“If something is really worth doing, you cannot explain it. It can only be explained in the medium in which it exists.”
– from jay’s write-up of our Burn. he’s got all the details, really, as well as other excellent observations. my following version is more impressionistic.
Burning Man was exactly what i expected it to be. no real surprises. really – nothing, outside of the sheer size of the event, really wowed me. but since i expected it to be amazing, and it was, that’s not a bad thing.
the one true surprise: the dust storms. the first day we arrived, after setting up camp, our first trip out and about the storm kicked up. we had no goggles or masks. we could not see. when watching Fear and Loathing, when they go to the Fabulous Mint 400 and they drive around in the dust and can’t see and the photog’s beer fills up with dust, i didn’t realize that was real – exaggerated movie effects, i figured. i didn’t realize that you would not be able to see more than 2 feet in front of you and the world would become a foggy beige. i also didn’t expect to enjoy it. the sheer force of the storm was invigorating, and standing there, in the midst, was unbelievable and an almost out of body experience. every second that dust blew through was exciting. the days before we arrived it was never ending, they said. that, i would probably not have enjoyed.
jay says: “It was like being in a warm snow storm where you just want to stick out your arms and let it hit you.” exactly! see:
J and K in walking through the blizzard
hotties at center camp during the dust storm
however, it wasn’t nearly as dirty as everyone made it out to be. in fact, as a person with oily skin, the combination of hot unfiltered sun and alkaline dust/mud did wonders for my complexion. i wore a dust mask for most of the evenings/nights, when the dust was kicked up from everyone biking and wandering. my hair was in dreads by the time we stopped in Reno for pizza on the way home. i had to wash it three times to get it clean. but never once did i feel uncomfortable. our car did not get trashed – in fact, today it’s perfectly clean again after a car wash and some vaccuming. our camp stayed clean. our tent stayed clean. no problems.
being out in the elements, exposed, was definitely the biggest draw for me, i think. i am one who needs to be FORCED to unplug, you know? if i’m anywhere near a newspaper or computer or even a freeway or buildings, my mind races. i was really looking forward to being utterly unplugged. and not only that, free to do pretty much whatever i wanted while out there.
the cycles of the sun and the moon really entertained me the entire time we were there. i have always been highly aware of these movements. when i was younger i would stay up all night just to watch the sun rise. it was one of the things i most looked forward to about going to BM – being able to watch the sun set over the mountains in the west and then staying up to watch the sunrise on the opposite side of the world. the fact that it was a 3/4-1/2 moon while we were there was also awesome. the pale moonlight lit up the Playa at night *just enough* so that you could see while riding your bike around without hitting anything. we had moonshadows. i love moonshadows. the flatness of the Playa made it easy to track the celestial movements quite well, and even though i did have a watch you didn’t really need one. you knew quite well what time it was by the sun and the moon, and that feeling is so very ….. REAL. primative. we were utterly subjected to the cycle, and it felt good.
sunrise, 6:30 a.m. saturday, september 4th
sunrise shadows, looking back toward the temple
one of the first interpersonal experiences we had involved our neighbor. his misfit crew, a tarp thrown over a ford escort, were really quite a mess. they had trouble putting up their own camp, and judging based on looks and actions were quite intoxicated the entire time, morning noon and night. one of them had spent the morning throwing canned goods shot-put style and screaming. later, he ran me with his bullhorn because i was trying to pick up the cans of soup he had thrown all over the place. i was afraid someone would pull in and run them over. he told me they told him they needed some space and so he was giving them some breathing room. whatever dude. that was pretty much our very first encounter with the humanimals of the Playa, but thankfully not a sign of things to come.
the no vending no commercial give and take was refreshing and welcome. it was nice to not have people constantly selling things (like in Phish lots), like food and drugs. we had plenty of food and water for ourselves, and enough to share. we got plenty of food and water and drinks and party favors and stickers and candles and gifts from others, who had enough to share. no one went without. we were given at least one amazing gift. you just had to touch it.
no one was trying to get anything from anyone else. (almost) no one was trying to make money off this. everyone was there to do as they pleased, and let others do the same. if you didn’t like what they were doing, turn away. do not judge.
the one exception was the poor soul who plopped down his tent next to ours. his skin had the weathered look of a homeless man – leathery and dark, though his eyes were light and he had otherwise caucasian features. he was young, though, – 20 at the most – and so we wondered how someone so young could look so old. he told us that he had been a part of a larger camp, but they kicked him out. he stayed up all night and then slept all day and didn’t do his share of the chores, he said. and so they kicked him out. there might have been another reason too: he sold a lot of drugs out of that tent. one guy came and hung out at our camp with us for over an hour because Tent Boy was sleeping, but he didn’t want to wake him up. he needed to get something from him. the kid woke up and soon after several people came and went from his tent. he later bragged that he had made more than $3000 so far. on Monday he said he had made $5000. at one point, as we were packing up, i rode by on my bike and saw him, alone in his small tent with no shade structure, no food, no car, no water, counting his money. fistfulls of dollars. he was the one person i saw who was not there to be any part of the creative community. he was there to sell (and presumably do) drugs. he otherwise was passed out in his tent all day, sleeping off the night.
as we were packing up to leave, we somehow got on the topic of deaths on the Playa in previous years, and at other festivals of similar kind. as he walked away, i could not believe the words out of his mouth: “yeah, people do way too many drugs at these things.”
another highlight moment: the first night we rode our bikes out away from camp, past the Man and past the Temple, and looking back at the full arc of the city, the magnitude was breathtaking. (i had no idea i would be riding my bike so much, either. i’d say at least 10 miles a day. back and forth across and through the circle, which is approximately 1.5 miles in diameter. my ass still hurts. ) during the day, the inner rings of the city looked like a refugee camp. tarps and tent structures and dirty cars, dirty half-naked people taking “showers” with buckets of water and standing in tarps. the art installations were fun by day, but it was nothing compared to night.
at night, suddenly – hundreds of thousands of glowsticks. everyone had them on. you had to, otherwise people would run into eachother. thousands of bikes (no cars except for art cars) covered with glowsticks or otherwise lit up, zig zagging back and forth around pedestrians and art and camps. like a swarm of phosphorescent insects, buzzing about the hive. and once outside the camp, into the middle of the 3/4 circle under the night sky, looking back it was lit up like a circus. a hundred ring circus. everything was lit. fires were burning. the arc swept a good 3/4 of a mile around. and the clubs! huge set ups with tall trees and lights and stages and a sound like thunder. you cannot believe the sound and the light coming out of that dark desert, hauled in on trucks and set up with no infrastructure, the energy seemingly generated by the people there. the ground vibrated, even half a mile out on the edge, where the only line was drawn. we watched others trip throughout the neon night, marveling at the freedom and creativity.
it was completely outside the matrix. rangers roamed ; security was present. they knew full well what was going on. bacchanal was everywhere, from the people in the kama sutra art car having sex for spectators, changing positions every 20 minutes, to the completely out-of-head trippers rolling naked in the dust, laughing at the stars. but no one was stopped. no one was reprimanded. the rangers roved on, serving only to protect in emergencies.
the combination of cool raver nights and hot desert days was perfect. one ending was the beginning of the other. we cheered as the sun set over the mountains 4 times, giving way to the night, and stood silent and smiling as it rose on the opposite horizon twice, bringing a new day.
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i saw vera only once, very briefly. she was part of what i think was the loudest camp/club out there. you could hear that bass all the way out to the perimeter gates; the ground vibrated. she was lost in her own little heaven. i found jason, and he also appeared to be in heaven. we hooked up late saturday night/early saturday morning (4:30 a.m?) to watch particle perform – the only live band i saw on the Playa. we danced and danced. he hooped and hooped. i also found philo, and he took me to Boutique, where people donated and traded clothes. i got three really great dresses there.
my coworker X was in Giraffe Camp, and they had an art car that looks like a huge giraffe. we rode around on that all afternoon on saturday.
Gurty and the Zebra discuss whether there have been any Lion sightings on the Playa lately.
X and I hold our friend Z. Z was given to me by my mom for Valentine’s day a couple of years ago, and has been sitting on my desk at the office since. when you push the button on Z’s leg, he sings “Hooked on a Feelin’”. when X told me her art car for the Burn was a giraffe, we determined that Z must also go to BM. it was really nice for Z to be able to get out of the office. he’s back now, and has a little sign on him that says “Burning Man or Bust.” he’s very excited for next year.
note to all the ladies: the “paste tease” that they sell at good vibrations are awesome and will stay on for 3+ days, even through swimming/showering. i now have little flower-shaped tan lines around my nipples.
Here we are holding Z again.
here i am riding around on Gurty.
J, riding on Gurty the Giraffe
me, kristin and jay (collectively known as JAK), as seen from Gurty the Giraffe.
the art installations were truly impressive. i should have taken more photos of them, but i had this feeling that on film, not set against the endless sky and Playa they wouldn’t be true representations. the elements and logistics of these pieces of art must be considered in any evaluation. on film they may not appear to spectacular. in fact, sitting out there on the flat Playa some of them didn’t seem to spectacular either. and then you think to yourself … “if i wanted to do this, how much work would it be?” some of them were pure kitch, certainly, and some overly minimalist. but some were truly wonderful.
here is a Moon Man sculpture, seen through a dust storm:
the moon man sculpture: anti-gravity dust
this mirror box was a two way deal. i didn’t realize that there were people *inside” the box, and at one point i went up to it and put my ass on it while posing for a photo. i’m sure those inside the box really appreciated it. then, i saw the invisible door open and people came out…. one of them had a pizza. i don’t know where he got that pizza, but it looked good.
a good reflection of Gurty in the mirrorbox.
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sunset, saturday, september 4th
J A K missed the Burn on saturday night because we were taking a nap. the night before, we had napped from 8-12 and that gave us a burst of energy to make it until sunrise. sat night we all thought the Man burned at midnight. turns out – it was 10:00. we all had earplugs in, and so didn’t really hear everyone taking off. it wasn’t until the first explosion that I woke up. jay and i hopped on our bikes as fast as we could, but we didn’t get there until way after He had already fallen and everyone was heading back to camp. i was really upset, and cried for a little while. at that point i felt like my whole experience had been a sort of *almost* experience. i *almost* had as much fun as i could, but being (relatively) sober (outside of a lot of RedBull and vodka) sure made it feel like everyone else was having WAYYYY more fun than i was. especially around 5:00a.m. i *almost* put my full effort into my own costumes, but not really. i didn’t really make anything new. i *almost* made an effort to take in as much of the art and performances as i could, but not really. we sat around our camp a lot, when we could have been sitting around Center Camp instead and watching everyone float by. i *almost* participated in a performance art by hooping, but didn’t make it to Center Camp to hoop with Vera and others on Friday night, and since i couldn’t really figure out a way to ride my bike with my hoop, i never actually took it out anywhere. bad hooper.
however, this all makes me even more determined to have a much more than *almost* time next year. they say the first time ain’t the greatest because you have no idea what to expect and what you need and how to make the most of it. next year, we will. jay is already working up plans for a grilled cheese camp and has decided his Playa name will be Riboflavin (aka B2).
later that night, J A K found the Roller Disco camp at around 4:30 a.m. it took about half an hour to find skates that fit among those scattered in the dust, but we did and we skated around and around, and watched totally high people try to skate. it was fun. cold, but fun. the music kept going on and off, so not quite as disco as one would have liked. after that we went to see more Particle. and then we watched the sun rise, and watching the sun come up i determined not to be upset about saturday night because sunday was a whole new day, and a whole new day and the temple would burn that night. it made a lot of difference, seeing that sun come up and accepting that one day was done and another had started.
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the Temple of the Stars was pehaps the most amazing piece of sculpture i’ve ever seen. they were still working on it through thursday, putting the hundreds of thousands of pieces together. although made out of very light, thin pieces of wood – scraps from wood used to make toy dinosaurs, like dough after the cookie cutter has cut out the shapes. but the thousands of peices of wood, all nailed together, made a very large and sturdy sculpture. the temple consisted of two long plank walkways – about 50 yards – leading up to each side, and then a main steeple. the insides of the structure were intricate, with wooden chandeliers hanging down. all along the inside, people had come and written their hopes and dreams and prayers on the wood. photos of loved ones. prayers to gods. letters to lovers. all to be burned and sent into the air.
the Temple was burned on sunday night, after a large percentage of the city had left. the burning of the Man, the night before, had been a huge, loud, raucous party. as everyone neared the temple, most stood silent.
at one point while we all silently encircled the temple, watching it go up/down in flames, i noted that at some point in time somewhere in the world we would have all been burned at the stake for such idol worship.
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i wish i had known about burning man earlier. being from the midwest of course i never heard about it until i moved to Cali. and then … every year there was some reason not to go. weddings. jobs. money. other vacations.
i wish i could have gone when it was smaller; more intimate. i got the feeling while there that it’s getting too big. on Friday night when the Weekend Warriors rolled in, looking out of place in their jeans and t-shirts and coolies full of Budweiser, the energy changed. suddenly there seemed to be all these people who could care less about the art and community and just wanted to get wasted and stare at the naked women.this article in the Chron makes a lot of good observations:
Others say the music played at the festival’s dozens of outdoor dance venues was more strictly limited to the repetitive thumpa-thumpa of techno music. “I want to dance to some world music, some funk or something, but I was going around and around last night and only heard techno, and I was bummed,” said Lisa Riley, a Los Angeles resident who was riding a bicycle festooned with giant rabbit ears. “Other years, I danced my head off, but this year I couldn’t find much.”
“I’m not sure there are enough people who are really interested in the Burning Man aesthetic,” said a woman named Shana. “Do we really want this to be just suburbanites?”
i was really disappointed in (and surprised by) the lack of cultural diversity there. 99% of the people were white, 21-35, middle-income people. there are, of course, several reasons for this: it costs a good chunk of change to get yourself out there. i haven’t added up the totals, but we spent hundreds of dollars on camping gear and food, and we didn’t even go all out on costumes/toys. not that minorities are all poor, but it’s a very white suburban thing to do. someone also had the theory, although i don’t know how valid this is, that minorities don’t need to “create” their own communites because they already have them. they already have a community that is alternative to what you see on white-middle-class-dominated television. white suburbanites really have to go outside the boundaries to create a real alternative for themselves.
i was *really* disappointed in the lack of diversity in music. almost *all* techno/electronica. i never even heard good breaks or jungle. just tons of house and trance, going “whoom whoom whoom” all night long. i barely danced at all; the music bored me. i did see a few drum circles but the energy/rhythm of them didn’t last long. i was hoping for more live bands / musicians. i barely heard any.
i think that was probably the most disappointing aspect of the event – the real lack of diversity in both people and music and events. everyone was there doing the same thing – dressing up, riding around on art cars, dancing, partying. it was kind of repetative, even. i had to go out of my way to really find something unique going on. they were there, but they were kind of hard to find.
that is not to say that the event isn’t fun as hell, and a very welcome break from my world. however – it’s really not as “alternative” as i thought it would be. it suffers from the same affliction that every “alt” community does – at a certain number of participants, it’s not alt anymore. it’s hard to feel like you’re experiencing something really special when 35,000 other people are doing the same thing you are….. and you look around and EVERYONE is wearing glowsticks and EVERYONE has their boobs painted and EVERYONE has on furry little legwarmers and EVERYONE is grooving to the same beat.
i’m a cynic, i know. i had a great time, and saw a lot of beautiful things and beautiful people and actually relaxed quite a bit. but i really was expecting something *more*. i’m still going to go again and i can’t wait for 2005. expecially now that i know what’s up, next year we are going to make SURE to bring some different representations to the Playa and spice that place UP a little bit.
or, perhaps the whole thing has just been hyped up too much, and i need to pull back and appreciate and revel in it’s simplicity and it’s very own vibe. i don’t know. i expected too much. something about it left me wanting. not just WANTING. needing. more.
on the contrary, i met a guy the other night who hadn’t been since 1997 and just went back again this year. the first time he went it was 5,000 people. it’s 7 times bigger now.
he saw a lot of great improvements, he said. in the earlier years, people drove everyone, even though there wasn’t a grid like there is now. this means people would get wasted and drive through other people’s camps. and certainly, one of the most positive aspects of BRC now is that there are no cars, and everyone bikes. the aesthetic of everyone on bikes is very pleasing. he also said that, because Nevada allows firearms, there used to be a lot of shooting out there. or cars and shooting, for example taking an old beater, aiming it out toward the horizon, putting a brick on the gas pedal and letting it tear off and then shoot at it with assault rifles until it either disappeared or stopped. everything was burned. EVERYTHING. people burned their tents and their clothes and everything they could find. the smoke was endless. the place is cleaner and more communal feeling, he said, with the Center Camp and schedules and grid.
however, i still wish i would have gone even 3 years ago, as many seem to think the vibe has shifted quite a bit in the last 3-4 years. or, perhaps, instead, the wonder has worn off for those who have been so many times.
we’ll see next year how i feel about it. and next year – we’re going for the whole week. 4 days was not long enough by any stretch, as odd as that seems. we weren’t strapped for supplies. we weren’t that dirty. i could not in 4 days absorb (or be absorbed) all that i needed to.
i need more.
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BurningMan.com 2004 photo gallery
Playa Dust photos, which are really amazing and capture the sights very well
Poetic Dream‘s beautiful photos
philo’s slide show