Aught six was Tornado Alley in the Keyhole. They’d form over by Earth Guardians, at Carousel Corner and start spinning all erratic and slow, trying to find their focus, some becoming almost an entity but most of them becoming sputtering dust disturbers and nothing more.
The Devils that built into something substantial started the same, swirling and sometimes halting then starting again, but they eventually stood tall on their own, spitting up playa until they formed a wobbling body that gained legs then inevitably started marching head first into the City with a frenzy of vengeance. Though they held such promise, most shot their load in that first block and dissipated into nothingness.
We enjoyed watching Black Rock City citizens flock towards those promising funnels on foot and bike, trying to be there when the big one manifested itself.
That day our camp mate Alanna was performing his BIG BLACK MAN SHOW in Center Camp, so after an afternoon tour of the playa Art, we made our way back to camp to find he and his troupe lazing beneath their shade structures. We alerted them that they were almost late for their show which sent everyone into a mad buzzing of costumes and props and makeup flying while they became fabulous.
Ms. Bird, HotDamn and I made our way to Center Camp and found an empty couch whilst Alanna, Jerome, Alison, Bambi, Adam and the others in the BIG BLACK MAN SHOW all got ready to take the stage. While we waited, the hippies moved slowly about, all dreadlocked and tie dyed and smelling of patchouli. They imbibed and stretched, prayed and Tai Chi’ed.
Then Alanna took the stage. He is the BIG BLACK MAN and he is quite huge and entirely muscular, like some sculpture of a God. He’s got a hell of a voice and he’s amazing in his cosmic freak drag.
He sang “Colored Spade” from the musical Hair. He talked about how there were like 20 black people at Burning Man and 40 thousand white people but he wasn’t scared.
Alanna was pissed however that someone stole his bike, but he calmed down as he recited a mantra:
“Black Boys are Delicious, Black Boys are so Damn Yummy – they Satisfy my tummy”….
He hypnotized the audience with,
“Liquorice lips like candy, I’m gonna keep my Cocoa handy, I have such a sweet tooth when it comes to love.”
He then performed a song (while holding a puppet with whom he had an ongoing conversation) about how, at one time, he wanted to marry Barbie (the doll) who’d left him for a hippie named Ken and the song had a chorus of “White people are really scary, and Hippies just freak me out.” It was FABULOUS. He was HILARIOUS. He was INSPIRED. We were all cheering and laughing. Barbie eventually told Alanna she loved him and Alanna said he loved Barbie and that he even loved Ken, so to his puppet he said,
“See, white people aren’t that scary, and hippies are just far out. ……
White people are really lovely, and hippies are just far out…”
Alison came on stage as Condi Rice and did a strip tease that was hilarious, sexy and perfect and which caused the crowd to go into hysterics. Bambi of Finland brought George W. Bush’s head out on a platter at the end of that act to much applause. Adam L. in his dashing black mirrored top hat get up, all hyper sexual and glam, sang some East Indian song of his own composition and there was faith healing with a boy throwing down his crutches.
Then after the commotion, Alanna stood breathing deeply and he became still as a silence fell across the crowd and he began singing a song he’d written about Burning Man called “Wonderland” that began,
“I close my eyes to the city in the sand
Followed my broken heart to wonderland”
…and it was at that moment I noticed the tornado outside, one that had legs, it was some growing flowing apparition, turning the sky that milky playa brown and throwing MOOP up into the air like something out of the Wizard of Oz and uh oh Dorothy, your big tent is getting ready to get sucked up into the sky, but when you’re at Burning Man, where the Hell would OZ be anyway?.
This did not affect Alanna in the slightest and if anything, it filled him with some kind of primal spirit, powerful and loving. It was as if he had summoned the Tempest. He sang,
“I need your smile
Let the light show begin”
That Dust Devil was HUGE and it moved like something Biblical, something tribes of people might follow for months across a desert, thinking it was some entity, some God inside all that dust and squall and frenzy and twisting whiteout. The Center Camp parked bikes disappeared into the approaching churning turning violent cloud. Then Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusalito’s LEAPING GIANTS were engulfed into the yawl of that ancestor monster and they disappeared entirely.
As the Cafe’ Tent began vibrating and thrashing, a loud and thunderous whooshing preceded a roaring wave of playa dust that poured into Center Camp like a dam just burst, making it impossible to see the hippies in front of the stage or to see Alanna, but we knew he was there because he kept singing along with it,
“Oh Alice it’s so beautiful
Let me stay for awhile”
It was that moment where the air turned cold and dark as the storm growled and pounded and you felt like you could probably die, but instead, Alanna was singing and I got a quick glimpse of both Ms. Bird and HotDamn to make sure they were ok, then I found myself adjusting my goggles so the sand would not grind out my eyes, then I casually put on my respirator like we all do out there when the storm is upon us.
The squall blasted Center Camp’s huge Tent poles and flaps so violently that they shuddered and strained and fought the hardest upward swirling of that fury that pushed and tore with such savagery, but Center Camp would not give, and it let the Tempest know in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t going anywhere. None of us were, as Alanna sang…
”Lost but now I’m found
Oh, don’t let me hit the ground.
Free my mind, make my plans and follow you to Wonderland”
…. and inside the Cafe’ it sounded like a freight train churning the air as the Tent creaked and barely flapped, and the dust swirled with such ferocity and volume that seeing anything twelve inches ahead of you was a treat, but Alanna kept singing and we could actually see the inside of the tornado as it passed over, with all different shades of the same playa color. Alanna stood like a preacher on a stage, entreating us all to make it stop, to enjoy it, to be one with it, but he never missed a beat and when he said “We can make this stop, if we want to, we can do it all…” for an instant the darkness cleared and you could actually see him on stage with his large arms out stretched and I was laughing inside my dust mask and goggles and Bird and HotDamn were laughing and screeching with joy beneath their scarves and goggles and the hippies were all laughing and cuddled together in small heaps of tie dye buried in the cold sand.
…. and for a moment there, the storm did stop because Alanna said, “All you have to do is believe and it will happen.”
“…you’d never know
I was here
But I’ll be back
bout same time, same time
The Tempest passed and was gone with dust sprinkling down in a light crème and coffee colored snow. We still had flowing dust but we could see Alanna now and The BIG BLACK MAN SHOW finished to much uproarious applause, for we had all gone through that together and Alanna had been our guide and what a strong and unfailing guide he was. The hippies shook off their dust and slowly began Tai Chi’ing again. Bird and HotDamn and I made our way back to camp where our campmate Dan stood behind the Hop N’ Fur Bar and shook his head as copious handfuls of playa dust fell out of his gray mane. Five guests drank margaritas that looked like mud because they mostly were mud.
I bartended a while and I looked at the beautiful skin of all the people standing at my bar and realized yet again that the playa does paint us all the same color and that the magic and threat inherent in this place does indeed bring us together. And if you’re too clean that week or so, you’ll never understand what that means. And each year, a new crop of humans are introduced to an insane dangerous idea in a place of mad power that can inspire them or send them running.