious youth, how word of his Burning Sensation spread around San Francisco like an out of control fire in 1906, and how those big bonfires on the beach started to draw intellectuals and village idiots, artists, dangerous free rangers, musicians and assorted crazies to him for that toast and roast kind of inspiration celebration fruition rebellion. When that first little MAN stood there surveying all those around him, he realized that his ruckus dared to free some of those minds from self imposed prisons. HE saw the delight in their faces and it was good.
Each year the YOUNG MAN became more and more popular in spite of himself and around him developed a scene, a happening, a gathering, a CATHARSIS if you will. He was a fire burning, burning bright, growing each year in stature and reputation.
I’d also heard the legend of that fateful year when he outgrew his humble beginnings because he was becoming too dangerous, too much of a rebel and a renegade. Yes, HE was kicked off the beach for being a BAD BOY. The authorities needed to get that MAN out of their jurisdiction and banish him from the fair City of St. Francis, before his flame grew too big for them to contain.
Fortunately though, by the time the powers that be decided to try to extinguish him, the MAN had drawn around him an intimate circle of ideological ruffians who appreciated the MAN’s braggadocio because they too were young, dumb and full of … ideas. They were swarthy pirates searching for the new Temporary Autonomous Zone, they were masters and mistresses of Cacophony, the Saints of Stupid, the clever Evans, all Lawless researchers of Survival, Eaters of Souls, the Shiva who believed that the metaphor of life swirled around creation and destruction and they wanted that MAN to join them in a Zone out on the fringes of society where there could be a true few days of autonomy and madness.
How delightfully Post Apocalyptic it was.
And so it was that the MAN moved to dryer climes, to an outpost at the edge of time, where ancient giants roamed and the MAN was just a bit player in that natural psychedelic realm that was haunted by monstrous ghosts that rode swirling dust devils across a vast lonesome expanse. HE retrenched HIMSELF with Black Rock Desert grit in his veins and cavorted with his weird group of friends to create a communal temporary event. Some kind of abstract idea in a dry lake bed, some Petri dish of fuckos and god headed masterminds, and that YOUNG MAN saw that it was good.
From what I’d heard, THE MAN stood tall on the playa, there on his hay bales during those freeform punk rock days, those romp in the hot springs, drive through shooting gallery, camping Captain trips, freewheeling navigating by stars at night, dirt people glory days and his power and acclaim grew exponentially both inside the community who created the glory hole he lived in and outside in the burgeoning San Francisco just becoming dot commie Wired vibe.
THE MAN and his band of outcasts had escaped to where no one else would dare to go, to that desolation desert expanse, a place where you assume the risk of death, but oh, CAME THEY DID, in droves each year, like a playa mantis to a flashlight, they came, searching for the grand disruption of that supposed 90s Dionysian revival art organism.
Ah, the flurry of misspent youth, the rush of creation when you’ve been poked to tap into the quick of an ancient resurrection myth, postmodern and relevant to those in the know. There’s no turning back from that kind of destiny when it smiles and stares at you in your triangular face.
And so it was that each year HE returned until HE realized he no longer had a choice but to return for he was part of an eternal cycle, the eternal joke of birth and death that was summoned by the cosmos and HE just happened to be there when it urged itself into fruition.
Yes, THE MAN had to be birthed, built and reborn each year, all new and beautiful, to shine as a beacon for all those people out there, and as he was raised upon his hay bales, a grander and grander City arose about him to celebrate themselves.
HE HAD to stand there watching his Kingdom of the Freak Nation, that dusty Isle of Misfit toys, it was HIS responsibility to be the landmark by which all his subjects could find their way home.
It was now the destiny of that BURNING MAN to be their sacrifice at the end of that Zone Trip to be BURNED and to be reduced to ash so that the whole lot could disappear without a trace because HIS temporality is what allowed him and his people to return each year.
I met the MAN in his Nebulous year, after the mass fringe of the “new” media proclaimed him “Icon of the New American Holiday”. I hung out with HIM at his base while hippies flicked cigarette butts into the hay bales that would not ignite out of spite. I was loved by Bianca. I saw the cameras shunned, an Esplanade of atonement, a Central Camp stage and was there when BarZilla was caught in the mud and needed a push free. My friend was a Ranger that year and after one of his MAN shifts he returned home to 420 and Uranus proudly proclaiming, “No Man Burned on my watch”.
Since then I have been compelled to visit him annually at each passing of the earth around the sun and he has been called many things: the Rise of a New American Underground, Satan’s Birthday Party, a neopagan hippie festival, a cyber erotic trance dance portal, an alternative energy, alternative politic community driven Cityscape of temporary autonomy, a gathering of the tribes, a wicker man of yore, the Great Whore of Babylon, a Bacchanalian, Dionysian resurrection, techno pagan, Raver, cyberpunk Steampunk, invasion of the Dark side, the new cock on the block, a timeless Numinous urge that pulls and purges away the Babylon that pollutes and dilutes so many minds. HE has been called the center piece of the Freak Nation, an icon we all tread upon, a symbol of progress, a regressive primitive celebration of the root of all fertility, an art festival, the root of all evil, the Son to be Sacrificed to make the Sun return at the end of the season, the bane of all those who would suppress any kind of human evolution because he is standing tall, surrounded by all the elements of our species who are on the brink of a great discovery that can bring us together instead of divide us.
HE is King of that dry lake bed, without a doubt. Effigies Falsae Moliendae.
As THE MAN matured and endured, his City filled with students and masters come to create their own icons and some of those began to build TEMPLES and the teacher became the student. You cannot be the object of such adoration and attention for that long without it going to your wooden head.
As years passed, there were many who were inspired and set free by the MAN and they built splendiferous Temples to Memory, Joy, Honor, Stars, Dreams, Hope, Light, Forgiveness, Basura Sagradas and the MAN saw that it was good, but he had TEMPLE ENVY so one day he gave up this hay bale habit and a grand MAN BASE was built for him and HE sat atop a LIGHTHOUSE that first year off the bales.
When the MAN got off the hay bales, it was a doomsday portend for some, for others it was a natural step in his evolution. That MAN was trying to make sense of it all. He seemed so at ease in his Nebulous year. HE’D passed from the inferno to some fertile void to that protean juxtaposition alien invasion to suddenly noticing that time was of the essence. HE wondered if his body was sacred, or if all this was just some silly game or adventure then, for a moment it seemed he’d found some kind of belief system. Perhaps HE’D seen heaven and after such heights he looked into his psyche, but after some apprehension he embraced the green politic. The MAN was evolving.
Perhaps HE needed a woman, but the WOMEN he draws about him are all amazing Wonders of our Age… Water Women, Mesdemoiselles, Sirens, Tiki Women, Daughters of Icarus, Hanging Women, ZsuZsu, Shiva Vistas, beautiful and earnest Queens, Fortuna, Mermaids, the Mothers of Passage, Stay Puft Ladies, Headless Maidens, Corn Women, Psyche, Flame Goddesses, mud Yoni and Labia, Seven Sisters, Serpent Mothers … and like most MEN of stature, HE is only as powerful as the WOMEN he draws around HIM and such women are they.
Butterflies to a flame they came, all to take their part in the big ART experiment. They are fierce wonderful creatures, worthy of the lusty fire in his loins. They are strong, take no prisoners, fire goddess crimson dawn women, the kind that any MAN knows will fight for him till the bitter end against anything that threatens to take him away and fight they do, like big cats providing for their young. Happy is that MAN who has such a beautiful company.
That Circus Ridiculous dishes, and on the dry playa we are all festive fishes.
And like most men, he created many spawn whether he intended to or not. HIS children live at every corner of the world and all Regions in between. They know HE loves them even if HE isn’t always in touch. Those children are the acolytes now, spreading the word of THE MAN to the uninitiated. They repeat incessantly stories of that place, out in the Zone out on the fringes of society where you HAVE TO GO.
When the MAN hit twenty in MAN YEARS HE surveyed his Kingdom, and saw that it was good.
From what I can tell, even though he is reborn each year, with experience, HIS spirit becomes gray around the edges.
Is it possible that HE’S found his stride and settled into his role, aligned finally with the Zeitgeist? When HE found politics many wondered how long it would be until it all became a Mad Max Masquerade festive funeral parade to that yearly death embrace that left no trace.
HE strides, but HE also stumbles sometimes on the rough spots and the ever overt MAN worship is always tempered with overt MAN disdain. Getting up in years, HE experienced his first premature immolation but his handlers made him whole again.
And now there are times when I see him up there, on his MANBASE, surveying all around him and I wonder if maybe he sometimes wishes he was that little BOY on BAKER BEACH again, or even if he could be one of HIS children, who come to HIS City, eyes wide and full of wonder at their first site of HIM there up there.
But HE knows that Burning Man is bigger than HIM now, and he cannot leave it if he wanted to, HE’s too addicted to that drumbeat that starts out slow and brings them to him with their twirling swirling fire and fantastic cannons and nighttime illumination Nation finery all flowing along to the grand night out. He can’t live without that tremendous collective howl of hungry humans beneath the moon, screaming for his death and screaming for his rebirth.
And when HIS arms are raised, if you are ever going to believe in magic, that’s one of the places to find it when you are standing in that pool of human energy that circles THE MAN like some enormous serpent viper of virility or some spontaneous circumference of sudden sentience as he leans into his yearly fate, knowing full well of his DEMISE.
The OLD MAN is DEAD, LONG LIVE the NEW MAN, and we bend into the eventuality of our own perpetuality, our eventual existential predetermined dirt nap that makes every one of us equal and human at that moment, to perish and perhaps be reborn like that MAN, just as the entire event is born on the playa months before to grow from the dust and mud and sweat to eventually walk upright and become the domain of thump and bump and sturm und drang, the animal of a lifetime encapsulated into one week on the playa.
And then the MAN explodes with an alien pop and sizzle to become one of those ancient monsters that scuttle gigantic across that desert floor, and the frenzied tribes release a human energy that swirls out beyond belief, like some entity, above and upward into the cosmos, screaming to the universe that THEY are HERE and THEY ARE and the sun will return and the crops will grow and we will create new lives to replace us, and we will create metaphor from metaphor by destroying our own creation because chaos and cacophony are necessary for all those atoms to rearrange themselves into something never seen before, something that keeps the whole organic ecstatic evolving, something more wonderful than ourselves…
HE can’t give that up.
I just wonder if I’ll be there to see the last MAN standing…
[Editor’s Note: while graciously tipping our hat to the free range of artistic license we afford our bloggers, we note that the Man is in fact considered gender-neutral in the eyes of the Burning Man Project, and is thus officially referred to as an “it”, rather than a “he”. This is because we consciously choose to endow the Man with no more specificity of import or meaning than that which any given participant wishes to assign it for themselves.]