[Shalaco Wordsmith is your typical Bay Area Renaissance man: he dabbles in web design, writing, photography, art, Burning Man, adventure and zombie pin-up girls. He contributed this piece about his involvement with the construction of the Temple of Whollyness in 2013.]
I’d like to tell you the story of what happened when I set out to do something I dreamed about doing, but thought I couldn’t, and what I discovered along the way.
I’ve been to That Thing in the Desert (TTITD) a handful of times and very much wanted to make that leap from attendee to participant by playing a part in creating the event. I dreamed of being on Man Krew (the crew that builds the Man), but felt it was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would never happen. I decided, however, to simply put my intentions out there and see what happens, instead of reciting to myself all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I didn’t make Man Krew. Instead I am approached with a role as ‘Internet Wizard’ for Temple Crew. I think to myself, “Establish an internet connection essential for the AutoCAD-based assembly of a massive pyramidal complex comprised of interlocking puzzle pieces of precision-machined wood, 80 miles from the nearest broadband-capable infrastructure, in the enormous, flat, dry, endorheic Pleistocene lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan? Sure, why not. I hear it’ll be a plug-and-play setup.” (more…)
Citizens of Black Rock City – everyone is talking about Turnkey camps and the Placement team wants you to know: we hear you! You’re speaking up on social media, talking at parties, doing deep dives at regional events. We’ve received more than 400 post-event emails and hundreds of comments through the Feedback form.
This is a good thing. Speaking your mind and sharing your opinions is the most important thing you can do right now.
The Placement Team placed over 1,300 camps in 2014. Theme Camps, camps for volunteers coming in early to work, camps for artists, Black Rock City, LLC department camps, camps within the BRC storage container program, and Mutant vehicle camps
We also placed about 25 Turnkey camps. We define Turnkey camps as those that offer a public space and interactivity in addition to private spaces for larger groups and are typically built by a producer, rather than a traditional camp lead.
Turnkey (or Plug N Play as we used to call them) first caught my attention in 2011. I recall placing a group who needed help finding the right place for their trucks and equipment. At the end of 2011, it seemed important to set some guidelines for how Turnkey camps could create places that were mindful of the Ten Principles. (more…)
First off, we were headed back to the Black Rock desert to visit people who, incredibly, had never left the playa. Some of them had been there since July, and it seemed the only question was just how cracked out they would be.
All their friends and everyone else who’d been to Burning Man had left them behind. They had to know that we’d been eating sushi and pizza and burritos, and we’d been showering whenever we felt like it, and when we used the bathroom, it didn’t the way only a PortaPotty can stink at noon.
So these folks had to be bitter. And they were probably resentful, too, because who wouldn’t be? By the time we rolled into town, they’d already been working Playa Restoration for days. And they had a lot more mooping to look forward to. They’d been walking slowly across the empty desert, sometimes getting down on their hands and knees, to pick up what the partygoers had left behind.
But worst of all, these lost souls might even be hostile, and that made us nervous. Who the f—were we, all clean and shiny and caught up on sleep, to come sashaying into town? What the f—were we doing there, and who the f—did we think we were?
And then there was the trip itself.
The stench of broken dreams had been with us since before Truckee. The sky was dark orange, clouded by the smoke from fires ravaging Northern California. Reno seemed like some Saudi Arabian town in the middle of a dust storm. The sky there burnt ember, and it smelled of smoke and destruction.
By the time we got to the other side of Nixon, where the beauty of the ancient lakebed usually hits us in the face, we were almost ready to turn back. We couldn’t see more than a couple of hundred yards on either side of the road. There was no sun, no glowing, golden hills. There was only smoke, and the growing sense of dread that this was all a very bad idea.
D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years, even though they haven’t called it “Playa Restoration” for nearly that long. He’s been around since the days when only a couple of dozen people would stick around after everything had been trucked back to the ranch, after everything had been stowed away for the year.
Brukka was telling us about the old days, too, when it was a just small bunch of really ragged people who did the cleanup. They didn’t eat well, mostly stuff out of cans, and they didn’t sleep much. They did drink pretty hard, though, which only served to make things … volatile.
There were no fluffers, there were no support teams, and no one really knew they were still out there. There was no such thing as a Moop Map — there was only the need to leave no trace.
The BLM has always made Burning Man clean up after itself. It’s pretty simple, really: Officers will come to random points in what had been Black Rock City, and they’ll put stakes in the ground, and they’ll stretch out lines. Then they’ll inspect the circles of desert defined by those lines, and if they find too much crap … boom. Inspection fail. Permit pulled. Event over.
So this Playa Restoration is serious business, and it is quite literally true that the future of the event depends on leaving the desert the way we found it.
And all the work is being done by people who haven’t seen home in months, and who have spent very little time with anyone but each other.
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.
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.
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.)
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. (more…)
There were so many things to like about the Temple of Grace burn last night, it’s hard to pick a favorite moment, so we won’t even try. We’ll just tick off a list of things that were just about perfect:
— The weather was calm, warm and dust-free. The sky deepened from pink to purple to blue to black, and by the time night had fallen, the fire from the Temple threw a warm orange glow on everyone’s face.
— The crowd was unusually respectful. There were many art cars lining a perimeter circle, but, as in years past, their sound systems were turned off for the burn. There were few, if any, raucous outbursts that would have changed the mood.
— Marisa Lenhardt Patton sang “Freebird” as the fire was lit, a fitting nod to the DPW’s fallen brother, and an echo of what happened two years ago, when a blaring version of that song offended many in the crowd. This time, it was only a single, beautiful voice. That song was followed by the Doors” “The End.” And then there was only silence and the sound of the fire.
— David Best his own self actually asked a Ranger to lower her voice as she was telling the crowd what to do and where to sit.
— Similarly, David made sure that all of the people who were privileged enough to be in the inner fire circle were sitting on the ground so that the crowd that had gathered behind them would have a good view, too.
— When fire engulfed the structure, it collapsed in the most graceful way possible, a half-twisting pirouette of flame and wood and embers. The Temple of Grace, indeed.
The fire lasted just about as long as seemed appropriate, and when the fire perimeter was dropped, the crowed moved slowly forward toward the flames. Best left the people he had been sitting with and called out, “Maggie! Where’s Maggie?” and went off to be with his wife.
The smell of sage and copal became thick in the air, and people pulled picnic blankets and food and drink toward the smaller piles of embers. They joined together to share what they had brought. (more…)
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. (more…)