Those who know me know that for the past few years I’ve made the trip, along with my good friend Petr, out to the Black Rock Desert for the Burning Man festival. This trip has twice proved to a be a life-altering event, a place to learn and grow as an individual and revel in pure experience. This year I wasn’t able to get my shit together to go, and as the date approaches (Labour Day) I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic.
I came across a review for a new book, This Is Burning Man by Brian Doherty and it made me miss the desert even more.
You’re in the desert, a flat, alkaline, dust-choked nowhere the temperature of molten lava, and it’s empty, totally empty. Until, all at once, a whole city rises up like one of those fabulous desert mirages, an anti-Disneyland of tents and trailers, art cars and light shows, people playing golf with burning toilet paper rolls, a kid in a gorilla suit hiding out in a Porta Potty, a dwarf car-surfing behind a pick-up truck…There are hundreds of bizarre, unpredictable things going on all at the same time, and it’s wild–a circus, a zoo, a carnival of the senses. All inhibitions and personal boundaries collapse. The ordinary has vanished.
You’re at Burning Man. Or you’re just reading a book about it.
The author’s name is Brian Doherty. He’s a participant-observer of this annual ritual in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, and his is a delightfully engrossing read. For one thing it’s a sort of biographical dictionary of some of the weirdest people on the planet: Steve Heck, for example, whose motto is “Don’t Be Me” and who makes art out of junk, piling pianos one on top of another, sometimes dozens of them, as a free-form altar to the out-of-tune, then torching the whole. And the Rev. Al, who one year walked around smothered in mud wearing a tire, which was covered with lit sterno cans, suspended from a chain around his neck. Or the 30,000 others who now attend this thing, dressed, many of them, as someone else.
Burning Man is one of the very few events in American culture that brings together hippies, punks, suburban families, Internet millionaires, academics, cab drivers, Honda drivers, techies and tree-huggers and melts them down. Like any true adventure, it strips the clothes off your character, opens you up to self-inspection. Doherty’s book is an excellent introduction to the madness. If you can’t make it to Black Rock, buy the book.
Since I won’t be making it out to the playa this year, I figured another giant party would help take my mind off it, so Labour Day will be spent in Montreal at Cream, where there should be a relatively good mix of insanity and a healthy dose of un-reality to fill the void. (oh yeah, the music lineup is going to kick ass too!)
And here are some links:
The weblog by author Brian Doherty
Buy the book at Amazon
My weblog of my Journey to Burning Man 2003
My photos from Burning Man 2003
My friends at Ontario Camp where I camped last year (who are reportedly building a dome dressed up like a giant cat this year. cool)