July 28th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

The Beginning

July 28th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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This is the story of the Spike, the first official act of the Burning Man season, which is important because of all the ritualized practices that have grown up around the event, this one might be the most heartfelt and stirring.

But this story is also about the beginning the work that is necessary to build Black Rock City, which will become home (or Home with a capital H, as the participants like to refer to it) for somewhere around 70,000 people, who will gather in the desert at the end of August and over the Labor Day weekend to celebrate art and express themselves radically, among other things.

It’s ironic that Burning Man takes place around a national holiday, because Burning Man has reset the calendar for many people. For them, the year is about the season of the Man; and it culminates when the Man burns on the Saturday of the event. That day is their New Year’s Eve, and after the Temple burns, a new year begins.

So we are into the high holy days now, and to carry the metaphor just a step further, Spike becomes something like Christmas. It’s not so much about the giving of gifts or the birth of a savior, but rather it is more about an affirmation of hope. Maybe in some ways it’s Easter, too, because the feeling of renewal and rebirth is strong.

Maybe this religiosity makes you nervous, but we are not talking about deities here, or paganism, or any other worshipfulness. What we are talking about are the things that bind people together – hope, love, community. It’s no random accident that people say they are going Home when they go to Burning Man, because for many people, this is the family they have chosen.

Here is an outline of what happens over these days: The first of the crews arrive in Gerlach several weeks before Spike happens. The season begins earlier than you might realize. The logistics and office work and ordering of goods and arranging for services takes months. The tiny town of Gerlach begins to fill up with the folks who make the event happen.

Coyote called people to gather around the Spike.

Coyote called people to gather around the Spike.

Then, a few weeks in, there is a ceremony that marks the official start of the organization’s presence in the Black Rock Desert, and it is when the people who are most intimately involved with building the city gather together to collectively drive a stake in the ground, the exact point upon which the Man will be built. But before they take the sledgehammer in their hands and strike their ceremonial blow, they will say a few words to the assembled crowd. They will speak of their intentions, their joy, their sorrows and disappointments. Or they might be completely absurd, depending. There is no script.

But mostly, people take advantage of the opportunity to speak from the heart, to people who love them and will stand by them. There are often tears in the deathly hot desert, from both the speakers and the listeners.

Coyote is the superintendent of Black Rock City, and he takes the hammer and speaks first. “Every year we put the stake in the ground, and every year we change people’s lives,” he says. “And every year people take a little piece of Black Rock City home with them in their backpacks … little embers. … It’s a break from the normal madness. None of the mudslinging and politics and crap that’s in the news every day.”

Some people carry umbrellas to keep from getting scorched by the sun, many people have beverages in their hands, and there are shouts of agreement, as well as catcalls and whistles. Nothing gets overly solemn or cheesy. But somehow the words penetrate the everyday armor of cynicism and safe distance.

“It’s hot out today,” Coyote says, “So I’m not going to talk much. And we ask that you do the same!”

And then others step forward to take the sledgehammer and say a few words.

Will Roger, who founded Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works, says, “My hat’s off to all of you for keeping the spirit of DPW alive. A remarkable, dedicated, wonderful group of people. Here’s to you.” Then he hands the sledge to “the only person I love more than DPW, my wife, Rosie.” That would be Crimson Rose, who directs many of the fiery things that attract the Burner moths to the desert, who has been at Burning Man for 23 years. “We couldn’t do it without you,” she says.

Will Roger and Crimson Rose

Will Roger and Crimson Rose

Playground takes the sledge and says, “Every time I say the word ‘cancer’ I want you to say, “Fuck Cancer.’” Her husband is home undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. “Fuck Cancer!!” people shout. She asks some of her colleagues to join her in the center of the circle. “These are the people who have totally had my back as we go through this cancer nightmare,” she says. “Fuck Cancer!” the crowd roars back. “I could not do it without these guys. They make me shine. You make them shine.”

“Fuck Cancer!!”

Dylan Blackthorne comes forward. “A long time ago I decided that I was going to focus my energies on building the world that I wanted to live in,” he says, “instead of fighting the world that I did not want to live in. This is part of that.”

There are warnings and pleas to take care of each other, and for us to take care of ourselves. There are many people grateful for the opportunity to serve. And there is more heartbreak.

“I learned during (desert restoration) last year that my father had gone into hospice,” Makeout Queen says, through her tears, “and then he died in January. It’s been a really hard year. … And I moved out of the only home I ever knew, and the only community I ever knew. And it’s been really crazy. … But coming out here, and seeing ALLL of you motherfuckers, makes me realize that I made the right decisions. And the only reason I made the right decisions, is that all of you motherfuckers tell me to stop making the dumb ones.”

Makeout Queen

Makeout Queen

All of the stories were not alike, but many had similar themes – sorrow, joy, the gratefulness for being here again. There were people who had been doing this for ten years, fifteen years and more, and others who were there for the first time. If you weren’t moved by what was said, it wouldn’t have made sense for you to be there at all, really.

When all the people who wanted to speak had spoken, Coyote took a bottle of Champagne and smashed it into the Spike. People rushed to pick up the shards of glass, and then the ceremony was over. People drifted off the desert floor and back into Gerlach, to get ready for the next task.

But a few folks stayed behind to begin the actual work of building Black Rock City. The eighteen people who are on the Survey would start plotting out the map and marking the outline of the city onto the desert floor.

And that’s where we’ll pick up the story next.

The first gathering in Black Rock City in 2014

The first gathering in Black Rock City in 2014

 

The sun was hot, so the speeches were short

The sun was hot, so the speeches were short

 

Umbrellas provided a little shade

Umbrellas provided a little shade

 

When the talking was finished, Coyote smashed a bottle onto the Spike

When the talking was finished, Coyote smashed a bottle onto the Spike

 

When the Spike ceremony was finished, most folks headed back to Gerlach to resume their tasks

When the Spike ceremony was finished, most folks headed back to Gerlach to resume their tasks

 

The Survey team stayed behind to begin the building of Black Rock City

The Survey team stayed behind to begin the building of Black Rock City


23 Responses to “The Beginning”

  1. jaz Says:

    Traditionally, the first official act is to screw up ticket sales to create false scarcity, enabling blackmarket profiting. The golden spike is just a useless ceremony and doesn’t equal profits in any way. But it’s a cute thing to do.

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  2. Ryan Says:

    You motherfuckers are going to make me cry over here. Stop it.

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  3. G Says:

    Mr. Curley, I want to thank you for you covering this every year like you do here on the blog.
    Please keep it up, it builds the excitement and helps others share in the annual genesis and arising of BRC.

    Hmmm, half of the next 36 days will be BRC time for this dust addict. Coming up so fast!!!!

    That playa looks rather loose and spongy.

    @jaz . . Everything changes. If Burning Man changes in ways that don’t work for me, I’m with you , I will go elsewhere for my vacation time.

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  4. HoneyBee Says:

    My hat is off to each and every one of you. The story of what you build ripples around the globe and I am grateful.

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  5. Dean Cockroft Says:

    Last year was my first year of participation at Burning Man and I had no idea what to expect. After living for 62 years with many miles and many places, my expections were not very high. But I thought, why not? So I went and what I discovered at BRC, reopened my eyes and largely resorted my faith in humanity. Charlie expressed it best in his video…..it is indeed a celebration of life. So, I will return and contribute what I can and receive so much more in return. I cannot thank everyone enough.

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  6. jiz Says:

    @jaz – the first official event is to note there will always be somebody that has an axe to grind and they will bitch and moan .. and trash another’s experience. You win burning man yet again, ….asshole.

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  7. Moze Says:

    Thank you John for capturing the moment and writing it down so eloquently to share with our community.

    Beautifully done as always. I look forward to a grand year out there with you and everyone who makes this thing called Burning Man happen.

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  8. Deb Says:

    This always makes me excited and teary eyed! Thank you for all your hard work building home! Also, Thanks for a great story!

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  9. Peter Madden Says:

    Hey Jaz! If you dont like the way things are done then why do you attend?

    Typical “Hypocritical Bleating Sheep”. You make lots of noise (bleating) about how terrible Burning Man is but you attend anyway because all of your friends (herd) attend. You dont do anything to make things better; you just follow along making the same complaints over and over again.

    For people reading about the building of BRC for the first time or for those of you excited to attend Burning Man for the first time you are about to experience something bigger and more fantastic than you can imagine.

    Like any other city, BRC has a lot of bitter and pathetic people who just want to complain and whine about things. My best advice is that when you meet that type of person on the playa is to just walk away. Negativity will be a drain on your experience. Besides, for every negative person you meet there will be 100 positive people there wanting to help make your burn the best you can experience. Those positive people are the ones to embrace.

    And it all starts with the driving of that spike and the monumental amount of work that these people are doing right now in the heat of the desert. When you meet them for the first time in a few weeks let them know what a good job they did. They are a dedicated group of people who look forward to meeting first timers to the city that they built…and there isnt a negative individual in the whole bunch.

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  10. Danarchy Says:

    “It was better next year.”

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  11. Jaz Says:

    @Peter Madden

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  12. endo Says:

    The “nay” sayers who say nay with humor seem much more worth listening to than some guy who cannot help but see everyone else as some sort of authority figure. I am just thinking of Jaz as a heckler, just not a very funny or skilled one, which means he (or she) needs a lot of support so he or she can develop into a more talented and beneficial heckler. In the meantime, I recognize that burning man costs a lot, and I am fine with some people profiting, but I really am hoping that the budget involves fun and exciting treats for those who put countless volunteer hours and low-paid hours into creating the vast infrastructure that means I can show up a week early and find my little flag to start building my corner of the city. Thanks, all!

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  13. Lucas Montgomery Says:

    Is or was the spike used to actually draw out the city lines? or do they just use GPS coordinates?

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  14. Lazlo Says:

    To John, and all the amazing people who work so hard to provide us with a place to come Home to, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!. This will be my 15th burn in a row. I’m counting the days until I can be one with the dust and in the company of my friends and family.

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  15. He'd Says:

    Someday I will be there to witness Spike. Some day I will help build Black Rock City. That will be a good day.

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  16. Aimee Says:

    Home. The annual return to the place my soul came alive. Thank you John, your gorgeous photos and beautiful words have become an important part of my countdown to Home. <3

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  17. Clarity Says:

    See you fuckers soon.

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  18. John Sutton Says:

    THANK YOU! to all you beautiful people that create this city from nothing. Just know there are tens of thousands of burners, virgins, and even those who cannot attend who appreciate everything that you do. Keep each other safe out there, and we will all be Home soon. A Home you all work so hard as a team to build for us with love in your hearts. Much love back to you all!

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  19. Tim Green Says:

    Hats off to the lead crews. It’s hot and a lot of work. This will be my 8th year in a row and I can’t wait to come home. Jiz or Jaz or what ever your name is ( i think Jiz fits better but….) try to have a good time and we all know about the past mistakes. It will be ok.

    Verde

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  20. Bob Stine (Old Redeye) Says:

    I signed up for the lottery and finally got a notice that I could buy a ticket. Excitedly, I started the process. Unfortunately, while in the process of trying to pay, the site took a big dump and start running me through a loop. By the time it came back up, I got a message saying it was sold out. WAH!
    I’m hopeful that I’ll get to go next year. At 70 years old, I’m running out of time! I hope you all have a wonderful and safe experience. My heart will be there with you…

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  21. The dance ninja Says:

    Our time is now, and u that are building brc are the Heros of us all. For it is you that provide the community, the spirit, the oneness, and everything that )’( is. It has to start from the dust. So thank you all. And see u soon.

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  22. JV Says:

    Gonna miss it again this year, 2 years in a row, ouch. These posts by Mr. Curley make it easier and harder at the same time, which is a pretty neat trick. My son and his girlfriend are going for their first time, so take care of them, BRC! I know you will.

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  23. Zenith Says:

    Thank you DPW for all that you do to build BRC every year. Thank you John for letting us read and see the cycle of birth, death, rebirth of the city every year. I won’t be going home this year, and it’s affecting me more than I ever could have imagined it would (I was a virgin last year!). I’m actually tearing up at work while I read these blog entries; and I will be so honored if I am ever able to serve in the ranks of DPW. Stay dusty everyone!

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