Maybe we have time today for a personal anecdote.
There are only a couple of days before it all changes here in Black Rock City. There’s a poignancy in the air, because one thing is just about finished, even as something much bigger is about to begin.
And so maybe people are a little thoughtful today. It’s been a long month. The work that began so amazingly on the 10th with the fence is coming to an end. It has to, because the event is about to start. The guests will arrive, whether it’s all ready or not. But it feels ready.
And it has brought me back to a night 40 years ago, to a Friday night in August that I’ll never forget. My family used to spend time during the summer in upstate New York. We’d be up “at the lake” as we called it, a sleepy little area just outside of Brewster, New York. And on that Friday night in August, something very different was happening in the quiet little town.
There were vans and bells and hippies and tie-dye and ribbons and guitars and music, so much music. And thousands … THOUSANDS … of young people caravaning through the streets, stopping to buy ice cream and soda and other stuff. I’d never seen anything like it, and I had no idea what was happening.
What was happening was Woodstock.
Brewster was on the way to Woodstock, and the town was crawling with long-haired hippy guys and girls on their way to see Hendrix and Janis and the Doors and Joe Cocker and all the rest. I hadn’t known about any of it, but all of a sudden it was right in front of me.
A lot of people have been thinking about the connections between Woodstock and Burning Man this week. Whatever you want to think about what is taking place here, the arc is evident. Sure, people will say Burning Man is too big now, that it’s not what it was … and that’s true. It’s not what it was. It started as a random act in 1986, when Larry Harvey and Jerry James thought it would be interesting and fun to burn a wooden man on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Harvey didn’t do it as a celebration of music and art, like Woodstock was. It was a random act, without a lot of forethought.
It was only when he saw how people reacted that day on the beach that he thought he might have stumbled onto something. Because people gathered spontaneously around the burning wooden man. They started dancing and singing. They connected with each other around the man, around their humanity.
And that same basic thing is still happening. Yes, there is structure now. Plans are drawn, rules are enforced, and you have to pay to get in. But … what happens here is under no one’s direction. It just happens. It can’t be directed. And, to these eyes, it’s still about connection. It’s about sharing what you have with others. And letting them share their stuff — physical, metaphysical, whatever — with you.
Other things happened in the year of Woodstock. Some historians will tell you that the counterculture reached its apex in the summer, at the music festival, and that the movement lost its innocence later the very same year at the Altamont Speedway in California. That was the site of the Rolling Stones concert where the Hells Angels had been hired to provide security, and that’s where, as Mick Jagger watched helplessly from the stage, a person was stabbed and killed by the Angels. That was in December. The Sixties came to a close right then and there.
And it makes you realize that it’s all the more remarkable that this Burning Man thing is still happening the way it’s happening. Sure, it’s gotten a lot bigger, but it HASN’T lost its innocence. And people seem to realize just how precious and rare it still is, and how fragile, too.
“They’re not going to let us keep doing this forever,” Logan was saying after the last DPW morning meeting. “It’s going to end, or we’re going to say, this is how far we’ve come, and we’re not going to go any farther. But it won’t last forever. … And I’m going to cherish it while it’s here.”
Logan had looked out at the dusty, dirty and very tired crew a little while earlier, and he had told everyone to do the same thing — look around. “Look at who’s here, and at what you did. It’s never going to be like this again.”
And that’s the truth. Whatever primal thing that we’re tapping into here, it’s still happening. People are still gathering around a burning wooden man, gathering around their shared humanity, and it’s no more simple, and no less profound, than that. And it’s not going to happen like this forever. So make the most of it now, while you can.
In other news …
The city gets thicker and thicker, again seemingly by the hour. The commissary is full of new faces. The roads are getting filled with theme camps. And, oddly, it seems like the more people there are, the fewer clothes are being worn. Maybe it’s like Carmen was saying at lunch: There’s a crowd mentality taking over. One person doffs the clothes, someone else sees it and thinks, oh hell yeah. That’s a good option. And so it goes on down the line.
The wind is up a bit, but the dust is up a lot. It’s something to keep in mind. It’s mostly us who makes the dust. And the more of us there are, the more dust there is.
There’s a third floor happening at the Temple now. Things are kicking out there. Extra crews were put on this morning, and they are swarming all over now. They tested the fire effects a couple of nights ago, and apparently all went well. I was told they are shooting for a Tuesday debut, but that’s unconfirmed.