The big Man is just a pile of smoking ruins now, even if people are still picking through the ashes, looking for burnt treasure.
We imagine that the biggest treasures have already been scooped up – Joe’s big nuts and bolts, the ankle and shoulder metal, even the cables and anchors that kept the Man upright for so long.
This year’s burn went longer than most. He was a mighty big Man, after all, constructed of 20×20-foot limbs and spine, and the whole thing took awhile to consume, which was not unexpected. You build a big man, you get a long burn.
We don’t have a problem with a long, slow burn. It has its advantages: More time for visiting, more time for appreciating, more time to soak in the flames. We can think of many times when we have been reluctant to be the person to douse the flames at a campout, because there are times that we don’t want the night to end.
But we admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” and maybe that’s true. But honestly, we always thought that one of the corollaries of radical self expression was that your actions not impinge on another’s experience, and let’s just say there was lots of impinging going on last night. We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.
Plus, we’d like to be able to HEAR the burn. Not just the exploding shells and fireworks, but also the crackle and pop of the flames, the whoosh of embers falling, and, last night, even the climactic crash of the Man’s big legs.
But no. Last night that was not possible. And yes, we might be the slightest bit cranky about it. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be sound and celebration, because this is the big finish, the Bacchanalian moment. But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.
The night began as it always does, with Crimson Rose transferring the flame that has been burning at the top of the keyhole in the El Diabla cauldron since Monday to the Luminferous, the wagon that carries it to the Man. A grand procession of flame-carrying stilt-walkers and drummers and Black Rock citizens processed up the 6 o’clock boulevard, then made a circle around the giant Man. When their circuit was complete, it was time for the Man’s arms to rise so that the fire conclaves could commence their show.
From a distance, all seemed well, but up close, it was a moment of high drama.
Joe the Builder had tested the Man’s mechanics early in the week, but only one of the Man’s arms went up. Additional voltage was needed, and there had been a successful test the day before the burn, but still … there was a lot riding on a good outcome.
As the clock neared 9 pm, Crimson stepped forward from the inner perimeter and gestured toward the Man. That was the signal to start the lifting. Joe the Builder stood a few feet away, watching anxiously, almost pleadingly, as the arms began to rise.
Shouts were heard. “C’mon, c’mon, do it! Raise those arms! Get them up!”
And happily, up they went. Smoothly, completely, almost defiantly. Arms in the air.
Then the fire dancers performed, mesmerizingly, all around the perimeter. There were thirty fire conclaves in all, and we wished we could have spent time with each of them. As it turned out, we spent most of our time with just one, because there was no need to leave. The months of practice was evident, and the joy and exuberance was contagious. Plus, they were crazy sexy.
When the conclaves concluded, fireworks began launching skyward. The Man was outlined in sizzling silver, and then a fire started in his leg. Rockets continued to burst as the flames spread. There were propane explosions, and the fire began to truly roar, ferociously.
And then the Man continued to burn, and eventually his massive skeleton was revealed. At the end, his head was still seated atop his spine, and his legs stood strong.
The DJs seemed to be trying to orchestrate his fall, as if the perfect drop would orchestrate his demise. But it didn’t work. He stood tall.
And then, finally, his legs fell, and they fell the same way they had been raised, joined at the torso, a giant triangle crashing to the desert floor.
We made our way back toward the city, not wanting to join the crush of people rushing to the flames. But last night, there were more of us heading away from the Man than there were people moving toward him.
And off people went into the night to continue their celebration of what more and more feels like New Year’s Eve. We heard that phrase more than ever this year: Happy New Year! And the revelry went on and on. The sound cars made their parties, and the sound camps welcomed guests.
Some folks retreated to the comfort and familiarity of the their home camps. Some went on joyrides on art cars, covering as much of the city as was possible before the sun came up. There was dancing till dawn, and there was sleeping till the next afternoon.
But today is New Year’s Day, and it is the time of Auld Lang Syne, and remembrances, and resolutions, and maybe re-examinations. The Temple of Grace will burn tonight, and in general the mood will be somber and silent.
We went out to the Temple of Grace to take a last look around. The early morning light was dappled inside, the gorgeous wooden sculpture hanging beautifully from the dome. Most people were already silent, sitting in corners and writing on scraps of paper or wood.
There are a stunning number of memorials and testimonials in the Temple, as well as all manner of objects. There are scrapbook pictures, suitcases, and articles of clothing. There are elaborately constructed memorials, and notes scribbled in felt tip on wood.
The notes and mementos were left by grieving sons, daughters and parents; by heartsick lovers and friends; by men and women vowing to do better, to live more truthfully, with less fear.
Someone was playing the sitar outside, and inside the sun dappled gently through the intricate panels on the dome. And there was at least one late addition to the memorials, a handwritten note in ink, ripped from a reporter’s notebook, saying thanks, mom, we miss you, every damn day. We’ll bring the Dewar’s tonight.
Some more pics from the night and day: