Subject: Passionate Affection
Date: Tuesday, September 14, 1999 6:20 PM
Burning Man is a truly transformative experience. While it is truly unique and must be experienced first-hand to truly understand it, I will try to convey what it is to me. Imagine a hybrid of Mardi Gras, Halloween, New Year's, a Grateful Dead show, a carnival, and a circus. Add a generous dose of creativity, freedom, and love and you have it. It is not commercial, capitalistic, or a cult. There is no sponsor, money, or leader. This year, we had 27 people in our theme camp, Glitter Camp- the brainchild of myself and Larry Dew, a good friend from Duke. Our shtick entailed applying glycerine and glitter to semi-naked and nude people in a fun, artistic, sensual, and interactive manner. Now, most of the 27 people in our camp did not know each other very well at the start of the week; however, all barriers were dismantled with the shedding of clothing- something not too many folks had done in public before. With the newfound liberation of the body, people liberated their inhibitions and anxieties. With the aid of glitter everyone looked beautiful and, more importantly, felt beautiful. Transformations began to occur as a loving, supportive atmosphere evolved. Our euphoria was contagious and soon we had a constant line of people waiting to be glittered at our camp. From some perspective, this may seem sexual, but in that regard, I would say that it would be accurately be described as sensual. Given the open, loving atmosphere one could say that any physical intimacy was best described as passionate affection. In short, we created a non-hierarchal, non-judgmental, socialistic, utopian society.
Personal attachments- material possessions and nagging feelings- those emotional bonds that tie us down. Refusing to let go, we are bound to these seemingly extrinsic forces that drag us through life with reckless abandon. Let go! Undesirable feelings do not arise from external factors in our lives- they are endogenous to the ego, arising from our own perceptions. Attaching ourselves to these external forces, we don't realize that freedom is as easy as letting go.
The Man--an over-sized embodiment of all that oppresses us. We forget that the looming figure towering over us is our own construction. We created him. We will destroy him. He embodies our fears, worries, pain, and inhibitions. Free yourself.
The crowning glory of Burning Man is the ritual burning of the Man- a burning effigy to release your troubles. Channel your energies; join the ritual exorcism and the jubilant chorus of his demise..."burn, burn, burn". An explosion of fireworks, the Man is burning! A triumphant yell ensues from the hysterical crowd. Ecstasy, enrapture. Crash! The Man dies in a hellish blaze. A barrage of personal items (bras, condoms, letters, TV's) are hurled on the carnage- revelers complete the catharsis by eradicating their afflictions. The drums beat on, the party continues.
The morning after--the pyre is all that remains of what we have left behind. Back to our old lives we will soon return, but with a new perspective.
What can you find in the middle of the Nevada desert? Black Rock city, a temporal community hosting the Burning Man festival every Labor Day weekend-- 6 daze of freaks, freedom, and fun. Leave it to none other than that notorious instigator of many memorable, hedonistic times, Larry Dew, to provide the impetus for trekking to Burning Man '97--the first of our many annual pilgrimages yet to come. Heading north out of Reno in his truck loaded down w/ an excess of supplies, we followed an immense desert playa of baked rock, salt, and water--actually the water was a mirage. Flanking us were jagged mountains of brown, orange, white, and gray hues. And then, slowly emerging, a surreal sight--myriad colors and shapes in the middle of the playa--the festival.
Surveying the chaos, we scouted a camping spot conveniently situated to many of the major attractions, including art (e.g., Temporal Decomposition), camps (e.g., Esoteric Order of the Yummi Yoni), and villages (Black Light District). After setting up our tents in the 'burbs of the "Blue Light District." Donning proper attire for the occasion (body paints for me, angel's wings for Larry), we set forth on our journey.
Well, from this point in the trip, the senses became a bit overloaded...no choice but to immerse ourselves in the fanfare and enjoy the next few daze. I won't try to convey it all...a veritable cornucopia for the senses...neon lights, black lights, fluorescent paints, raves, drumming, brass bands, electric bands, operas, theater, fashion shows, dancing, singing, nudity, lewdity, absurdity, exhibitionism, voyeurism, smut, spankings, stilt-walkers, fire-eaters, transvestites, pagans, prognosticators, preachers, pyromaniacs, pyrotechnics, psychedelia, and, of course, fire, fire, and more fire. The pictures are going to have to suffice where words fail. A Note on the Pictures- foolishly, I didn't come w/ nearly enough film, but Larry delegated the photojournalism, and both of his disposable cameras, to me. While there's virtually no capitalism at the festival (most everything's free once you've got your ticket), I was able to trade for a couple more rolls of film-- 7 rolls total--which still wasn't nearly enough. If these pix whet your appetite, check out the photo gallery.
While walking, dancing, stumbling, or crawling usually proved effective for getting around the playa, other forms of xportation were available when one didn't feel like trekking across a couple of miles of barren desert to get from one event to another. My personal favorites included the motorized living room and a tiny, pink girl's bicycle that some unknown benefactor had abandoned for me to enjoy. Of course what really makes the festival so great is the people. They are the real source of entertainment. Costumes, or perhaps just fashions, often defied description or even comprehension. Despite the plethora of great costumes, the most popular apparel was the birthday suit. Nudity and sexuality permeated most every facet of the festival. At first, I avoided taking any explicit nude pictures, however, I soon came to realize that I was missing some truly great shots. Of course, I still had to draw the boundary somewhere--nude but not lewd shots became the rule. Unfortunately, w/out the consent of the subjects, I can't post anything beyond a PG-13 rating here.
So many amazing events at the festival. The crowning glory--the festival climax--the ritual of burning the Man. The Man--a 40 ft neon figure that symbolizes all constraints on enjoyment-- a mirror of the ego and a cathartic sponge. A burning effigy to release your troubles. The ritual begins w/ much fanfare--20,000 costumed revelers rejoice in singing, drumming, and dancing in a pagan procession from Center Camp to the Man. Fire-brandishing stilt-walkers and dancers whirl in a frenzied orgy around the Man as the masses chant his demise..."burn, burn, burn". "Who gives you light beer? The Man!" "Who gives you love? We do!" "Who brought you television? The Man!" "Who brought the ganja? We did!" Boom! An explosion of fireworks, the Man is burning! A triumphant yell ensues from the hysterical crowd. Ecstasy, enrapture. Crash! The Man dies in a hellish blaze. A barrage of personal items (bras, condoms, letters, TV's) are being hurled on the carnage--many revelers are completing the catharsis by eradicating their afflictions. A religious ceremony--perhaps. The drums beat on, the party continues. Sometime in the early-morning hours I drift off to the euphonic celebrations.
The morning after--8:30 am. Awakening to hypnotic bass pulsating across the desert. Walking a mile into the desert to confirm the impossible. One of the raves has survived the night. Several hundred revelers are still shaking their booties. Then, for some unknown reason, Larry and I are drawn to the smoldering ashes of the Man. The pyre has lured several folks for a moment of quiet reflection. A few good-byes, a soaking in the hot springs, and we are on our way back to "civilized" society.
Some parting thoughts on the whole experience. Burning Man provides a chance for people to be themselves w/out fear of judgment or societal rules and laws. It's the people that define the festival (and most of the entertainment)--they contribute their art, energy, creativity, and compassion. It's a commercial-free community of beautiful people. A large banner summarized it quite well, "No Spectators."