I am no Larry disciple.
I have not studied his writings or made stained glass of his image.
My reflections are mostly my own projections.
But the role he played in my life is profound. His legacy has influenced me more than Jesus.
We met half a dozen times over the last 20 years.
It was only our last encounter, over a meal at Esalen in 2016 that he indicated he knew who I was.
Before that, I always felt that I was a bit of a nuisance. Just another fan eager for a selfie and an “I met Larry” story.
But it didn’t bother me. Larry didn’t ask to be the mascot of Burning Man. He was always gracious and I was grateful for the brief moments of his time. My gratitude required no reciprocity.
I was especially happy that I was able to give him a patented “Dirty Vibrating Hug” in 2002. (It involves pounding on the recipient’s back with huge, fur-covered foam wrist cuffs while pressing against the person’s crotch with a vibrating jock strap.) I was soaring with pride when he grinned and said, ‘Now that was something!” when I released him from the hug.
My favorite Larry story was the previous year when I was asked to be in a photo shoot with him for the image above. While waiting for the photographer, Julian Cash, to set up, a woman stormed in the camp holding the “Who? What? Where?” Guidebook. She was looking for Larry Harvey and looked pissed. She explained that she had hiked all the way across the city to visit a camp that publicized a pancake breakfast. Only to discover that when she arrived at the destination, that their camp was empty.
Larry took a drag from his cigarette.
“You walked allllll the way across the playa?”
And when you got there, there wasn’t anybody even there?
Larry took another drag. “You didn’t see anything good along the way?”
He was inspiring not because he rallied the community to follow him. But instead role-modeled a fierce personal authenticity in the face of cultural expectations. He was a reluctant leader who always seemed a little surprised that people were listening to him. Maybe he even had a trace of disdain for followers of any kind, even those who followed him. He was like the Zen master who sends away the student who comes looking for a guru. He would share his thoughts, but not take responsibility for Burning Man. He was fierce and humble and didn’t take any of it too seriously.
I’ve seen several people post this week, “RIP Larry. Burning Man will never be the same.”
I think that statement would have made Larry snarl. It’s totally off-base. Yes, Larry started the fire & penned the Principles. With many passionate people, he helped create the container. But this blaze rages independently of any person or group.
As Burners, we don’t follow through on the vision of Larry. We step into the established space and then all make Burning Man what it is. This model of leadership and community is one of the most powerful things I’ve learned from Burning Man. Black Rock City doesn’t look a certain way. It invites Radical Self Expression and trusts that, when balanced with Civic Responsibility and the other Principles, everything will work out.
For me and so many others, it has worked out in ways that have drastically shaped my entire life – not shaped from any external script…but allowed my inner truth to take shape authentically.
Each year, we burn the Man.
Each year we celebrate the transitory nature of all things.
Each year we remind ourselves of how impermanent and precious everything is.
Your life was art, Larry. A perfect Playa performance.
Your physical form may become ashes, but the ripples of your art have changed the world forever.
I have no doubt you saw plenty of good stuff along the way.
photo from “The People of Burning Man” by Julian Cash.