Burning Man Virgin

Well this year was my first burn. I heard about Burning Man about 5 years ago in Wired magazine. I was very interested and always wanted to go. So in 2001, I finally packed up, and moved out. Here is just a one day journey of what two friends and I did at Burning Man. Things you should probably know: I come from a pretty structured background (military) and have not experienced things of this nature before. So many things in this story may be nothing to your hard core Black Rock citizen, but to a GI from New Jersey, it is a life -enhancing, perception-changing, experience. So here we go…

I woke up about 8:30AM because the sun was baking the side of my tent and it was almost causing me to die of heat stroke. I rolled out of my sleeping bag and sucked down about half a gallon of water. I eagerly woke up my fellow camp mates so we could leave the tent for the first time in the light of day and could finally see the objects that where making weird sounds and bright flashes all night long. Now I could experience the wonders first hand that I had imagined for weeks leading up to Burning Man. It was worse than a Christmas morning for a 6 year old. When I finally unzipped my tent and stepped outside, it was awesome.

Like a post-apocalyptic world. I saw my neighbors with their bar-on-wheels doing a morning tequila shot to spruce them up. I turned my head because I heard the slight noise of a motor, only to see a man with a cowboy hat riding what appeared to be giant wooden black and white horse powered by a go-cart motor. I then noticed some techno music that was providing me with some nice background music, and tried to locate it’s direction and admire the people that would wake up and play my type of music at 8:30 in the morning, loud as hell. The only thing I could think was “beautiful”. I wanted to go play.

Our group got ready and we had decided to donate some physical labor to Burning Man since we had read that you must participate and build this event to make it all work. We headed out to the playa towards the man and heard hammering from what we later found out to be the maze. We went out the maze and found the first guy with a construction belt on and asked how we could help. He put us to work. From about 10:00AM to 1:00PM we nailed the walls of the maze in place. It was hot, sweaty, and dirty, but out here I would get my first lesson that nothing goes unpaid. I came upon a man that was working on the lighting system and started talking to him. I told him my story, he told me his and then he showed me the trick to getting around the maze. That really made my day. Try working in a maze you don’t know how to navigate or where you are, it’s very frustrating.

After securing the walls I found the foreman and asked him what else needed to be done. He was standing with a look of total shock on his face that took me while to notice. He asked ‘Did you see that?” “See what?” I responded. He then began to tell me about how a gorgeous girl decided to treat the maze workers to a show and brought her man to the center of the maze, in view of everyone, and performed oral sex on him. This impressed me and gave me more insight on how this event worked. I contributed to the maze, I was kindly shown how to navigate it. The beautiful female pleases the workers, she gets to use the maze. What a nice system.

So after depleting our water supply at the maze we decided to go back to our camp and fill up. When we returned to camp we see that our neighbors are building something pretty serious. We wonder over an ask what the hell is going on. They tell us about the vision they have of “Pinky’s Bar”. A bar shaped like a pirate ship, with a sun roof, a dance stage with a brass tripper pole and all the down home punch you can drink. Seeing how our first experience went on the maze, we asked if we could help. “No problem!”, they immediately gave us tasks to complete. Well, in the end it took two days to complete the bar, and it really look astounding. We were told that we wouldn’t have to barter a drink as long as we were on the playa. We only took him up on the offer a few times, but it was great knowing it was available and very much appreciated.

After working on the bar for about 2 hours that day we decided that we needed food badly. So we wandered the 50 feet back to our camp and cracked open our case of military style MRE’s, which stands for Meal Ready to Eat. These thing were great for this environment and I was glad I made the choice to bring them. We chowed down and rested until sunset because we were drained from the sun exposure. After resting, it was time to go out and enjoy some new company on the vast playa. We headed down to drum camp because we heard the loud rhythmic pound of… drums. After observing for a little while we saw that every day Joes were just walking up and pounding on a drum of choice. This was the first time I realized that if it’s there, you can play with it. My buddy and I got on either side of the largest drum there that was resting upright on a large stand. As we pounded away, we controlled the beat of 7 or 8 other drums that where playing copaceticly. That was truly awesome itself.

After handing my sticks over to someone else, I turned my attention to the large contraption that I will now do my best trying to explain. It was a large tripod stand about 15 feet high with a large horizontal wagon wheel contraption spinning on top. The wheel had about 6, 50 gallon drums on the end of each spoke that were filled with wood which was presently on fire. The large fire ridden barrels had designs cut out on them that looked like primitive cave art so that the fires from inside would poke out the archaic designs. I noticed I was also standing next to a contraption that looked like a large welding tank on wheels with a long tube poking out of the top at a 45 degree angle toward the barrels. The end of the tube had a pilot light on it. All of a sudden people ran around asking people to stand back. Once everyone was clear, the tank let out a large pop of liquid something or other over the barrels, that exploded like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was so bright I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It was so hot I couldn’t help but turn around. It was day time, like standing on the surface of the sun day time, for a few seconds. After it was over, I involuntarily cheered like no other.

After the large display of liquid fire, it seemed a little dull there comparatively, so we moved on. We headed to a bar that looked like a large mason jar half buried in the sand. When we entered it seemed like a bar I frequented in NYC. Very nice inside. I saw the tenders making drinks and noticed a basket for bartering goods. I left them two glow sticks and got myself the best dam rum and coke I’ve ever had. After sucking it down, I turned around to move on, but an older fellow was standing behind me that was semi-conservative, resembling dear old dad. He had a large 1-gallon glass jug of pink juice. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s home brew, you want some?” Well being an average guy I couldn’t pass up good booze when presented to me, I drank a few mouths full and then drank a few more. It was like nectar of the gods, it was awesome stuff. I drank more than I intended because a few minutes later I was pretty umm, drunk.

We then moved down to center camp. The journey there alone was worth the trip. On the way, I saw a truck with a man standing in the back with a bull horn screaming “BLOW JOB! BLOW JOB! BLOW JOB! BLOW JOB!” over and over. Then I proceeded to take 10 whacks on the ass from a spanking machine. I saw a glow stick in the middle of the road and reached to pick it up, only to find out it was attached to a string by some knave fellow and he yanked it away before I could grab it. I thought, “only at burning man.” I examined a to-scale wire frame buffalo and proceeded to check for it’s gender accuracy, and then I made a playa puddle.

Center camp didn’t impress me much. I thought, that like any city, the place to be was the back alleys, the underground. I wanted to check out what happened where the lights were lower. I walked around and found a large open box in front of a camp, and in every way it looked like a treasure chest. I looked inside and then someone behind me said “What do you want? You give, you get.” I said “Well I really want that bottle of gin, but I don’t have much to trade. How about a massage?” The young lady agreed. I gave her the best massage I had in me, she gave me gin. A win-win situation.

After housing some gin, I moved on exploring the “Give a plastic spoon, get a metal spoon” camp and also the thunder dome, where 2 volunteer contestants bungee cord themselves into a dome and battle it out with large sticks mad-max style. I found myself walking down a dark street with no one on it. A large scaffolding was standing before me, probably 50 feet high. I then noticed a bowling ball on the ground at the bottom with several ball imprints on the ground immediately around me. The proverbial light bulb went off. A young brave soul passed me and asked me about it. I shared with him my idea on the situation. We climbed to the top and he dropped the bowling ball off onto the ground. A very simple concept, but where else on this earth would you get to do such a thing?

While roaming to my next location I found myself out on the vast playa and really couldn’t see much due to the dust blowing around. I could hear what sounded like a marching band off in the distance. I stopped to see if it was coming or going. It was getting closer and then out of the darkness, a full fledge marching band, with uniforms and all, marched right on by. They came from darkness and headed right off into it again, just playing their hearts out.

I wondered around the rest of the night meeting person after person. Dancing in club after club and generally wearing myself out. I made it back to the Man probably around 4:00AM where it was packed. I talked to several people and we all watched the sun come up. That night set the tone for the rest of my time in Black Rock City. It took me a while to adjust to a world that had almost the opposite rules I had lived with all my life: E.G. If you DIDN’T dress up funny you are the weird one.

Burning Man to me was like starting a new job, only more fun. Let me explain that analogy: You know what your going for, but you don’t know exactly what to expect, who you’ll meet or exactly what is expected of you. There is certain lingo you have to learn quickly and doesn’t make much sense at first but becomes part of your daily vernacular: E.G. playa. Once you adjust to living in Black Rock City, it’s hard to immediately remember the rules of the other world outside of it. When I got back to the my old society, I, in some small way, had the same feeling I had when I first got to Burning Man; strange, different. I could feel myself adapting back to my old life. But did I really want to?

by Rob Orndoff


Flame bearing firewalker
entering my dreams-
clad in leather garments-
clinging, revealing every seam so as to
be seen more fully naked for the clothing
which accentuates-
each rivulet of sweat beading in hair and dripping
down cheeks-

Intensity of jugglers set rhythmically to flame-

Dance for the man-
Dance while he burns-
Chant for the man as the crowd turns tight and
presses in to release life in strong thrown gestures-

Man made lightning striking-
heart burning-
rib cage slowly oscillating swing while we all
climb aboard-
drums banging into the night next to laser lit
streaming silk cocoon and the wind restructuring
environs to its will-

Invite me back barren plain- invite me back to dream-

Welcome Home.

by Andy Taylor

Priceless Angel

Center camp seraph she wore white angel wings
Looking angelic, above mortal things
Seen from a distance the effect was ethereal
But closer up she was clearly material
For when the store clerk put the wings in a bag
He neglected removing the price bearing tag
Of course I knew she must be told
Since angels can’t be bought and sold
On hearing the news my angel was crushed
Yet looked more angelic the deeper she blushed
I removed the offending tag as a favor
It’s a moment I like to look back on and savor
But later on back at the camp
As stories were swapped round the Coleman lamp
Someone said something not very nice
Saying “Angels or not they all have their price”

by Reed Hortie

Blue Badge of Honor

Wednesday late afternoon, it was pumping time for the porta-potties at 7:00 and The Lover. A wind gust blew my hat off as I sauntered up to one of the unoccupied units. A nearby fleet-footed pumping technician grabbed the hat as it rolled by him. I thanked him for his quick thinking. As he handed it to me, he noticed a smudge of blue sanitizing chemical on my hat and started to apologize. Assuring him it was no big deal I explained it was a blue badge of honor and I would wear it with pride. I proceeded to let my bladder run free in one of the freshly pumped/cleaned fiberglass houses of enlightenment. I smiled and waved to him again as I headed back to camp. All was right on the playa!

by Karl (Camp Wrong 2001)


I’m known as the Sheriff of Black Rock City, Sheriff-by-Consensus. That is, if you think I represent what you would have as a Sheriff in our town, forget the real police now, if I represent what YOU would choose for Sheriff of our town, then you vote for me by saying “Howdy Sheriff” whenever you see me. If everyone says “Howdy Sheriff” when I walk by, then I am Sheriff. Until that happens I’ll just keep doing my job, and that job is to blow peoples minds.

What – you thought I was going to arrest people? Well that’s the gist of me being jaded. Being Sheriff was supposed to be fun, We made up the city, we can make up the public servants. But this year I had trouble communicating this simple paradigm shift. Probably its just me and my moods, maybe I’ve just been going too long, but it feels like something drastic has changed. I know every year it is different and I have celebrated that difference. But even with all the growth some basic community values persisted and even expanded.

This last year, I felt like I was around people acting ordinary. By that I mean that they didn’t seem to be aware that social communion at BM is EXTRAordinary. It’s not about how you dress or what you do, but for me it is about what you bring to the event, spiritually, artistically, etc. I come to BM to be challenged, or more accurately, to have my own personal limitations challenged. When I see another artist taking their art further than I could possibly have imagined then I am stretched. I stumble over the limits I have placed on my own thinking, acknowledge them, and then expand. That’s scary and rich and life changing.

But 2001 I was never scared, I could have sleepwalked through the whole event. This isn’t said to blame anyone. The point is that when I first came, you had to be awake. There were 5000 people stoned out of their minds with flame throwers, so if trouble was rolling down the street, everyone was awake, aware, and as a result ALIVE. No one was paternally caring for us, we had to do it, each of us, for ourselves. Personal responsibility made BM strong. Without danger, BM shares more and more with shopping malls (OK, it still is an extravagantly adorned shopping mall, and you can’t buy anything, but none-the-less there is no need for personal responsibility in a mall and last year little need for the same at BM).

OK, I’m Jaded, its me, no one did anything wrong, things change, but I wish I could make BM “spiritually dangerous” again. I wish by shear force of personality I could create a spiritual catharsis for 26,000 people, but I haven’t. The hidden invisible mysteries of BM were taught to me through modeling. Early on I was surrounded by thousands of old timers just doing their thing. I learned by watching (monkey see, monkey do). How do the few old timers left model to the ravenous horde? Very little in the outside world prepares you for the intangibles of BM. Maybe they are lost forever.

by The Great Quentini
Sheriff-by-Consensus, Black Rock City

Burning Man and the World I’ve Returned To

Imagine for a moment stepping into Fantasia and spending an afternoon with flying pink elephants, mice practicing sorcery, flying broomsticks, and all manner of mind altering weirdness. Then imagine leaving that environment and returning to the present, to the Strip Malls On The Waste Land Theme Park that is Anytown, USA. Each moment that you are away from the imaginative realm of Fantasia, you hunger to return, to reconnect and revitalize and re-experience the sense of bliss and wonder. When you return, everything is as you remember it, only more so.

But you begin to notice that one major shift has occurred: you are no longer surprised by the sight of flying elephants. Rodent sorcerers and flying broomsticks have almost begun to seem, well, if not exactly commonplace, at least familiar scenery and quite shy of their miraculous first impression.

This description is not unlike what a return visit to Black Rock City, home of the Burning Man Festival, feels like.

Burning Man 2001 was my third experience of the festival. It came at the close of a summer of vending at different music festivals, including the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, where I met James, the individual that I traveled and camped with at this year’s event. James and I met up at the So Many Roads festival at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver and rolled into Black Rock City on Tuesday, August 28th, the second day of the festival.

Events leading up to Burning Man had already put me in a reflective state of mind. A good friend of mine from high school, whom I was still in close contact with, had died shortly before I hit the road for the festival. My friend, Dean Hoekel, died when a cigarette he’d been smoking in bed caught his mattress on fire and he foolishly tried to throw the mattress out of the building rather than escape with his life intact. While I was away, I had thought Dean burned to death, but my father recently informed me that he heard that Dean died from the smoke inhalation rather than the fire itself. Whatever the case, Dean was a close friend and news of his death shook me hard.

When I arrived at Black Rock City I went looking for friends from previous visits, including a friend from college and also a friend that I’d met by proximity of our camp sites my first year at the burn. I met my friend from college first and James and I decided to put our tents up in the camp that she and her friends (all either from the Bay Area or Chicago transplants to the Bay) had set up. The Camp was at 8:30 and Enlightenment.

Then I set out to find other folks I’d met at previous burns. Interestingly enough, I ran right into the primary character that I was looking for and he was camped at 8:15 and Soldier, less than half a “block” from 8:30 and Enlightenment. He expressed that he was pleased to see me but admitted that his attention was divided because he was on his way to a “Get Married To Yourself” ceremony. Rather than part company, I decided to join him.

The Get Married To Yourself ceremony was officiated by a gentleman with long grey frizzy hair, youthful facial features, and radiant charisma. He asked the crowd that’d gathered to hold their own hand and make a few solemn pledges, including, “I will not forsake you” and “I will always be true to you,” and “I will never put a hex on myself.” He then asked us to make up some pledges of our own and passed along the following phrase, which he suggested we tell ourselves on a regular basis: “I am a fucking genius!”

Suggestions were made that we arrange a honeymoon with ourselves and, when asked about consummating this new marriage, that we should reclaim the phrase “go fuck yourself” and tell people that that is what we intend to do on our honeymoon.

After adopting a fuzzy purple and yellow plastic wedding ring (which I lost to the playa the night of the burn) I walked away quite pleased by this bit of inner alchemy, though a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I hadn’t written out a prenuptial before the wedding, to keep my inner masculine from taking my inner feminine for all that it was worth… or vice versa.

The frizzy haired character announced that he would be doing a Chaos Meditation later in the week and I decided that it was an event that I should not miss. Unfortunately, I missed it.

I didn’t spend much time on Black Rock City seeking out events or information or event art. This time on Black Rock City, I spent a great deal of my time deepening my connection to the people I was camped with. I also spent a good deal of time grieving the recent loss of my good friend. It was intense and incredible to be at such an incredible party and also realize just how ritualized the space at Black Rock City is. The people and the art there just exude vibrant playful creativity. Whether beholding a beautiful twenty foot high blue goddess sculpture or dancing at the uberrave camp Illuminaughty, Black Rock City is filled with magic and mystery.

Not long after the wedding to myself, I ran into two friends of mine from the pagan festival circuit, an escape artist and a stage magician, both of them performers at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. They told me that they were recently married, so I offered them a wedding Tarot reading and was invited to their camp for dinner and the reading later in the week. I brought a bottle of homebrewed honey meade made by mutual friends of ours, and was glad to be a part of such a special time in their lives. The reading was also quite enjoyable.

After the reading, Magnus, the stage magician, suggested I check out a Living Tarot performance that was happening at a nearby camp, so I left to attend that while he went to a drum ritual with Fantuzi, a character from the Rainbow Family circuit.

The Living Tarot workshop began by introducing Rob Breszny, an astrologer who does the Free Will Astrology (formerly Real Astrology) column in many alternative weeklies across the country. I’d heard of Brezsny’s column because my sister is totally devoted to the wit and wisdom contained in it and later learned that Brezsny had a Santa Cruz band, Tao Chemical, that my other friends in the Tie-Dye Mafia, Mikio and Phil, used to go out to hear. Well, as fortune would have it, the character that’d been introduced as Rob Brezsny was none other than the minister who’d married me to myself! That amused me to no end! Here was a guy who impressed me just by being his wacky interesting self who I later learn is a guy whose writing and music have inspired a lot of other people that I know. It made me all the more bummed that I missed his Chaos Meditation, but also made me realize that the next time I get to playa, I will have to make a point to keep an ear out for anything he is offering. The Living Tarot was interesting but didn’t seem to open any new worlds for me in terms of my understanding of the Tarot, which I’ve worked with for eleven years now.

by Shady Backflash

Seven Stories

One (1996)

1996. My first Burning Man. I had just driven through Gerlach. Behind me, a trailer held the solar-powered electric car I had built in Sacramento, ready for its first test on the playa. I found the entrance to the playa off highway 34, but from there the directions were vague.

“Go straight out two-and-a-half miles and turn right.”

“What should I look for?”

“Just keep going. You’ll see it.”

The route on the playa was a trackless free-for-all. A corridor of dust indicated there were other cars driving near me, somewhere. At the expected point on the odometer I turned, and faced the wind so the dust was gone. Still, I could see nothing but mirages in the distance. Trusting, I continued, but increasingly worried that this was to be a grand tour of the largest expanse of flat land in North America. Suddenly, tiny spots appeared in the mirage pools, and then more, and then a vista of tents and trucks and cars, with a few taller structures that were unrecognizable. Clearly this was the “city”, but why had it been so hard to see?

Later, I realized the trick. See, when the ground is hot, the air near the ground is less dense than the air above it. This makes light rays always bend a small angle upward when they are near the ground. Rays from the distant sky head ground-ward and are bent to horizontal so you see the sky where the ground should be, making mirages. The rays of light from Black Rock City are bent up toward the sky and are never seen from ground level, except when you get close.

Black Rock was the Invisible City, shrouded in mirages by heat and flatness, those old friends.

Two (1996)

In Sacramento I had been working fourteen hour days for a week to get the Solar Car running, and didn’t slow down when it was time to test it on the playa. A four wheel, four seat pedal car with solar panels and motor added, it was a kludged-together beast. Everything was going wrong, but I was prepared with tools and spares and determination. One by one I fixed the problems, lying on my back under the chassis, soldering flamed-out transistors. A topless babe in the next camp wanted a ride, and me being new to this bare-titty attention, I worked with ever greater enthusiasm, not pausing for a second to eat or drink till the job was done.

It was time to take her out for a good, long ride, my reward. She sat back and enjoyed the view, holding onto a metal support tube that went up to the solar panels. We were zooming past Water Woman when she exclaimed “this pole is getting really hot!” I resisted the impulse to make crude puns, and told her it was normal, no problem. Suddenly smoke started to spew out of the metal tube, and the wires above our heads caught fire. I stopped and she leapt screaming from the car. I flipped the emergency power cutoff switch and the fire went out, but it took a bit of convincing to get her back in the car so I could laboriously pedal her home. We finally got back, she ran to her campmates and I resumed my soldering and wrenching, ever more determined to find that short circuit.

Soon, I felt a bit faint.

“You need something to eat” said my friend, and started to make dinner.

“Excuse me. I think I’ll lie down till then.” I said. I went behind the tent, barfed my guts out all over the playa and collapsed. When I could walk, my friend took me to a more cushy camp where I could recline in a soft lounger and they fed me water and a fresh tomato and Swiss cheese sandwich on sourdough. It was one of my most memorable meals.

Later that night I was well enough to go watch the burning of the Hellco tower.

Three (1997)

I was supposed to meet my friends in center camp to catch the bus to Fly Hot Springs, but missed them. The next bus was so late, I gave up. “But wait,” I thought, “I’ve got my Solar Car. I’ll make the scene in style!” The journey was four miles-longer than the car had ever been run-so things started breaking. Toward the end I had to rip the main power cable off the emergency switch, strip the insulation with my teeth, and jam it by hand onto a copper terminal to keep going, green sparks falling on my head when I ran over bumps.

When I arrived at the springs I felt triumphant, but my friends were already gone. “What the hell” I thought. “I’ll take a dip since I’m here.” There was a huge main pool that wasn’t too hot, and so deep that you had to tread water unless you stayed near the shore. I found a quiet, secluded spot near some bushes to relax in. Soon I noticed that a half-immersed man and woman near me were holding onto each other, moving up and down slowly, and grinning. And there were two other couples nearby doing the same thing. I began to think that my Solar Car wasn’t the babe-magnet I had hoped (at least not when it’s on fire!). Feeling surrounded and out-of-place, I swam back to the opposite shore and prepared to leave.

All of a sudden there was a loud noise overhead. The news media helicopter roared over us and circled around and around, pointing the door down toward the bathers so the cameramen could get shots. Here was this warm water oasis, where naked people were discreetly making love, and now it sounded like a war or a police raid. Suddenly I felt indignation and outrage, a sense of invasion and violation. Being a cinematographer and voyeur myself, I was surprised at my visceral, emotional reaction. I shook my fist and cursed at them. Now I could understand the disdain so many burners felt for the newsmen and the peeping-Tom camera freaks. Ignoring me, they finally left, cameras full of porno.

I fixed the car and drove back. I was clean, renewed, and felt a closer connection to the city, now beginning to glow in twilight.

Four (1998)

I was driving the Solar Car far out on the playa, cruising for art. I stopped at a line of images stretched across my path. A photographer had been working on a book of pictures from the Apollo space missions, and had tacked a series of prints to the ground in a line that told the story of going to the moon. Walking along the line, I saw a picture of the astronauts’ moon buggy on a desolate lunar landscape. It looked shockingly like my Solar Car.

As I drove off. My Solar Car was the moon buggy. The playa was the moon. I had landed at a densely populated space port. For a few minutes, I could believe this.

Five (1999)

At Burning Man I was surrounded by artists but didn’t count myself as one. Despite my many previous creative projects in various media, I didn’t think I had gone through any kind of initiation that would define me as other than a dilettante. The Solar Car an Art Car? Nah! It was a statement of belief in “green” technology, but not art.

By this time I grew tired of the Solar Car and decided to create something new. I built a playa installation called The Tetrahedron, my first laser sculpture. Metal towers and wooden pylons rose above the ground, supporting a glowing geometry of laser beams above people’s heads. They would see the figure at night from afar, and come over to walk underneath and marvel. I was always there when it was on, so I watched and talked to them. All kinds of people had different positive reactions, but a few seemed to strongly connect with the sculpture and “get it.” One or two verbalized their feelings; “contemplative” “like a constellation.” These were exactly the words I used when trying to explain the work’s intended feeling before building it. Somehow, by creating a completely abstract work, I was able to communicate to a few people with surprising precision, making my words pop into their heads almost by magic.

Two-thirty in the morning, and no-one was coming by. Time to shut down. Freezing cold, I couldn’t feel my lips anymore. The moon was framed in a triangle of laser beams above my head. I thought about the effect my work had had on people over the last few nights. Looking up, I said “I am an artist.”

It was a revelation. A pivotal moment. I now had a new purpose that has become the most important thing in my life.

Six (2000)

The sculpture thing had taken off in a big way. Now I was being funded to make the Beaming Man, a 4000 foot long human figure that was the year’s theme-art focus. I had a crew of twenty people, a shop, heavy equipment and all the support the Burning Man organization could lend. Fourteen days of round the clock work in the worst weather ever. Our shop was a metal container with mechanical, electronic and optical work benches, often with three guys laboring in there at a time. One guy practically keeled over when the temperature hit 120, but it was the place to be during the dust storms. Me, I was in workaholic paradise, flying on a work high the whole time, never stopping. The more nurturing of my crew would practically have to feed me like a baby bird so that I, oblivious to my physical needs, wouldn’t injure myself.

We’d had the arms and legs working for a few days but, slowed by the storms, we were still assembling the head on Saturday. As it was getting dark, we began the nighttime alignment procedures we had developed from the previous setups. I worked the electronics to move a low-powered laser beam while a guy far away with a walkie-talkie told me where it was pointed. Move the spot along the ground until it’s in front of the tower, then move on up to the target. Just then, light and smoke and fireworks flew up in the distance.

“Damn! They’re burning The Man already.”

“Oh well, I’ve seen a few.”

“Yeah, let’s continue.”

We systematically aligned the last laser beam to its target, so I sped over to the laser source on my bike to crank the beams up to full power. The geometric form of the Beaming Man’s head glowed brightly, and my crew whooped and hollered over the radio. A thundering whoop and holler went up far away, thousands of people going berserk. They couldn’t have seen the head come on from that distance. The Man had fallen.

He’d died finally, and his escaping consciousness came to inhabit his spirit body, the omnipresent, lighter-than-air body that floated above the playa, and would be gone forever the next day.

Seven (2001)

Having missed the burn last year, I was determined to see and appreciate it this year. I knew I’d have to go back and activate my laser installation for an after-burn party, but for now I would be a spectator. The full array of costumed and lit-up burners had arrived in all their wacky vehicles. Party buses and mobile lounges ringed the outside, while people milled about wearing E.L. wire and glowsitcks and LEDs and fluorescent UV lamps. Having made The Grid-another laser art piece-I didn’t feel sheepish walking around in a T-shirt.

A reporter was interviewing a couple of beer-swilling yahoos. “Why doesn’t anyone report on my experience of Burning Man?” I thought. Minutes earlier, I had been interviewed by NPR. Still bothered about what I hadn’t said, I wandered through the crowd imagining brilliant sound bites.

Fire dancers. Fireball cannons. Fireworks. And then The Man started to burn. It was a terrific conflagration, fuelled by him and his wooden pedestal, creating a strong updraft that lofted smoke and embers high into the sky. Those who wanted to appear enthusiastic shouted “Burn him! Whoooo!” I stood serenely by until the flaming column started to spawn twisting tubes of smoke that moved on their own across the circle. One after the other these smoke devils headed out toward the crowd, running into each other, joining, disappearing. Everyone went nuts. I-the calmest, most rational person around-was yelling my head off too. Nature had decided to pay a visit, make a special appearance, upstaging everything as usual. Her power and beauty dazzled even those of us who’ve seen it all, and we were honored.

As Burners, our way is not to approach Nature with head bowed, knees bent, and hands proffering a humble sacrifice, but to look Her straight in the face and scream and laugh and jump up and down.

by Russell Wilcox

My Black Rock Wedding

How Did I Get Here?

When I leaned over to whisper in Andrew’s ear while squished in an IHOP booth in Reno Nevada, I had no idea whether I wanted to really do what I was about to propose; since that’s basically what I was about to do. At that moment, memories of the past month flashed through my head, all the long nights of talking and lusting, confidences, tears, and bliss, all these came flooding over me. I also recalled holding the five-year-old I nannied in my lap, and how when I leant over to give Andrew a quick kiss she looked up at me and asked, ‘Are you going to marry him?’ and without thinking I had replied, ‘Sure, why not.’

Now you may be asking yourself, “How can someone propose and not know if they want to be married?” Quite easily, if you’re not taking it seriously. I have always loved a good party and weddings are usually great parties. I even enjoy ritual when it’s not cloaked in heavy amounts of dogma and remains fresh, vital, and relevant to those involved. These preferences partly explain how I came to find myself in an IHOP booth contemplating a haphazard proposal to my boyfriend. You see, we were on our way to Burning Man. A festival of intense, experimental, artistic anarchy that comes in the form of a temporary city, built in one of the harshest climates on the earth for only a week.

Having attended Burning Man two other years, I generally knew what to expect. Lots of heat, dust and incredible opportunities to create, destroy and explore various realms of myself and my boundaries. And was I ever excited to be going back. For Andrew, this was his first time. We had prepared food, costumes and articles for trading (nothing is for sale, only for barter on the desert floor, affectionately known as the playa), but we were never quite prepared for the intensity of our feelings for each other and our sudden need to be fully committed and devoted.

Now back to the IHOP, where I leant over and asked, ‘So are we going to do it?’ His reply, ‘Sure, why not.’

It’s very easy to get married in the state of Nevada, almost too easy. For the low price of $50 and the display of two driver’s licenses, anyone can walk into the city hall between eight a.m. and midnight and walk out with a wedding license. During the weeks before heading South, I had jokingly mentioned that we should get hitched. My reasons, I had never done it and it would be fun. For years I had prepared my family for disappointment, I would never do the big church wedding, heck I didn’t even believe that marriages could actually work, and the notion that one person would be able to put up with me ‘forever’ seemed ridiculous. Yet somehow, there I was, early morning Reno Nevada, August 27 2001, clutching a wedding license and beating a path to our rented SUV.

Black Rock City, Nevada

We didn’t mention our plans to any of the friends we were camped with or saw on our journeys around the city. Instead we had made plans to ‘marry’our friends in a mock ceremony at some point during the week. At Burning Man you can find almost every service you would find in the ‘normal’ world, but twisted into something very strange. You need Boy Scouts, there’s a troupe of them. Join up and try to get demerit badges in activities such as lap dancing or being a bitchy neighbour and triumph in their slogan of ‘Be Impaired’. The same goes with churches and wedding chapels. Every year, more and more denominations spring up offering their services.

Early our first morning on the playa, Andrew and I came across the Black Rock Wedding Chapel, complete with it’s own 7 foot Elvis head and a spin-a-vow wheel that resembled the one on Wheel of Fortune. This was the place. We knew it the moment we saw it. Only question was, did they have real ministers that could perform a legally binding service? As our luck would have it, three out of the four people that built the chapel were ministers with the Church of Universal Love, registered in the State of Nevada, and willing to perform a ceremony for us.

At this point I began to contemplate what I was doing. We had already decided that we would keep the marriage a secret from our friends and family for the next year, and just tell them on our anniversary. This satisfied three goals, one) that we not be questioned, since we had only been together just over a month, two) if it didn’t work out then no harm or embarrassment done, and three) it seemed a rather trickster thing to do. With the date set for Friday August 31st at sunset we began to make the rest of the wedding plans which gave us some distraction from really engaging with the real life possibilities of what we were about to do.

As the days moved on I realized that I did want to be married for real. I wanted to commit myself fully to Andrew who was the most incredible person I had ever encountered. I started wanting to build a life with someone and create a bond that went beyond what trust could describe. I felt I was in a minor quandary, here I was feeling a yearning for established notions of commitment and monogamy, but I didn’t want to express myself in a traditional way during our wedding. Neither did Andrew.

We were lucky enough to find bachelor and bachelorette parties going on Wednesday night for another couple that we could just join in with. We also managed to procure Black Rock’s only magical taxi to shuttle us to Friday’s service. Everything just seemed to fall into place including our intention to make this a real marriage. In my mind, this decision was cemented when Andrew looked me deep in the eyes one night and told me that he did want to commit and could not be with anyone else.

Waking up Friday morning in our tie-dyed dome I began to get excited. We had chosen our wedding outfits from costumes we brought with us. As we made amulets from sand dollars, crystals, stones and hand blown marbles that were playa gifts, the reality of our wedding began to set in. That day Andrew asked the next door neighbour who he had bonded with to be the best man. At this point we had given up the decision to keep our nuptials a secret and told a select few, the rest would be told at the service or when we got back home. I was lucky enough to have three of my close friends attending Burning Man, so I felt happy that our community would bless our love. I would also have three of the most interesting and diverse looking bridesmaids I’ve ever seen.

The Wedding

After downing a shot of tequila each Andrew and I climbed into the taxi and were off to the chapel. When we arrived there was a fluster of activity, friends arriving and gathering, the ministers making last minute checks with us, and many shocked faces as we told them we were getting legally married. As the dust settled and the sun began it’s decent, Andrew and I stood surrounded by friends and the ministers in front of the large Elvis head.

Dressed in my ‘Princess Leia’ outfit and clutching a mismatched bouquet of blinking roses and dusty blooms given to me by friends and neighbours, I felt in awe of my sexy partner in his homemade fractal pants and pink cowboy hat. We had managed to put together a wedding that felt fun and special to us in four days, without much stress and with no disagreements. Many of our friends still in shock at our announcement observed our happiness with yells of encouragement and smiles as wide as canyons.

Much to the consternation of our ministers, we had chosen to recite the Elvis vows they kept for mock ceremonies. With silly promises of not stepping on his ‘blue suede shoes’, or treating him like a ‘hound dog’, I vowed that he would always be ‘my teddy bear’. Andrew promised to ‘love me tender’ and never leave me at the ‘heartbreak hotel’ and to always be my ‘hunk-a hunk-a burnin love’. These vows delivered in full Elvis style elicited laughs and grins from us and the crowd that had gathered during the ceremony. While posing for pictures with our friends I realized that this was the wedding I had always dreamed of, despite that realistically with all of the luck and randomness, our wedding could have never been planned exactly this way. Feeling the craziness of being at Burning Man for the week, combined with the intensity of our connection and the joy of our simple ceremony, I was overwhelmed with a sense of euphoria that is always better when shared with those you love.

We certainly didn’t have a ‘traditional’ wedding, but we created a meaningful ritual that worked for us on many levels. We’ve been told repeatedly by different people that ours was the best wedding they have ever attended. Our friend Kodiak who photographed the wedding wrote that our ceremony was ‘full of life and love’. It was also full of a lot of our personalities. We managed to keep the parts that worked for us within the traditional marriage ceremony; a gathering of friends, a legally binding ceremony, a bouquet of flowers to toss, vows, an exchange of love tokens and of course the kissing of the bride. But we also managed to make it an expression of ourselves by creating our own amulets, wearing what made us feel special and comfortable, and keeping the ceremony full of life and fun as well as short.

After the wedding we co-opted the Black Rock Boy Scout’s Mamboree and turned it into a wedding reception. To end off our streak of ‘planning’luck, the Boy Scouts had a cake, which we ceremoniously borrowed as our wedding cake and fed each other pieces in the traditional way. Like most things and events on the playa our wedding was magical, strange and once in a lifetime experience, afterall, not everyone gets a free wedding cake that says ‘ASS’.

by Steph