Tyler Durden Invented Burning Man

Perhaps you’ve still never heard of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man’s parent group.

Pardon the cliche, but for history’s sake, we’re going to have to talk about fight club.

Fight Club is a book written in 1996 and then turned into a movie released 15 years ago this fall (we won’t provide any spoilers if we can help it). Author Chuck Pahlaniuk confirmed at several book-release events last year the “Project Mayhem” group in Fight Club’s story is indeed the Cacophony Society in real life … a wackier bunch of people, without the men-only Iron John subplot or all the property destruction and violence. (Well, serious violence, anyway.)

“But Larry Harvey invented Burning Man,” you may be saying to yourself. No, he and his homeys Jerry and Dan brought the statue to a “Zone Trip” the Cacophony Society had already planned to take to the Black Rock Desert.

The rest of the event didn’t spring, Godlike, from one man’s mind, and materialize like so much ganja in Shiva’s dreadlocks. Cacophony built Black Rock City. It was a group whim — a hive-mind good time which snowballed and splintered, glittering, like breaking mirrorglass.

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

Even if you don’t know it, Burning Man is and will always be the Cacophony Society’s yearly extended-family check-in and show-and-tell. It’s a fight club convention where old-timers don’t make a big deal about showing up to tweak and observe the city they created. This product of new collectivist activity reads like a neotribal Kumbh Mela which embraces chaos as spirituality. The event requires, and has always required, a dark army of dirtbags to make it all go flash bang boom.

Burning Man’s blank slate started as an anarcho-cyberpunk paradise away from the squares, on the moon. A living, breathing Internet, this equalizing Paper Street Soap Company in the dust churned art, analog, digital, fire, lust, danger, meetings, and magic into a whirlwind of construction and yelling. (more…)

Early Man-Man: proto-Burnin’ Dude builders and inspirational catalysts

If you’ll notice, talking to most of the elders of the Burning Man tribe, they put emphasis on the third syllable of the name of our weirdo company picnic. “The burning MAN,” they say, with a “The” at the beginning each time. All the rest of us say “BURN-ing man.”

So that’s how things used to be different right there, is the early Cacophonists emphasized the event’s syllables differently. That’s how you can tell an old-timer: They were there when “The burning MAN” was the only thing going on at “BURN-ing man” besides a sculpture or two, some buckets to poop in, and a bunch of people shooting guns or drinking or dragging each other around on tarps behind pickup trucks.

Just a statue and some surrealist freaks hauling junk. That was it.

from http://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2014/08/11/local-legend-of-the-week-burning-man-founder-host-to-the-sf-cacophony-society-p-segal/
Cacophony Society members invited Jerry, Larry, and the Burning Man out to their “Zone Trip Four” in 1990. Miss P Seagal, founder of Center Cafe and doyenne of Cacophony, stands with the Man. Photo stolen from BrokeAssStuart.

Old-timers also know the other originator of the Burning Man sculpture besides Larry Harvey, Jerry James, designed and built the Man almost singlehandedly in the four years it was on the beach (1986-1989). Not to say Harvey didn’t do anything, but he definitely wasn’t the lead builder, since he was more of a thinker-type than a carpenter-type person.

So, factually, Jerry James was the co-founder of the Man’s design as well as first lead builder. James paid for the materials and everything out of his pocket, for the first years. Carson Duper and Bill Nolan also helped build the Beach Man. In ’91, Jerry James backed out for various reasons, and first Dan Miller and then Chris Campbell took over as main Man builder.

The guys initially started building the Man at the shop where Dan Miller worked, called Sound on Stage, in San Francisco. Then they moved operations to Campbell’s house in South City. Miller was the main helper in Man-building from the beginning, instrumental and around in the first place because he literally lived inside the closet in Larry’s apartment. Miller took over as lead Man builder in ’90-91 (because Jerry James left) and then Campbell from ’93 or ’94 to ’99 or 2000.

After burning a Beach Man for four years, the cops famously told Harvey, James, Miller, and the guys they couldn’t burn their fifth one on the ocean that Summer Solstice in 1990. It was Danger Ranger, John Law, Kevin Evans, and Sebastian Hyde’s idea to ask those “latte carpenters” then if they wanted to bring the wooden figure to the San Francisco Cacophony Society’s latest outing, called “Bad Day at Black Rock,” which was to take place in the desert. This would mark the Cacophony Society’s fourth “Zone Trip” outing, as opposed to their usual pranks and culture-jamming events locally, and surreal weekend excursions to Southern California.

the first Burning Man t-shirt. so dark, & very not ravey or smiley, no?

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Early Man: Proto-DPW

Back when the Man’s knuckles still scraped the ground as the Earth’s crust cooled, there was no official setup and cleanup crew. There was no official anything. As the years have gone on — this writer joined the DPW in 1998 — we have built from scratch an annual temporary city and a rock-solid worldwide society, fanning out over the ‘90s and ‘00s from amorphous clumps of mayhem into an intricately-designed temporary autonomous zone requiring some half-zillion volunteers who come early to set up the whole thing, and a full zillion DPW and Gate/Perimeter folks to make Restoration happen. (Which we used to just call “cleanup,” but that wasn’t specific enough.)

this was Collexodus in 1998 - this and just two of us in the Bucket car, rolling through the streets begging for food & water through a megaphone
this was Collexodus in 1998 – this and just two of us in the Bucket car, rolling through the streets begging for food & water through a megaphone

Not to toot our collective clown horns too much, but even governments and disaster-relief agencies come to Burning Man leadership for protocol now in building and striking large sets, organizing masses of people and traffic, and crowd control for people who generally don’t like being told what to do.

Hordes of #Occupy organizers from around the country were calling in to the Burning Man offices during the height of #OccupyWallStreet, asking advice on how to move and maintain the throngs of GenXers and millennials who flooded the streets seeking change. A lot can happen with a countercultural movement if you start with a blank slate and a bunch of kinetic energy.

We come to Burning Man to slam into something harsh — to make ourselves tougher. Some go harder than others. Those who go hardest pick up the inevitable detritus left behind.
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Cop Whispering: A call to unity

Working DPW and Gate at Burning Man has given many of us on staff our first taste of what it feels like to be an Enforcer. Of any type. In order to build and run a city out of thin air, sometimes a bunch of anti-authoritarians have to figure out how to tell other anti-authoritarians what to do, in the way we’d like to be told ourselves.

We workers are enforcers of necessary rules like: Don’t bring your guns or dogs here, don’t run towards the burning thing, and what if you’ve tried to stow away a hippie and now they’re suffocating underneath your bad plans.

Yes, it can be fun to role-play alpha tribe-protector out here, all fancy with a radio. Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was real, and we’re sure the lead Black Rock Rangers have had to pull some “excited fake cop” people off their Burning Man Ranger routes and take their radios away. That’s human nature. Working through it is what happens next.

For us regular blue-collar workers in Black Rock City, sometimes in this heat we get to feeling harsh, whether from a long work day, a few bad apples’ stupidity, or their mis-assumption of our stupidity. Worse yet, sometimes, as Enforcers, we harsh someone who doesn’t deserve it, because someone else tried to run and hitchhike through fast-moving intake lanes just a minute ago.

So the workers of Black Rock City have a heightened sense of empathy for Burning Man’s law enforcement. In Black Rock City, we have DPW who builds and stewards the town, we have Rangers who walk around and interact with the community, we have Emergency Services which provides medical and fire protection to anyone and everyone who needs it, and we have Gate and Perimeter as our internal “border security.” Together, these Burning Man departments handle all the regular, run-of-the-mill problems a society might have, such as power outages, dehydration, or domestic disputes.

Then the big guns are also here — the BLM and local law enforcement — whenever we need them.

We have always been glad they’re here. We workers have dealt with some scary shit, and while we talk a big tough game, DPW doesn’t know what to do with a transient one-armed man who’s wandered in from the desert during setup 2003, bleeding from his crazy-eyed head, talking about having just murdered a friend and his dog. Uhhhh, that’s beyond our scope of knowledge and ability.

We call the cops. We need cops. End of story. (more…)

You’ve got the KLAP

As of this week, Gerlach’s one and only radio station, KLAP 89.5FM, moved physically from the garage in town to Mama Loella’s old hotel next door.

ye olde garage, now housing Quinn's new pizza joint
ye olde garage, now housing Quinn’s new pizza joint

KLAP 89.5FM sounds like KPIG — playing a vast array of cowboy, country, rock, roll, jazz, reggae, folk, Cajun, Latin, Dixieland, and soul music, in random playlists which skillfully ride the thin line between eclectic and familiar. And that’s because Jeff Cotton, who programmed KPIG, started the KLAP four years ago.

You could listen to KLAP 89.5FM right now, and forever, streaming here.
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Gerlach Senior Center – Donations Wish List

Gerlach’s elders could use a few things, y’all.

The Nevada town just outside the Black Rock Desert where Burning Man occurs is home to a small but thriving population of senior citizens. Rather than head towards the nursing homes of Reno, the elders in this dusty Western hamlet pretty much decided to hunker down and stick together. A Senior Center was created, where they can rely on each other for support, which allows them to live at their own homes for what seems like longer than most old folks get to, or maybe ‘til the last, as most of us would prefer.

Senior Center painting of Gerlach's iconic Water Tower, by someone named Livermore, done in 1978
Senior Center painting of Gerlach’s iconic Water Tower, by someone named Livermore, done in 1978

Weekday lunches and frequent activities with your friends? Constant contact with your support network? Sounds like a better way to spend those golden years than locked in a bleak hospital for the aging, somewhere far away from the ones you love.
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It’s a Cacophony Spring! — “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society” book release events in May 2013

City Lights Bookstore SF, where modern American literature was born, announces:

Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society LAUNCH PARTY !
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Boosktore, San Francisco, California

cacophonysociety_old_logo

“An evening of irreverent antics

with Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law and friends

celebrating the release of

Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society
Edited by Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith and John Law

published by Last Gasp Books

Come one, come all…..at your own risk.

A template for pranksters, artists, adventurers and anyone interested in rampant creativity, Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society is the history of the most influential underground cabal you’ve never heard of. Rising from the ashes of the mysterious and legendary Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society, at its zenith, hosted chapters in over a dozen major cities, and influenced much of what was once called the underground. The Cacophony Society’s epic exploits radically changed the way people live and play in the world. The group inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Burning Man and helped start pop culture trends including flash mobs, urban exploration, and culture jamming.”

What has been said about Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society:
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John Law and Last Gasp announce Cacophony Society history book!

Lock up your conservative co-workers’ tiny brains, lest they explode all over your shiny new copy: It’s finally happening. A book concerning The Cacophony Society’s proto-history is coming out.

Fans of Last Gasp already know the wacko publishing house’s books are always fun, and this one in particular will be the gorgeous graphic novel which you hand people when they come over to your house and ask you, “So how did Burning Man start, anyway?”

Drool on the cover art:


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