Why I Did It: Confession of the 2012 Temple “Free Bird” Disc Jockey

(Photo by Brooke LaValley)

(Photo by Brooke LaValley)

I am not here to apologize or pardon myself. Instead I’m here to let you know what has bothered a lot of people for over two years: why I played “Free Bird” at the burning of the Temple of Juno.

In his wonderfully written essay, “Building the Temple”, John “Moze” Mosbaugh explains just how seriously Burning Man takes the Temple. Moze states that there is a “sacredness, solemnity, a sense of remembrance, grief and renewal.” This is an essential juxtaposition to the high intensity of the rest of Black Rock City, providing an “emotional nexus” as Temple creator David Best called it.

When I first stepped foot into the Temple of Flux in 2010, I was floored by the energy washing over me. Never, even at a funeral, had I ever felt that magnitude of emotion. The power of the space is very real. Many Burners have arrived at the thought that the Temple should always be a quiet space for remembrance, celebration and contemplation of life and death. I’m totally supportive of that idea. But I want to explain that it wasn’t just a “Play some Skynyrd!” moment that propelled me to blast “Free Bird” during the 2012 Temple burn.

It was more than that.

The Department of Public Works (DPW)

If you aren’t totally new at this, you probably already have an opinion about the Department of Public Works. There are many such opinions. Regardless of what yours is, you know these motherfuckers WORK. DPW formed in ’98 and have been busting ass since. A lot of them spend half the year making sure this thing goes off without a hitch. They live and breathe playa dust. I personally know quite a few of them and have tremendous respect for the work they put in so we can all enjoy the city we love for a week. They sometimes get a reputation for being intimidating, especially if you’re a sparklepony, but these kick-ass men and women deserve nothing but praise for what they do.

Joey “Jello” Carroll (Photo by John Curley, cropped by Aaron Muszalski)
Joey “Jello” Carroll (Photo by John Curley, cropped by Aaron Muszalski)

This brings me to Joseph “Jello” Carroll. Joey was a member of DPW known for pushing others to “take stock and try to be better people.” “Never Betray” was the man’s motto, which was emblazoned in ink on his neck, but backwards, so that while looking in a mirror, he reminded himself to always be true to his moral standards. This man is part of the reason Burning Man is what it is today.

His hard work and dedication resonated with me, even through I never met him before his tragic passing due to a hit-and-run before the event in 2012. I have a friend who was friends with Joey and was distraught about the situation, which lead me to realize how important one person can be to so many, even without them knowing the person. This friend of mine happens to be a member of DPW as well. On the night of the Temple burn, this friend came to me with a proposition: Would I honor Joey by running the mixer on the back of a DPW truck with a single monitor to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” at the apex of the burn?

I was conflicted, to say the least.

I fully understood the gravity of the emotions surrounding the Temple. I knew this could cause waves, though admittedly I never imagined it would get to where it did. I had never seen this friend in such an emotional state and realized how much this meant to them. I also realized they were not the only one grieving heavily over this loss. I would do what I believed would honor this man in a way I was told he would have appreciated. I would disrupt the Sacred Silence in a way that would inspire emotion — one way or another — in thousands.

As we loaded up the gear into the truck… I was nervous. What would be the consequences of disrupting the last 11 years in honor of one person? “Fuck it. This is Burning Man. Shaking things up is expected, right? Right…?”

Evidently I was sensing what was to come.

Lord Knows, I’m to Blame

When we arrived at the Temple that fateful Sunday night, there was a multitude of sounds, far from silence. As the preparations were made, I thought to myself, for a Sacred Silence, this night is alive with noise. I heard “Ave Maria”, some Bob Marley, a little ambient and some electronica. Some of it didn’t stop as the flames started to rise, and I realized the perceived silence has a lot to do with perspective and where you are stationed around the Temple. It’s not a small area. As we reached the apex, with my friend screaming “We’ll miss you, Joey!”, I started nudging the fader up as those guitars started wailing. Suddenly…

ALL FUCKING HELL BROKE LOOSE!

(Photo by Brooke LaValley)

(Photo by Brooke LaValley)

Within moments there were people rushing to the source of the Skynyrd, one of whom was a member of David Best’s crew. My friend met that person and quickly explained who this dedication was for. That individual, whom I do not know, realized quickly this was no trivial playing of some classic rock. This was for someone special. He was met behind the truck that another DPW crewman and I were in. Within a moment of that meeting, a fellow Burner decided to jump into the back of the truck. He angrily slammed the laptop lid shut to try to cut the music, but the computer was set up so that nothing happened upon screen close. This infuriated the Burner, and he proceed to grab the laptop and throw it at my chest, exclaiming “FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE ARE GOING TO RAPE YOU!” No joke.

I think his estimate may have been a bit off, as I doubt 50,000 of the <60,000 or so people present that year were actually at the Temple burn. I also don’t know how many viewing the Burn could hear the song, but never had I heard such a terrifying concept thrown at me. Especially not from a community such as ours. But like I said, Burners take the Temple seriously.

Anyhow, the other DPW member in the truck with me took it upon himself to chest bump said rape-threatener off the back of the truck as the love-of-my-life came running from a different truck next to us and pushed him back as she jumped on the back of the truck. Feisty, that one. I’m screaming at the original instigator of the entire situation, “WE NEED TO FUCKING GO!”

He jumped in the seat, put the beast in drive, and we lurched out of the little nest of animosity around us around three minutes into the eight-minute song. We headed slowly toward the Man’s smoldering remains. I noticed three or four people on bicycles chasing us, evidently caught up enough in their anger to stop caring about their grief. By the time we reached the ashes, there was only one rider left. She got off her bike to chastise us at the fire and realized she was alone. After a brief “You shouldna done dat, because Sacred Temple”, she takes off. I don’t think my adrenaline stopped for an hour.

After my head cleared, and I re-evaluated the situation, I realized that regardless of what anyone would say, I had just made a lasting impact on the Temple burn and Burning Man itself. Little did I know it would go on to be talked about around me for years to come. I’ve heard Burners I didn’t know talking about it. Sometimes I chime in, sometimes I keep my mouth shut. I’m not looking to get raped, after all. If any of you 50,000 are reading this, I’m sorry I ruined your night. My perspective on it is, if you can’t overcome some music during this time of grieving and loss, then you need more than the Temple to help you let go. The ephemeral and ever-changing nature of the Burn causes things like this to happen. Should it become a norm? Definitely not. But I feel it was ultimately appropriate in the situation, regardless of the negativity it received.

I also want to say that I have heard many people say the song was perfect for their moment, even though they didn’t know Joey. I threw the dice, saw where they landed, and am happy I did it. Would I do it again? No chance in hell. Would I disrupt something else in as intense a manner in the future of Burning Man? If I get the chance, I probably would. We’ll see. After all, what the fuck is the Burn if it becomes ordered? Some people seem to think it is heading in that direction. Well… I guess that makes me an agent of chaos.

So that is my story. It has been slightly explained in a post on BoingBoing, but I wanted to clarify my side of things. I just wasn’t brave enough to put it out there until the would-be rapers have calmed their fury somewhat. Thanks for reading. By the way, I was naked when I typed this. Just FYI.


by Forest of Arizona

About the author: Tales from the Playa

Tales from the Playa

Tales from the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.

140 Comments on “Why I Did It: Confession of the 2012 Temple “Free Bird” Disc Jockey

  • Bwts says:

    If its any consolation I really enjoyed Freebird that night, thanks :D

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    • Frogger says:

      Do the needs of a few outweigh the needs of the many? I seem to remember someone burning the man early that felt that way. Does radical dissonance trump radical respect? The expression of self is different to me than intrusion on others. A right to – sure. A statement sure. But respect? Not for the many.

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      • Since2002 says:

        I think included in radical self reliance is the idea that you can handle your emotions. In this case it would have been cool if folks realized they could just refocus on themselves or Just walk away. So often people mis-use respect to imply “do as I want you to do, do as is expected.” And yes the needs of the few should out weigh the needs of the many at times.
        Life isn’t simply a numbers game of majority vs minority.

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      • Natasha says:

        If the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few then the silent majority has won and that makes me very sad. Every consensus should always be questioned and challenged.

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    • D Rock says:

      I thought it was perfectly timed and in good taste. I’ve actually shared it with friends as one of my favorite Burning Man moments out of my 6 burns. Thanks for playing it! I say we make it a yearly thing. After all, most of us do leave in the morning. And don’t worry, there’s always gonna be haters. Let em hate!

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      • Mama Lupin says:

        If as you say Since2002, “radical self reliance is the idea that you can handle your emotions” then why couldn’t the author handle his own emotions enough to NOT play Freebird so loudly at that moment. This thread of comments is very cool in that it’s an honest and real discussion about an incident that many people had a big reaction to (one way or the other.) Indeed like Paul Addis (RIP) burning the man early in 2007, the audio monkey-wrench that Forest of Arizona tossed into the crowd surrounding the temple burn in 2014, was the case of one person instantly affecting thousands of others and it’s been taken as both good and bad. I was at the temple burn in 2014, together with a dozen friends who were all mourning the loss of our friend Chasterhaus who had died suddenly, and too young, earlier in the year. We were in pain, and suffering his loss. We needed the immense power of the quiet. And for us, your blasting of Freebird was not “perfect for the moment”, it was not “oh that’s Burning Man, shit happens”, it was not funny, cool, weirdly wonderful or anything positive. It was a loud, annoying, selfish distraction from the silent, awesome miracle that was being created by the thousands of humans gathered there. It was such a short time of quiet, of staying still, of feeling and watching flames and sparks fly into the dark sky. It is NOT too much to ask for there to be one, just one space on the Playa that is meant to be quiet. Sure, you had every “right” to do what you wanted, you’re a free being and you were in one of the free-ist places on Earth. But why did you have to do it so loudly as to steal peace from others? Why did you need to add to their/our pain? I do not chide you for chosing to exercise your own personal grief by playing a song for a fallen DPW friend but I don’t understand why you had to do it so fucking loudly! As you say in your post, there were others singing, there were soulful songs and such going on, and that’s fitting I think. You were the only person who felt it needed to be LOUD, to blast it out on behalf of the one person your own group was grieving for. That is what I disagree with my dear, that is why you got so much blow-back, that is why people will remember it, and mostly not in a good way. There is indeed space in Black Rock City for everyone and their feelings but when exercising your own use of that common space you must consider the “other”, that is the people who are so different from you that you can’t imagine how they feel. We all need to think about that person before we “give” because it might really be “taking” instead.

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    • RoRo says:

      Free bird at the Temple of Juno 2012
      Tales From The Playa

      By Robyne Newell

      My story will sound like a disconnect but you’ll have to wait for it or read on to make the connection.

      A Very dear friend of mine passed away and she was known by her grandchildren as “mocha love”
      She died in February (the month of love).
      In recent years we had started celebrating St. Patrick’s Day together, so in her honor I continued with our celebration. Winding down at midnight I returned to my condo, when the elevator opened on the 11th floor I heard a bird chirping! Perplexed and wanting to investigate,
      I left my door open while I went to free my hands of my green loot. A few seconds later I return to the front door and to my amazement there was a “love bird” walking into my apartment. I will spare the details of the next several months by just summing it up to the bird becoming a house pet.
      With Burningman approaching I needed to find a caretaker for reincarnated “mocha love”.
      The morning that I was to deliver her, she looked at me in defiance and opened the cage door and flew out. She paused for a brief moment on a tree branch and then flew away never to be seen again, until I got to burningman!
      I ask you to be patient and wait for it and here comes:
      Arriving at Burningman I walked out towards the temple in the predawn hours anticipating the sun rise. One of the art installation I crossed paths with was the four illuminated blocks that spelled out a different word depending on which angle you stood. One of the words was LOVE. As I saw it I also saw in disbelief a bird fly away from the letter V. I was spellbound because as everyone knows there are no birds at Burningman. The only thing living there are the burners and here I was paying tribute to a dear departed friend. As I approached the temple I recognized a temple guardian who I shared whispered greetings with and explained what I thought had to be a mirage. To my delight she had seen it to! The bird had flown past the temple.
      So when I heard the blast of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bied” it was a perfect tribute to my dear departed friend, who had told me she wanted to be reincarnated as a bird and I saw her fly free that night.

      In memory of Maureen Richard.

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  • summer says:

    excellent. thank you. DPW thanks you. RIP Joey. Never betray!

    “we are the e.coli in your primordial soup” – the Cacophony Society

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  • Dom aka "Dom" says:

    Wanted to let you know that I was one of the people who thought it was perfect in the moment, even before I knew the deeper meaning behind it (which made me appreciate it all the more). Of the burns I have gone to, 2012 is the only one where I went to the Temple Burn (and will probably be the only one). I love the Temple each time as a piece of art, and have even had some very emotionally charged moments there at various times. But the whole “Wait around in absolute silence” thing is just not how I grieve or remember people and at times makes me feel very uncomfortable and awkward…. so I just do not go.

    Tipping my hat your way (and a bottle to boot), There is a glass of whiskey with your name on it should we ever meet up in the dust.

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  • Butcher Slim says:

    Love, light and laughter to you. Joke em if they can’t take a fuck.

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  • TankerA says:

    While it was unwelcome when I first heard it, it didn’t take long before it made me laugh. I remember thinking “That’s gotta be DPW”. Great story – but maybe let’s not make a habit out of it…

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  • Brand X says:

    Bravo, just wish I was there to hear it. It’s a shame you didn’t stay for the whole song. I see no reason why a song adopted by some religion (Ave Maria) should be any more acceptable than any other song.

    I find the temple to be obnoxious and don’t even attend its burning anymore. In a place filled with love and acceptance, it is the temple of intolerance. Not everyone worships / finds solace / mourns in silence. The inability of those that do to accept this is an affront to everyone else.

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  • Will Chase says:

    Radical self-expression is always a balancing act, and we all need to do it our own way according to what speaks to us. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do if the expression is your truth. It certainly took guts to do it, and I respect you for that. I also respect Joey Jello, and I’ll always respect the DPW’s tribute to a fallen comrade.

    Thanks for coming here and laying it out.

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  • Boyscout says:

    I think it was just the sheer unexpectedness of it. I don’t know _how_ you’d have gotten the word out to that many people, but also if it wasn’t super loud than the people in the immediate area could have been told.

    Knowing the situation, doesn’t bother me a bit. But it was a bit jarring when, out of the blue, it started up. My first thought it was some kind of rogue Art Car or something, with an uncaring DJ who thought it’d be “cool” and “fun” to play it.

    Don’t know any better way to do it, but now I completely understand it. You’re totally forgiven in my book, and I’m glad to hear the real story behind it, and why.

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  • DustyJ says:

    Celebrate/honor the way you want. If BRC can handle having sound camps and yoga camps, a burn can handle having sound celebrators and quiet celebrators.

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  • AC says:

    I’m not militant about the temple burn being some somber & silent gathering, but after a week of bull blast chaos, I think it’s a great way to end it all. I definitely was not a lover of Free Bird when I heard it rising above the crackling of the flames and seeing all the heads turning in the direction of the music. It disrupted a very peaceful, and in many cases, emotional moment. That being said, it’s Burning Man. We shouldn’t be told how to burn (silently at the temple) just like we shouldn’t be told what to listen to (Free Bird). It was a memorable moment that I hope people won’t be rushing to repeat.

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  • Levity Betty says:

    I sure I heard it, you are right about “the perceived silence has a lot to do with perspective” as every year I hear one thing or another and I hear people get upset about it or not. My best friend was murdered at Fifteen years old 35+ years ago and Free Bird was her favorite song, when I heard it I remembered thinking of her and saying “Yea Linda, you would love this shit, thanks for joining me tonight” and shed a few tears for a person I don’t think of often enough maybe…

    So thank you

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  • At the last temple burn I was told to embrace the gift of loss. His loss was a gift, in some ways, and maybe part of it is to make others come out of their fucking somber “don’t talk, it’s sacred” selves and embrace the lives, not the death. Rock on. I wasn’t there, but it was perfect for that person, and that’s all that matters.

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  • Niki Noir says:

    That was my first burn, and I remember that moment well. I instantly got what it (Free Bird) was about and thought it was a beautiful and rebellious moment that didn’t take anything away from the sacredness of the night. Grief doesn’t have to be kept silently inside to be genuine. I’m sorry so many found it to be instantly disrespectful instead of a heartfelt cry into the night I took it for.

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  • Justin says:

    I support you 150%.

    Everyone grieves in their own way.

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  • Selena says:

    I remember that burn, settling in at 6 o’clock and quickly becoming frustrated by the people who were still in festival-mode. We tried to wait it out but some people weren’t done partying. My family got up and found a quieter place.

    I’m an atheist but the temple is the closest I get to holy ground. And that year was a heavier than normal for my family. My preteen stepdaughter processed her parents divorce at her first temple. Honestly, we had all brought bits of that divorce with us to the temple and now sat as a family to watch it burn.

    When I heard the song play I thought it was perfect. My body new the lyrics and it was therapeutic. When I heard the other art-cars start to play electronica (which I typically dig) I became irritated. Free Bird is far from Dubstep. I wish they’d have let it play alone, it would have been magical. Word of why the song was played reached me before I left the burn that night and I immediately supported your decision. I still do!

    That year my annual trip out to the trash fence happened to be the same night a large group of burners from DPW were out there also. I sat with my family for hours talking to a few people and left knowing I really wanted to work DPW one day. Not only are these kick ass folks, they’re family.

    Yes we watch the temple burn in silence because that has meaning for us, but we also place our meaning in the temple and that’s what you did! I’m appalled at the disgusting behavior you experienced and thank you for candidly sharing your experience.

    Free Bird will always remind me of that burn and the fallen burner whose name I now know. Thank you <3

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  • John Allan says:

    I understand your reasons, and respect them.

    My wife and I would have preferred some a more quiet moment to reflect on the suicides of her sister and mother. Our needs don’t trump yours by any means.

    The rest of the burn is a cacaphony (a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds), so not likely fair to expect no vocal/aural expression at the temple burn.

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  • Yard Sale says:

    I have to say, I was in the moment taken a back by the song. I thought, who the hell is this to be blasting the music that they see fitting for such a night. I was upset, for a bit, but to say that it ruined anything for me, is just not true. I will say, when I got home and heard that it was played for a member of DPW, all bets were off. DPW are hard core, and typically not the friendliest. But hell, they built this city! And in my eyes can pretty much do whatever the hell they want!
    Thank you DPW, and RIP Joey.

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  • Señor says:

    One of the most powerful things about the temple burn is that you can get tens of thousands of people in one circle in silence. It’s such a fragile thing to have that silence, because it only takes a single one of those people to break the spell, and that’s a huge part of the magic. You can *feel* the gravity and the emotion, especially after a full week of hearing pumping bass for every waking second.

    A lot of people were angry because you broke the spell, me included. I respect that you tried it given the backstory, and it’s not the end of the world. Super thankful that it didn’t start a trend in following years. Anyway for me it’s old history and I hope everyone just keeps on burning with joy, you included.

    (By the way, I was one of the people biking after you. The temple was 80% burned at that point and the music killed it a bit, so a crew of us started heading back early to beat the exodus traffic. You just happened to be driving the same direction and it was a good opportunity to give you shit. But it wasn’t a pitchfork mob or anything)

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  • Thanks for this great post and thanks for doing what you did.

    This is just further proof that when you don’t know the answer to something you can make it mean anything. If people that were pissed about it knew this side of the story they’d be moved instead of mad. That’s why I try to always assume the very best about what might otherwise bug the shit outta me.

    Look, we’re the writers of our own stories and the people we share the world with are just characters in our book. So why not write them as a hero instead of the villain? Edit the story so it reads like something wonderful instead of awful. Shift the camera angle to allow the scene to be shot in a more flattering view. [You know?]

    Anyway, thanks.

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  • Nugget says:

    It bugged me in the moment but, after the blog, I appreciate it’s meaning and it’s disruptive nature. Keep the fucking chaos of Burning Man alive.

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  • Ashole says:

    Fifty thousand people, ALL there to remember loved ones, but what you wanted to voice was more important?! And you refer OTHERS as the rapist?! Right.

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  • Mystery says:

    Footnote: Flash forward to 2014 Temple Burn. A woman sang Freebird, A Capella, from the top deck of Walter (the bus). I knew it was going to happen beforehand. I had been working with Temple crew for the summer; I happen to know the singer (hi M), and I know that David Best approved the choice of the song. What I did not know was the full story of why they chose the song. Now I do, so thank you.

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  • Steve says:

    For the entire week there is always something happening, something going on, someone making noise. Temple burn is a moment when everyone agrees to shut up and just experience something. The silence acts a magnifying glass to the ear, and although we might have been listening to voices and music throughout the week, reserved silent time helps us hear, what’s going on around us and in us so we ourselves can put the pieces together. Playing music is not ‘disruptive’, it’s selfish, it’s a social failure.

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    • Black Ranger says:

      “Temple burn is a moment when everyone agrees to shut up and just experience something.”

      Burning Man. You’re doing it wrong.

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      • Greg Walljasper says:

        Would you have the Temple Burn become anotherMan Burn surrounded by multiple thumping art cars?

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      • SparkleSloth says:

        Probably reached the comment nesting threshold, so I’ll reply here.

        Greg said: “Would you have the Temple Burn become another Man Burn surrounded by multiple thumping art cars?”

        I would totally prefer that to some religious edict that people must remain silent around the burning of a specific structure. Perhaps punishment for transgressing the rule is to be burned?

        I understand that people are grieving. That doesn’t give them a right to expect silence at a burn they have decided requires a mandatory code of behavior.

        Shall we all now “decide” that everyone must wear white to the burn? I keep hearing people mention “We have decided” that a certain mode of behavior is now required.

        No. We Haven’t.

        Stop it.

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      • G says:

        SparkleSloth I think I get your point. There is not, and definitely should not be an edict there should be silence. The totally cool thing is that over the years such quiet among such a huge a crowd keeps happening without an edict is amazing. The Temple is about mourning, and humans tend to be quiet when they contemplate and mourn.

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    • Bonk says:

      If you beat off any harder to your own little paradigm of what is acceptable, you’re gonna wear that thing down to a nub.

      It was a tribute to a fallen member of DPW. You know, the people who make that mayhem in the desert possible. You OWE them a song. The only social failure here is your inability to cope with anything that disturbs your carefully manicured delusion that they should give more than half a crap. F@ck your burn.

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      • JV says:

        Typical DPW attitude. “We work a lot so we’re special.” Wrong. We don’t owe the DPW shit. Nobody’s forcing them out there. I appreciate the work they do, but no more or less than any other volunteer group.

        I would’ve enjoyed the Freebird incident had I been there, but the justification for playing it, while heartfelt, isn’t any more special than anyone else’s justification for behaving however they do at the temple burn. Just because the person being mourned worked for the DPW doesn’t automatically exalt him to some higher level of respect. Go ahead and play the song, but don’t think your reasoning behind it somehow exempts you from critique.

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      • Sharon Bray says:

        Bonk, you ROCK! Burn on!

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  • tony says:

    The Ave Maria was sung by a choir and had special lyrics specific to The Man. The tune was probablly chosen because every choral singer already knows it.

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  • tony says:

    I thought the plating of Freebird was meant to shake things up and break down some of the piety. I was fine with it at the time and didn’t even turn around even though you were right behind me.

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  • Q says:

    The moment was perfect. I’ve been to all of the Temple burns, only two others were particularly stand out for other reasons, but hearing Free Bird catapulted that burn to the most moving and memorable. Thank you.

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  • wrench says:

    I was there the year someone lit the man on fire early and we were without a guide for a lot of the burn. I didn’t upset myself about it. I figured that’s about normal. I’m at the burn. And everyone will have an opinion about things that they experiance at the burn and a vision of what they’d like it to be like. And all of us are so human too. I say good for you doing what you wanted to and also owning it and putting it out there for the people that you effected and hearing their responce. I commend you on you’re caring, courage, and maturity to own it. Good or bad idea. Not going to make that judgment. It is what happened and I can chose to be how I am with it. One more thing this world will get better if more people would have the courage to live their truths while owning the reactions that happen around them. I wouldn’t have the courage to do what you did. And I don’t have the courage to deal with the reactions. Lots of love to all of you and your grief and lose.

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  • Decibel says:

    I remember this night so well, it was the first time I had ever seen the Temple burn in person after leaving earlier in my 3 years prior. I was part of the team setting up aboard the Dodo Art Car, where Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping would sing from the 6-side of the Burn Perimeter. There was music all night, and then as the burn began, things got eerily silent. It was such a stark contrast to everything I had experienced at any burn ever before, and an odd closing to year four. I knew what the Tempe meant, and the sacred space everyone considered it to be, I saw the processions of the Rangers, Gate, DPW, and many other trams within the community leave their offerings of fallen comrades. It was very still, the occasional crackle of the fire, or a giggle when the fireworks hidden inside the temple would pop. And then, something cathartic happened. The music started. And for those few minutes, shock, horror, bedlam. The sound of music was taken over by shushing, complaining, outraged inhalations and tempermental chest thumping. Much more of an interruption was created by the reaction than to the action itself. And I began to laugh, until I cried. It was in those moments that I had experienced the most feeling towards the temple. Thank you for your contribution, as it helped my experience.

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  • HoneyBee says:

    I’m glad to learn the reason behind the song. Kinda perfect, really.

    Anyone who threatened violence, or who allowed their mood to shift so negatively, should probably reevaluate themselves. Radical inclusion does mean simply including the things you like; it means accepting the differences.

    To share a song like Free Bird in honor of fallen DPWer, well, I can’t think of a better eulogy. There’s a cold one in my cooler for you and your lady any day.

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  • Lou Lou says:

    at the moment I was irritated. I could. Not understand why on earth I was being force into someone’s moment. Someone song… I let it go not to ruin one of the most amazing moments I have ever experienced in my life! Do I wish it didn’t happen? I do. I understand why you did it. But there is no reason that your moment could not have been more your moment. Backing your truck away from us all and sharing amongst yourselves would have been more appropriate. Joey was there and recognized your efforts. The departed are all
    Knowing and masses did not have to be forced to participate in your way.
    Much love and respect. But remember silence is golden ❤️

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  • Wandering Cherie says:

    I was there. I’d just had some really bad news about a close friend. Bawling my eyes out. I needed to laugh. So I did.

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  • DhammaSeeker says:

    I was working that burn perimeter as a Temple Guardian. When I heard Freebird crank up far in the distance, I looked at the Ranger to my left (Ranger Atlas I believe), and we just smiled at each other and turned our game back toward the crowd. The sacred nature of the temple and its burn is larger than silence, larger than one song. With love we abide, and all is right in the world.

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  • Robyn says:

    You chose selfishness over community. There’s a name for people like you, but I can’t print it here.

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    • Quentin says:

      Really Robyn, you go to BM but you are afraid to say C*cksuckers, cuz that’s what you are thinking, isn’t it. Silence is a great goal but trying to force people to adhere to your stupid rules is a lost cause and it is a betrayal of the whole BM enterprise. BM is a place where the mob does not tell you what you can or cannot do. It was a place where self expression was once king. But the “shushers” (people who make the shushing sound whenever the slightest sound is made during the temple burn) are the harbingers of the death of BM. People who take pride in the fact that they are telling others how they should be self expressed are bad enough but now you have sectioned off a piece of the most liberal property in the world and declared that “You” make the rules. Yea. great!

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      • epona says:

        exactly. the irony is the “shushers” are often louder than that which they are attempting to shush.

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      • El Rey de los Locos says:

        I’m glad Forest did it. I’m glad he knows how many people hated it. I’m glad we have silent time (for the most part) spontaneously arise at temple burns.

        I’m glad the bubble pops, too. I’m glad your expectations were shattered. I’m glad you were challenges.

        I’m disappointed in how some burners react. I don’t bother with the man burn or temple burn anymore, because self righteousness is the stinkiest perfume, and too many members bathe in that shit when it comes to the official burns.

        If you’re taking anything other than your health seriously at the burn, you’re doing it wrong!

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    • Sharon Bray says:

      Having trouble spelling “Free”?

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  • Greg Walljasper says:

    Temple burns are special, and the quiet of the crowd is so special. It is such an amazing counterpoint to, and final event of a cacophonous week. Without the din of amplified sounds, the human element can come to the fore. Can’t remember which temple burn, but years ago a woman broke out into an extremely soulful slow blues song and it was amazing. Hearing the fire crackle and timbers creak and fall, hearing someone sobbing from 100 feet away. the clockwise wave and shout that spontaneously arose and traveled round and round the Temple (Basura Sgrada if memory serves me) The occasional individual shouting of a message to a deceased loved one. None of this could have happened with preemptive and overpowering amplified sound.
    I feared that the Freebird thing was the herald of more blasting sound at the Temple in the years following. Thankfully that has not happened in the subsequent years.
    It would be a great loss to the whole event if the Temple burn ever evolves into just another of many rowdy noisy events at Burning Man.

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  • Great site. A lot of helpful information here.
    I’m sending it to some friends ans additionally sharing in delicious.
    And certainly, thank you to your sweat!

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  • Mara says:

    Read all these sanctimonious, judgmental comments to see the truth that so many see about “burners”. I’ve met some really nice burners, I’ve met many mysoginistic, effed up men from your society as well. It’s supposed to be an open-minded event. From the outside, I have seen many instances of clique-ish high school behavior from participants. I’m sure there are fantastic attendees, however, it’s ready to see the false image of non-judgement that hides a bunch of aholes running around the desert, sniffing their own farts.

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  • ApolloPan says:

    Bravo! I remember the ripples of annoyance at that burn, and I promptly conjectured to those grumblers that this was clearly intended as a funeral dirge, an emotional send off. For all the “spiritual” hype of the Temple Burn, it shouldn’t have taken a warlock like me to recognize that many people feel comforted by expressing grief through song. More to the point, perhaps the shushers & down in fronts might consider this? I have witnessed great cruelties at these temple burns- people shouting at a man to sit, who could not, due to bad knees, the obvious solution being that he lean on my shoulder with one bent knee. A man with bagpipes attacked by two women, as he finished playing amazing grace & briefly trespassed into AC/DC. Don’t give me your “lovin’ light” crap unless you can actually demonstrate it in your life. Also, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

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  • adam weig says:

    We (DeathGuild/Camp Carp/Space cowboys) lost one of ours that year too, Donovan Pugh. I thought it was for him. I enjoyed the moment. Thanks

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  • Corvus says:

    “They got so angry they forgot their grief,” pretty well sums it up.

    I remember when the BLM rangers (and the widow) had a service for one of their own during the week. It included a procession to the temple with lights and sirens on. I — like a lot of folks — thought it was some sort of major bust. When they got closer I suddenly twigged what was going on, and removed my hat as they went by.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    So! Thank you, everybody, for such an impassioned discussion on this post, which has already become an important part of the greater Burning Man story. I’m just here to remind you that the comment policy is in effect as always, and if you seriously can’t conduct a deep conversation like this without resorting to name-calling, I’m going to delete your comment with impunity! That’s all. Carry on. Respectfully.

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  • The Author says:

    Just wanted to say that your comments are all amazing & I love your all. As I said in the first line I am not apologizing or looking to be pardoned. What happened, happened. I just wanted to explain my side of it. If you are still holding on to the resentment after almost three years, I DO apologize for having impacted your loss in such a negative way. However, I also hope you can eventually let it go. To those calling me a sociopath-asshole-scum of the earth-schmuck… Much love. If you feel my intention was to destroy your’s & everyone else’s moment out of selfishness, there is nothing that will convince you otherwise. Burn on.

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  • Naiad says:

    I was mourning the death of my grandfather who was beaten to death in the kitchen of the house he built with his own hands by a burglar while my bedridden grandmotherlistened from the bedroom. He hated Free Bird. Why is your moment so much more important than mine that you have to erase mine and replace it with yours? You could have listened to yours without taking away mine. Silence at Temple Burn is a fragile artwork made of the willing participation of thousands. It doesn’t matter how worthy your friend was. I assure you my grandfather was just as worthy. The thousands being remembered that night were just as worthy. If playing Lynyrd Skynyrd loud is how you need to express your grief, there were 7 days and many square miles where you can do that. Why appropriate the one time of silence? It’s hard for me to get my head around the arrogance of looking over a sea of people and thinking, “Nope. Your moment isn’t as important as my moment. Everybody – stop experiencing the Temple Burn the sacred silent way that has become traditional over the many years of Burns, and experience it MY way.”

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    • Di says:

      I’m with you. When in the depths of your personal cleansing experience, I hated that somebody took that away from me. I don’t think it is the time for jokes. Can’t we have at least 10 – 15 minutes of reverential silence? turning it into a personal joke is ego-based. Give it a break please and don’t drag me into it.

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      • epona says:

        but it was not a joke. it was a tribute to a fallen comrade.

        if someone else can take away your peace or cleansing moment so easily, then perhaps you’ve got more work to do on yourself. my old yoga teacher used to say, “if another student in class is distracting you, then you really need the yoga.”

        the temple burn morphed organically into a mostly silent event, perhaps it is morphing into something else. why does everyone need to be forced into celebrating life and death with silence because that is the way you wish to remember your dead? if we are all sharing space, and each person’s moment is equally important but their ideals are different, there has to be a bit of a compromise, don’t you think?

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  • burningjim says:

    Well Done, agent of Chaos. Your act of bravery in the name of one of the fallen captures perfectly what for me is the spirit of the burn. I mirror the sentiment of others who said “joke em if they can’t take a fuck.”

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  • KINS says:

    I am not a fan of the growing religiosity of Burning Man. I get that the founders suffer from massive narcissism and would like nothing more than to be modern day deities. BREAK THAT SHIT DOWN. Play Freebird if you want to.

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  • roissy says:

    What ever happened to respecting the Artist who built the project??? In some respects this is almost as bad as breaking off a piece for a souvenir or defacing it by tagging… If nothing else the Artist should have been consulted before hand…

    Although I was bothered more by the crowd’s reaction to the music than the actual playing of it… But then I get nasty looks myself because I end up taking a massive amount of photos during the burn…

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  • randy pamn the goat man says:

    I remember that night as the night which helped to destroy my notions of the temple. I had come to expect that silence during the temple burn was an expected thing, which I had come to look forward to, and when I heard the song starting to blare, I have to admit that it pissed me off.

    Mostly because it was “Free Bird,” which is just as bad as hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the billionth time. Couldn’t you have picked a better song?

    But my anger gave way to a grave sadness that someone was going to get hurt over it, and started praying that no one would get violent over it.

    I’ve had time to think over this, and as my understanding of Art has evolved, I have come to appreciate it for the disruption that it was. I think that the best art should de-stabilize people, make them uncomfortable, to question Culture, which as Terence McKenna says, is NOT YOUR FRIEND.

    I’m still pissed that you played “Free Bird,” though. Next time, play something else.

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    • Corvus says:

      So… music at the temple burn is okay so long as it’s something you approve of. Got it.
      (And no, I’m not particularly a fan of Freebird.)

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  • SparkleSloth says:

    I don’t really like the song. I didn’t know Joey. I am glad you did what you did – regardless of the reason. As soon as people start prescribing a “sacred” behavior around some “ritual”, they have crossed the line into an inquisition-style, organized religion. People are entitled to believe what they want (as wrong and misguided as they may be), but the line stops at them. And, I suppose, that is where Radical Inclusiveness stops for me. People do get kicked out of BRC – radical inclusiveness aside. So, I propose that *anyone* who seeks to enforce a “quiet burn” because “we’ve decided that is the ritual” to please go elsewhere. You’ve missed the point. Come back when the blinders come off.

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  • JitneyBead says:

    “My perspective on it is, if you can’t overcome some music during this time of grieving and loss, then you need more than the Temple to help you let go.”

    The problem with your act (and your tone-deaf response even today) is that you’ve appointed your perspective above all others in the community. Some great person in the DPW died and you wanted to tribute them with music. Fine. But you intruded on other people’s grief. you put your grief above your neighbors. The Temple Burn is sacred because we’ve decided, collectively, that quiet best expresses our grief in that moment. There were no memos typed out, no formal rules, but an agreed-to approach by all sound vehicles to not play during this time. Have you really thought about why your decision elicited such a response? Would you really do it again? You didn’t ruin my Burn, but you cheapened it for those that needed quiet in a place that has given it in the past, and they had a reasonable expectation to expect it 2012.

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    • SparkleSloth says:

      >>”we’ve decided, collectively, that quiet best expresses our grief in that moment. ”

      No, We didn’t. And therein lies your error.

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      • Quentin says:

        >But you intruded on other people’s grief<

        Perhaps if you cannot greave except when all others stop to allow you to greave, then maybe you should choose to greave in some other place where you have more control over the circumstances. Every fucking moment of BM is someone else intruding on your controlled existence. Why do you need to greave there anyway. it's one week out of the year, go greave quietly by yourself the other 51 weeks and stop complaining about the decision you made to be there and be disappointed.

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  • pinky says:

    Love, loved it, was perfect for me!!! We were grieving the loss of our wonderful friend, brother, husband, father, who had passed in that spring unexpectedly, member of esd for years. He certainly would have loved it, and was probably right there with you!! I downloaded that song after, and played it so much that fall. So sorry for the threatened violence, SO unnecessary!!! Got that song in my head now. RIP Joey, and all who have passed unexpectedly recently, just moving on down the road.

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  • redBone says:

    While I do enjoy the Temple during the week and have left numerous tributes to fallen loved ones and friends, in my 15yrs of attending Burning Man, I have only watched the Temple burn once. It was underwhelming and anticlimactic. I don’t need to have closure with this burn. When Sunday comes, it’s time to why the hell outta there! I support you in playing Free Bird. Is there a better song to blast at that moment? Probably not. There does seem to be some respect for the silence aspect of the Temple and talking to art cars during the week tends to help and ward them off somewhat. To all the cry babies who get all worked up at various parties near the Temple over the years… it’s Burning Man yo!

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  • Headless Heart says:

    “i love u Joey Jello!”

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  • Scorpion de la Playa says:

    I was right there for the moment, and thought “Uh-Oh…the shit is going to hit the fan”. After a few minutes of screaming and scrumming, I was happy to hear it come back loud and clear…and can honestly say that I never enjoyed that song any more than I did right there in that place! That goes down as one of my Top Five Playa memories of all time.

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  • Marty says:

    I was there and heard it. It’s cool man. Peace on ya.

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  • When I'm Gone says:

    Dear Friends,

    When I am gone, please put my ashes in the Temple. If you want to commemorate whatever greatness I have brought to your lives, please do it creatively in a way that honors my memory. Make it beautiful, sassy, trollish, mind-boggling and participatory. Poke fun at me and each other. Learn a new skill while working on it and invite in strangers to work with you and add their own twists and let them be in charge of things they want to head up. Music accompaniment sounds great. I love “Freebird” if that makes you happy. Deploy the project wherever you think makes sense in a way that honors my memory. I hope you remember the values I tried to live by and reflect that in the memorial. Thanks for the laughs, even when you didn’t know I was listening.

    -Hoping to be remembered in a way that creates more ways of joy even after I have rejoined the natural pace.

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  • drdeb says:

    my hubbie was honored to light the temple that year, i sat just off to the right of the music, it took a moment to realize that music was playing, “ahhh..,’free bird, how perfect, …must be DPW”…then drifted back to watching the burn, people on my art car looked quizzical and we all sniggered a bit, it was memorable. thank you for messing with the status quo.

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  • drdeb says:

    ps, one time , i was mediating in the solemnness and quiet of the temple, when i started to laugh, belly laugh, ..i never do this BTW, so it was such an amazing feeling, i laughed so hard it hurt , i couldnt nor did I want to stop, people were giving me dirty looks yet, i didnt give a shit, I couldnt think of anything better for that space than my laughter, a friend saw me and sat down by my side, he started to laugh hard and loud with me, both of us, uncontrollable for a good 7-8 minutes, loud and long, tears rolling down, on our sides, slapping the ground, gasping for breath,..silence isnt always gold

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  • Cat says:

    Though I understand the silence, you are correct…it is far from silent. Your song, though unexpected, was not worthy of the hatred I witnessed when it started. I was pretty close to you. The anger and the horrible words people were screaming became more of a telling sign of intolerance rather than accepting that someone may have had a wonderful reason for sharing. I’m glad you are not apologizing! And I think you’re explanation is perfect.

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  • Bright says:

    Remembering back…. I was initially annoyed at the loud intrusion of music. But then I thought “this is intentional, this has meaning to someone.”

    If there had been someone next to me wailing, I wouldn’t have told them to shut up.

    I equated the music with someone’s expression of grief.

    I believe that if the music had been allowed to ascend with the fire, we would have then been reunited with the solemn silence we have come to treasure… instead of the subtle self-righteous indignation that took us out of the moment.

    I wish we could have listened with more patience. And I wish Jello’s friends had spent more time inviting participation before playing his tribute.

    There is a little asshole in everyone. The playa teaches. Community evolves. DPW rocks. The temple silence is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. And rules should be tested.

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  • burnt bacon says:

    Temple nights of being rooted in spiritual reflection can be like almost every other day – it’s your spiritual practice hour by hour day by day to become OK with what ‘is’ – thinking immediately ‘Someone is doing this to break the silence and screw my peace’ is a great way to well… suffer a little longer – you can hear people talking loudly at times, some even laughing about times they’ve had with past loved ones – another plays a signing bowl as they walk thru the crowd seemingly not even paying attention – it destroys your focus – then it goes quiet again – maybe even more quiet than before and then your back in your thoughts – keep in mind not everyone is that fucked up and their not always out to do it to you – their just being expressive and showing heart – in the area I was at, the vibe we felt of course like it was meant as a tribute for a someone special out there and in some way it was meant for all of us as well – I needed to smile also at that time – thanks for the levity.

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  • NotIt says:

    Damn Forest, now what will we bitch about?

    I was there, I knew the who, the why, the background story. I couldn’t help but laugh w/ remebrance and reflection. While I personally prefer quiet introspection during the Temple burn this was still one of my favorite moments. In fact, I’m still laughing.

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  • Sparks says:

    Seems it is still a hot button :) I used to fall into the category of people who would have been upset, however as I tip the double digits of burns and I learn more and more about myself out there, I just cant get angry about it.

    If you want to grieve your special person/animal/god in silence then make a fucking art piece, invite no one to the burn but the people who will share your vision, and then burn that shit!

    I am struggling with the whole burning man in a box model where self expression, hard work, and self reliance are trumped by pretty costumes and sudo science religious conformity. If you want some specific kind of burn it is your job to build it, submit it, haul it, and clean up after it.

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  • Aaron says:

    Was my first burn…and admittedly I was confused. I believe in the time since then I heard it was a tribute. Conflicted on it. The last 2 temple burns have been quiet and are truly incredible (i about lost it last year when the temple spun around as it collapsed). While I appreciate the remembrance of one member there are also how many others that were looking for something else. Tough call but all in the past. And holy shit I just got chills thinking about the temple burning <3 #industwetrust

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  • Krimmper says:

    Great example of justification for the id’s entitlement through grief to mask as a super-ego teaching to a collective. Sometimes it work (Vietnam War)……sometimes it doesn’t (free bird). You experimented and you received a response. I am glad people confronted you. Rape is very odd comment to be hurled at you. How have you compensated for the grief of those that felt hi-jacked or jack-assed. Does it matter?Anyway, you imprinted a memory and you made an example….a libertine stretching the boundaries for a collective. Don’t feel bad…..just swim in a plethora of Justifications. No good American likes to lose face in our culture. I can’t listen to that song anymore without a memory of that Temple Burn. Your meme is secured and Richard Dawkins would be proud. Forget the collective and community concerns…..? Still, from a common ground of grief that humanity shares….I am stilled in my mind and heart for your loss.

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  • albo the man says:

    I agreed with the person who wished that the temple burn must not become just another loud musical thing…
    .
    I’ve never been on BM decided today that I will never be :
    1] because of money problems (plain-ticket costs me 2 months income)
    2] but mainly there was/were human(s) being raped and there were (at that time no rape-kits and rangers said they wouldn’t pursue the matter.
    .
    BM promised to better that attitude… So ? did that happen ? Or were those just false promises ?
    Since 2009 or 10 a friend of mine visits the playa and other burns around the world and I follow him online from builds to burns , and enjoyed the free as a bird attitude of them burn-festivals.
    Today I read that just a few years ago a young lady was drugged, raped and left to suffer (and …) but luckily she was found by rangers and thus saved.
    That made me decide never to visit , unless the necessary changes are made !
    .
    I’m listening to free bird now and it’s not the 1st time I hear the song but as I hear the lyrics the thought of how the rapists are smiling smurkly cause they are as free as bird while the girl will be in captivity for a long time, makes my stomach turn !-(
    This song has aboot 1 verse and a few great instrumental solo’s but is aboot 10 minutes …
    .
    Have a good one today and tomorrow !

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  • lollz says:

    Burners who tell others how to ‘burn’ have already stepped off on the wrong foot as far as I’m concerned. Loved that burn & the music. Did someone release birds?

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  • Saul says:

    No matter what your intentions, your actions invaded the thoughts and experiences of tens of thousands of people — and “explaining” it after the fact doesn’t change that. It was NON-CONSENSUAL. You didn’t ask the people around you if they wanted to participate in your grief, but forced it upon them. It’s callous to suggest that “if you can’t overcome some music during this time of grieving and loss, then you need more than the Temple to help you let go.” It wasn’t just “some music,” but a particular song that has a specific history and context. Without any explanation for why you were playing the song, it was bound to come across as trolling. I’m surprised that so many people are defending you here. It was a pretty selfish move on your part.

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  • Dominique says:

    Free Bird started playing at the most perfect moment. I arrived to watch the temple burn and placed myself behind a huge pile of bikes, a pile so huge it would have been inconvenient for me to sit down, so I remained standing to witness the sacred temple go up in flames. People started filling in behind me and because I did not sit down and experience the temple burn the way it was supposed to be experienced, they started heckling me and calling me names. I thought it strange that I could do and be whoever I wanted for that entire week, until that moment. All of a sudden I was supposed to sit somberly and cry in silence. I turned around and told those people that they chose to place themselves there and they could move. They didn’t like to hear that, and the continued to heckle me. It saddened me that all of a sudden I was supposed to follow some ritual, not mine. AND then, free bird started up, and I felt free! Their anger was redirected, and I almost didn’t want to go back to burning man the following year. (But I did.)
    Ultimately, the moral of the story is, we are ultimately trying to find peace. so relax into the pain and discomfort of your turmoil and try not to pass it on!

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    • Quentin says:

      Like Dominique I’ve been frequently harassed at the “sacred” temple burn. Told to “shut up” told how to act, and how I was “supposed” to be. It was no use to remind people that I was still at BM and that I was allowed to act however I felt like acting. It still remains the most angry and aggressive experience I have ever had at BM. The people here who complain that Forest was selfish are the actual selfish ones . The angry nasty people yelling at me to “shut up” were being selfish and thoughtless in the guise of enlightened spirituality. This was not the idea that we all agreed to. If the shushers cannot find a better way to get acceptance of their silence rule then they should just accept that BM is not the place for people to be silent. The self righteousness in this thread is the plague that sent me running in the opposite direction from BM. It is the cancer that is the Temple. The temple is a trojan horse that sneaks all the worst parts of the default world and religion into a once spiritual event.

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  • Major Tom says:

    Wow, lots of sides to this, and in the end I’ve come to accept a duality: you’re all right!

    This music blaster was acting like a selfish, entitled jerk in that moment. His dead friend and his way of expressing it were more important to him than anything or anyone (or tens of thousands of ones) else. The fact that he still can’t empathize with the perspective of those who found his actions an offensive betrayal to the community that has coalesced around the temple burn as a quiet ritual makes me think he may act in a selfish, entitled way in many moments. It may even be his “personality.”

    Burning man has its fair share of histrionic narcissists, and some have offered their support in the comments. Radical inclusion means they can attend, but I don’t have to like them (http://blog.burningman.com/2015/06/tenprinciples/why-radical-inclusion-should-make-us-uncomfortable/). If the author supports the general idea of the solemn temple burn (as he seems to) but thinks only he is entitled to blast his special memorial (for the justifications he has repeatedly offered), then we see why his actions are hypocritical.

    That said, this *is* Burning Man! One should expect (and accept) the unexpected. There is no rule that the temple burn must be silent. I think the Leave No Trace principle is the one thing that really should be respected above all else, but beyond that the community is comprised of people that come together as individuals and make a collective experience. If tens of thousands of people come together and (with the help of tradition) spontaneously create a quiet, solemn moment, that can be a unique and powerful shared experience. But there will always be those who will disrupt the silence, even if for no other reason than the power of the silent moment itself leads them to unsquelchable emotional outpourings.

    These disruptions, whether small or large, offer everyone a moment for insight in their reaction to the unexpected.

    For some, Freebird naturally integrated with and augmented their experience. Good for them.

    For others, it caused a reflexive aversion. Some perceived their averse reaction and countered it with acceptance or empathy in almost the same moment. Good for them.

    For others, their initial reaction was unchecked and created strong and negative emotions. Some dealt with those and moved on. Good for them.

    Others still harbor those negative emotions, and that’s unfortunate for them.

    For others, their emotions led to violence. It goes without saying, these folks’ actions are far more reprehensible than those of the author.

    In the final analysis, this fellow, through no special merit of his own, created a profoundly challenging moment for the community collectively and many people who were present.

    I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were there. I find the solemnity of the temple burn cloying, personally. But it means a lot to many people. And it can be beneficial to be shocked and challenged as well. The ensuing discussion has been full of good observations and insights. In particular, a call out to Jason McHenry, who made what I found to be one of the more profoundly insightful statements in this thread.

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  • Darwin says:

    The very first time I went to BM @ 8 or 9 years ago I was amazed to see 10s of thousands of people suddenly go silent, as if on cue. No one had said anything to me about being silent and I have not heard anyone say anything about it since. As far as I am concerned it is something that just happens and that everyone gets. I was fairly close to you when you turned up the volume. I looked over and thought “We’re DPW and we do whatever the fuck we want”. Later, when I heard that it was for a fallen comrade, I felt a lot better about it. But, in the end, it was still DPW feeling privileged to do “whatever the fuck we want”. I think that DPW rocks but hope that this does not get repeated, by anyone.

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  • Lazy boy says:

    I thought it was dope. Classic song. My homie was pissed and i was like so what. If your gunna break the silance do it with free bird. And hell ya when people stop suprising me at burning man i will stop going. Way to stir it up.
    We look not at what should be changed in the world but rather waht should be changed in our selves.
    Lb-

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  • DPW Tomcat says:

    One thing missing from the tale is that during Playa Restoration in 2011, mostly thanks to Joey Jello, Freebird was played an insane amount of times every day. So much that at the end of things I thought we needed “I survived Playa Restoration 2011 FREEBIRD” patches. It got played again immediately after it finished.

    Sometimes out there on the line cleaning up the traces of the city the best game to play among the exhausted and hungover is to see just how far you can push each other before someone melts down. Joey did his part to keep us on that edge that year, Playing Freebird at the temple the next year was just an echo.

    I’ll always remember Joey on a late September afternoon stepping away from the van as the loudspeaker blares it out one more time. Him giving that grinning, heroic shrug. This bird you cannot change.

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  • bygone says:

    The classic part was after the song was turned down and it went silent for a few and all was going back to how it was, it was turned back up with the perfect timing for the peak lyrics of – “Lord, I can’t change. Won’t you fly high, my free bird, yeah?” – total time played was probably like idk 30 seconds – now playin’ “You Got That Right”, the scene would have been a lot different

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  • I want to thank you for playing freebird. I think it was important and it was quite impactful in my mind. I remember thinking “Who the fuck is playing freebird at the temple burn” and initially wondering why. But after a second to reflect I remembered the year we tried to make a wave of “mooos” circle the temple, or the year before when we yelled at a pair of hippies that “It was ok to laugh while mourning too.”

    When we choose to mourn together we each get to choose how we do it. You preferred noise, a song, one that brought tears to peoples eyes and made that experience much deeper.

    As someone who has helped build one temple, tried to build a temple and is about to help build yet another temple it is time to say it:

    Lighten the fuck up!!!

    Seriously, we got viciously attacked for trying to make the Temple something different last year. Most people had no idea that Embrace was a dedication to my step father, they just saw some heteronormative bullshit. We all burn differently, we all build differently, we all party differently and we are all allowed to mourn differently. We choose to share a space in the middle of nowhere, but at no point should we be required to do it any way other than the way we please. And at no time should ANYONE be attacked for that decision.

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  • TheDuke says:

    I was working perimeter at that burn and had a memorial to a loved one in the temple. My reaction? Initial disbelief followed by laughter. I loved the lightening moment and thought that it may have been for someone special. Thanks for bring so brave.

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  • wILD bILL says:

    Well, I have experienced Burning Man since ‘Floating World’, and it has been for me, the best large group, ‘life experience gift of variety’ I have ever seen. Maybe I haven’t see all that much of the world, but that’s still OK for me. I was there that night and observed the action and reaction. I chose to see it as being another live performance from our cast of characters. It had cause and effect. Life still seems to be a bit of an experiment , for maybe even longer that we have records of being on this round ball we have called, ‘Planet Earth’. In this blog you have all had a chance to show your colors and share your thoughts, and for that I say “Thank you!”. It looks like I may miss being in the Playa this year, and most of all,,,, I will miss being on the Playa this year(!), with all of it’s ‘one of a kind (ness), coolest spots on the planet!’. Be well.:)”(:.

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  • Mister Jones says:

    Wow, lots of sides to this, and in the end I’ve come to accept a duality: you’re all right!

    Yes, the music blaster was acting in a selfish, entitled way in that moment. His dead friend and his way of expressing it were more important to him than anything or anyone (or tens of thousands of ones) else. The fact that he still can’t empathize with the perspective of those who found his actions an offensive betrayal to the community that has coalesced around the temple burn as a quiet ritual makes me think he may act in a selfish, entitled way in many moments.

    Burning man has its fair share of the histrionic and the narcissistic. Radical inclusion means they can attend, but I don’t have to like them (http://blog.burningman.com/2015/06/tenprinciples/why-radical-inclusion-should-make-us-uncomfortable/). If the author supports the general idea of the solemn temple burn (as he seems to) but thinks only he is entitled to blast his special memorial (for the justifications he has repeatedly offered), then we see the inconsistency in his actions.

    That said, this *is* Burning Man! One should expect (and accept) the unexpected. There is no rule that the temple burn must be silent. I think the Leave No Trace principle is the one thing that really should be respected above all else, but beyond that the community is comprised of people that come together as individuals and make a collective experience. If tens of thousands of people come together and (with the help of tradition) spontaneously create a quiet, solemn moment, that can be a unique and powerful shared experience. But there will always be those who will disrupt the silence, even if for no other reason than the power of the silent moment itself leads them to unsquelchable emotional outpourings.

    These disruptions, whether small or large, offer everyone a moment for mindfulness in their reaction to the unexpected.

    For some, Freebird naturally integrated with and augmented their experience. Good for them.

    For others, it caused a reflexive aversion. Some perceived their averse reaction and countered it with equanimity or empathy in almost the same moment. Good for them.

    For others, their initial reaction was unchecked and created strong and negative emotions. Some dealt with those and moved on. Good for them.

    Others still harbor those negative emotions, and that’s unfortunate for them.

    For others, their emotions led to violence. It goes without saying, these folks’ actions are far more reprehensible than any of the author.

    In the final analysis, this fellow, through no special merit of his own, created a profoundly challenging moment for the community collectively and for many people who were present.

    I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were there. I find the solemnity of the temple burn cloying, personally. But it means a lot to many people and can be powerful. And it can be beneficial to be shocked and challenged as well. The ensuing discussion has been full of good observations and insights. In particular, a call out to Jason McHenry, who made what I found to be one of the more profoundly insightful statements in this thread.

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  • Dave says:

    You never even met Joey? You probably haven’t worked on a project like the temple either. Being on DPW does not enter you into an exclusive class of hard workers on the playa. Temple crew doesn’t get paid or eat in a big catered tent with 24 hour coffee and staff showers, provided housing and all the other perks DPW gets. They bust ass as long or longer and the project leads go deep into debt for the gift they give to the playa. If they want a quiet burn, your personal grief (didn’t know him) and your entitled “we built this city” (no, you didn’t) do not give you the right to make
    That decision for everyone in earshot. Fitting tribute or not, (I met him, I get it) this article would be a lot easier to read if you didn’t refuse to apologize for your selfish and childish behavior right in the first paragraph.

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  • Marisa says:

    I’m Marisa, and I’ve been the singer at David Best’s temples since 2002.
    I also manage Thunderdome and have been camped with them since 1999, the first year of the dome.
    And I worked DPW 2000-2002, RIP… lots of people. Not the kinder, gentler, DPW. You know the one.

    The pieces I have sung at the temples have been selected by David Best; I usually sing a first song (of my choosing) while the crowd settles, and then a second song (David’s choice) once there is silence. I figure that’s the part that the artist (David, not me – I’m a meat puppet) offers as a performance – the temple, the song (which I feel … insanely, insanely honored to sing). Through that moment, the wishes of the artist should be honored; they did all this work, and the piece should be presented in its entirety. And, in 2012, it was. You didn’t draw focus to yourself by using a bullhorn over the parts that the artist created. You waited a respectful time, and when that song played, with its perfect lyrics, a big-ass smile spread over my face. It’s a shame that people feel the need to tell others how to grieve. Some temple burns are quiet. Some are raucous. All are cathartic, beautiful, necessary.

    But here’s a part you might not know, and which is for you, and for Jello, and all of DPW:

    In July 2014 David and I talked as we usually do at about this time in the process, by phone, about our thoughts for the upcoming temple song. It went (something) like this…

    David: “I’ve been thinking, since that thing in 2012, we should do something for the DPW, to honor that incident. That incident created a perception of a rift that isn’t there, like the Temple is on a different side from DPW, and we’re not.”
    Me: “I know…I have a song in mind, if you don’t mind a suggestion.” (As I said, David picks the songs.)
    David: “Can you sing Free Bird?”
    Me: “I already printed the lyrics and started memorizing them.”

    So that’s how I ended up singing Free Bird at the Temple Burn in 2014. And I tried to channel the version Andre Braugher did in Duets (see this movie just for this part). All my stoic, silent, raucous, loud grieving, silent grieving, angry grieving selves came together, in that rare moment, and I knew the song was RIGHT. And then the fire got big and I never got to the second song that David wanted me to sing. And then the temple fell in a swirl.

    I am sorry for your loss, for all of your losses, and that this created such drama for you. This act started an important conversation and, I hope, challenged the need some people feel to tell other people how to Temple (or Man, or Roller Disco, or Whatever) right.

    After all, it’s just Burning Man. ;)

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    • Marisa says:

      The addendum is… when you put yourself out there, you’re going to get reactions you can’t control… and when you put yourself out there, you can’t tell people how to react to that, either. Ask me about managing camp anti-hippie in between a ton of people who think that’s “not what burning man is about, man.”

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      • Forest of Arizona says:

        I love you & your wonderful voice. Thanks for everything you do. Weren’t you out here in AZ when we brought out the Thunderdome? I think I got the opportunity to meet you, then. Thank you so much for what you wrote! It adds great insight.

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      • Marisa says:

        Hi Arizona – hope you can see this (no option to reply to a comment on a comment. So thread. Much confuse.). Yes, I did see a LOT of people in Arizona when we brought the dome out there, so we probably met. :) Thank you for your kind words. :)

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    • epona says:

      thank you, marisa. thank you for your voice, both in song and in prose.

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  • ScottyPoi says:

    Gawd I just can’t stand Skynyrd. Any playing of freebird ever ruins any moment. His crime wasn’t disrupting the burn, it was having horrible taste in music.

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  • yo says:

    tired of arrogant DPW attitude, drop it: lower chances of pissing everyone off!!!

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  • Finn says:

    Shitty song? Check.
    Wildly inappropriate timing? Check.

    It’s gotta be DPW.

    I thought it was pretty funny. But I’m really glad that I got to experience many silent temple burns in the past.

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  • OrganizedChaos says:

    Honestly, I’m very sad to have read this two weeks late because I was sitting maybe 25 feet from your vehicle when this happened and I am really hoping that you read this.

    To be perfectly clear, I thought that the playing of that song in that moment was beautiful. The minute that it played before the crowd went crazy on you guys was reflective and I really got the feeling right away that the song was for a purpose – not just someone blasting what they wanted to hear at that moment. I’m really not a proponent of telling people what do to on the playa, that’s part of what makes us all burners. Being able to come out and live life as we please.

    But the bottom line that I feel like a lot of these comments are missing is that what DPW does around the city sometimes is downright RUDE. The behavior I have seen from them (jumping on stage at a smaller live music stage and grabbing the guitar out of someone’s hands while screaming in his face WE BUILT THIS CITY, grabbing alcohol from behind bars they didn’t know anyone at, kicking at someone’s burn barrel when they argued with their behavior, people running off to try to find a ranger to deal with behavior like that) is to me what is at the core of this conversation. Because this sets the same tone. I get it, your DPW friends built the city. But that does not excuse that kind of behavior. If DPW wants to set a precedent that they should be respected it certainly should not be by pushing people around whenever they feel like they can. Please do not compare what you did to the opera singer with ‘Ave Maria,’ she sang before the temple was set aflame and no one in the area was upset by that.

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  • cSaw says:

    The silence at temple burn is NOT because we WANT to mourn quietly. The silence is a display of my respect for YOUR loss, i.e. that I won’t place my grief above yours. This is the ethos of the temple burn that was expressed to me, and hopefully the ethos that will continue to be passed to those that follow.

    A corollary to this, is that you DON’T HAVE to be respectful to anyone. You have the absolute right to be an asshole and turn the whole thing into being about you. Just don’t be surprised when people call you an asshole.

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  • Major Tom says:

    Wow, lots of sides to this, and in the end I’ve come to accept a duality: you’re all right!

    Yes, the music blaster was acting in a selfish, entitled way in that moment. His dead friend and his way of expressing it were more important to him than anything or anyone (or tens of thousands of ones) else. The fact that he still can’t empathize with the perspective of those who found his actions an offensive betrayal to the community that has coalesced around the temple burn as a quiet ritual makes me think he may act in a selfish, entitled way in many moments.

    Burning man has its fair share of the histrionic and the narcissistic. As Caveat Magister wrote recently on the blog, radical inclusion means they can attend, but I don’t have to like them. If the author supports the general idea of the solemn temple burn (as he seems to) but thinks only he is entitled to blast his special memorial (for the justifications he has repeatedly offered), then we see the inconsistency in his actions.

    That said, this *is* Burning Man! One should expect (and accept) the unexpected. There is no rule that the temple burn must be silent. I think the Leave No Trace principle is the one thing that really should be respected above all else, but beyond that the community is comprised of people that come together as individuals and make a collective experience. If tens of thousands of people come together and (with the help of tradition) spontaneously create a quiet, solemn moment, that can be a unique and powerful shared experience. But there will always be those who will disrupt the silence, even if for no other reason than the power of the silent moment itself leads them to unsquelchable emotional outpourings.

    These disruptions, whether small or large, offer everyone a moment for mindfulness in their reaction to the unexpected.

    For some, Freebird naturally integrated with and augmented their experience. Good for them.

    For others, it caused a reflexive aversion. Some perceived their averse reaction and countered it with equanimity or empathy in almost the same moment. Good for them.

    For others, their initial reaction was unchecked and created strong and negative emotions. Some dealt with those and moved on. Good for them.

    Others still harbor those negative emotions, and that’s unfortunate for them.

    For others, their emotions led to violence. It goes without saying, these folks’ actions are far more reprehensible than any of the author.

    In the final analysis, this fellow, through no special merit of his own, created a profoundly challenging moment for the community collectively and for many people who were present.

    I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were there. I find the solemnity of the temple burn cloying, personally. But it means a lot to many people and can be powerful. And it can be beneficial to be shocked and challenged as well. The ensuing discussion has been full of good observations and insights. In particular, a call out to Jason McHenry, who made what I found to be one of the more profoundly insightful statements in this thread.

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    • Burno says:

      Long comment, but well put!

      I agree this guy was acting like and seems to be a self-aggrandizing jerk. But in the end, this event has provoked a good discussion of sanctimonious tradition versus irreverent spontaneity.

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  • epona says:

    as someone who was a friend of joey jello’s, i personally would like to thank you for your bravery in challenging the status quo. yes he loved the song, but i think he would also have gotten a chuckle over all of the butthurt this has caused. still. 3 years later.

    additionally, i’d like to apologize to you. no one should ever have such hateful words and the threat of rape spewed at them. i’m sorry that person believed their experience of silence was more important than your bodily autonomy and sense of physical safety.

    carry on.

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  • tsmt01 says:

    I commend you on your efforts to honor such a dedicated fallen DPW worker. I’m glad you didn’t end up tarred and feathered (okay feathers, no – MOOP) and/or raped. Two years before I was in a band that was slated to open one night for Lynyrd Skynyrd in Austin, TX (yes they were still playing with one original member left). Long lame story short the gig fell through, which left me not much of a Skynyrd fan afterwards despite no probable fault on the band’s behalf.

    2012 was my virgin burn and to this day remains as the most mind blowing experience I’ve had in some time. My dad had passed a little more than a year before so I knew I was going to stick around for the temple. I wrote a note to my dad the night before I got on the road to Nevada. I then drove 1600 miles to deliver it to the Temple of Juno, which I feel was the real reason I came to Burning Man.

    You owe me no apologies whatsoever for that somewhat overplayed piece of classic rock, especially after I read your story. At the time I was just curious why it was being played when I’d read that the temple burn was supposed to be done in quiet. Thanks for your story. My dad would have appreciated Bob Wills though.

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  • M says:

    I was standing alone at the burn processing the new to me information that a friend had lukemia. I was heartbroken and the song gave me comfort. Many people near me were singing along to the lyrics. I heard the reason for the playing of the song later and it seemed appropriate.

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  • Jeff Hickman says:

    To many the Temple is for solemn rememberance and resolutionand or expression of grief… I prefer to view the Temple Burn as an enormous release of joy for those departed (or still with us), as the ashes disperse to the Heavens. If not then, when is there a better time for song? I say sing away!

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  • Sara Vogel says:

    I Love you.
    Well said man. Well said.

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  • Jason Siadek says:

    Your choice to betray the sanctity of the Temple Burn to honor someone with a “Never Betray” tattoo seems inappropriate on several fronts.

    That said, other than the people who were grieving around me, we had a good chuckle. “Freebird” became art, and for that I thank you.

    I just hope the people that keep burning man from being too sanctimonious don’t create a new sanctity of jackassery, where people feel that in order to appreciate art they have to affect it. It’s a shortcut to being an artist, and it tramples through something meaningful that was built by and for a lot of people.

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  • Wolfgang says:

    There’s fair arguments on both sides of the table here, and I think it’s worth asking a fairly simple question to clear things up: what is the net effect of your decision? Joey made Burning Man a better place with his contributions, and for that we are all indebted. But most of the people who heard that song and were offended won’t read this article. I, for one, spent the last two years assuming that some prick thought it was funny to try to ruin Burning Man for other people. I don’t particularly think Freebird can ruin BM for me, but the idea that someone out there is TRYING to ruin it left me feeling deeply distressed about the BM community.

    The point is, I’m glad that your intentions are clear now, but you created a very negative ripple in a community that Joey put a lot of effort into creating. Regardless of how righteous you think you are for defending Joey’s honor, you should consider apologizing to anyone you offended.

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  • Von says:

    Honestly, I think the evolution of Burning Man over the years is more relevant to this incident than you or your intentions are.

    What amazes me is that everyone ignores the fact that this is not AT ALL the only or first time that someone had done this! I vividly remember someone playing a Tool song (can’t remember which) quite loudly at the Temple burn my first year, 2003. A few people were shaking their heads disapprovingly, but no one said anything. And that wasn’t the last time it happened, people played music in later years, too (those years not being my first burn, they’re a bit more blurry in my mind, so I can’t remember which years they were).

    And in addition to these incidents, people play instruments and sing at the temple burn all the time. Not everyone likes that, but no burner would dream of telling another how to behave (if they’re being safe and sane, and maybe even if they aren’t). Until recently, that is.

    I understand the power of traditions – and Burning Man has many. I also understand being angry and feeling disrespected. But the people who chased you out of there three years ago will someday get in someone’s face for not wearing a tutu on Tuesday.

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  • Mom says:

    don’t worry so much! there is no way the self entitled attitude of such BM fraternities as DPW or Death Guild could ever ruin anyone’s experience in the desert.

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  • Mom says:

    don’t worry so much! there is no way that the self entitled attitude of such BM fraternities as DPW or Death Guild will every ruin anyone’s experience in the desert.

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  • I was close enough to hear it, booed at first then realized I was making more noise than you were from my perspective and stopped. It was about a year ago that I heard the story from a friend in DPW, since then I have been way more understanding and done my best to explain the situation to would-be rapers, who often are more understanding after hearing the tale.

    What is Burning Man if not a place to learn new perspectives to expand your understanding of life and the world? Thank you for your part in that!

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  • Gman says:

    I remember setting in my hut with my cold .45 against me temple ready to follow my dead fathers path. And I said” if you can hear me Jesus then play FreeBird loudly so I can hear n live” n instantly I heard your music n it caused my hand to slip n jerk at the same moment. Causing my polished.45 bullet to miss my temple but lodging in my women’s gut. Well she was hurt putty bad but as she started dancing wildly to the epalog to FreeBird the bullet dropped on the dusty ground. I picked it up named a necklace out of it for her n put it in her casket. So thanks Bro n God Bless the DPW for saving me n Jesus too

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