One year back in the last century, after our peculiar yet determined convoy made it to Black Rock City through gate, unpacked and set up enough of our tents and shade, we did what everyone does and found ourselves skipping off into the playa dust like giddy children and making our way out to see that year’s Man up close and personal. We walked up his hay bale steps and it was still early dark, just nightfall with a few people milling about and large red and black fireballs boiling up near center camp to faraway cheers.
The Man stood tall over us and I touched the steel support that held his leg and at that moment also accidentally touched my friend and shocked him. After a breath we slowly tried it again and realized that one of us could hold the Man’s leg and then just barely almost touch a finger tip with another and this tiny, delicate thread of light neon blue electricity would dance between our fingers. It was so beautiful and unexpected, like it came to visit us and wanted to play a while. We formed a chain of people almost touching out from the leg, adding one after the other until eventually the person at the end of the chain would say, “I don’t feel it.”
When that happened, we’d move that person to the front at the Man’s leg and another line of us would form and barely touch finger tips until this repeated and another person from the rear was sent to the leg. This went on for a time until some other sparkly thing distracted us and we set out with one purpose across the dusty playa to investigate, leaving our discovery for others to enjoy.
This, of course, was right before Burning Man was officially declared dead.
Now I’m no Burning Man scholar, but I hear things and miraculously after the event died in 1996 when Bruce Sterling became the Johnny Appleseed of Burning Man tech Culture and sent out “Greetings from Burning Man” to the Wired world, Burning Man was back, even with all these dot commies crawling around in their Cyber Busses and goggles and other odd playa hardened contraptions.
That year large sound camps popping up randomly around the city were killing the event. The year before I’d camped at 4:20 and Uranus as I am wont to do and I slept in a pup tent that shivered slightly with THUMP-THUMP-THUMP ground vibrations from Hotel 666. They went 24/7 even at 5am with a DJ talking to nonexistent crowds about his childhood issues. Having experienced such indignity, I attended the Town Hall after the event to observe question after question on what were we going to do about those large sound camps among other things. I was amazed at the sense of ownership they, and soon I realized, “we” felt about our little upstart child, this Burning Man.
Not long before I came upon the scene I am told there were evidently issues with porta potties and generators. There were veiled conniptions when driving in camp and firing weapons were outlawed and when the first scent of the police arrived. That was back before social networking online, when Town Hall meetings were where the community would come to sit around and talk about Burning Man. If you know a Burner, you know they like to talk about Burning Man A LOT.
The large sound camps were moved and Burning Man once again pulled off the event the next year.
Not long after, one night I was out there on the playa, communing with mud sculptures all towering crumbling and vagina like, when across the expanse we saw this flickering neon Kangaroo with her little Roo hopping. They hit us like brain candy cartoons splayed out in the darkness, moving forward yet hopping all dissociative animation in the kind of bright electro-luminescent colors that make your teeth hurt from their snow cone sweetness. We were awestruck at seeing something we’d never seen before and we instantly raced our bikes to follow and meet them.
That first sighting of El Wire Kanga and little Roo heralded in an age of electro-luminescent light crawling along the playa that would effectively replace the prevailing strange skittering chemo-luminescent glow stick pony light beings. There is no better canvass to introduce an entity like that into reality than our flat tabla rasa that is the playa.
I started volunteering for the Man and made many, many friends and a lover and I drank from that loving cup of Burning Man like it was the lifeblood pouring into me that I’d searched for all my life, but now I was helping to create it.
Unfortunately, Burning Man died soon thereafter.
This time it was the weekend photographers, those spectator bastards, who drove the final nail into our coffin. We screamed, “Put away the fucking camera!” And the ticket prices, oh, how they spiked (The Man don’t want you to have a Fire. The man wants you to pay to come to his fire!) The next year we were given stickers with a camera with a red line through it to stick on media types which we did. This was around the time that video voyeurs ruined Bianca’s. No more grilled cheese for you. And the cops kept coming. Who brought all these police here? And WTF is a burn platform? I’ve got your burn scars right here buddy. The rules, oh the RULES that each year threatened to change Burning man FOREVER!
Again came the contentious Town Hall meetings where people voiced their outrage and umbrage. NAMBLA the Clown moderated and Ouchy the Clown was Sergeant at Arms. Someone once told me that using clowns to keep order has a way of disarming aggravated people who tend to work themselves up. Oh the absurdity.
And of course, the event was delivered on time, wrapped in Postmodern wrapping paper, all Free Range rearrangement with our colorful teetering carnival wagon trains wobbling at dangerous speeds to make it out there.
We built large scale art. We wrote for Piss Clear, danced all night at the sound camps and drank with the best of them at Eggchair’s and Hair of the Dog. One year in the observatory Man Base we sent a message to Betelgeuse that read “You’re part of history in the making so make the most of your time,” and right at that moment we saw Mona Lisa in the persistence of vision thing and said “Mona Lisa” as everyone else suddenly saw it then we all ran out as one pod of giggling wobbly Burners onto the playa as lasers spread out across the sky alerting alien spacecraft to our exact whereabouts and fireballs abounded around us.
However, Burning Man died soon after this but this time for real.
The tide of technology evolved and discontent from originally the dioxine list and Eplaya all a twitter, shifted somewhat to a Tribe that eventually sputtered itself into oblivion that gave way to a thousand Blogs, Facebooks, Tweets and You-Tubes. Discontent began dumping into a spawning frothing online cacophony of disparate voices wailing into the vast online ether about that desolate wilderness and there was no longer the need for a quaint meat space of a Town Meeting. There was no need to send in the clowns. They cried: keep your kids out of my sound camp, keep your stuffed bunnies out of my sacred stone circle, fix entry and exodus, what about prowling frat douches? God save the children and keep them a safe distance away from where wild eyed mechanized boy signs were doing the nasty up there in all their glory hole. Oh Burning Man has been compromised by CENSORSHIP! There was the year the ART died, as in goodbye post apocalyptic freak nation so a group of BORG2 hooligans gave the event a jumpstart in spite of themselves with a kick in the ass. Then the great green experiment brought out an innovator, clean-tech, Man curious, moneyed class on an eclipse year to shine inside a grand pavilion that was scorched as the Man burned prematurely. Look at them in Business 2.0. Oh hell, that’s finally it. BURNING MAN IS DEAD.
I wonder if every year that Man knows he’s never leaving the playa alive.
I’m convinced that the fact that we argue so passionately about Burning Man pretty much shows how much we care about it.
And yet, year after year we go and it just keeps getting better in spite of the change. Some take time off, others never return. Many say, “It was SO much better LAST year.” Some haven’t missed a year. But it keeps happening and we are the ones who make it happen. The canvass is laid and we are the ones who fill it up. Who would have thought after all the issues that have come and gone, our greatest challenge would come from success?
We’ve become an entity rising miles as a pillar of fire high above that dry lakebed, swirling and forming into a deity of our own design, a ghost with fifty thousand painted, masked, sun burnt, dusty, fire spitting or otherwise bejeweled faces steeped in playa colored tea, all so large it is splashing and spilling out over the sides and running down into grand rivers ridden upon by tipsy boats and on the backs of green turtles or in odd Victorian Mansions and exquisite Pirate ships, or hidden in the backs of minds so blown that they will repeat the story of the playa over and over again and use the internet to spread video and pictures and words about what happens out there. Burning Man flows along these interconnected rivers into the far reaches of the planet, landing in Regionals and Robodocks, Makers Fairs, symposiums, and other gatherings of mad sociological scientists, malcontents and dreamers.
Usually selling out an event is a good thing. For Burning Man this year, eh, it is not so good. This thing we’ve all been part of for so long has hit a limit and tickets are now more a commodity than they’ve ever been.
I’m sure you’ve heard, some people are pretty sure that this, finally, is the end of Burning Man. The Man is dead! Long live Burning Man!
I want to believe that this thing we’ve built, that has spread out across our planet and has taken strong roots as Regionals, even if it has outgrown a particular space for a week, is too far out of the bag to ever disappear. For what it’s worth I do know that the people working there at BMHQ are doing everything they can to keep the man alive and that they, like you, care deeply about the event.
I heard that someone wrote this on the Burning man headquarters wall: “Spoiler Alert – everything will be ok,” and when I look back at that sparkling blue electric thread coming from the Man’s leg last century, I think, if someone else is at the very front this year so be it. Hopefully this year won’t be DOA. I want to believe that we will all look back at this year and say, well, the ticket sale thing in 2012, *that* didn’t work out too well, remember that? Glad they figured it out this year. I’ll make my way back up to where I can indeed feel the Man’s spark dancing at my finger tips from person to person. That’s how we Burners are. I’m sure of it.