The Man is gone, long live the Man

Holy crap, just like that it’s done.



There’s a fair amount of breakdown happening today in Black Rock City. People are pulling up stakes (quite literally), camps are knocking down their shade, and all of a sudden there are playa spaces opening up where crowded campsites used to be.

The playa is reclaiming its primacy. There shouldn’t be anything here, and soon there won’t be anymore.

There may be other kinds of breakdowns going on today too, of a more personal nature, but we’ll leave that for another time. Maybe when we get back to our customary lives, we’ll ask you what it felt like to have to leave this all behind.

But for now, there’s still a lot of story left. The Temple will burn tonight. The big cars and big crowds will gather in eerie, contemplative silence. The torch will be put to the Temple of Flux, and all the work and love and heartache and memories will float up into the desert wind.

It’s breezy and a little cooler today, but there is still lots of dust in the air. It could be coming from all sleeping bags and tents being shaken out before being loaded back into cars and trucks and RVs. Soon enough the bigger structures will come down, too. The Center Cafe will have to go back in it’s box for another year, the carpets put back into their railroad containers, the rigging wires rolled up, the shade tarps folded and stored.

Decked out in Burn night finery, and after she climbed the “Minaret,” Kasey danced at the top of the keyhole.

We haven’t been down to the Gate today, but we know the line of vehicles leaving the city started last night, even before the burning of the Man. It’s the end of summer, the end of the Burn, and the other life awaits. At midday Sunday, there was about a 3 hour wait to get out of the City, and the population had already shrunk to 38,275 (from its high of more than 50,000).

Ideally, you think you’ll take home some of the life you discovered here. You certainly think that the people you met here will become a part of your world. And for some people, their lives really did change.  They’ll go back home only long enough to wrap things up and head for San Francisco, looking to find a place among the culture and community and free spirits residing there. (I am not making this part up. I know more than a few people who’ve made the move after Burning Man.)

Others will go home to stay, but they might try to keep the spirit alive through a connection with a Regional network.

We haven’t talked much about the Regional doings, and that’s our fault. The very lovely District Everywhere camp was the meeting place this week for the disparate elements of Black Rock Nation. You could read about the Kiwi Burn, for example, which has been going on in New Zealand for 10 years now. Or you could discover that Australia just hosted its first regional burn. And while New York has a very active group of Regional burners, there is also a contingent from … New Jersey! (We have a special place in our hearts for New Jersey. We were raised there, and we kind of think of it as the Hayward of the East. (And we say that in the most loving way possible.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Again! It’s too soon to let go, so we won’t! Not yet!

The flame for the Man was carried into the Fire Conclave.

Yesterday’s Burn day was hot and dusty and windy. Is that a surprise? No, but … and this is a big but … it wasn’t the daylong blowing whiteout of the last couple of years. It was mild in contrast. The evening was all beautiful pinks and blues and grays, and MOST of the time you could see the Man still standing tall at the center of the city, all decked out in cuffs and spats.

And then it was your turn to get a little decked out, too.  People dress up for the Burn, or at least a lot of them do, especially those who have taken care to stash away that one last clean shirt or dress. Or skirt. Or fishnets. Or jumpsuit. … You get the idea.

Those of us who would work in the inner circle and fire conclave had to get safety training. Crimson Rose was a little scary about it all. She said, basically, to stay the hell out of the way of the hundreds of fire dancers who’d be performing before the Man was set on fire. The performers had been working for months on their routines, dammit, and even though all of us snappers wanted to get the best shot, and she thanked us for that, she said the performers were told that torches were an effective and appropriate tool to clear the path of paparazzi. OK, fair enough. Forewarned is forearmed. I’ll keep my distance and crop a little tighter.

We also got good advice from our friend and great photographer Scott London, who’s been out here a time or two. He said he was going up in a boom this night, but he’d learned that in the ring, it was better to stick with one conclave group, rather than running from one to another. Right, I thought: Let it come to me. So that’s what I did, pretty much. I sampled a couple of groups, then stuck with the one that felt right.

From the fire conclave.
The flames kept the dancers moving.
A fire dragon was paraded around the inner circle.
We found a conclave and then stuck with it.
As some flames extinguished, others were lit to keep the show going.
The whip of flame had a very long reach.
We’re glad the dancer knew exactly how long the chains extended.
The area all around the Man was filled with fire performers.

After the fire dancing, the first streaks of fireworks criss-crossed the Man, and another truly spectacular pyrotechnic display from Dave X was under way. Some people can take or leave fireworks. I’m definitely in the camp that can take them. And the fireworks at Burning Man are always excellent. There’s a musicality to them: They develop a theme of color or style, stay with it a little while, build to a mini-crescendo, then go on to another movement.

Then, as the sparkly streaks come faster and faster, building and building, a huge fireball explodes, and the Man is officially aflame. People dance and cheer. Fists are pumped into the air, and the Burn, the thing you’ve come to see, is happening.

It’s both wondrous and poignant. The thing you’ve watched being labored on for so long becomes more and more engulfed in flames. Finally the Man falls, collapsing into a huge roaring bonfire, and the crowd that has been held back around a perimeter line surges forward to the flames.

Fireworks marked the beginning of the burning of the Man.
The display thrilled the thousands of people gathered to watch the Burn.
As the flames engulfed the Man, there was dancing in the circle.
Will Chase and Katie, warmed by the heat of the flames.
In the end, there was nothing left but embers.

We’ve moved forward with the crowd before, circling and circling the embers until one brave soul or another makes a dash across the pile, and then others follow. It’s ritualistic and more than a little dangerous, both from the flames as well as the collective psyche of the crowd. There’s a wildness that is unleashed, and tonight we decided to let the dancing crowd have its way and made our way back to the Anastasia the Narwhal, the art car we were so fortunate to ride in on.

The night was booming with sound and flame and hoots and hollers. We were towed back into port in Ring Road, where Mama Grace’s Slow Dance Lounge was waiting for us, cool and chill. Later, we wandered over to the Mansonian Institute for Urban Studies, right there next to the Artery and just shy of First Camp and the Bone Tree. We took a seat around Dodger’s fire pit. Calling it a fire pit is not doing it justice, really. It’s an installation, the Pyrograph. It’s low and flat and round, and the surface is covered with black sand. A metal pendulum moves back and forth across the top, while propane is pumped from beneath. There are other chemical components in the sand, and the resultant flames swirl and dance in shades of blue and green that look more liquid than flame. It provides warmth without smoke, and is endlessly mesmerizing.


So tonight the Temple burns, and we’ll sit and watch again as a beautiful creation is reduced to ashes. We’ll be leaving the city early the next morning, so this will be the last you’ll hear from us for a bit.

We want to thank the countless number of people who helped us during our time in Gerlach and on the playa, from the incredible people of the DPW, without whom the city simply would not exist, to Jess and Rebeca and Katie of the Temple, for their help and patience, to the immensely talented folks working and volunteering with the media team, and to the gracious and generous members of the Mansonian Institute, who were so supportive of our efforts. And to you, kind and generous visitors, who’ve been so steadfastly loyal. I thank you.

Logan, who heads the DPW, and Phoenix Firestarter.
Joe, aka Exact Lee, who heads the Mansonian Institute for  Urban Studies.
Tom Price and his wife, Andi Grace. She heads the Burning Man communications team.
Your correspondent and his friend Roo, who has lifted both his body and his spirits many times over the past three Burns.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

28 Comments on “The Man is gone, long live the Man

  • Erin says:

    Thank you for your beautiful images and personal coverage of what lies at the heart of the Man. Learning about some of the people who make the city rise from the expanse of the hot, dusty plain year after year has been inspiring to say the least. Next year will be my first Burn in part because of your gift here. Thank you for fanning the spark. Next year’s theme couldn’t be more appropriate for this newbie. I can’t wait for the particular rite of passage of coming through the gates and participating in the community.

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  • Bevin says:

    Thank you (and all of the bloggers) for posting such beautiful photographs and thoughtful reflections!

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  • Samsa Lila says:

    Another huge THANK YOU for the wonderful blog. This was the first time I had to stay home in the 5 years I have gone, and it was a tough week. The webcam was slightly torturous, I wanted some heartfelt words and you delivered in a great way that definitely made the week a little better. SPANKS from Nevada City. See you next year! Hazing and phasing! xoxox

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  • Michae says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  • Mick says:

    I can’t believe this is done. Do the Chinese have anything like this? Somewhere in the Gobi? We need to export this.

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  • Affinity says:

    Thanks for the shout-out John. Yep, Exact Lee has created the best camp on the Playa in the Mansonian Institute for Urban Studies. We will look forward to seeing you stopping by to visit next year. Thanks again for the lovely photos and prose. You light up each moment with your words so I can see the event just a little better.

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  • Dirt Wheel says:

    Inspiring, enthralling, insightful and damm well having your finger right on top of it. Great job @ putting us all @ home, right @ ease. I could feel it from 622 miles away. Good times are right around the corner. 362 days 23 hours 42 minutes 0 seconds . Can’t wait!

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  • Fernando says:

    Estuve viendo online lo que sucedía en burning man y me parece inspirador , reconciliador, maravilloso, demasiadas cosas…uff

    espero algún día ir.

    un abrazo grande!

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  • Pillow Talk says:

    Thank you Curly for sharing your words and images. beautiful. beautiful. beautiful.

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  • cutter says:

    Mr. C., your words have been wonderful, and wonderfully writtten. I do so
    admire well crafted language and yours has delighted me.

    Thank you so much.


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  • Ben says:

    It was an amazing burn. It feels so strange to be back in the default world once again. It seems like after 4 years of doing this it would not feel so odd, but i don’t think I will ever get over the feeling of the first time you wash your hands with running water after being at burning man. This was one of my best years yet, our camp was wonderful, my girlfriend was back out there with me again after having to miss last year, the weather was beautiful and the man was in top form. Thanks for the blogs over the past month. I can’t wait until next year, the flame of burning man that resides in my heart and my soul never gets extinguished.

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  • BrotherMichael says:

    Words and Images by John Curley.

    Yes, please.

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  • What if your gaurdian over your account of money wont let you have your money?

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  • Mike Hedge says:

    truly beautiful photos and story. great seeing you, such a beautiful night =)

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  • Downforce says:

    John….well done….many thanks to you, (and Roo) for making us Virtual Burners feel apart of.

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  • MERGATROID (J. Chambers) says:

    I’m almost 72…husband is 80…..our first Burning Man, thanks to our son…..wouldn’t have missed it…..special, special, special……..creativity and community…….we’ve seen a lot of things in our lives which start with the depression of the ’30’s till now……nothing was like this……..thanks for all your hard work…… energy, energy, energy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Barry Bunin says:

    Any thoughts on themes for next year, is there a better place to provide suggestions. It should be something many people can interpret in their own ways. Two examples we came up with while there for next year are “Dreams” and “The Other World” – what do folks think of those? Any other suggestions?

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  • Kristian MacDonald says:

    Thank you, John Curley. You whet my appetite before the burn, hugged me when I returned home.

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  • Barbara Gale says:

    John, thank you for your awesome reportage!

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  • John Curley says:

    thanks so much for your very nice comments.

    Barry: There’s a lot about what the next theme is on the Burning Man home page. Check it out!

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  • Awesome! As a virgin, I definitely enjoyed the initiation. Check out my attempt to explain it to my friends and next year’s virgins:


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  • Placebo says:

    Thank you John for getting me fired up about the event when I was clean in my office and wearing “normal clothes” in the weeks leading up to the event. Here’s a little gift in the form of a video of the man, set to some music that spoke to me…

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  • This was my 5th burn and by far the best one to date! My favorite thing was giving up the “old” ways I went through the burn to be open to other ways to burn. I normally stand on a corner and spritz people in the high heat. Fortunately, my new neighbors took the job this year. I had to find something new to give. And b…oy did I find the best thing to give away, HUGS! One night at around 2:30 AM, as I waited for some campmates, I decided to stand in the middle of the road and for the next hour or so, I asked people “Who needs a hug?!” The response was amazing and completely fulfilling to all involved. There were all type of hugs going on…Some people were hesitant to give/get a hug, most were overjoyed to get one. People lit up. The best hugs, however, were the fantastic group hugs. AH! When we all breathed in together and let go, afterwards we soaked up the love what was left over. Truly amazing moments I will NEVER forget. Thanks to all involved. To next year’s hugs!! Burn On!

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  • DustLeopard says:

    Wish I’d read this sooner. Had a rough few days reorienting myself with the default world. I had a strange burn this year, but nonetheless, it was so raw, so real, so now, so exciting–the way life is meant to be. I definitely could have used a few dozen free hugs, but I don’t think I was giving enough to receive.
    Each year the breakdown process strikes me differently. I had vowed to leave with a smile on my face, and in the long run did, but it is rather heart-wrenching to watch my home planet slowly dissolve into the dust. Monday mornings the city is always quite small.
    One year I really would like to stay on for the major breakdown process—I am the last one to leave the party type. I don’t like to miss anything! It’s actually rather responsible of me, I like to see things through.

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  • Roo says:

    Curly, you’re such a dear. I have enjoyed every moment and look forward to the ones to come. Let’s create them soon!


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  • Jessica Rios says:

    Astoundingly sweet, a week after returning to the default world after my virgin burn, to discover this blog and your post, John. I was born in San Francisco and feel SO proud that this massive experiment in ALL things beautiful, has such a strong connection to my beloved city. You’ve inspired me to write about Burningman, not sure where yet but somewhere… through the eyes of a first-timer, still aglow with THE most massive gratitude, for the unnameable, temporary and yet undoubtedly permanent gift we call Black Rock City. Thank you John.

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  • some sleeping bags are waterproof and weatherproof too, they are nice for camping outside the house :`,

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