The Colors of the Man

Smoke Daddy was sitting in a chair out at the Man base, looking at his and his crew’s handiwork, as darkness took over the sky.

For years, he’s been the person responsible for outfitting the 40-foot-tall man in neon. “I’m the Man’s tailor, you could say. I come out every year and take the measurements” and then attaches the glowing glass to the wooden skeleton.

The Man had been raised upright earlier in the day, and now it was time to turn on the neon, and man, is this Man ever beautiful.

The dominant colors are blue and purple, with bits of enlivening gold here and there.

Smoke Daddy seemed exultant, and maybe a little extra chatty, and we were grateful. We’re always ready to listen to myths and legends, and here it was.

Talking about the colors of this year’s Man, he said, “This is actually part of a story arc. It started last year, when the Man was in shock. [Founder Larry Harvey had died in April.] It was simply just blue, and the white waves that went up his body were talking about the signal continuing.

“You know, it doesn’t matter if the messenger is gone, as long as the signal has been sent.

“This is the Man in full mourning. This is the Man after he’s had a year to deal with it, and just entertain the sorrow. And his legs, as you can see, are just like noodles, they’re rubbery, they’re like vines, the muscles are gone, all that’s really holding him up is the DNA of the structure.

“And the orange and the yellow? That’s the beginning of hope. Because we cannot bury ourselves in the sorrow. We have to move on from mourning. That’s the inner core that’s coming back.”

We may be suckers for a good story, but we’re here for it, and we’re going with it.

“When his arms raise [on Burn night], that’s the completion of the statement of the the wavy lines. … When his arms raise, finally the Man is regaining his normalcy. You know, we’re getting back to a life that we recognize.”

This Man is the second in a series, after last year’s all-blue version denoting the shock of loss. There will be a third in the series next year, “when it will be just wild, unregulated growth.

“Something like this deserves a story arc, it’s the whole mourning process. Last year was the shock, this is the sorrow, and next year, the one color that will hold over is the gold. Because that’s hope. I want to build on hope. Gold, and maybe a couple of different shades of green. For rebirth. And maybe some bits of red, for the fire reemerging.”

So that’s Smoke Daddy’s thinking behind the color of the Man. “How do you make neon represent sorrow?” he asks. “These are the colors for it.

“After this year, we’ll put the blues and purples away for awhile, you won’t see those. You’ll see some brighter reds.”


Weather watch: It’s hot and dusty.

And that concludes our weather report.

Anyone who has ever written for social media knows that you should never read the comments.

We know that. And we know that for every ten friendly, encouraging bits of feedback, the negative ones  will stick in your craw like dust in your bits.

And so we know we should let it roll when someone says hey, you all seem to be having one big party out there! What a life!

Dude. Or dude-ette. You don’t know. You just don’t know.

We say this in the nicest way possible, but … we’d like to see you try.

Tell someone from the Shade crew, who has been out digging holes, pounding lumber and stretching fabric all day that it looks like a lot of fun  out here. Or sidle up to someone from roadworks, who have blisters on their fingers from smashing t-stakes into the ground, what a blast this scene looks like.

Or for that matter, talk to someone who spends their day holed up in a windowless living container, trying to make the spreadsheets make sense, that this whole scene looks killer. 

Don’t get us wrong: there are insanely great parties here, and you could go to at least one bash almost any night of the week. But dude or dude-ette, you should not get the impression that building Black Rock City is easy. It helps if you are in your 20s and have the recuperative powers of a plow horse. (We should quickly add that you do not actually have to BE in your 20s to do this; we are camped next to a 70-year-old cancer survivor who, in her determined, persevering way, is completely rocking this thing.)

Work hard, play hard. Don’t think one outweighs the other.

 The other morning, Coyote reminded the assembled group that not everyone shares this community’s sense of humor.

“I was punked pretty good by Five Mile, who was dragging a radio around on the ground like a largemouth bass. And I bit on that piece of fishing lure, and of course everybody’s laughing because that wasn’t a real radio. So good on you, Five Mile!

“It fell under the two criteria: It was funny, and nobody got hurt. … One of the greatest pranks we had out here was a guy named Cole, who made a mockup of the 4:20 Spire. It was a dead ringer! And he came up to me, and he said to me, I’ve got an idea, I want to burn an imposter on Early Burn. What he did right about it was, I was the only one that knew. … And on Early Burn night, he threw the spire on the fire and everyone freaked out. ‘Noooo, that’s the 4:20 Spire!! Nooo!’ … So let’s carry that forward. The city is going to start populating with a lot of different people and a lot of different projects. A lot of them are very intense. They’ve been planning this all year. So not everybody is going to be approachable.” So if you do approach, remember, it’s got to be funny, and no one gets hurt.

They “flew” the deck onto the facade of the Ghetto bar this morning; just another 2,000-pound piece of cake.

It’s the fifth and last year for the Western look at the DPW hangout; Juicy Jake has plans for a renovation next year, but for now the plans are under wraps.

He knows one thing, though: He won’t need a crane to put the deck in place. “Too much of a pain,” he said. Crane maestro Bruiser was dismayed by the news. “How am I gonna get free beer then?” (Fortunately, all beer is free here; decommodification and all.)

Related note: a prominent Northern California brewery has donated 20 kegs of some very fine beer to the Ghetto every year for the past five years or so. What do they get for that? Well, not a lot, to be honest. There are no such things as sponsorships here. Burning Man is not brought to you by [insert name of company here]. No, the brewery is like every other corporate presence; perhaps known but certainly appreciated by participants, but the contributions are kept private.

Juicy has encouraged his crews to tag the front of the bar, hoping to make it look like an abandoned storefront. Later, a “for lease” sign will go up, and after that, a “Sold!” sign. And next year, a whole new look. And as you know, Burning Man is always better next year.

Here are some more pics:

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.

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