The Burn of '09
I knew it was necessary to wait a little while to write about this.
It's been over now for almost two weeks, and people are wiped out, decompressing, and trying to readjust to this unwelcome interruption to their lives as gypsies and art freaks, builders and chefs, clowns and children, dancers and shamans, herbal doctors and pharmaceutical entrepreneurs. I've talked to a few of you, at least. No, I didn't go this year. Or last year. I haven't been to Black Rock since 1996. So what? Here I go anyway:
You don't seem to "do" things at Burning Man, do you? You seem to 'have experiences'.
Having inherited a dominant cynical gene from both my parents, and a no-nonsense bullshit-meter from my grandparents, it was initially quite difficult for me to be introduced to people called Turtle, Persia, Tumbleweed, Indigo Breeze and Cosmic Cowboy without guffawing in their faces and demanding to see a birth certificate, but a few Grateful Dead tours and a lot of ego breakdowns on drugs softened me. Who was I to laugh? ... . in their faces, at least.
Deserts are really hot. Like, fucking hot. Too hot to move, eat, read or think. Definitely too hot to spend an hour or more at the roller disco dressed as a polar bear with nothing but tequila to hydrate you. But somehow your body acclimates, and gets used to it, and you venture out of the shade one day without incident, and then the next day you take LSD and tequila out with you as well as a gallon of water, and when the former kicks in you abandon your clothing on a fencepost you'll never see again, cling to your gallon jug like the lifeline it is, and everything really is much more comfortable. A dram'll get ya through, mate.
Honestly though, it's the nighttime when everything comes alive properly. Black Rock moon-rises are incredible. Mystical. The things that folk-legends and faerie-tales are about, of course. We don't get them much here at all, what with the mountains and trees and ubiquitous clouds, but when the sun goes down in the desert, this massive great big soft-orange thing rises on the other side of the sky. It's enormous. And then it gets higher and higher, like you and your friends, careening wildly toward the apex and ultimately you realize that it's not actually some kind of illumined art activity as you first assumed, it's the fucking moon. The grandest, most peach-colored moon you've ever seen. And then you turn around to see the rest of Black Rock City. While you weren't looking, it lit up like Vegas, except in place of Caesar's Palace is a giant kraken ripping apart a ship of tripping pirates and those silly fountains, instead are a fifty foot high Rubix cube that three amphetamine-fueled hippies are trying to solve with the help of a megaphone and a sober girlfriend. It's absolutely pure in the grittiest sense imaginable. And so goddamn beautiful.
Even back then, I spent most of my time after dark in the little bars that run along the circular streets, rather than the big club glow-stick domes on the edges that wouldn't know a guitar if Keith Richards swung one like an axe into their sunken, drug-addled chests. Many bars have rich sponsors who like a taste of the alternative lifestyle every so often, so they spend a thousand dollars on spirits to give away. I had some brilliant cocktails while I was there. Especially from the Tarot Bar, where you're given a tarot-medicine card reading and then provided with a tailor-made cocktail that suits your future path. I remember mine was loaded with cranberry liqueur, ecstasy and champagne, and distinctly remember being told things were "looking up". Hmph.
I also went to a Healing Conclave on the third day and a young woman who "focuses spiritual energies in order to realign your chakras" nearly twisted my head off my neck, but completely fixed the residual soreness that remained after a particularly nasty car accident a few months before. I was so enamored by her smell and her image so burned into me, that I, many years later, dated someone like her to prove it would never work between us. Wait... what? Nevermind.
If there's one thing that I hope I never have to 'experience' ever again, it is the fucking drum circle. They are everywhere at Burning Man, sometimes as large as several hundred or even a thousand folks, and they are guaranteed to have some girl doing interpretive dance in the center. The stamina is staggering, but those guys couldn't have been on drugs the entire time, could they? I was tired of it on Grateful Dead tour, really tired of it on Phish tour, tired of it at BM, and I'm still tired of it in 2009. Oh well. I'm a Grinch sometimes. Fuck it. Live and let live, though.
Something else that didn't really do it for me (aside from the deadly heat) was an aimlessness about the whole thing. Yes, there are scheduled events. I went to a lecture on the comprehensive geology, another on the archeological history of the area and also had a full back-piece henna tattoo by appointment, but I always had this nagging voice in my head that was telling me that there was something better going on somewhere else, but maybe that's just a twenty-year old's anxiety. And when strangers give you clown noses, bacon, baseball mitts or Klonopin on the street, everything seems pretty random. It's not that I wasn't having fun, mind you. I was having the time of my life. It's just that there were several occasions when I was at a loose end. What I wanted was to sleep til eleven, have on my tool belt and build until four, go out for "martian" cocktails and free bacon between four and eleven, and then find that our improv guerrilla theater, M83 or Death Cab For Cutie were onstage until 3am. When you've left your designer drug phase behind you, house music is all of the sudden fucking terrible. I'm convinced after that you become more creative and music takes a more personal turn that a throbbing break-beat alone could never satisfy, unless your lyrics are creatively layered over the top, driving men to weep and women to go to war.
That being said, I love that there is a festival out there that is not reliant upon line-up, whether it be music or theater or whatever. A festival that is reliant on what I and many others are willing to put into it and do.
I met some awesome people traveling with the Red Rabbit and Green Tortoise. Arsenic and Old Lace will never be the same. Waiting for Godot to Leave was a blast.
Irena from Vladivostok, I still haven't made it, but I am coming to Russia someday.
Oliver from Switzerland, I have never wanted to make love to a man like I wanted to with you.
Ryan, Julie and Julie, all from Pensacola, Florida, I hope that camping gear helped and the tow strap, too.
From Beirut, the Sexy Seamstress Sura Seven, thanks for the outfit. I still want to dress up like an 18th century Samurai all the time. I told you the silks would be fine with me. And yes, I sharpened the swords. But no sepuku.
And all the Santa Cruz peeps. Michael, Kelly, Priyah, Monty, and Rose - you know who you are, and who I am now, and that I won't call, but that I love you.
Where else will you see a giant Pisces made out of lavender neon swimming across the desert? I'm going next year. I miss it. And I might join in a fucking drum circle. So shut the fuck up. I may even go to the center of said drum circle with my version of 'dancing'. So double shut the fuck up. It's mah body. I'll do whut ah want.
But for now, I am off to look at new "real life" lodgings. The seventh one in three days. I hope this place feels a little like BM, aimlessness, randomness and freedom of it all. I'm not holding my breath, but thisis Portland, so I'm casually awaiting the surprise to eclipse them all.. And when it happens, I will light a cigarette, and I will look like I expected it, even though I am whooping, flailing, chanting, fist pumping, crying my tears and jumping out of my skin in absolute gratitude, excitement and joy.
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