August 24th, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir: The Friendliest Kidnapping

IMG_6425After the events of last year, I was stunned to bump into Augustus St. George on the play last night!  It was four in the morning, and he was walking with a couple of rangers out of Decadent Oasis, a camp I’d never known his to associate with.  I asked him what was up.  He didn’t seem happy to give me the answer, but then he never seems happy.  Here’s what he told me:

I’d said I wasn’t coming to Burning Man again, and I always keep my word to criminals, bartenders, and women with low expectations.  Duchamp’s team of layers had been on me like a pack of rats on a cheese plate after last year’s showdown, and I was happy to retire.  I took my savings and bought a little place in Half-Moon Bay, right by the ocean.  The ocean’s expanding and the coast is eroding, and it will be gone in 30 years.  But so will I.

I hate Half-Moon Bay.  It’s a town for people who have very high expectations of their children.  But I love sitting on my balcony with a glass of something strong at sunset, watching the sun change the color of the ocean.  I was planning to live like this.  Unless there was something good on television.  Then I was planning to watch it.

But on Saturday, there was a ring at my door.

I turned on the intercom.  “What?”  It’s what I say instead of “Who.”

“It’s Melinda,” she said.  “Open up.”

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August 24th, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa, Uncategorized


800px-Sunrise_Lens_FlareSunday night, after dark, I’m walking down 4 o’clock towards the Esplanade.  Deep in unpleasant thoughts, lost in my head already, as I sometimes get at Burning Man.

From the opposite direction, a young woman rides her bike towards me.  I can barely see her in the glare of her headlights.

As we pass each other she calls out “You know you’re going the wrong direction!”

I try to see her, but darkness and light are all I get.  “Which direction should I be going?” I call back.

“All of them!” she shouts, without a moment’s hesitation, and then is gone.



August 24th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC, Environment

Breathing Sea Monkeys

my old neighborhood

my old neighborhood

When you’re on the playa a certain number of hours, you acclimate. That number of hours depends on your constitution, but after all the preparation and anticipation, the packing, driving and making it to the event sign on 34 and pulling off the pavement then making your slow progress through the Gate and later, through Greeters, you find your camp and get your essential shit together. You unpack everything you brought with you because we have a tendency to bring everything just in case we need anything and you set up your essentials shelter and water. For a few hours you’ll spend time with camp mates who were already here and have acclimated, or you’ll wander, or you’ll just collapse into  sleep, submersed in an ambient glowing soundscape of a City that is coming alive around you.

That first sleep comes on strong, cool and windswept beneath shivering shadows cast by tents and shade structures, to sleep and to dream in this wide open space where nature is the ultimate governess. And each breath away from the barrage of the default world we are all complicit in creating, complete with alluring suggestions regarding what you should believe and buy, each breath will clear your mind of any unhappy maniacal anxious material monkeys that our society packs on your shoulders all year, those screeching little rascals who crawl up your spine and tend to make you insane daily. You’ve worked on your art to gift, planned and set aside some of the tribute you pay to the world behind to come and camp out here to contribute to a community that’s one some of us believe is something that could be better than the one we leave behind.  We’re experimenting each year, trying to fine tune this on playa situation and some of us are hoping enough of here seeps out into there.

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August 23rd, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Three friends, the Temple, and the heart of BRC

Ziffy in the Center Cafe

Ziffy in the Center Cafe

Michael Ziff and Craig Mullin have been coming to Burning Man since 1999, which, because it was in the ‘90s, should and does garner mad respect. We think the dividing line for old school is the year 2000; if you attended before then, you’re old school; if you started coming after, well, we’re happy to have you …

Ziffy and Corky therefore qualify as old school,  and on Friday, just a couple of days before the event starts, they had one of those fundamental kinds of Burning Man experiences that you can’t make up, ones that seem to happen with an almost unsettling regularity, and which restore your faith that you’ve made the right decision to attend again.

Because honestly, it’s not easy to come here.

It’s not easy to step away from the life you know and the people you love and maybe the job you have, to put it all in a state of suspended animation, not for a vacation, but for immersion and energy and maybe even renewal and rebirth. Yes, yes, Burning Man is a dirt rave and a hippy party and a corral for sparkle ponies, we get all that.

But it is also the opportunity to burn things away, both literally and figuratively. It is looking again at the life you are living, looking at it through a different lens, and judging it by different standards. It’s hard not to do that here, because in spite of the recent (and not really new) stories about how Burning Man has become a playground for the tech elite, for most people, the experience is anything but a contest in opulence.

Layna Joy said it pretty well out at the Man Base the other day. She said, “People are the currency here, and I’m rich. Money means nothing.” The strength and freshness of your personality and the authenticity of your life is what counts here.

Ziffy and Corky first came to Burning Man in 1999, and they went to the first Temple ever specifically built for Burning Man in 2000. That was David Best’s first year, and it was the first year there was an identifiable place for solemnity and reverence and memorial and yes, sadness, at Burning Man.

And Ziffy and Corky were out at the Temple again yesterday, too, even as workers were installing decorative panels in the still-under-construction dome. They wanted to be in the Temple at the exact moment, 11:11 a.m., that their friend Daniel, back in Vancouver,  would have himself removed from life support and thus end his long battle against terminal cancer. Read more »

August 23rd, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

The Shrouded Man

man seidney erthalThis is my first little post from the Playa. It is a beautiful day, the temperature is in the mid 80s, there is a mild breeze, the theme camps are arriving and the city is getting populated. I have spent the day meeting new people in my camp, the pretty newbie from Georgia, and ever smiling photographer Fonzi, and hanging with 20 year veterans like Eggchairsteve. New family and old family. And then I ran into Sidney Erthal, my friend and a fabulous photographer, and we decided you might like to see a different view of the Man. Whether you are already on the Playa, on your way here, or staying home this year, this is the new Man, bigger and better than ever, topping off at over 100 feet. More later…

Photo: Sidney Erthal Photography 

August 22nd, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Things come to a head

The Man rises from behind the souks that ring the perimeter

The Man rises from behind the souks that ring the perimeter

The Man got a head today, and he’s a better Man for it.

Actually, he’s had a head for some time now, but it just hadn’t been put on his body. That was rectified this morning when Bruiser, Joe the Builder and their crews lifted the 3,400-pound thing and put it atop his torso.

His enormous face is lined with blue neon, and the skull will glow with red light from within. The neon color scheme is similar to 2008’s American Dream, and the combined colors will cast a purplish/reddish glow. “Larry said he wanted a subdued effect,” Dana was saying as he watched the Man’s head lifted into place.

The Man site was quickly transformed from a work site to an installation site, and Oopah and his crews were putting the finishing touches on the tent-like Souks that ring the man on the ground. The Souks replace the Regional art installations this year, and rumors are flying about the guests who might make anonymous appearances in them to talk with Burners, so you’ll definitely want to check them out.

Bruiser and his dad before the lift began. "I'm just here to supervise," dad said

Bruiser and his dad before the lift began. “I’m just here to supervise,” dad said

This morning’s lift was almost anticlimactic from the drama of a couple of mornings ago when the Man’s legs were raised and his torso was put on top of them. All was smooth sailing, as Bruiser’s crane didn’t seem to strain in the slightest. Pirate maneuvered a boom lift to keep track of the guide wires, and Goatt was back on playa to help lower the head into place.

The process of building the Man’s head was quite a departure this year. Normally, the Man Krewe heads to the work ranch at the end of June and spends a week or so building the normal Man, then many of them head to the desert for Fourth of Juplaya. This year, though, most of the work was done right on site, right next to the Man Base crew, which did the construction on the Man’s body.

“Honestly, I’m kind of ready to be done with it,” Bodie was saying the other day. “It’s been a lot more intensive this year.”

Instead of building the same Man as they always do, with slight variations and embellishments to distinguish each year’s Man, this year the head had to be invented before it could be built. So it meant for long days, some setbacks, but at the end, a very worthy dome. “We were bent over, leaning backwards on 12-foot ladders,” Bodie was saying.

“There the head flies, and now I fly,” Commander Bob said as he watched the lift.

Commander Bob watches the lift

Commander Bob watches the lift

For Andrew Johnstone, who did the design of this year’s gargantuan Man, the feeling was a little different: “I feel like a giant weight has been transferred to the Man’s shoulders from my shoulders,” he said.

The design of the Man germinated a couple of years ago, even before last year’s giant flying saucer was built. Andrew said Larry came to him asked what seemed to be a rhetorical question: “What if we built a giant Man?” Andrew started ruminating on the idea, and now here it is.

The man’s head seems quite nicely perched on the spine, and there was a bit of wiggle room built into the process to allow for that. After that head was lowered onto the 20×20-foot spine, holes were drilled through the wood to fix its place.

And now that the head is where it belongs, and now that Black Rock City has its focal point, the big structure will go from being various pieces lying on the ground to perhaps the most-photographed object since the Golden Gate Bridge.

And it also seems that we’re that much closer to being ready for the gates to open, and that’s a fine thing, too.


The Man rests on the side before the lift began

The Man rests on the side before the lift began

Getting ready for insertion

Getting ready for insertion

The first lift

The first lift

Getting ready to receive the head

Getting ready to receive the head

Bruiser during the lift

Bruiser during the lift


The side of the Man's head

The side of the Man’s head


Metal Shop Heather getting ready to go



Brandon, Pirate and Joe the Builder held the guide wires in a boom lift as the Man’s head was lifted by the crane


It was a choreographed dance as the Man’s head ascended


Close to the top

Close to the top


There was an opening with half an inch clearing all around that had to sit on the Man's spine.

There was an opening with half an inch clearing all around that had to sit on the Man’s spine.

And at the end, the Man stood tall

And at the end, the Man stood tall






August 21st, 2014  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

The State of the Art

For those of you who come to Burning Man to see the ART in store for you, I have traveled the playa and met with many good artists and can most joyfully tell you that the  State of the ART in Black Rock City, despite the previous weeks’ weather is very, very good.

Dan Fox's Alien Siege Machine

Dan Fox’s Alien Siege Machine

The largest project closest to the ARTery, up around 6:30, is Dan Fox’s Alien Siege Machine. This beast is growing daily, with all but the top floors installed, and it will eventually reach 40 ft tall. Participants can climb all over and inside this beast of a machine that will burn on Friday.  I met Dan Swain, aka Dolphin, the project architect, who told me the structure should be completed by end of day today. Fox and his crew built Anubis and the Trojan Horse.  They like big wooden sculptures that end in the most impressive burns, so this one will be a must see. They’re based out of the East Bay, Oakland and the project prefabrication is done at NIMBY. When you arrive in Black Rock City, please be sure to climb up in the Machine for the view and for a sense of back in the day when you had your forts and tree houses, complete with “NO GURLS (or BOYZ) ALLOWED” signs, however this time you’ll be  inside an Alien Siege Machine that is ready to pilot into battle and lay waste to everything in its path.  And there’s a really big bomb loaded in the bomb bay waiting to drop.

A happy  Toilet Bowl Crew

A happy Toilet Bowl Crew

Following the Promenade to the Man, I ran into the fine folks at The Toilet Bowl along the 9 o’clock Promenade. Tracy Gillan, Don Rider and Gaylen Hamilton of Bathroom Beacons: Welcome to Fabulous Black Rock City (their group is collectively known as StarPony Labs) and hung out with them a moment. Tracy told me, “I bought all this bowling alley stuff on Craigslist and I wanted to make a bowling alley here on the playa. Don and I are in the same hula hooping class and I told him I wanted to call it the ‘Dust Bowl’ and asked if he wanted to be part of it. He asked if we could incorporate it into his Bathroom Beacons art then we decided, Toilet Bowl!  History was made: a melding of bowling and bathrooms.”  “The Big Lebowski” will play on continuous loops on the bowling lane consoles and their group is also building Bathroom Beacons: Welcome to Fabulous Black Rock City, the redux of the Las Vegas sign, guiding participants to spots of relief. They are also installing Twisted Bristles in the 3 o’clock plaza – a large toilet brush featuring optic fiber and LED lighting.

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August 21st, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

The desert time


Summer has returned to the playa.

After unseasonably cool (even cold!) and wet weather early in the build, we’ve had blazing sun for days and days now. Early last week, we were so cold and damp, we wanted to sit by a fire in the middle of the day. Today, that thought is unimaginable. It’s hot. Plenty hot.

And just because it’s the single biggest question on everyone’s minds as they get ready for Burning Man, let’s talk for a second about playa conditions:

They’re not  great.

But here’s the thing: they haven’t been that great in six out of the past seven years, at least. The lone exception was the year after heavy fall rains covered the Black Rock Desert under many inches of water. Heavy rains re-set the playa floor. When the desert is inundated, it creates a deep, thick crust that’s more resistant to crumbling, and underneath the crust, there is a firm floor.

But that’s not the way it is this year. Actually, the playa doesn’t seem all that different this year than last year, and last year wound up being a fairly moderate year for dust. There’s general crappiness out around 3 o’clock, but there always seem to be lots of mounds out there. So again, nothing much is different than the past several years.

What does that mean for you? Be prepared for whiteouts. Bring goggles. Pitch your tent (and art) securely. Also? It might rain, so maybe a poncho isn’t a bad idea. Also? It might get cold, so have at least one warm thing to wrap yourself in if the need arises. In other words, it’s pretty much the same as every other year.

The last light on Razorback

The last light on Razorback

The playa seems the same, and many things seem the same, year after year. King Paul, the head of the Oculus crew, said, “What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome, right?” We agreed, and we’d heard the quote before. But we said that it’s also true that we do the same things over and over out here, and the results ARE different. So does that make us crazy too? Paul raised his eyebrows and agreed.

“You get to work with a bunch of kick-ass people,” he said, “you get the camaraderie, and the rest just comes.”

Yes, the rest just comes. We all go through changes in the offseason. We lose friends and family, we get married and divorced, we move, we change jobs. Sometimes we get sick or hurt, and sometimes our spirits suffer distance and alienation.

But then we come out here and we get to be the same again. And we get to work with a lot of the same crazy-ass people in the same crazy-ass environment, and the crazy happens again.

Paul moved to San Juan Batista this offseason, to a 2500 square-foot house that hasn’t been lived in for seven or eight years. It needs everything – foundation, plumbing, electrical, the whole works. “I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he said. But soon, he said, he’ll get the gardens going, and get some livestock, too. “I’m ready to rock and roll.”


Contemplation near the fence

Contemplation near the fence

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