Burning Noir: It’s Raining Art

IMG_6386After the rainstorm cleared it was pretty easy to find anyone who wasn’t huddled in a building: with no cars on the streets and no bikes that could get traction in ground this muddy we were all out walking, but the mud stuck to our shoes so quickly that we didn’t get far. Augustus St. James actually came to me, collapsing next to me on still-dry couch inside BMIR’s shade structure. We were both waiting for the ground to harden, so he had nothing to do but tell me his story.

Read all the entries in the Burning Noir series here.


The art bus picked me up just before sundown and we started touring around the metal insects, glowing skulls, giant flowers and strange geometric shapes that had been stationed out in the desert. A number of pieces weren’t even up yet, which was good for me, but it still looks like Hieronymus Bosch designed a playground out there. There’s something a little threatening about art that isn’t kept in a museum, but I suppose that’s the point.

What I didn’t see was anything that someone who believed he had the secret to happiness would obsess over. What are happy people even obsessed by? Is happiness like money or sex, where you just keep wanting more because enough is never enough? Or is happiness the one thing that can extinguish the desire for itself?

No, I didn’t go to college. But I once watched a YouTube clip about Schopenhauer. Also vacuum cleaner repair.

Something strange happened on that art bus. It was full of swells:  sophisticated types who just happened to dress in fur bikinis and loin clothes for a long week, but who were still accountants and project managers and lawyers at heart. But once they got on that bus, and the bass dropped, they all snapped into character; the women moved to the edges and began swaying like they were working for tips in a Houston club, while guys who just a moment ago had been comparing phone plans started pumping their arms like their fraternity had just pulled one over on the dean, and all individuality was lost on this ship of fools as we cruised through the sunset.

I don’t get it. And maybe that puts me farther away from happiness than any of the people who were just dancing along with whatever happened next, but I don’t get it. Is that really everybody’s idea of fun? Or is it just something people do because it’s expected of them?  Where’s the line between radical self-expression and obvious conformity?  This place has more logical contradictions than the standard model of quantum physics. Which I also learned about on YouTube.

It was dark when the trip was over, and I played a hunch by hanging around Center Camp Café for a while – if he wasn’t out there by the art, he might have been in here listening to a six piece brass ensemble play the greatest hits of the 80s. Or a Serbian poet read positive affirmations for the dead. Or a naked hippie perform the Bach cello sonatas on a dulcimer.

It turned out to be a terrible hunch. Just an awful decision.

I knew there was a space prepared for me in Melinda’s camp, but I’d be damned if I’d take it. I walked the back ways until I found an empty art bus parked in front of a camp with a plush chill space and crashed inside. I got woken up three times during the night by people who came in it to have sex. They all assumed I was a member of their camp they hadn’t met yet. Two of them had sex anyway. They were very polite about it. “He’s going to scream things about Star Wars,” she said to me. “Will that be okay? It won’t keep you up? You’re not gonna want to argue about the prequels or anything?”

When I woke up the next morning I was alone, and it was pounding rain like the hammers of hell. Crashing in a bus suddenly seemed like a great idea – but since nobody’s going anywhere, it means I’ve lost a day, and the secret of happiness is slipping through our grasp.

Caveat is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

One comment on “Burning Noir: It’s Raining Art

  • Grimm says:

    When will your next Burning Noir be up? I love reading these almost as much as I love giving creepy hugs, and I really love giving creepy hugs.

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