[Dan Miller was housemates with Larry Harvey in San Francisco from 1982 to 2000. He managed the construction and raising of the Man from 1990 to 2000 and contributed several design modifications to the Man including rigging, mechanical arm raising and the infamous straw bale pyramid bases 1996 – 2000. He took a break from raising the Man to raise his own son, born in 2001. He still brings various art pieces to the playa with his family, such as the “Yot Tub”, and lives in rural Northern CA. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]
1990 Black Rock Desert
“We need your help, could you help pull this big fat rope to raise the Man?” …(it takes a village they say)…
The title, “Raising the Man,” can be taken literally, or metaphorically… The first raising in this sense, that was the seed of our current metropolis, could be construed to be the first burn when Larry Harvey and our friend Jerry James took the sticks of the commonplace, would-be summer solstice beach bonfire, and janked them up into a stick man. This was a simple, passionate act of radical self-expression. Something we can all relate to apparently, or is it more simply, the unadulterated, unmediated, redemptive power of play. Whatever it is that draws us out to such a god-forsaken, remote, desolate locale for a total ass kicking from mama Nature must surely be somehow to raise ourselves.
Since back in the early years, or the Man’s childhood so to speak, for the practicality of lugging him by hand down the long, steep sand embankment to Baker Beach, he has been constructed in six separate parts (head, torso, two arms, two legs). The Man was then assembled lying in place and then raised to a standing position by those gathered. One group lifting to an incline, then a second pulling him by rope the rest of the way up to standing.
In 1989, on Baker Beach with the Golden Gate Bridge looming to the east, we had a defining moment — due to the lack of engineering prowess and the shear underestimation of the dynamics of the growth of the Man vs. physics, when raising him, his legs, head and pulling rope snapped. I remember shuddering in horror at the mess amidst the penetrating, salty gales; first, that someone might have been skewered underneath (luckily not) and that there was no hope of repairing our broken Man in this desperate moment. Then it dawned on us that we could burn him right justly in his humiliating pile and slink back to the drawing board for our next year’s invocation.
As serendipity would have it, a couple of intrepid structural engineers stepped up and offered their services — anonymously (things were, cough, cough, guerrilla back then; begging forgiveness from the authorities was doable, permission, yeah, right, a three-storey wienie roast).
My idea of a bi-pod boom was adopted, so that no one need to risk lifting underneath. This allowed that the man could be raised from his assembled laying position by pulling a long rope from out front alone. I also devised a system utilizing cables and pulleys, that once standing, enabled us to raise the Man’s arms like muscles and tendons, retiring the prior feeble attempt to raise them with gangly long pusher poles. For a number of years the arm raising became a tradition that kids would perform. In addition to these contributions to the Man’s design, came the honored position of directing the raisings.
This was always a joy to experience the team accomplishment and satisfaction of a group that, like each person being a cell of a muscle, makes for a mighty lifting arm. It was fun!
Also during this period (1990 through 2000), I adopted the position of organizing the building of the Man – this is a story for another blog, the accidental chain-saw massacre of the man in 1990… I will say here however, the building averaged 40 volunteers (50/50 male, female) and took 3 or 4 weekends. We also built a dozen lampposts each year and later the pedestal parts. With the left over wood scraps we made all sorts of sculptures that we took down to Ocean Beach for the “builders’ burn,” which kicked off a long series of infamous beach burns.
After 1995, in its raging adolescence, our budding metropolis had grown to such a size that it became apparent that the Man needed to grow too. The simple solution was not to make the Man bigger, but to raise him up on a pedestal off the playa floor — like the Statue of Liberty on her base. I submitted a simple six straw bale high step pyramid design, which included a second boom. Each year after, we grew the pyramid an additional bale higher. It topped off in 1999 at 9 bales high (12 feet), about the limit to stack straw bales that were constantly being trundled upon by happy revelers. (Straw bales were banned in 2001 as they were what’s known as confetti MOOP, an untied bale explodes into a major clean-up chore and there were a lot taller, unique theme based bases to explore as we’ve have seen over the past ten years.)
The rope and boom system took 120 to 200 people to raise and lower the Man. It didn’t tend to take more than half an hour to raise a crowd for the task amongst our burgeoning populace.
In 1990, the first year in the desert, we barely managed to get him up after gathering every single person in camp, plus some local desert rats that found us like the mirage that we were, while cutting across the vast sun-baked dusty Black Rock hardpan on their dirt bikes.
By the mid nineties, with the population of our city topping 10,000, raising the Man required only 1% of us. So in 1996, in the spirit of reconnecting more people to the raising experience, I created a fire caldron and placed it in Center Camp. On the first day of the event, I lit a fire in it with the sun and a magnifying glass. Then I put the word out that this fire would be used to light the Man and that it was up to the community to keep the flame going 24/7 throughout the event. By doing so, you would be an integral link in raising the Man in flames. Then I walked away…
…the word must have spread, when I came by during the heat of the afternoons to peek, it was still going and by Burn night it was raging strong!
This flame has endured… to me this simple flame exemplifies the will of our full-grown metropolis to survive and thrive… do stop by the solar flame in Center Camp for the lighting ceremony on the first day of the event, hosted by Crimson Rose and Larry Breed, and bring something (non-toxic) to make an offering throughout the week on a hot afternoon or in the wee, pre-dawn hours… see ya in the dust!
I’d like to acknowledge a couple of my organizing compatriots: Chris Campbell, a true craftsman who hosted the building at his home (including his full woodshop of quality tools) in South San Francisco for many years and contributed many fine design enhancements to the Man; Dale Scott (Black Rock City’s original Fire Chief and builder extraordinaire); and David Carr (Spyral) to whom I handed off the Man-builder duties to. The bonding of all those that pitched in was a large part of what it was all about to me.