Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Burning Man Chronicles-Part 1

Coming to you live from Lee Vining, Ca! No I cannot say that I am coming to you live from Black Rock City, NV, home of Burning Man for I have already passed through that place. Yes I tried to come to you live from Burning Man but it didn’t happen. Burning Man is like Brigadoon, the winds and dust storms part for a week on an ancient lake bed in northern Nevada, an entire city of happy folk appear in all sorts of garb, doing all sorts of interesting things and then it disappears back into the blinding dust storms. One is caught up in all the exciting goings on around Black Rock City (BRC) that they lose all thought of the outside world. Cellphones don’t work, no Internet connection, no newspapers besides the dailies recanting events around town. Part of me wanted to blog while in the moment but I was more into being in the moment with my fellow BRC citizens and blogging could wait.
Burning Man, already an institution to many and I’m sure many people around the country as well as the world have heard of it (so I won’t go into huge details). An arts festival in the middle of the high desert in Nevada, an experiment in communal living, a giant dance party, a week long drug fest, a week long sex party—everyone interprets Burning Man in their own way. To my Christian brother it’s “that pagan thing in the desert”, to other outsiders it’s that festival where everyone goes around naked caked in body paint and mud, a site of untold hedonism. It is what you want it to be. But instead of labeling Burning Man, it’s better to go and experience it with your own eyes.
Burning Man is one of those things on my list of things to do before I die. I came to this event completely void of expectations (but with a tent, a sleeping bag, costumes and gallons of water), like a book with no words in it that would write itself as the week evolved. Everyday was a new experience as I got on a bike a rode off across the ancient lakebed to a different adventure, new people and good times.
I stayed at “Astor Place Reimagined”, Pete and Jackie’s uber deluxe NYC camp where Astor Place, that famous downtown communal spot, was rebuilt on the Playa at Burning Man. It was great to sit on the stoop with a cup of coffee and watch the sun rise, all sorts of BRC citizens cruising by on their bikes either going home from all night partying or starting their day, saying good morning to them all, some stopping to sit and chat, others to spray paint graffiti on the subway entrance.
Now some people at BRC feel that one needs to do massive amounts of drugs to properly experience Burning Man. I’m not of that ilk—not that there’s anything wrong with it, just my drug days are over and I don’t need to have a temporary altered state to enjoy something. Still, others do and that’s OK, for Burning Man means something different for everyone.
For me Burning Man was all about community and acceptance. It has that San Francisco groove (as I call it) that welcomes everyone in to be part of something special. It’s that same feeling that drew me to San Francisco in the first place. No pressures to fit into a mold, no judgements, just free to be you and me (and not hurt anyone in the process). Driving down to Matt’s house in Lee Vining, I passed many a burner in a dirt-caked automobile and even though we didn’t know each other, we are connected because of this event. I am now part of a larger community.
The highlights of BM were many. Probably the best memory I have of the week was a giant flying carpet driving around the Playa on Sunday morning, crowded with all night partiers who were swaying to the gentle Commodores tune “Easy Like Sunday Morning”. As we were busy taking down Astor Place, this giant carpet on wheels cruised by, everyone waving their arms and shouting “Good Morning” to us. Other highlights include the two semi trucks welded together, the Monkeys—a giant zoetrope run by bicycle and drum power, the Crude Awakening exhibit—five giant metal human forms worshipping to a giant oil derrick (which was exploded in a mass of huge flames on Saturday night), the art cars—a variety of creative modes of transportation which carried people all around the Playa: giant cats, fish, a Chinese junk, a huge boom box that blared music, a stage coach with moving horses and the Roller Boogie skating rink where I relearned to roller skate.
During the day the Playa had a feeling of vastness but when night fell, it was an illuminated fairground crowded with art cars, bicyclers, flame throwing machines and all sorts of activities. Like a giant carnival in a black sea, people whizzed about from one thing to another all night long. Some partied on the floating double decker boats that rolled around the Playa, some yelled and screamed at Thunderdome where people jumped around suspended from bungee lines wacking the shit out of each other with foam bats (very un Burning Man but fun all the same). There was Dance, Dance Immolation! Where you could dance to a tune jumping from one lit up not to another on a giant keyboard. If you missed, you get a shot from the flame thrower (of course you were dancing in a giant flame proof suit). The creativity was endless and inspirational as well. If I do this event again, I already have my art car imagined: a huge tea pot on wheels that will carry people about serving tea at various points along the playa. Back at camp we’ll hold tea dances, every day a new kind of dance. Maybe in a few years time. For now I relish in the afterglow of a fantastic week of community, new friends and inspiration.


eric welsh said...

uber fabulous tom! your fans have been COUNTING THE SECONDS until we could read about BR. i know its "impossible to describe" but you did a great job.

i see your pic in a sarong and a parasol. excellent idea to bring those...oh and it was MY idea! it must have kept you cool and made you hip at the same time.

pete and jackie's crew did a fantastic job on astor place. that must have been a HUGE hit.

i LOVE the part about the carpet and the stoned people saying "good morning".

is the stoop part of astor place? i didn't know astor had any stoops.

OH DAMN...i want to go. i have wanted to go forever. can i go with you next year? please!

John said...

I find thinking/reading about BurningMan pretty fascinating. The whole idea of creating this elaborate community for a week and then having it evaporate again is quite compelling.

I don't think it is in the cards for me though, and I'm sure that Robert wouldn't want to go.

English Advantage said...

How did you feel about the guy who lit the man up early?