Confused by Burning Man? You’re goddamn right you are!!!

Wait, that's ... that's not a Man. Where am I?

It might not be an overstatement to suggest that the single biggest challenge facing Burning Man as it transitions to a non-profit is explaining what-the-hell-it’s-good-for without making it sound like a therapy weekend or an erotic spa.

Why do we need to do this?  Well, one reason is that the Media Team frequently gets emails asking things like:

  • “What bands are playing at Burning Man this year?”
  • “How many stages do you have?”
  • “How do I get my act in your lineup?”

Telling these people to look at our website and see what we really do only leads to return emails saying “I still can’t find the bands!  Except, is one of them named Temple Burn?  Are they playing at the Arctica stage?  Is that the main stage?”

Actually, wow, “Temple Burn” is a pretty killer name for a band … I’m calling it.  It’s mine.  Get your own band.  You can be:  “Dust Storm.”

Actually, “Dust Storm” is a pretty good name too.  I’ll need it when “Temple Burn” kicks me out for creative differences.  Hands off.

Your band can be “Gift Economy.”  It’s kind of a folk-rock thing, very 60s influenced, writes a lot of songs about peace. (more…)

Earthalujah Explained!

[Editor’s Note: For those of you unfamiliar with him, Reverend Billy is a New York-based performance artist whose work speaks to the heart of Burning Man’s principles of decommodification and radical self-expression. He was a Burning Man honorarium artist in 2003, where he performed in front of the Man as part of that year’s “Beyond Belief” art theme. Enjoy!]

Reverend Billy’s brilliantly bombastic, boldly brief Earthalujah sermons — now available as a podcast! Watch more episodes and subscribe at revbilly.com/podcast

 

Sometimes people come up to me and ask “The Church of Earthalujah…what is that? Is it a political rally? Is it a real church? Is it a comedy sketch? What is it?!”

Question: Is consumerism, is consumption, is consuming too much killing us right now? Yes it is. In the Church of Earthalujah we are definitely fighting consumerism. And that starts with the flags, the banners of consumerism are labels. There’s a label on every product, Amen! So, let’s not label anything. Let’s get beyond labels – that’s the devil!

We have an Earth crisis right now that we can’t label. In the old days it seems like there used to be people who would run down to the village common and shout “there’s an emergency here!” The traditional town crier. Someone should be shouting “Hey! The atmosphere! Too much heat! Extinction! Everything’s dying! Do something!” Where’s that person now? There seems to be a giant hush from the governments, celebrities, corporations, religions, armies – all the people who are supposed to be leading us. There’s a hush because they don’t have the right labels. But they look around them and they see what we all see: fires, floods, tsunamis, quakes, typhoons, tornadoes…Yes! That is the town crier! That is the force that is so powerful it’s chasing the God-forsaken celebrities off the front page of the newspaper. And that is the Earth itself getting our attention, and killing some of us.

In the Church of Earthalujah we regard these events as expressions, as words, as communications from a living being. The Earth is talking to us not just through these tragedies but every time we love each other, the Earth is whispering in our ear. When we walk out across a field on a beautiful day the Earth is alive.

Lets continue to live here. Let us ask the Earth to teach us to save the Earth and save ourselves. Amen.

Passing Through

Photo: mkgraph

How do you know when you’re grown up?

The question may strike you as trivial, but let it sit for a moment. There are clear answers to it in some parts of the world, but the part from which I hail is quite vague on this point.

All the rights of passage in my life so far have been either dully underwhelming (my Bar Mitzvah? my driver’s license? my 18th birthday?), or they’ve been sudden, shocking, and rushed (graduation, first apartment, income taxes). None left me with a sense of having transformed in any believable way. When I have felt initiated, it has typically been into something unwelcome. (Oh, boy. Now I’m a taxpayer.)

Photo: Dave Millar

America doesn’t really have formal initiations. We have prescribed achievements, hoops to jump through, but they don’t come with any kind of clarity or assurance. Our institutions offer us degrees or licenses or certificates, but it’s still up to us to figure out for ourselves what good they are.

When I think of my ideal, romanticized rite of passage I wish I’d had, I wish for two things: some kind of shared experience, in which my community recognizes the occasion together, and some set of values or principles that become mine to live by afterward, so I know what to do.

Whether I imagine some solitary wilderness trial, or a purging, cleansing ritual, or some kind of quest, or some transmission from the elders, whatever exotic, nostalgic rite comes to mind, I want this communal recognition that something BIG has happened, and I want a way to understand what it means.

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Burning Man isn’t the Happiest Therapist’s Office on Earth

Greatest ... theme camp ... ever ...

This may be out of left field, but that’s where I live: If Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-easy laugh) had gone to Burning Man every year, would he still have been self-destructive enough to send damaging photos of himself to women he only knew online?

 

The answer is: probably, yes. But I ask because I frequently hear people talk about Burning Man as though it were exactly this kind of sanity check. You’ve heard it too:

“Burning Man is the one place where I can really feel like myself!”

“I go to Burning Man to let my freak flag fly, and that gets me through the rest of the year!”

“Where did this tattoo come from? How far down does it … what’s Camp Thunder Ink, and am I really its mayor?”

The notion that Burning Man is a kind of therapeutic spa for creative spirits – the place we go to be gifted chicken soup for the soul – is even implied in our official language. It’s different from the “default world”; coming and going from Burner events is “decompressing” and “recompressing.” There’s a deep notion that coming to Burning Man is the equivalent of getting psychological work done, and this makes you better able to cope with the cruelties of a world where people don’t wear fuzzy boots before Labor Day.

If this is true … and I know at least three DJs who swear it is … then it ought to show up not just in the things we *do* in the default world (the activism, the saving the environment, the being the change we want to see – like Gandhi with glow sticks), but in the things we *don’t do* in the default world. “Decompressing” ought to save us from the kind of pressure that pushes us to do immensely stupid self-destructive things.

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What Time Is It?

Photo: mkgraph

A rite of passage is an act of growing up, and I don’t just mean maturing; I mean getting older. Time, at least from our ordinary, human perspective, only moves forward.

As rites of passage go, our week at Burning Man is pretty long. That’s a lot of time to reflect, a lot of days to fill with activity. Where should we go next? What should we do? For a ritual, this Burning Man thing seems kind of unstructured. Now that we’re here, are we just supposed to wander around?

Of course, the ritual does have a structure; it’s just more complex than the structure of, say, a Caribbean cruise, where some guy in shorts and a white sun visor tells you what to do all day.

There’s the burning of the Man on Saturday night, of course, and the Temple the next night. But those are all the way at the end.

What about this morning, now that we’ve finally got the tennis balls on our tent stakes and the pink fur zip-tied to our handlebars?

I guess we’ll look in the What-Where-When Guide… (more…)

Why America Slept

Rites of Passage being our new theme on the playa this year – I’m left to ponder how all rites of passage would become one single passing, if the Earth’s physical systems’ deterioration continues to accelerate. Here’s a musing on the ultimate passing (for us, anyway) and the USA’s role in it.
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There were hundreds of millions of Kindles and Nooks frozen in death, stuck on one page – “Why America Slept.” You can say one thing about us, we were a species that scribbled, texted, hologrammed and burst a blood vessel of pixels in the final years. Every last atrocity was broadcast virally. By 2015, every consumer could make a major feature film with a gadget fitted to the hand. We could dial in our imaginary laughing audience for the sound track. If the revolution wasn’t televised, the end of the world was. Millions of movies would be found on mounds of corpses, still flickering in fingers and suitcases. Of the five known mass extinctions in the history of the earth, this was the only one where the dying species seemed to know what it was doing. (more…)

Life As Theme Camp

Amsterdam
Traveling through Amsterdam in fur pants - as a Theme Camp ambassador.

Burning Man is overflowing with lessons. One that I’m becoming increasingly aware of is that life is more awesome when you live as an ambassador from a Theme Camp.

Last week, during my Hug Nation broadcast, I discussed what Theme Camps are and how they have profoundly affected the way that I interact with the world.

Love,

Halcyon )'(

Power Rangers

Photo: Rygg Larsen

Who are the Millennial Burners, those who came of age alongside Burning Man itself? Is their experience different in any fundamental way from that of the X-ers and Boomers who joined the party at the same time? Is there a distinction at all?

In some ways, Burning Man is such a radical thing that it doesn’t matter who you are while you’re there. Your story starts at chapter 1 when you ring that bell and roll in the dust for the first time.

I don’t care what year it is or how old you are; your first arrival at Burning Man was, is, or will be weird. If you have been to Burning Man, or if your buddy has, chances are you’ve heard the playa compared to the moon or Mars. The playa has been that way for about 10,000 years, since Lake Lahontan dried up, and it has been the site of Burning Man for the 20-odd years since it earned its capital B and M. The place itself is so breathtaking, you won’t recognize the planet on which you live.

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