Larry Harvey his own self got us in a desert mood the other night, talking about the beginnings of Burning Man even as we beat the playa out of our rugs and dodge all the Indiegogo campaigns and get ready to head out to Black Rock City again.
You probably know the story of how Burning Man began. Maybe you’ve read some magazine articles or a book or two. Ok, maybe you’ve only read a bunch of Facebook posts, but you know it all began when Larry was upset about breaking up with a girlfriend, so he burned a wooden effigy on Baker Beach to ease his troubled mind, and things took off from there.
Well, that’s not quite right, but that’s ok. An event that’s stretched its wings so far beyond the desert (twenty-three countries! fifty-five events!) is going to have some myth-making attached to it, and the bad-breakup-with-the-girlfriend story is one of them.
News came this week that the Bureau of Land Management has given the Burning Man organization official permission to hold the event for the next four years, with a maximum population of 68,000 wandering souls in 2013. That’s a big number; bigger than ever, and who could have envisioned that a spontaneous, just-for-the-hell of it Baker Beach bonfire in 1986 would grow into something that has changed the popular culture in unprecedented ways. And that’s not just hyperbole. Burning Man IS different – different than the Summer of Love, different than Woodstock, and way different than Altamont. It has endured, it has changed, and it continues to grow. And as the Burning Man Project pushes outward into the world, there has been an accompanying movement to pull back – a get-back-to-basics effort to remember the beginnings and try, as the Ten Principles do, to describe what happens out there, so that it might be replicated and extended.
So that’s what brought us to Z Space in San Francisco the other night. Harvey was there, and so was Michael Mikel, another of the founders, and Brian Doherty, the author of “This Is Burning Man,” really one of the best things you can read if you’d like to understand the underpinnings of the event. Harley DuBois, another one of the founders, said in her introduction to the evening that while she read the book, “I could almost smell the playa dust again.” Read more »