Monday is the New Saturday

I have been meaning to sit down and write an article about pranks at Burning Man and how large they loom in our history, but someone whom I would have featured in that article decided to die this week.  Paul David Addis, the man who burned the Man, committed suicide Saturday by jumping in front of a BART train at Embarcadero Station in San Francisco.

Whatever else anyone might say about him, can we all agree on “rest in peace,” please?

Addis was an old-school burner and part of the crew that built the Blue Light District, Burning Man’s first ‘village’ and the model for the tradition of villages to come.  He studied Law, became a patent attorney, and eventually resigned the California Bar over what he considered a matter of principle.

In June of 2008, he pleaded guilty in a Lovelock, Nevada courtroom to felony charges of damaging property.  He was sentenced to 12 to 48 months in prison and ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution.  The property he damaged?  In 2007, Paul Addis set fire to the Man almost five days early.

 A lot has been said and written about Addis burning the Man.  Any casual observer would find it easy to very quickly conclude that Addis was seriously disturbed, deeply criminal at the very least, and possibly even criminally insane.  Certainly his actions generated a huge amount of rancor, but to what extent was his early burn a product of criminality and madness, and to what extent was it a coherent social and/or artistic statement. . . and was it relevant?  More to the point, did Addis get what he deserved?

When the subject of Paul Addis comes up in conversation among burners, someone almost invariably brings up another incident that took place shortly after the ’07 burn, in which Addis was arrested in San Francisco.  I have heard many minor variations on this story, but it usually rears its head as “I heard he got arrested for burning down a church.”  This is typically greeted with knowing nods of understanding, as if it both confirms and explains everything.

What actually happened on October 28th, 2007, though, only clouds the waters rather than clarifying them.  The ‘church’ was Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Diocese of California, and a San Francisco landmark.  It wasn’t burned down, or even set on fire.  According to the SF Chronicle:

Paul David Addis, 35, was arrested on the cathedral steps at 11:40 PM Sunday after officers were tipped off that someone intended to set fire to the Episcopal church, police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina said.

Addis was wearing an old ammunition belt that carried small explosives, Mannina said. He was booked on suspicion of attempted arson, possession of an incendiary substance, possession of explosives and possession of explosives with intent to terrorize a church.

 A bomb dog was brought in to search the area and found no other explosives at the California Street cathedral.

Deputy Chief Morris Tabak said Addis had only a small amount of explosives.

“Did he have the capability to do substantial damage? Absolutely not,” Tabak said.

Tabak said police didn’t know Addis’ motive. “He said something about it was his religious right,” Tabak said.

According to friends of Paul Addis, Grace Cathedral was an important place to him, a place he liked to go, all on his own, perhaps in search of a sense of spiritual catharsis.  The building itself is fairly magnificent; a perfect spot to feel the San Francisco wind in your teeth, maybe set off a few leftover fireworks to light up the night and stir your soul.

The police were called in because Addis reportedly said to a neighbor that the cathedral “isn’t going to be there anymore.”  Pretty ambiguous as a threat, but the neighbor undoubtedly heard it in the context of Paul being embroiled in a court case in which he was being accused of arson.

It seems likely that Paul Addis might have said something about a “religious rite” to the police, not his “religious right.”  We’ll never know what his intentions were, though. . . and we’ll never know how much of what he said to his neighbor and to the police were just a flippant put-on, and how much was serious.  What we do know is that if he was serious, the police considered him woefully under-equipped for the job at hand, which seems uncharacteristic both for a seasoned burner of his vintage, and for a previously successful arsonist.  If he was trying to burn down the monumental pile of flame-proof stone that is Grace Cathedral, then Paul with his meager backpack of fireworks was like a mad-brained gnat trying to knock over a bull elephant.

The police were called because Addis had a reputation as an arsonist, thanks to what he did at Burning Man, and they arrested him for the same reason. . . yet it is the knowledge of his arrest at the cathedral that, more than anything, seems to cement the idea in peoples’ minds that when he lit the Man up early in ’07 he was behaving as nothing more than an arsonist, a criminal, and possibly insane, when he has always claimed to be simply a passionate burner making a rather powerful and coherent statement about the event and the Org.  The story of the one incident has fed into the other for years now, a self-fulfilling prophecy damaging Addis’ reputation and damning him in the minds of burners everywhere – perhaps unfairly – with abundant hearsay and scarce facts; an endless ugly loop of miscarried soundbite justice.

In the end, he pleaded no contest to fireworks possession and was ordered to undergo counseling and to stay away from the cathedral. . . but for Paul Addis, getting arrested at Grace Cathedral on trumped-up charges was just the beginning of the aftermath of the ’07 burn.

To this day, a lot of people – some of them very prominent in old-school burner circles – think that the punishment meted out to Addis for burning the Man was too harsh.  Rumor has it that this is true even at the highest level of the Org; Wired Magazine reported that Larry Harvey’s reaction when he realized that his Man was on fire. . . was laughter.

The early burn, [Larry Harvey] said, will help show that the Man itself is “nothing but a wooden doll,” and that the event is really about the joint effort of attendees to create it.  It will turn this year’s Burning Man into a “narrative of community and redemption” as the attendees get to see or assist in the public rebuilding of the statue, he said.

And yet, Addis has made statements numerous times to the effect that Marian Goodell, Burning Man’s Director of Business and Communications, colluded with Will Roger and others in the Org to both maximize his sentence, and to publicly misrepresent their own role in sending him to prison, which Addis says was far more significant than they are willing to admit.

In the film “Dust & Illusions,” Goodell states unequivocally that the sentencing was beyond their control.  Since then, she has steadfastly refused to talk about Paul Addis’ sentencing.  “It doesn’t do us or him any good to open that wound again,” she told the San Francisco Guardian in an interview.  “We’re not going to discuss it.”  But did the Org have a say in Addis’ sentencing?

When Laughing Squid published an account of Addis’ sentencing on June 25th, 2008, Don McCasland posted a long and scathing comment to the article three days later.  McCasland opened fire with this volley of eye-opening information:

photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

I was there in Lovelock last Tuesday to show support for Paul during the restitution and sentencing hearings.  I was among the handful of people who were aware of the deal made between the DA and Paul’s public defender that if the amount of damage found in the restitution hearing was low enough, Paul’s charges would be reduced to a misdemeanor.  Also among that handful were most of the BMOrg.  Discussions were had with Marian, Andy, Harley, and others, letting them know that the power to send Paul to jail was, in fact, in their hands.  They have been saying all along that they could not drop the charges, that this was entirely in the DA’s hands, but that was not so.  They very much could have gone to court and had Paul’s sentence drastically reduced, not sent him to prison, and not made him a felon.

But no, come Tuesday Will Roger showed up in court with a stack of invoices.  He and the DA went over them in the DA’s office before the hearing, and when they were finally presented in court, they totaled 30,000 dollars.  The DA asked Will to go over them with him.  Will stammered a lot, unsure of some of the items, unsure of why some of the numbers for the neon were on an invoice with gas, food, and lodging for volunteers, and some of the numbers for the neon were on other pages.  When cross-examined by the public defender, he was entirely flummoxed about several items that were purchased on 08/17 or 08/22, both dates that were well before Paul burned the Man.  But despite the defenders best efforts, knocking off the price of food, lodging, gas for volunteers, knocking off the price of a water pump, the judge stopped him and said “Well, counsel, I still don’t think you’re going to get it under five thousand dollars,” and cut short his efforts.  And so they went into a hasty little sentencing hearing.  Paul got to speak a few words and that was it.

Besides being sad and concerned for my friend, who needs help that he simply will not get in jail, I feel betrayed.  Another close friend went to Marion last week before the hearing to plead that the Org help keep Paul out of jail.  The discussion went here and there, but Marion said in no uncertain terms, “We do not want to send Paul to jail.” “We do not want to send Paul to jail. . .” really?  Well, I have to ask then, why did the Org pad the invoices with items that could not be part of restitution, the food, the gas, the lodging, other durable goods, to the tune of thirty thousand dollars???  We were let know through a back channel that the Org was planning, in fact, to come with invoices around only 10k.  This didn’t happen.  Instead, after speaking with us about a compassionate course, they turned around and sent Will in to burn Paul as hard as they could.

To this day, Andie Grace’s official afterburn report for 2007 ( glosses over the part the Org played in maximizing Paul Addis’ comeuppance:

In other post-2007 news, we’ve heard a report from Pershing County, where Paul Addis’s restitution hearing and sentencing were held yesterday afternoon.  Addis recently pled guilty to charges related to setting fire to the Burning Man figure days early at last year’s event.  At yesterday’s hearing, the judge found evidence beyond a reasonable doubt showing the damages were in excess of $5,000 and thus Addis was convicted of a felony arson charge.  After hearing Addis speak on his own behalf, the judge sentenced him to 12-48 months in prison and ordered him to pay $25,000 in restitution.

I spoke with several people who knew Paul Addis about him, his suicide, and his history.  One of them was Sean Kelly, Addis’ long-time friend and schoolmate.

* * * * * * * * * *

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: You went to school with Paul Addis?

SEAN KELLYYes, I met Paul in college in 1988.  He lived a couple of doors down from the Op Ed of the college paper.  I wrote for the paper.  I inevitably met Paul because it’s college and you tend to hang out with people two doors down from your op-ed.

He was really smart, so we got along very well.  We enjoyed a love of the baby that was the Industrial scene, punk, driving around aimlessly in South Florida and of course football.  We both loved (and still do love) the Miami Hurricanes.

Even then Paul was Paul.  He’d walk around campus with a fake pistol in a shoulder holster.  As a Miami native I pulled him aside several times and directly suggested he not carry around a fake gun because Miami is a crazy place and cops and crazy people would see that gun, fake or not, and escalate.

WTP: You’ve characterized Paul as suffering from PTSD.  Can you explain?

SK:  Hurricane Andrew.   Three people in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew were raped and killed by a psycho National Guardsman who was supposed to be in Miami helping.  Paul’s friends, my friends: Ronnie, Gina and Andrew offered Steven Coleman a ride home from a bar as a favor because he was helping out Miami. . . and Steven Coleman killed all three of them, and raped two of them.

If you have ever flippantly stated Paul Addis should just get his shit together, know this: it’s hard to get your shit together when your friends get raped and murdered.  Compassion is paramount for anyone with PTSD.

Few people know this about Paul.  Flippant exclamations by people who have played it safe do not understand what pain he went through.  He’s not some pampered idiot.  Our world fell apart.  Dead best friends.  Funerals.  Guilt.  East Coast parenting “just suck it up” shit.

WTP: Sounds like a tight-knit group of kids.

SK: Yeah.  This broke everyone in our crew.  It broke me.  When I do crazy shit, this is why.  When Paul did crazy shit, this was why.  Our friends at nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, our classmates, our bandmates, our PEOPLE were killed, and that fucks you up. . . BAD.  It didn’t stop there, but the major damage was done.

Ronnie was the drummer in the first band I was in.  Andrew was a UM Patio mainstay.  Paul and I had classes together with Andrew; we shared notes.  We studied TOGETHER.  We partied TOGETHER.  We’re talking about a community of maybe two hundred people in Miami and we lost three in a day.

WTP: What do you think was in Paul’s head the day he died?

SK: I strongly suspect he was bipolar and terrified of the effects the drugs would have on him. . . so he may have felt like he’d run out of options.  The American ‘justice’ system doesn’t give a shit about rehabilitation; prima facie it is just plain revenge for fucking up.  Until he wore that felony jacket he could have re-applied for the California Bar or at least worked as a legal researcher for good money.

WTP: Something to fall back on.

SK: Paul thought working in the legal profession was repugnant and I can understand why.  We had a conversation about this maybe two months ago.  But without that conviction, working Law was still an avenue out of being totally fucked.  The felony conviction ended that.

Let’s not be naive.  He didn’t want to do it.  But it was a thing.

WTP: I see. The felony convictions banned him forever from the thing he could fall back on, and being on parole made it tough for him to get other kinds of work too, even at minimum wage.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Paul Addis?

in an earlier prank, Addis hung some balls on the Man

SK: After the ’07 burn, I’m rolling into Gerlach and I see Paul in front of a bar.  We hug.  He tells me he did it.  I say ‘what?’  He says he set the Man on fire early.  I congratulate him.  He tells me he just got bailed out of jail; I give him some clothes and money.  We have some cocktails; I get him lunch.  He’s psyched.  He fucking burned you, whoever holds the sacred sacred, which wasn’t intended to be sacred anyway.

When you meet the Buddha, you must kill the BuddhaNo matter what.

When you build the glass house.  Stones will be thrown.  Duh.

I loved this man and feel big pain.  I am furious that I cannot direct hatred upon those without a sense of humor.  You.  Just.  Suck.  No matter how hard I wish for a painful death for you, one that matches what is now on your conscience, I do NOT wish the pain of your death on the ones who love you.  So, you are spared my wrath but not my hatred.  From Hell’s heart I stab at thee.

Paul’s death is on the conscience of others.  Period.  At worst, Paul should have done six months of counseling and paid restitution plus a little more for the egos that were injured.  Let us remember the context of his controversial act and the absurd retaliation in the context of suicide.  Simply stated: suspended misdemeanors would have allowed him to join the ranks of Bay Area patent attorneys as a last resort, as opposed to working at oil-change shops or running a cash register.

No one will argue this: he was a genius.  What do you do with that when society, even your community, doesn’t want you?  The streets of San Francisco are full of savants who have made mistakes.  So, what do I think motivated him to end it?  Loneliness and hopelessness.  No one could hear him anymore.

For Paul, being ignored paired with hopelessness was probably equal to no more reason to live.  It would be for me, too.

Many of his friends just couldn’t handle him. . . and life is complicated; the person putting you up may be in a custody battle, or on the brink of a layoff.

I think he saw a dead end.

* * * * * * * * * *

I checked Sean’s story.  The Orlando Sentinel reports that Steven Coleman, a forklift driver in the National Guard, stabbed Ronny Quisbert, 20, a former student at Miami-Dade Community College; his roommate, Andrew McGinnis, 21, a communications major at the University of Miami; and Regina Rodriguez of Miami Beach, who was a week away from her 16th birthday.  Rodriguez and McGinnis were raped.  All three died of the wounds that Coleman inflicted on them.

Sean Kelly also indicated that he and Paul lost two more old friends from Miami in the three or four weeks leading up to Addis’ untimely death, one of them in a nationally-televised workplace shooting.

Patrice Mackey, another friend of Paul Addis’, also agreed to talk with me.

* * * * * * * * * *

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Tell me about Paul.  How did you know him?

 PATRICE MACKEY: He was a part of my extended burner family, the folks who started the Blue Light District in ’97.

For those who don’t know Paul beyond the 2007 event. . . he was one of those people who would probably be characterized as brilliant, but troubled.  Lately the ‘troubled’ was more and more outweighing the ‘brilliant’ and finally got the last word in (which was often hard to do with Paul).

An interesting observation about the early burn of 2007.  After it happened, I asked a lot of folks at the event how they felt about it. . . the main divide among people I asked was that folks who had only been attending for a short time (six or fewer years) were incensed. . . first- and second-timers seemed REALLY pissed off.  Folks who had been attending for a long time (crusty old burners of seven years or more) thought it was funny or made comments to the effect of “somebody FINALLY did it. . . been waiting for that to happen.”  Not sure what that all means, but there you have it.

Paul was a bit of an agent provocateur – he loved pushing buttons – sometimes going what most people would consider too far.

He was creative, inventive, inspiring, frustrating, annoying, caring, uncaring, and dangerous. . . sometimes all at the same time.

WTP: It makes me wonder. . . sometimes, when you are good at pushing peoples’ buttons and do it for art or fun or anything except profit and sex, really, some of them have a strong tendency to label you as mentally diseased.

And I wonder, too, to what extent Paul’s problems were a product of the two years he spent in prison.  A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe?

But then I didn’t know him.  How ill do you think he was, really?  And did prison change him?

PM: Well, this was a very well-documented illness that was present well before both the 2007 incident and his incarceration.  That being said, his incarceration did not help in any way, shape or form.  Interestingly, back in 1999, Paul argued against the idea of Burning the Man early.  Look at this e-mail:

From: CyberSatan [] (Paul Addis)

Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 10:42 PM


Subject: Re: premature burning

I love the idea of kidnapping the Man.  Premature burning is a little

harsh–especially for all the newbie trippers out there who wanna see

the pretty thing on *Sunday* (or *Saturday*, as the Project sees fit).

Kidnapping, on the other hand. . .

Make no mistake, Paul was mentally ill.  This was clear to his family, friends and local law enforcement (to name a few).  As I said, prison didn’t help.  From all indications from those closest to him, his illness manifested itself in cycles and over the last year the cycles became more and more severe. . . a number of close friends had closed off their relationship with him because of it, not because they didn’t want to help, but because they had done what they felt they could, and now were either afraid for their safety or didn’t want to be emotionally hurt by Paul when he was in a bad space.

As one friend put it:

“. . .one of the aspects that frustrated me so much with (Paul) was that there was a good chunk of time when I couldn’t discern when he was just in his gonzo persona and when he was really ill.  It caused me to basically sever ties with him just because it all made me so uncomfortable.”

Paul was definitely struggling with mental illness. This had been going on for some time with, from some reports from friends closer to him than me, his cycles of highs and lows spiraling downward.

No one can know what was going through his head at the moment he decided to jump.

Paul, like all of us, did not fit neatly into any easily digestible soundbite. He was fascinating, engaging, challenging, smart, stupid, wonderful, horrible, cruel and kind. . . sometimes all at once.  Always full bore.

* * * * * * * * * *

Like Sean Kelly, Patrice Mackey made me wonder: what was really going through Paul Addis’ mind when he decided to hurl his body into the path of a speeding BART train?

As I ruminated, I read. . . and I discovered that Addis was a huge Hunter S. Thompson fan, and the author and star of Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis, a one-man show about Thompson.  When the news broke of Thompson’s suicide at his home in Colorado, Paul made an entry in a blog he maintained:

I could sit here and wax maudlin about Dr. Thompson and his self-inflicted removal from our every day reality.  Fuck that.  There’s already enough dopey-eyed drivel out there of that nature, and it’s the last thing that he would want.  What we had in Thompson was a man who realized that death should be greeted with celebration rather than weeping and wailing, mainly because no one wants to hear that shit on their way into their new life.  I mean, seriously, aren’t tears at a wedding or entry into a first-purchase home those of joy rather than sorrow (assuming the spouse and address are correct)?

To anyone familiar with Hunter S. Thompson’s mode d’emploi for leaving this Earth in February of 2005 (he shot himself in the head, like his hero Ernest Hemingway), this would seem to indicate that Paul Addis considered suicide a reasonable and viable option – a sane option – in the face of a life no longer worth living.

Amber King, another of Addis’ friends, helped me to explore that question further:

* * * * * * * * * *

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Did you know Paul Addis?

AMBER KING: Sort of.  After the burn in 2007 I joined a support group he was in that consisted of real-life and long-time friends.  We talked a lot on the phone and via letters when he was in prison.  We all tried to make incarceration a little bit easier for Paul with gifts and money sent, and we all kept in touch with each other the whole time, too.  I had little contact with Paul after prison, but phone calls and letters every now and then.

WTP: So what, according to Amber King, is the truth about Paul Addis?

AK: Oh, the truth is exactly what it is.  The rambos who are insane about the ‘arson’ and ‘mental illness’ are stuck on their thing and that’s fine, except that nothing is ever that black-and-white. . . and the Man burning early was awesome.

WTP: Yes, I see what you mean.  It’s too easy to just say that he was mentally ill and then attribute everything he did that we’ve heard about to that.  It’s certainly possible that he was mentally ill and did the things he did that we’ve heard about for sound reasons. . . and even that he committed suicide as a calmly considered decision.

Where were you when the Man burned early?

AK: I was there, actually walking with my friends close to the Man, we were taking a shortcut to 2 o’clock to boogie a bit maybe.  It was the eclipse and dark and lovely.  My best friend Karpo smelled the fire first and we all made jokes about Monday being the best day to burn your art. . . and then we saw it was the Man and no one was there yet and one of my favorite BM moments ever was standing there next to the burning Man (with a ranger who was crying – seriously?) and turning to see the entire city coming towards us.  On bikes and cars and on foot – it was really amazing (apparently folks stay home mostly on Monday?) – tons of bouncing lights and fire trucks as well.  It was surreal and awesome and I remember being shocked, actually shocked at the pain and anger that was expressed.  People were crying about the Man burning, a lot of them, it felt insane.  As the crowd got bigger we eventually wormed our way out.  The fire trucks got to the man ahead of the rest and the show was amazing.  I’ve Ranger friends who were at 9:00 when Paul was ‘caught;’ he wasn’t going anywhere.  The rage and pain that came from the Burning Man Org people and participants was entirely bizarre to me and many others.  That night and that week it was so weird; I talked to people who were so furious and sobbing and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

I knew and loved Paul for what he did at my silly festival and also for who he was.  I happen to be a psych nurse and if I were armchair diagnosing I’d vote that Paul was bipolar and had PTSD. . . but I wouldn’t diagnose and have enough years of experience and pain with mental illness to not have pat answers about any of it.

I spent many of the years since 2007 focused on Paul and I guess that I am still, strangely, shocked that folks are outraged about the early burn 🙂

So it goes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Nothing whatsoever about the strange case of Paul Addis seems cut-and-dried, when you look at it.  Every answer opens a spate of new questions; every bit of spin and every opinion opens up a new controversy.  Maybe Paul wanted it that way.

Quite a lot of what we might think of Addis hinges on whether or not he negligently endangered others when he burned the Man.  Cacophony-style pranking has a clear ethic that presupposes that the prankster will only endanger him or herself, and Paul did claim that mantle at times when explaining himself and his artistic arson.

There were no injuries reported that were a direct result of Paul torching the Man, but at least one person, Detour Ginger, was injured as an indirect result of the arson.  “I would have been safe and cozy in the DPW dispatch office that night if the Man hadn’t burned early,” she says.  “As it was, it was all hands on deck, and I tore the ACL in one of my knees hopping up and down to get safety cones off of a flatbed trailer.  That night changed my life forever, and not for better.”

Detour stops short of actually blaming Paul Addis for her injured knee, but still doesn’t feel comfortable with what he did or with the consequences for her personally.  “Hey, the Playa is a dangerous place,” she wisely points out.  “Read the back of your ticket.  I know all that. . . but even so, don’t ask me to say that what Paul Addis did was OK with me.”

Did Addis put others in danger as a direct result of his actions?  On September 1st, 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle had this to report:

  Addis said his group of “operatives,” as he referred to his co-conspirators in Tuesday’s Man-burn, planned the event well in advance, and made efforts to shoo people away from the scene beforehand to ensure their safety.  No injuries were reported – except for those to the Man.

Around the same time, a San Francisco Bay Guardian article quoted Addis on his response to those who say his early burn was reprehensible because it endangered others:

  “Obviously a gesture like burning down Burning Man is very dangerous and very provocative.  From my perspective, the No. 1 concern was safety.  No one could get hurt unless it was me,” Addis said.  Critics of the arson attack often note how dangerous it was, pointing out that there were a dozen or so people under the Man when it caught fire.  But Addis said that he was on site for at least 30 minutes beforehand, encouraging people to move back with mixed results, shirtless and wearing the red, black, and white face paint that would later make for such an iconic mug shot.

Yesterday I spoke with a worker who was present at the scene just before the Man unexpectedly went up in flames back in 2007; he asked to remain anonymous, but I can tell you that he is not employed by the Org.  What he told me is not conclusive in the least, but it does seem to conflict with Addis’ account:

“I was in the Man base just before it went up, and there were about forty people in there.  About a dozen of them were sleeping.  There was no effort being made by anyone to get people out.  I left, jumped into the truck, and by the time we got two or three hundred yards out, there were flames visible near the Man’s knee.  There was about a twenty-minute gap between what I saw in the base and when I first noticed the fire, so it’s possible that there was someone trying to get people out in that time, but I didn’t see any evidence of that.  That’s what I saw with my own eyes; I assume there was a Ranger presence there, because according to legend, the Rangers spotted Addis leaving the scene and tackled him before he could get away.”

Once again, the truth is elusive, and nothing is cut-and-dried.  I have no real conclusions for you; only feelings and opinions and unanswered questions.

I do not think that Paul Addis, though certainly troubled and atypical in his mental hygiene, was too deranged to control himself or to thoroughly understand the implications and possible consequences of his actions.  I don’t think he meant to get caught setting the Man on fire prematurely, and I don’t think he was seeking attention.  I think he genuinely recognized and objected to the displacement of the Cacophony-style pranksterism in burner culture by a much safer, more Establishment-oriented status quo headed up by people more interested in making money and safeguarding the existence of their organization than in preserving the wilder, freer, more anarchic spirit of Burning Man as it was in days gone by. . . and I think he has a point, no matter how you feel about how he went about making that point.

Did he have mental health issues?  Yes, I’m sure he did. . . but that’s pretty common among people who are brilliant, and it isn’t a catch-all to explain every single thing a person does or says or thinks.  I don’t think Paul Addis’ mental health issues had a great deal to do with him burning the Man early, and may not even have had much to do with his suicide.

I could go on, but it’s not my place to opine too much, and anyway I’d rather simply let Paul Addis have his say.  What follows are quotes culled from various interviews with Addis, in which he attempted to explain himself.  For those of you who do not understand, I highly recommend that you make a point of watching IN THE ZONE: THE STORY OF THE CACOPHONY SOCIETY when it is released in the US next month.

Paul Addis speaks:

I decided after 1998 it wasn’t worth it.  Burning Man was only advocating social impact and responsibility in the name of its own self-preservation, survival and expansion, and I was not willing to be a part of that.

Burning Man in the period of 1996-1997 was the right place at the right time with the right minds.  We had a great opportunity to put all of our hands on the wheel and really affect social evolution. We had a bunch of gifted people who had the chance to break the mold on a lot of things.

A lot of people were very interested in making sure the future of America was better than the past.  We had lived through the Reagan years and the Cold War.  We already knew what we didn’t want and had the opportunity to build a better place for ourselves and the future generations to come.

Burning Man was the perfect place but once it made the decision that its own survival was more important than its content or style, everything was lost.

Burning Man was losing money hand over fist through a series of bad decisions and a real lack of business acumen.  They took a hit in 1997 that was almost fatal.  That really cost the organization in terms of its fiscal stability and steady accounting and in that regard they had to do a mass appeal.  And by doing that, they sacrificed everything.  They took the edges off and they became the Alterna-Disney.  You have a lot of people singing, “It’s a Small World After All” but just to a different mouse.

Burning Man has been nothing about the Burning Man anymore except for burning the Man.  It has more to do with raising money than spreading the theory of community so we can all live together.  The only reason the organization has reached out to the environmentalists is they were courting public opinion on the lawsuit filed against them, and they reached out to the most easily manipulated population they could control.  That’s what Green Man is all about.  Green Man is all about Burning Man getting the most green in their pockets.

Burning Man doesn’t accomplish anything anymore.  What do we get out of Burning Man?  Nothing.  Do we get any leaders?  We’re down to one Ramone and two Vitos and no one from Burning Man is stepping out.  There’s no good music and only a precious few writers.  These fourth and fifth generations of happy-go-lucky birds, what are they doing when they come back to the cities?  Nothing.  They go blow their wads for seven days at Burning Man and then go back to their jobs.  They don’t do anything else for the rest of the year.

One, [burning the Man early] was a reality check.  Two, it was a history lesson.  It was, “This is why this started.  Why are you here?”

A very good friend of mine, Chris Radcliffe, who was part of starting Burning Man, went four years ago.  I called him when he came back and he said, “Paul, everyone keeps waiting for something to happen and it never does.”  I think that is symbolic and really emblematic of Burning Man’s suburbanization of the underground and homogenization of the underground.

There have been people talking about pulling this prank for years.  There was a person last year who told people to bring barrels of gasoline to pour on the Man.  But there could have been people having their first LSD orgasm and they’d just be reaching climax when everything blew up around them. 

I wrote an e-mail to the guy saying it was stupid, reckless and that someone was going to get killed. And then they ended up not doing it.

This could have been all for nothing.  It could have made people think.  I hope it has.  That’s all the Black Rock Intelligence has wanted is for people to think for themselves, whether they’re in the streets, at Burning Man or in the ballot box.  They don’t have to like us; the only thing the Black Rock Intelligence has ever wanted was for people to think about what they are doing.  If they come back to the same place as where they started, that’s fine, at least they thought about it.  But every once and a while you can break people out and there’s another free mind out there with a Socratic operating system in it.

We’re being programmed on every level: TV, radio, internet, advertising.  It’s everywhere.  We believe in the true promise of the American Dream and that should be for everyone no matter what.  We’re jamming the program and allowing people the freedom of their minds rather than the programming someone else is trying to sell them.

That’s the most important thing.  We’re not telling people what to think or how to think, just presenting alternatives and facts and everything else.  Humor, that’s the best way to do things.  We’re not out here to be preachers.  But Burning Man has become just as nefarious a cultural programmer as General Electric or Disney.

You only need to look as far as Burning Man’s media team to see it’s like the Bush media team except with a different purpose.  They exercise the same tactics to achieve the same results: to portray themselves in the best lights and to avoid negative media attention.

[People who are upset by the early burn] are entitled to their opinions.  I can certainly understand their feelings on it, but at the same time, the newbies who go along aren’t from that same pranksterism and one-upmanship that used to be done at Burning Man.

So to them, the entire experience of Burning Man is a passive spectacle.  To people who would say they are pissed off because the Man got torched, I say, “Why are you really out there?”  If the burning of the Man means something, if it brings them some sort of cathartic connection, then build your own thing and burn it down.  Don’t be a passive audience member.  Cross the line.

This was not an act of vengeance, it was one of love.  A love of the ethos that is fading at Burning Man.  There’s no sense of spontaneity.  No sense of “Fuck it. Let’s burn this down.”

The edges were coming off.  It was apparent.

I’m not trying to reinvent the Man, or the event itself.  I’m just reminding people of where it came from because there’s not a lot of talk about that these days. . . and everybody ought to have the opportunity to be a hooligan.

Rest in Peace.

131 comments on “Monday is the New Saturday

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  18. Thanks for the insightful article. I’ve been looking for something approaching meaningful processing of Paul’s life and death online and this is the first I’ve encountered. I’ve been friends with Paul since the ca. 1996 Cyberbuss / Burning Man days. In reading through the preceding comments, I am struck by the fact that pretty much everything everyone has said here is true. Paul was brilliant. He was an asshole. He was a prankster. He was a narcissist. He was protective, defensive, and deeply caring (I actually did not know previously about the murder of his friends in Miami, but it makes sense of some aspects of his personality). He was dangerous. To himself. And perhaps to others, but not the way most people think. He was sexy. He was a friend. He was an artist. He was mad. Those who think that by burning the Man early Paul somehow took something meaningful away from them are ironically both completely missing the point and beautifully illustrating Paul’s point. All he took from you were your preconceived notions of how (and really, not even how – just when!) catharsis should be delivered to your receptive psyche. The question of whether he put others in danger (greater than that typically associated with attending Burning Man) is another consideration, and I will not comment on that as I was not there and eyewitness reports are conflicting. I have been both thrilled and terrified by Paul, time and gain. I still am. May your passing bring you peace, old friend.

  19. I don’t know who wrote the original article, Chicken maybe? But, I agree with nearly every conclusion drawn. I didn’t know Paul but I know where he came from and while he may have had a mental illness I doubt it played a role in the 07 early burn and I too question how much of a role it played in his suicide. But, a mental illness is very convenient and tidy for survivors isn’t it?
    “Oh he was sick, don’t have to think too much about what troubled him, nothing to see here, get back on the treadmill of life.”

    If your first burn year starts with a 2 then, with NO due respect, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and you should shut the fuck up now. You can’t possibly understand where Paul’s motivations came from unless you experienced the true freedom, spontaneity and magic, that was on the playa in the mid-90s. I don’t care what you noobies think BM is to you! It has been commodified and packaged up to be easily spoon fed to you to enjoy without doing shit. And when the going gets a little rough you just retreat to the comfort of your comfy RVs. Sparkly pants and fluffy pink costumes didn’t count as participation in the BM that got me turned on to the event. Radical participation like tossing LPG tanks into fires, making flame throwers with Flynn, the awesome unmanned car that Kimric built that we completely shot to shit, shotguns at the gate, Burning Bush and the incredible bonding and conversations amongst incredibly smart and way ahead of their time thinkers is what got me hooked. There’s some contrast for you people whining about *potential* safety concerns because of Paul’s early burn PRANK. It says right on the back of the fucking ticket yo! YOU MIGHT DIE! If you’re not willing to take that risk then don’t buy a damn ticket! If you do buy one and have a close call or see something you think is dangerous then consider it a learning experience and a chance to grow. Challenge yourself, put your life on the line like it’s your last day to live, that’s what the Suicide Club was all about! Jim’s fire cannons still scare the shit out of me but I’m so thankful I got the chance to fire off Big Bertha one time. You noobs will never get to have those feelings and I feel sorry for you for that.

    My last burn was 04, I worked for BM full-time (DPW NV Properties) and resigned after 5-years just before the 04 burn so I think I know what Paul was railing against. BM is now just a big excuse to get wasted for a week. It adds very little, if anything, to the world’s cultural landscape. What is does is pump millions of $ into the pockets of people who spend all year scrambling to spend it so they don’t have to pay tax on it.

    BM has strayed so far from the roots that made it what it is it’s not even recognizable anymore. I knew in my heart it was over when they removed Fenton from Sr. Staff, the last of the true non-yes-men, and not long after that when Freeze left unhappy. If the BORG have had success it’s only because they have stood on the shoulders of countless uncredited giants. What have any of them done on their own that is creative or makes people think differently? Fuck all, that’s what. They sit in an ivory tower doling out cash all year when they aren’t romping around the world being treated like rockstars by ignorant noobs!

    I too smiled and laughed when I read about it burning early. The thought going through my head was “finally someone did it, no one got hurt, about fucking time!” We had all taked about it at one time or another, Paul actually did it!

    Finally, you selfish pricks who talk about being inconvenienced by BART being stopped for a while can go fuck yourselves too. How much time do you waste in your lives in a week that you can’t wait a couple extra hours to get home on a Saturday night? Just spend a couple hours ignoring your friends and/or boy/girl friend and play with your iPhones for a couple of hours. You pussies!

    • Mister E,

      I have a lot of respect for Chicken John and I’m flattered that you think he wrote the article, but I wrote it and I’m not Chicken John.

      I disagree with you in that I do think it’s possible to understand the mid-90s playa without having been there, but I also think it’s a rare person who manages to pull off that unlikely trick. I am hoping that the soon-to-be-released-in-America Cacophony Society documentary INTO THE ZONE will help spread a better understanding of Burning Man’s freer, more relevant roots.

      Personally, I find myself deeply frustrated at being able to see what so many people cannot — that investing your sense of the sacred in the Org’s rules and other peoples’ traditions destroys Burning Man — and being unable to help them see it too. Paul Addis tried to turn back that tide, and every bit of statement that might have been made by what he did has been deflected, discounted, marginalized, and mocked as mental illness and/or criminality; not just because the Org is greedy and vengeful and usurping and dumb (sure they are, they’re people), but also because Burning Man has grown too quickly to be managed easily or intelligently. A lot of that growth represents people with something doctors in my imagination call ICS, or Insufficient Clue Syndrome. They see the Org as the loving hand of a righteous Law, and see things like silence at the Temple Burn as unwritten rules that are inviolable because they are sacred. To those people I say: your wisdom is false. Your minds need to be opened and the scales plucked from your eyes. I fuck your sense of the sacred; it is offensive and oppressive to me and entirely arbitrary, and I reject it. Free Bird!

      Letting go, cutting loose, pushing the envelope, making relevant artistic statements, and just plain being creative are processes that are not well-served by slavishly following the train tracks of someone else’s rules and traditions.

      My solution, which is pure fantasy that will never happen: A mandatory de-education. There should be a formal class you have to take that helps you unlearn all the rules you’ve mistaken for the laws of nature, and a test you have to take on the class before you can buy a ticket, with a sacred cow shoot (flamethrower optional) as part of the test.

    • > If your first burn year starts with a 2 then, with NO due respect, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and you should shut the fuck up now.

      Wow the BS is getting thick here. Next you’ll be telling the kids to get off your lawn. The “old timers” here sound a lot like republicans remembering the 1950’s america that never really existed. The event evolves, if you want to freeze it the way you remember it start your own.

      • @ A Ranger, I never said that noobs weren’t welcome, that they shouldn’t go or that I want to freeze the event in time. I just said that if you weren’t there at the time Paul was that the event was very different. This had a big impact on us old timers so we don’t see it the way noobs (you) do. Without any experience with the Cacophony Society, Billboard Liberation Front, Suicide Club, early Santacons, Urban Explorers, etc… you can’t really understand where Paul’s motivations to burn the man early came from. So, unless you were there, and out of respect for the dead, you should keep your opinions about his motivation(s) for the early burn to yourself.

        P.S. I don’t have any kids, nor do my neighbors and lawns don’t grow very well in Thailand where I live. 😀

        @ whatsblemthepro, So, who are you? I want to know because you write very well, you obviously know your shit and it’s rare that I meet someone with the insight and understanding that you have found. Do I know you already? Send me an email.

        I suppose it is possible to understand how different the playa was in the 90s without being there but highly unlikely without some exposure to the groups (or ones like them), and the people involved in the groups, that I mentioned above. That is where radical participation was born and while it was brought to the desert, creating those magical times I wrote about, it was pretty much killed of after 97 with the corporatization and commodification of the event. I still had fun for a few years after that, it was always the people that kept me coming back, and then it was my job. But those of us who had experienced the ‘early days’ knew it was soulless and now pretty much everyone I respect avoids BM like the plague. Many down right hate on it.

        Stay ignorant and stay happy. Climb the ladder of ‘success’ and only misery awaits you at the top. Same experience I had at the Oregon Country Fair before joining BM.

    • Anyone else notice that people that tend to incorporate the words “newbie” or “noob” into their vocabulary on a regular basis tend to be really aggressive & depressing… just miserable people with an over-inflated sense of entitlement that seem to be constantly pissed at the world and its younger generations for a variety of reasons that can be boiled down to one harsh truth: life has passed them by.

      And they tend to say retarded shit a lot. They’re just not that bright.

      “I don’t know who wrote the original article, Chicken maybe?”

      Uh, no Grandpa. It clearly says at the bottom of the article:

      “By whatsblemthepro • Posted in General”

      Fucking retards….

      I posted this before but I’m going to repeat it again because I think “I love the 90’s” Guy from above makes my point and has given me something else to think about:

      Remember that manifesto Paul put out after getting busted, where he basically said everyone who went to Burning Man these days was a newbie that was just looking for drugs and no where near as cool as his class of 96. Kind of odd that someone who hadn’t been to Burning Man in TEN YEARS was now all of a sudden an expert on it and felt the need to lecture the rest of us. Came off as some creepy 29 year old guy who crashed his old high schools prom, made a jackass out of himself, and was led away in handcuffs screaming at a bunch of high school kids “You kids today suck! Class of 2007 is a bunch of posers! Seniors 1996 rule forever! The class of 1996-1997 was the right place at the right time with the right minds!!!”


      Speaking as someone whose first year @ Burning Man was 1996, The Hell Year, the year that after everyone started breaking camp you could walk 20 feet away from your tent and be completely disoriented, where it was like walking or camping on an LA freeway with cars zipping by @ 70+MPH within feat of you, with their lights turned out, at night in that No-Man’s Land between the main camp and the raver ghetto, I have to say that all you people throwing the word “newbie” or “noobie” around are coming off as arrogant snobs and it’s just fucking embarrassing to be associated with you. Dear Lord, why could you not have had some of your junkies run over these pricks in their sleep back in 96? It’s not like they ended up doing anything with their lives anyway ….

      Burning Man is lots of things to lots of different people and it’s all not happiness and light. I think to some people Burning Man is a yearly reminder of their failures, that life never really turned out the way they thought it would and they really resent these younger kids going off to their rave in the desert with their RV’s and pink costumes and having fucking fun! The nerve of kids these days “If you were born in the 1990s then shut the fuck up! You assholes don’t know what it’s really all about!”

      And even though I think Chicken John, Mister E, and most of you other jaded old timers are out-of-touch pricks “Hey Assholes! It’s not 1996 anymore!” Who am I to say that your emotions are invalid?

      This is your Burning Man experience.

      This is how it turned out for you.

    • This is a second posting as my first appears to have been censored.

      It says right on the back of the fucking ticket yo! YOU MIGHT DIE!

      Death at the event is thankfully fairly rare. When it does happen it is traumatic for all involved. You can think that statement on the back of the ticket means something, but it isn’t anything more than a legal fig-leaf. If people routinely died because of their own stupidity the event wouldn’t survive; if people regularly died because of the stupidity of others – well, no one would get off scot-free because of a lame disclaimer on the back of the ticket.

  20. Chicken, you tend to be overly simplistic when writing your periodic tomes about the way things are and how they should be and what we can all do to make the world a better place for unicorns to shit jelly beans in flowering Elysium fields. You can be annoying.

    I also know you have a heart. A overly large bleeding heart that beats for the under dog, the marginalized, the victimized, the lonely, the destitute the polarized the mentally ill…

    That’s why it’s so damn hard to actually dislike you.

    I know for a fact what you and a few others did to try to figure out how Paul might reintegrate back into the default world once he was released from prison. Most friends would (and likely did) just give up on Paul. Reading the exchange of emails from *that* Addis email list proved to me that you’re a man of principle. You guys did everything you could given the difficulty of the situation which was compounded (I believe) by Paul’s deteriorating mental state in a prison where even the most basic, marginal care for the mentally conflicted is doled out in the tiniest of increments.

    You folks had so many fingers in that leaking dike it’s a wonder you didn’t just throw your hands up and walk away.

    I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say here other than to express the hope that if I ever found my life hounded by mental demons or that the path of my life was heading towards some dark, cold road toward oblivion that I might have one or two friends as genuinely concerned and passionate towards me as you proved yourself to be towards Paul.

    You (and others) were a good friends to Paul when he probably needed them the most. I just wanted to acknowledge that.

  21. Obviously Paul Addis had some mental issues, but his choice to commit the arson at Burning Man was one of the most selfish acts imaginable, whether or not he had a political statement to make. When tens of thousands of people take vacation and spend money on something important to them, you have no right to try and take it away, even if you believe that they are wrong and that you are doing them some good.

    Some 30 years ago I was in line to see the movie E.T., which had just come out. Some kid drove by the line and yelled out the window “ET dies in the end!” and sped off laughing with his buddy. Even with this lie, he spoiled the movie for many of us. Did he have a problem with Hollywood, or Spielberg, or the local theatre, or was this just “vandalism” of our time and money? Probably the latter, but either way, he had no right to do it.

    Even in his choice of how to end his life, Paul picked a way that would affect as many people as he could. Rather than sleeping pills in his own bed, he made sure that there would be thousands of people delayed, and a BART train driver and anyone who saw him jump traumatized (And yes, traumatized. My wife witnessed a young man jump in front a Caltrain right in front of her – she came home crying and she still sometimes relives it in her dreams several years later)

    A few years ago I posted that Paul needed to be jailed for the Grace Cathedral incident because he was dangerous. He viewed his acts as a form of performance art and there was no telling what the next “performance” would be. I won’t cheer his death, but I won’t applaud his life either.

    • Andy,

      One note on your comment. When discussing the early burn, you imply that it was one of the most selfish acts imaginable as Paul tried to take “IT” away from them. The core question for many is just that…what is the “IT” of Burning Man? Some would argue that you could have the event just fine without the totem. Others would disagree.

      As the partial burn of the Man did, for all intents and purposes, have the same effect as it would if the Man had completely burned (remnants pulled own, Man rebuilt, Man resurrected), one could easily make the argument that the early burn had minimal effect on all but a few of those tens of thousands of people and took little away from them.

      I am not trying to minimize the effect, especially on those who it did effect far more directly (as noted in many of the previous comments). but just pointing out that the scope and degree of effect is arguable..


      • Patrice,

        I do understand that many people had the same issues with the BMOrg as Paul did (and I can’t say, because this happened before my first Burn). And for me, personally, the Man burn is just a time and place for being “part of” something, just like the ball being dropped on New Year’s Eve in Times Square – it means nothing but it’s a moment in time and space that we check off to say “I was there – I was part of it”. It could just as easily be the clanging of a giant gong.

        “IT” of course differes from Burner to Burner, and that respect for each Burners right to their own Burn is a deeply-held principle of the event.

        Had the man not been rebuilt, thousands of people would have missed out on something they worked for, travelled for, and paid for. I would say that Paul’s actions shouldn’t be viewed in light of the work that was done by volunteers to rebuild the man. They gave of themselves to help the attendees, not to mitigate what Paul did. Like the doctors who saved Gabbie Gifford’s life, they did it for her, not to lessen Jared Loughner’s charge from murder to attempted murder.

      • @teena, maybe a bad choice of words on my part. This happened in 2007 and my first burn was 2009, so I don’t know how many people felt the way Paul did in 2007.

      • Andy,

        As I’ve said before when talking about Paul or “The Early Burn”, it is always going to be like the Blind Men and the Elephant. People will ‘see’ these things differently, depending on the perspective they bring. Folks who have been attending the event since the time when there were just a hundred people on the desert likely feel differently about the physical Man than first timers. Also, from my personal perspective, I think that Paul knew (even with all of the other issues that he had) that the man would be rebuilt in SOME fashion and I would argue that if his conversation with me 12 hours prior to the burn has any bearing to what he actually felt/intended, his intent was not necessarily to take anything away from people….I actually might argue it was to give people something…a different perspective if you will.

        That being said, It may have been selfish, or it may NOT have. The challenge is, to label it as such involves having a clear understanding of Paul’s motives and intent…and this would be a challenge as we can’t really know his intent beyond his statements (some of which have contradicted others)…and even then, when you throw mental illness in the mix….it becomes even harder to come to a clear understanding of what his intent may have been.

      • @Andy Daniel

        i got it. you showed up to burning man after 2007 and you vehement oppose the addis and his early burn. you are talking out of your ass.

        that’s like me getting mad at the cops who shut down larry’s baker beach burn. i wasn’t there, and i have no place in having a strong opinion about it either way.

        just shut your newb mouth.

      • @Patrice, thank you for your well-written comments. If you read our replies to each other I think you will find that we’re not as far apart as it may seem.

        @Teena, I’m sorry that your definition of Radically Inclusive is different from mine. I do have opinions on things that are before my time.

      • @Andy Daniel

        don’t worry about it. you just don’t know what you’re talking about. you’re not the first and not the last.

    • Andy, you are saying many things. All of them are worthy of consideration. The one that stands out for me is that Paul took away an experience “that they paid for”. So it’s on Larry to provide excellent customer service and re-build the man after that nasty arsonists who was trying to take away an experience that they paid for? No offence meant, but can I ask you honestly: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING? Are you fucking implying that if Larry didn’t re-build the man YOU WOULD HAVE DEMANDED YOUR MONEY BACK? Because if you are, I don’t know that I can be in this room anymore…


      • With all due respect, Chicken, you should also sit down and shut up. You are just as johnny-one-note with you interpretation of Paul and his life as this Andy dude. You and your friends used him and his illness to advance your agenda just as much as the borg did.

        He was a real person, it was complicated, and you are also casting it as all one thing. Incorrect. It was complicated.

        As soon as I heard *who* did it, all the fun drained out of the whole Unaburner thing for me. Because I knew him. I knew it wasn’t *just* a prank. And I KNEW how it was going to go down legally.

        At least you actually knew him too. But you are still talking out of your ass to a significant degree, and making the facts fit what you want to believe.

      • @Chicken John, Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t trying to suggest that. I used “paid for” in more general terms as in put their time, effort, and yes, money into. There’s much more to BM than the Man Burn and Temple Burn – but the fact that almost every stays for the Man Burn and almost everyone shows up for it means that yes, the attendees want it, regardless of their personal reasons.

        It’s been suggested in other threads that Paul knew or assumed that the Man would be rebuilt and therefore he was only doing an act of protest or art, and not taking anything away from others, but I would suggest that, if burning the man is an act of protest or performance art, FINE – build one, then burn it. Paul had tons of supporters, they could have easily done this. Instead, they made volunteers build it for them.

      • Trustme, please tell me what you think my agenda is? There are only one set of facts. And like you, when I heard what happened, I cheered. Until I found out who did it. Then I was somber. I never encouraged his hero worship, but I didn’t deny him anything either. We all do the best we can…

  22. Whatever problems Paul may have had, I do not believe that hate was one of them. This conversation should be about illness, and only illness. We ought to leave out hatred and blame.  And the art that you make when you are in torment probably should not be debated as good, bad or brilliant within our community. We should leave that to future art critics who didn’t know him.

    When I think of Paul, I see an image of his disembodied face floating Cheshire-Cat-like with that signature expression of…. Tension on it. Another friend of mine, (arguably my closest friend, as we “grew up” together) was also a Burning Man veteran, was also Bipolar exacerbated by Anxiety. He also took his life a few years ago. That same tense expression was something that Paul and he shared. It’s the look of a brilliant, kind, creative, artistic soul locked in a struggle that the rest of us simply cannot fathom. It’s the look of an actor desperately speaking lines that disguise their pain. Paul was a great actor, never out of character. He used that skill to try to create a narrative for his inner turmoil and help him relate to the rest of us. He was the Actor. We were the audience he sought to reach. It all fit. It all worked. Until it didn’t. Medicine’s current ability to treat bipolar disorder is no more advanced than the chanting of a witch doctor. All they can really do is dull the turmoil a bit, so that you might not kill yourself.

    We will never know what Paul went through. We will never even know if those two years he spent in forced contemplation prolonged his life or shortened it. When I went through my other friends’ belongings, it became clear how long he had been on the brink, how many plans he had made to end his pain and how many times that was delayed by interaction with a friend or a new project. We will never know how many times Paul started to jump, then got control of the urge. Until he didn’t. In their final act, neither of them wanted to hurt anyone. Of that, I’m sure.

    I’d like to thank some of the people who commented, for taking the time to add facts about Paul’s life and eyewitness accounts from the ground. Very helpful.

    And thanks to “whatstheblempro” for his article and the time he put into interviewing people. Paul’s fire performance was an interesting inflection point in the history of a little desert experiment. I’m just sad that it’s become a touchstone for an “Us vs Them” mind set. The sweet thing about the Cacophony Society (a forerunner of Burning Man) was that the pranks were thought-provoking– yet kind– there was no “Us vs Them” involved. That seems to have been lost by many who angrily invoke “the old days”.

    Let me quote “Chicken John” in closing. 
    “People do the best they can. Try to be more generous.” 
    I dare you.

    Rest in Peace, Paul. I won’t be forgetting you any time soon.

    • “Whatever problems Paul may have had, I do not believe that hate was one of them.”

      Really? Did you read that manifesto he put out after the arson?

      “We could give a fuck less what you all think of us for doing this. Most of you are newbies who have been drawn in by the semi-religious nature of the event, or maybe just the easy drugs and easier sex. You have nothing to offer the event other than your fucking money and obedience. You spend the rest of your lives in mortal fear of everything that insurance companies tell you to fear, and pretend that you’re free and clear because you spend four days at a desert bacchanal where spinelessness is not only encouraged but genetically replicated for implementation in successive generations. In short, you are the swine of which Thompson spoke. Get over yourselves.

      Some of us live quite well without fear. Doing so requires the ultimate in what Burning Man used to represent: personal responsibility and individual liberty. That’s all been lost in the last decade of Burning Man’s history. Consider this operation a history lesson that was desperately needed.”

      Wow. That seemed kind of spiteful and arrogant to me.

      If some psycho stranger came out of left field, vandalized my event, and spit out those words insulting some 40,000 people he didn’t even know, I would interpret that as very hateful and creepy; stalker level category.

  23. The more I think about Paul and the early burn of 2007, and reading the thoughts and comments of everyone on this article, the more I am reminded of the parable of the blind men and the elephant:

    Paul was a great and loving friend,, an ass, an artists, a narcissist, kind, troubled and brilliant, each to varying degrees depending on where you were standing and what lens/filter you were looking through at the time.

    By the same token, I think the “Early Burn of 2007” was BOTH a “major hassle/negative event/some f*cked up sh*t” for some folks and a “Great Prank” for others. It all depends on your relationship to the event, the man, the people involved….and your sense of scope.

    There is no way to boil him or his actions down to a simple result.

    All I can say is that he was loved and cared for by many people whom I love and care for and that is why, even though he made me uncomfortable any number of times and for much of our relationship I kept him at arms’ length or further, I still felt he was someone worthy of my respect and friendship..

    As is always the case, Your Mileage May Vary…

    • This video is entitled Last Words… though in it he says the year is 2010. It’s likely not quite his last words or thoughts leading up to taking his own life. Does anyone have any insight into his actual last words or thoughts?

      Whenever someone dies, there is always in dealing with the loss, a shame game of blame and lashing out in the anger of loss. I find it really sad and really miss this krazy mother fucker, dammit, fucking asshole (see, me too).

  24. Burningman started as an event where people would get together and burn Authority in Effigy. It’s a wonderful thing that there is now a corporation which charges money so that people can come and burn Authority in Effigy, and it is utterly appalling that someone decided to go ahead and burn Authority in Effigy outside of the proscribed rules which state that, under penalty of law, it shall only be burned at the time determined by the corporation. I salute the hard workers who did as they were told and burned fuel and spent lots of money to rebuild Authority and restore Control to the protest of Authority that all of those people worked so hard at their jobs to save up and pay for. Due to their heroic efforts in the service of the LLC, Authority was burned in Effigy once again, at the proper time, with the official neon lighting. They are the true heroes here. Fuck Paul Addis.

  25. 2007 was my final year (out of 10 consecutive years) because of paul. the later reaction to the early burn from most burners (80% arson / 20% art) ended it for me.

    when our camp learned about the burn tuesday morning we laughed our asses off. we thought rebuilding the man was just the borg being as stupid as they usually are. i always steered clear of the organizers and DPW and the other holy volunteers because i realized early they were complete douche bags. but i always enjoyed the regular burners and even the tourists and sometimes even the frat boys that would wander into camp or on our car.

    but the aftermath of the early burn showed me that the participants themselves are the fucking problem. i could no longer trust the sincerity of the attendees – these people i spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to entertain, assist, and include in my experience. 80% of them wanted to see paul thrown in jail and even wished sexual violence upon him.

    they can have the whole thing, and they deserve it.

  26. Fuck it burning man was for us fuck ups before it was ever ment for sparkle pony trust fund rave heads,i miss the day when we burnt shit because we wanted to,shot up some stuffed toys had hot sex where we wanted and a fuck off was a good morning many who just dont know the way it was! come to burningman now…… I wish paul would have been successful and we didnt whine like lil bitches…..Occupy burning man!

  27. Not sure why people feel they should insult Paul this way. Now he’s dead. He committed suicide. Please have some respect. You all act like savages. Listen to his last words, and leave him in PEACE now:

  28. I stopped going to The Man in 2005, having attended since 1996. I stopped because I knew too much about the hypocrisy of the LLC. Including but not limited to disgusting disregard for and abuse of DPW “employees.” I really wish I’d gone in ’94 & ’95 when I first heard about it. Before it became a bloated money-maker for a rich man’s holiday. There is a lot of truth in the preceding posts. BRRanger management is very flawed. I’ve never had respect for Maid Marion (who wasn’t part of the LLC when I was there.) I also laughed when I heard the Man burnt early. Paul’s action was within the spirit of the original event. Apparently lives were at risk, but thats always been true for “participants.” I wish I was standing there when it happened. Just like the old days when there was no security keeping you “safe” from the flames. The stoned guy who couldn’t wake up under the burning man, chose to get that high at a life-threatening event. And his playa sisters and brothers were there to save him. That’s The Man. Paul’s exit was his final performance. The statement he made by burning The Man is relevant.

  29. My first experience with Paul Addis was New Moonie 1999.His friends wanted to help him celabrate his birthday,so they abducted him,wrapped him in duct tape,Carted him around from camp to camp,allowing people to have their way with him( Naked boobs rubbed in his face,pouring liquior down his throat,finally shoving a vasiline coated bullet up his butt.This might have pissed off most people,but not Paul.He went around from camp to camp personally thanking everyone for such a memorable birthday party!I heard that Paul told an asian woman that for her birhday(Burningman 2007)”,he would light a candle in her honor”He personally scared the shit out of me by tossing a large firecracker at my feet as I walked away from him.(New Moonie 2002)(No injury,just mad and supprised.But his art and written stories were beyond compare.At New Moonie 2002 ,he built replicas of the twin towers(8 ft high,but proportionally the right size and shape and ground placement .Then wrote on their walls an extensive and intricate story about he was involved in special forces over in Afganistan fighting the Taliban,in incredible detail,that you believed he was there.(Unless you knew Paul0.He was only going to do art that year,But I think temptation was too much for him.After standing for 2-3 nights,the towers burnt down as in good old Burningman fashion.

  30. cry me a river. The guy who compared addis to George Washington, are you out of your mind? Exactly what did John do to make the world a better place? Who or what did he help? Exactly who helped addis with his mental problems and depression? Who gave him a job? Chicken John? why did his family and friends reject him? occupiers, Mandela, ghandi, thearou, king went to jail for their political beliefs. If you feel that’s what addis was, a civilly disobidient political prisioner, you should be fine with his being in such famous worthy company. If you don’t have faith in your convictions and beliefs, If you can’t do the time then DONT COMMIT THE CRIME!!

    • Lester, if you asked me to my face what did we do to help him the look of disgust on my face would frighten you. You would be concerned that you may have pissed someone off so much that they might harm you. No one rejected him, except the LLC. We did not ever figger out what he needed, but people never stopped trying. Mostly in shifts, but there was always someone trying. Lester, I appreciate that you are free to type into the box and all that. But this isn’t a hypothetical situation. This is real. This isn’t an idea of someone, this is a real someone. People are crying real tears. Good luck to you.

  31. It is a pity that he did not attempt to burn down Hunter S Thompson, ideally without checking first to see if Johnny Depp was asleep underneath him.

  32. Paul will forever be linked to Burning Man.
    Who really cares that the Man burned earlier than scheduled?

    Paul, wherever you are….I hope you’ve found your peace.


  33. You start off the article saying, “I have been meaning to sit down and write an article about pranks at Burning Man and how large they loom in our history,” so where is my article about pranks? I want pranks dammit!!!!

  34. Ya know, you’re all right. Each and every one of you have valid, endearing, true and correct points and opinions. Paul needed help. Paul needed something that we never figgered out how to give him. I knew from the first moment I met him that it was possible that he could make a bad decision. He is gone now, lets not squabble about the bad decisions he made, lets try to find relief in the ones he could have made, but didn’t.

    And in talking about the law, and breaking it, allow me to remind you this is a grey area. For example, the father of our country, George Washington, was a terrorist, guilty of treason when he led an army against England. He would have been hanged had he been caught, under English law. But that’s not how that turned out. So you see, what Paul did isn’t so cut and dry to me… the people who run BRC are not generous people. They are small, petty, insipid and stingy. They are black, ugly people. Hurtful, friendless and vapid. This doesn’t change what he did, but it does change what he has to do to atone.

    Paul was willing to go to jail. For you. He went to jail. For you. It was his gift. Sure, you had to drive to Reno and get more neon and instead of fuckin’ babes and doing drugs and a few of the derelict greasballs in DPW had to hammer and nail a little more… oh wait… did they HAVE to re-build the man? Well, no. They CHOSE to re-build the man. Mr. Neon could have said no. DPW could have said no. Paul gave you that opportunity. While we were all having the time of our lives, those people were told to work around the clock.

    FOR WHAT? For nothing. That was their choice. And look how they respond: with blame. Don’t blame Paul for making them work. They chose to work. What Paul did was try to wake them up. And I’m really really sorry it didn’t work out. How could the LLC make people work more? Because they don’t care about anyone. They’ve got their idea of how things are supposed to be, and if you don’t like it, there are a thousand other people waiting to voulenteer after you. It’s sad that people are arguing here about anything but how we are going to get our event and our community away from these awful people who despise us. The LLC hates the people who come to BM. I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true. Paul knew it. I knew it. Many of you know it.

    Some things in life are worth risk. You asses risk constantly. Paul didn’t. He just did stuff. For better or worse. It could have been worse. But it’s all over now.

    Paul was a hero. Putting him in jail made an enemy of me and many, many people to the LLC. What they did was unconscionable. We will never forgive them, we will never forget. Paul knew he was breaking the law, and he happily accepted the consequence because he thought what he was doing was important. Yes, he was batshit crazy. But what he did he did from love. Not fear. Even though he was crazy.

    You all should argue about it forever. He would have liked that.

    Chicken John, friend of smiley

    • The fact that Paul was batshit crazy didn’t bother me too much. That’s what batshit crazy people do; act crazy.

      But the fact that you and all the rest of his so-called Internet friends egged him on all during and after this whole Burning Man arson and still continue to glorify his downward spiral seems profoundly cruel and fucked-up.

      I get it, Man. You guys hate Larry or the LLC or Crimson hurt your feelings one time and you’ve been nursing these grudges for a while now, and then here you go egging on the psychologically scarred kid into committing arson in Nevada… fucking Nevada, to fulfill your own agenda and then high fiving each other like douchebags that egged their retarded “friend” into torching a MUNI bus.

      Anyone ever just say to Paul “its just fucking Burning Man. You haven’t even been there in a decade and you didn’t even like it the last time you were here in 1997. It’s like throwing your life away over a stupid Star Wars prequel movie. There’s more to life than this.”

      No. Instead it’s got to be bullshit macho Internet statements like “ We will never forgive them, we will never forget”

      OK, Anonymous. I’m glad we’re enemies. You make a far worse, shitty, friend anyways.

    • “Paul was willing to go to jail. For you. He went to jail. For you. It was his gift.”

      Oh really? Because from my perspective it seemed like it was all about Paul… who came off as a bitter, diva, attention-whore.

      Remember that manifesto he put out after getting busted, where he basically said everyone who went to Burning Man these days was a newbie that was just looking for drugs and no where near as cool as his class of 96. Kind of odd that someone who hadn’t been to Burning Man in TEN YEARS was now all of a sudden an expert on it and felt the need to lecture the rest of us. Came off as some creepy 29 year old guy who crashed his old high schools prom, made a jackass out of himself, and was led away in handcuffs screaming at a bunch of high school kids “You kids today suck! Class of 2007 is a bunch of posers! Seniors 1996 rule forever! The class of 1996-1997 was the right place at the right time with the right minds!!!”

      Oh, and him crashing the playa again once he made bail and putting posters saying you could swing by and get his autograph. I guess that was another one of his “gifts” to us. Because from my perspective that seemed incredibly tacky and pathetic, this guy wanted so desperately to be a rock star and you all turned him into a pretty big 15 minute Internet superstar to suit your own ulterior motives and passive aggressive grudges.

  35. Paul was sick. He said a lot of things. But one thing he never did was physically hurt people. He could be scary and intense and … sick. He was also brilliant, genius even, saw through the bullshit and named it loudly. Something he wanted more people to do. Stand up. Speak out. Make change. Create. Destroy. Love.

    None of these newspaper articles referenced touch on who Paul was. Just what he did in his sickest moments. If you knew Paul, you’d know this was the sick Paul.

    Paul was part of the prankster culture. These are people that DO. Think. Challenge. Change. Paul one up’d them all and was crucified for it. Yes, it wasn’t the safest or sanest thing to do. Paul wasn’t always making good choices. He was truly sick. The burner community, the community that helped raise him in adulthood, the pranksters, turned on him and put him in jail. He was sick. Jail was NOT good for him. It destroyed a large part of his life, his future.

    Paul had love. Passion. Loyalty. Creativity. Vision. Genius. And deep deep scary sickness. If you understand that, you understand a lot.

    • “You, obviously, don’t know a thing about Paul or (his) sickness.”

      Yeah. NO SHIT, SHERLOCK.

      I never claimed to know the guy or be his friend. I’m just going off his actions, his words, his videos, and his arrest record. You guys were all suppose to be his friends, right? So how come when this arson first broke it was like the Giants just won the world series and all you bros were out there online high-fiving each other and totally hyping Paul up as being this hardcore “stick it to The Man” kind of guy?

      It wasn’t until later that I saw people being candid and admitting, ‘Paul is not well”

      That should have been the FIRST and ONLY thing that any of his so-called friends ever put out there once this broke and people realized that he just flushed his legal career and life down the toilet.

      Or at least that’s I would have handled it. A lot of you obviously chose to act in the complete opposite way.

      • Xander,

        Not every one of Paul’s friends cheered. To be honest, the reaction of his friends probably echoed the sentiments expressed here….a bit all over the map.

        Some people LOVED the fact that someone burned the man early. Did they take into account what it meant to all of the other people affected…probably not as deeply as others would like. Did some think it was stupid and dangerous, absolutely.

        Everyone is not going to come to a consensus on Paul…it’s just not reasonable to expect that….so could we at least try to be civil to each other when most of what EVERYONE is discussing is conjecture and supposition.

        Paul was a fascinating person….some people loved him, some hated him, some were ambivalent….no matter how you felt about him (before or after this article or any other), I think we can all at least agree he had some impact on at least this little corner of the world.


      • Xander, you are guilty of trying to come to a logical conclusion with the information you have been given. Granted. But you don’t have all the information. And I’m not going to lay it all out here for you. But you are insulting some great people. And looking pretty silly. People do the best they can. Try to be more generous, it’s free and it makes life more interesting and exciting. You are saying that people gave up on Paul, when right here on this very page people are patiently talking to you, a troll. Patience, by definition, means “to suffer”. Telling you to fuck off is the easy way. I think your just angry at this whole mess because you want justice. You think that Paul got something he didn’t deserve, maybe. Or that we handleld it wrong. Or that burning the man early was showboating. That we poured gasoline on that fire by canonizing him with posters and refrigerator magnets… and you would be right. But WE didn’t do that. We tried to get people to stop doing that. We had meetings. We had a mailing list. We argued. We strategised. We fund raised. We conferred with his family. We tried. I don’t know that I could command a better try if I was the person who flipped. Obviously, it either didn’t help or didn’t help enough.

        When they pushed to make what Paul did a felony, they killed him. This is the way many of us see it. And we will always detest them for doing this. They used cops against one of us. And there is simply nothing lower.

        The people you claim to be “high-fiving” and such were people who didn’t know Paul, mostly. Or knew him a little. They painted onto him what they saw happened. They didn’t see him going to jail, they didn’t see him sick. They saw their hero, the guy who called Larry on his shit. You can’t really be mad at them, they acted in ignorance. There was no way to stop it. Like you would have done, we did. And failed.

        And like you, Paul has said some incredibly stupid things. Some of them are on video. He also, like you, has said some amazing things. That are not on video for your perusal. In order to be here in this conversation, you have to role play a little. How can so many people like this guy even though he was so… intense? Because he was charming and funny. He was there for some people when they needed him. He is part of our history, and he became a public figure. As such, people have… notions… or people think that famous people are supposed to act a certain way. But that’s not the way people really are. People are complicated.

        Paul wan’t lazy. He didn’t spend his time loafing. He wouldn’t spend any time here, talking about me or you. That is for sure.

        I visited his shrine at the Day of the Dead last night. It was sad. People loved him. There was a photo of him, camping. He looked really young, and happy. That is how I will chose to remember him.

        And as for you, Xander, send me your mailing address in an email and I will send you something.

      • Thanks, Chicken. Beautifully, eloquently put.

        Reading hateful comments from people who never met or knew Paul other than the early burn just makes me so sad. And clearly you know nothing about his friends.

        The nasty stuff that I see posted here and on other groups by people who get all kumbaya about being Burners but will just as easily turn on you in a heartbeat? Huh.

  36. The massive, expensive effort to rebuild the Green Man was actually a dysfunctional attempt at control. It seems the Zen lesson of impermanence is completely lost on the BMORG.

    Rarely is the man burn the highlight of my time at Black Rock. Dr. Seuss and the Grinch taught us that Christmas isn’t all about presents. Someone needs to teach the BMORG that Burning Man isn’t all about a neon covered effigy.

  37. “Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
    ― Maurice Sendak

  38. The BS in this article is pretty thick.

    For what it’s worth there were two rangers at the man when Paul set it on fire, they had to clear out all the people who were sleeping/stoned etc under the now burning man. Other rangers chased Paul (and yes he ran) and caught him about 2/3ds of the way to the esplanade. I was one of those rangers.

    As fo the “we tried to warn the borg” comments – do you have any idea how many people say they are going to burn the man early (if only in jest?) Rangers are not security guards, they are there to protect lives not property and even then only from non-consensual danger. Mostly we just pick up the mess afterwards.

    Paul was mentally ill. His choice of expression could have killed somebody and the move to paint it as harmless fun is offensive. You can burn stuff and blow stuff up at BM, your stuff, not other peoples and not in a way that exposes other to non-consensual risk. It saddens me that he never got the help he needed and acted out in such a destructive way both then and in his final act, but please let’s not canonize the guy.

    • Canonize him? Of course not. That would be as unfair and as overly-simplistic as dismissing him and his actions with some pat, easy comment like “Paul was mentally ill.”

      • Paul WAS mentally ill. You have no idea how much.
        He used to say that Burning Man was no good any more and the only way he’d ever come back was if Reagan died during the event, in which case he would parachute in.
        He should have stuck to that.

  39. What I’ve heard from friends is that Paul was on a pretty sever downward spiral in these last couple of weeks leading up to his suicide. One can’t help but seeing the mania in his quotes in this article, but that doesn’t dismiss him as a human being. Personally, I will continue to salute pranksters such as himself. May he rest in peace.

  40. The Borg was warned that Paul was planning to burn the man and they chose to ignore it. Hell, he was running about telling everyone what he was planning and yet there was minimal ranger presence at “the stick.” FWIW, my understanding from a friend on the neon team was that there was plenty of neon ready to go — basically enough for a whole new man — in case anything broke. Two years of his life… tragic and unnecessary. 30K? unfuckingbelievable…

    • Hi Jewelz,
      It is true that there were numerous warnings which were ignored. We have a mutual friend who went directly to the rangers and was very nearly 5150’d herself for her efforts.
      However, that year I camped with neon team folks and there was a genuine, insane scramble to get it back together in time. There is no way they had all that backup.
      The last and saddest point I have to make is that Paul actively worked against his own lawyers in refusing to allow any mention of his mental state. They were just trying to keep his ass out of jail, while he was trying to make a point. And they let him make it. He didn’t want help. He didn’t even want his sentence mitigated. He wanted to go down blazing, and he did.

      • There does seem to be a clear pattern of Paul Addis feeling it very important to make his point, even if it meant cutting off his nose to spite his face.

        Can you tell us anything about what prompted him to resign the California Bar?

      • That is an excellent question, and I don’t know the answer, though I would like to. Perhaps Sean K could tell you.
        He was incredibly passionate about his principles, I can tell you that.
        I honestly appreciate that you are asking these questions. I absolutely do not want to see him demonized. Nor do I wish to see him exalted and simplified, like that stencil. “Free” Paul Addis – what does that mean? From what? From whom? You can’t just blame the burning man org, society or whatever. And freeing him from himself proved to be entirely fucking impossible.
        It’s complicated. As with most things in life. Since I knew him, and so am someone who cares about this, I really appreciate your search for the truth.

    • I am Smoke Daddy, the leader of the Neon crew, and also the person responsible for the neon repair bill.
      I would like to say, once and for all, that the bill was not padded.
      We were not expecting the man to burn early.
      There were a few spare tubes on site, but only enough for one or two repairs, no more then that.
      It was off to Reno for me, early Tuesday morning.
      Yes, the neon was very expensive, but it was also a rush job, We spent thirty hours bending glass, and eating fresh elk that Ken, the owner of the shop, had just brought back from the hills,
      Tell me, how much do you think an all night rush job should cost?

      Out of the 69 hours between the burning of the man, and when I finished relighting the thing, I slept less then 12 hours. six of those hours were spent at Circus Circus. Do you really begrudge me a shower and clean bed?
      Paul Addis got a bed to sleep in that night, why can’t I ?

      The cost of relighting the man has periodically been brought up, as a way to discredit the hard work and effort it took to rebuild the Man as fast as possible.
      I’m sorry Paul got two years for his impulsively silly act, but using the price of repairing his vandalism, to mitigate his acts is simply reprehensible.

      • It boggles my mind that you think the important thing here is the effort it took to rebuild the Man, and that you believe that people are trying to discredit that effort. You seem rather autistically focused on yourself and on your own role, and you’re creating straw man arguments because of it.

        Navel-gaze much? The incredibly egotistical nature of your post sickens me, frankly.

        Maybe if you weren’t so busy trying to make this all about you, you’d stop to consider that Paul Addis spent two years in prison and had his livelihood utterly ruined (not to mention the $25,000 fine), and the difference between that and him being punished APPROPRIATELY was the difference between the Org showing the court receipts for over $10,000, and the Org showing the court receipts for under $10,000. . . or not showing the court any receipts in the first place. They were under no obligation to show receipts at all; the only reason to do so was to prove that Addis had destroyed something over a certain value and could therefore be sentenced to prison.

        Oh, but YOU had to do a few hours of extra work and eat elk, BOO HOO. Oh wait. . . you didn’t actually HAVE to, did you? I mean, what tragedy would have befallen the world if you hadn’t rebuilt the Man? What vital utilitarian function does the Man serve that would have gone unserved?

        It’s utterly irrelevant how much it cost to rebuild. How much is a human life worth to you? How much is a BURNER life worth to you? I don’t care if you spent ten million dollars that night, tube-bender. What’s relevant is that the Org has consistently claimed that they had no control over Addis’ sentence, and they have even expressed regret that it was so harsh. . . AND THAT’S A LIE, they did have control over Addis’ sentence, and that’s the point.

      • Dude, there was NO WAY they could have just dropped it, or the man would have been torched on monday every year!
        Also, you are forgetting that Paul WAS barking mad, and that he steadfastly refused to allow his legal defense to comment on his mental state during the trial.

        The beginning of your article makes it seem like you are seeking the truth, but the anger behind your comments belies that neutral stance.

        Finally, YOU DID NOT KNOW HIM. He was insane. Completely fucking insane, and that was when I met him in 1996. It only got worse. You CANNOT excuse that, nor gloss over it. He was fucked in the head, and he resolutely refused anything that would change that. The mania is apparently the hardest addiction to shake. He couldn’t live without it, and he couldn’t live with it either. You can try to make this all about art but you are missing the fucking point.

      • As for you being “the person responsible for the neon repair bill,” please tell me: were you the person responsible for presenting the bills to the District Attorney in Lovelock?

      • smoke daddy’s post was far from egotistical. he was setting the record straight. egotistical is deciding that you alone know what is best for 40,000 people and acting on that thought by destroying something that isn’t your’s to destroy. deciding to end your life by emotionally scarring the driver of a train, delaying hundreds of commuters, and making some poor stranger making minimum wage pick up the pieces is pretty damn selfish. why not go the HST route so only your friends have to deal with it? Maybe dig up some mad scribblings where he talks shit about public transit and claim his dying act was pranksterism or culture jamming aimed at the commuter rat race.

  41. you seem to make a big point over the gas and lodging being thrown in with neon costs as if that is proof of padding the numbers. The reality: the head of the neon team needed to leave the playa for reno in a box truck specially rigged to transport neon without breakage, find somewhere to purchase that much new neon, then take it to a neon bender and plead with them to drop everything else to custom bend it all to spec. then travel back to the playa and work around the clock to install it. that’s not padding. those were very real costs.

    • No, you seem to have me confused with Don McCasland. All I did was quote him; I said nothing about neon or padding the numbers.

      In any case, the cost of building the Man is utterly irrelevant to the question of what receipts to show the court — if any — under the circumstances that reportedly prevailed that day in Lovelock.

    • “those were very real costs.” <—- EXADOR23

      Oh really. Real costs, eh? Tell us about the fucking "gift economy". Tell us about the utopian "community". Tell us about the "family". Tell us about the volunteerism of burning man. And then tell me about the "values of burning man".

      I hate burners. You people suck. Hypocrites of the highest order.

      Take your receipts and shove them up your ass. "Somebody could have died"??? SOMEBODY DID DIE.

  42. It wasn’t just PTSD. It was also mania. Serious, clinical, real mania.
    You never met him, and that makes it easy to dismiss his illness while celebrating his art, but it isn’t that simple. Those of us who did know him will always have a more complicated relationship with the truth.

    It’s really sad he never overcame it. It’s really sad he never WANTED to overcome it. Paul could be the most loyal friend in time of need, but he could also wave a loaded gun in your face because he thought it was funny. Don’t make him over into a saint, or the anti-Larry. The truth is something else entirely.

    • PS: when I heard about the early burn, I was entertained – until I learned who did it. Then I was just sad. Because I could see how it was going to play out. What a fucking stupid thing to do, if you care anything at all about self-preservation. Not that he did. But that is nothing to admire.

    • Thank you for your informative comments. However, I don’t think I’ve made a saint of him, or “the anti-Larry” as you so succinctly put it. All I’ve done along those lines is point out that it’s dismissive and simple-minded to automatically ascribe everything Addis did to his mental health issues.

      Yes, the truth is somewhere in between saying he did the things he did because he had issues, and saying that he did the things he did solely in accordance with the rationale he used to explain his actions. Most people who didn’t know him tend to instantly leap to the first conclusion, and I have tried to show them the other side of it without making too many hard assumptions myself.

      • Actually it seems to me that most people who didn’t know him easily dismiss the demons he faced and want to canonize him as a brilliant artist, the second coming of HST, etc etc. And you can’t, you just can’t. If you’ve never seen the madness shoot from his eyes, you really have no idea what you’re on about. He was brilliant. But he was fucking MAD. It’s sad. A lot of people really cared about him and no one could really change his trajectory.

        Burning Man is one of those things that encourages the formation of myths – it’s like a myth reef. That’s ok, I guess. But try to remember you are talking about a real person. Don’t believe the hype. He was brilliant, and he was also incredibly fucked up. It’s not a linear narrative.

      • Thank you, trustmeonthisone.

        I think the reality is probably somewhere in between the two extremes of “he did it because he was crazy” and “he did it because he was a genius.”

        I realize that the article is rather long, but if you go back and really read it I think you’ll find that I left plenty of room for doubt. I do not profess to know, for instance, whether or not Addis’ statement about shooing people out of the Man base and away for 30 minutes before the early burn is true or not. What I do know is that someone whom I consider an extremely reliable source told me that he was in the Man base 20 minutes before seeing the fire break out from 200 yards away. . . and that there was no effort being made by anyone to get people to go anywhere. That gives me great pause.

        Let me just say that I don’t personally lionize Paul Addis, and judging from what his friends have told me and from the video footage of him that I’ve watched, I don’t even think I would be comfortable in a room with him for very long. I am too sensitive to the nuances of real life to buy into any cartoonish saint-or-madman view of the man, though, and I do feel that he was treated much too harshly.

        What I do lionize is the Cacophony Society and the flavor palette of pranksterism it has spawned and abetted over the decades. I think very highly of Hunter S. Thompson, too. . . just not so much of his imitators. Beyond that, I can see how a person like Paul Addis could have the mental health issues people describe, and still be doing things with a premeditated meaning and purpose that was not at all outside of the bounds of sanity or artistic license, in the context of the relatively consequence-free environment of Burning Man prior to 1997.

        I can see why people come down so strongly on one side or the other about Paul Addis; there are many very debatable points to his story, and lots of credible information out there that supports the saint-or-madman paradigm. It’s easy to believe whatever it is that you want to believe about him.

        I try not to deal too much in beliefs.

      • I think the reality is probably somewhere in between the two extremes of “he did it because he was crazy” and “he did it because he was a genius.”

        I suppose ‘he did it because he was a total narcissist’ fits within those. Even his suicide had to involve other people, he couldn’t just quietly kill himself. Oh how overjoyed his spirit must be with this attention too.

        Let me assure, because I was there, Paul did not make even an attempt to move people out of the pavilion – that is a complete and total lie. I had to carry out one person crashed out directly under the man who was so stoned that me standing next to him screaming “fire” in his ear did not engage his reptilian level brain instinct for survival. He absolutely could’ve been killed or injured by Paul’s stunt. I was disappointed that Paul was not convicted of multiple counts of reckless endangerment – fuck the issue of value of the arson damage.

  43. Nice retrospective for a man who is one of us forever.

    I have my own perspective, based on being involved with one of the projects that were to be displayed all week in the man base, and also based on my excitement and hope that the space underneath the Man would be the focus of discussion of various “Green” Topics for the whole week. I was lucky enough to have seen the layout of the man base earlier on Monday evening, and I left elated because I thought the Org had gotten it so right in terms of creating a place for conversation. I saw it as a meaningful attempt to focalize a conversation amid the (delightful) chaos that is Burning Man, and I was excited to see what a week of talking about alternatives to fossil fuels would have on the overall vibe of the event.

    Instead, because of the org’s decision to build a new man on-site throughout the week, which involved closing the site down and keeping people away, the whole intention of the Man Base, and the whole festival, really, was abandoned. My friend’s project, which she and her partners had worked on for over a year (a very early demonstration of algal biodiesel technology) never got to be viewed in the context that it had been designed for, never got to be a point in a conversation thread that could have been revolutionary. To me, that was the only real tragedy of the early burn– the conversation denied. Instead, Burning Man was only able to be about what it is usually about all week– an extravagent, “yang” energy potlatch that is all about showing what you’ve got, and then burning it. By the time both the Man burn and the ridiculously over the top “Crude Awakening” burn climaxed (literally) in mushroom clouds of napalm, the Green Man theme had been completely burned and buried as well.

    I totally get where Paul was coming from, and like some others, I was interested and amused to see how attached some people were to the man (almost like an idol!) and how some people’s authoritarian tendencies were fired up by this affront to the rituals and order of the event. But I still think that no matter how perfect Paul was, or how perfectly fucked up he was, he made a decision to impose his conceptions and judgements of what the event is and/or had become on everyone else’s experience, and to me that’s basically just doing the exact same thing he was professing so much disgust over. Good intentions, very poorly thought-through execution, and may yet another beautifully imperfect “misfit toy” rest in peace– He will be remembered.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, MadMaxine.

      I get what you’re saying and I agree wholeheartedly with quite a lot of it, but we part ways at least twice here. First, it’s not fair to say that Paul was “imposing his conceptions and judgments of what the event is and/or had become on everyone else’s experience” in the same way that the Org was. Paul Addis’ thesis was not that it’s wrong for the Org to impose their conceptions and judgments on us, but that it’s wrong for the Org to water down and destroy the event — and by extension, the culture — solely to guarantee their own survival as an organization, and to increase their profits. He felt that the Org had made the event too safe, for one thing, in the name of retaining control of it and making more money. It’s both a strawman argument and an apples-and-oranges comparison to say that he was “doing the exact same thing he was professing so much disgust over.”

      Second, about the Green Man project: Addis actively wanted to disrupt it, and had a stated rationale for doing so. I quoted him in the article, saying this about his take on Green Man:

      “The only reason the organization has reached out to the environmentalists is they were courting public opinion on the lawsuit filed against them, and they reached out to the most easily manipulated population they could control. That’s what Green Man is all about. Green Man is all about Burning Man getting the most green in their pockets.”

      That quote was from a Wired Magazine interview. Here are the paragraphs leading up to the one I quoted:

      WN: What did you think of this year’s Burning Man?

      Addis: Burning Man should stop the disingenuous Green Man immediately. It’s all a lie. If you want to know how much a of a total lie it is, run a Google satellite photo of Burning Man right now and count the number of RVs there. And they’re telling me it’s an environmental movement? Bullshit. There are people sucking gas up there faster than they are passing it.
      Black Rock Intelligence advocated the first Olympic RV Gas Tank Puncturing competition this year, offering prices to the top three participants. And while the gas was spilling out of all the gas tanks we were going to have people collect it and then open the first Black Rock Intelligence gas station: Set up at the exit of Burning Man and sell gas for $27 per gallon to RVs only.
      Burning Man is offering no real alternatives to the current environmental crisis. The only one is wood-burning stoves for cooking. We’re living in a world with 6 billion people and their only suggestion is wood-burning stoves? My advice: Stop doing the cocaine. It’s starting to eat your brains.

      If you’d like to read the entire article, you can find it here:

  44. Very informative, well researched, and well written article, thanks! I hope this and/or similar becomes the definitive resource(s) on Addis’ early burn. I might even respect this enough to stop trolling you with “All burners are hippies” claims. 😉

    I find the burn too choreographed with all the fire conclaves needing to end their set just-in-time. I wonder if they should build men all over the central playa and burn them at random times during the week, that’d rock. And maybe one big man out in deep playa beyond the temple for ravers who only come for the saturday night burn. Or anything that’ll really prove BMOrg’s willingness to shake it up.

    • Thank for your comments, Jeff.

      I think they — by which I mean ‘we’ — should build Men all over the planet and make Burning-Man-the-Event an anachronism.

  45. addis pointed out the hypocrisy surrounding this entire event, and everyone’s participation within it. modern burners still refuse to see that, and call his performance, arson and defame him in many other ways.

    the borg is complicit in his suicide. i blame crimson rose, in particular.

      • when she first heard of early burn, she put out on the radio, “I want that asshole arrested… and I want the first shot.” … she’s an insufferable bitch and the balls of the organization. she was behind the push to get addis jail time.

      • Crimson knew that Paul was going to do it. And yes, she’s an egomaniac. She and Will Roger are some of the most loathsome people I have ever known.

    • Well, what about it? Were you there, and do you know something about it that nobody else does? You’re dealing in exactly the kind of soundbite judgment that I decry in my article, and it’s disgusting.

      That very article that you point to as some kind of proof that Addis was a villain? It contains this sentence:

      “But then Addis was nabbed toting explosives at Grace Cathedral last month, which was more creepy than rebellious.”

      The man had some leftover fireworks on him, and the deputy chief of police was quoted in the papers saying that he didn’t pose any threat to Grace Cathedral. . . but this article you link us to glosses that over and makes the Grace Cathedral arrest sound about a thousand times more sinister than it possibly could have been. What makes you think they wouldn’t throw the same spin and slant on Paul screwing around, being childish, and making some silly and idle threats?

      I can very easily see how this might have happened. . . Addis walking by the schoolyard, some little kid mouthing off at him, and Addis responding in the same nyah-nyah vein. . . and once again, the label “accused arsonist” colors the incident and turns something trivial and stupid into a major threat for the police to respond to.

      Give me a break, Sam.

      • addis was approached by some chick after the early burn who was with him when he was arrested at grace cathedral. the next year, this lady was seen hanging out at first camp. rumors abound. it’s my opinion that she set him up in a conspiracy with the borg. the borg needed to discredit addis because veteran burners were rallying behind him.

      • If you don’t think a restraining order is a serious legal action than you are being naive and giving an awful lot of credit to Paul for being put-upon by the powers-that-be. Do you think a judge would grant a restraining order from a little verbal back & forth? My main point is that you totally ignored it in your reporting. Decry all you want but you didn’t even mention the incident where he reportedly says he would murder children with a submachine gun, which does not sound like nyeh-nyeh to me.

      • Yes, I absolutely think a judge would issue a restraining order over nothing but some silly words exchanged, when the person he’s issuing it against happens to be AN ACCUSED ARSONIST. My best guess is that the incident at the schoolyard was no different than the incident at Grace Cathedral: over-blown, trumped-up, unnecessary police involvement, thanks to the arsonist label that Paul Addis was wearing at the time. The judge erred on the side of caution, and a restraining order is not a conviction of anything. . . but go ahead and pass judgment over a man for actions you didn’t witness because you skimmed something heavily slanted about him in the papers, and don’t have time to think for yourself. God knows it’s your right as an American to form a stern, disapproving, iron-clad opinion based on almost zero information.

        As for your complaint that I didn’t include it in the article: What would you like me to do, write an entire novel-length biography of Paul Addis? I wrote fourteen pages about him, making this the longest article ever posted on by about a mile and a half, and I thought that was quite long enough, thanks, without mentioning every single detail of the man’s entire existence.

        If you weren’t so unjustly dead-set against Paul Addis, you’d note that the playground situation was very probably the same as the Grace Cathedral situation — a matter of people overreacting because Paul had been labeled an arsonist — and therefore, there was no need to recount that incident too.

      • So I am not thinking for myself because I believe something i see in the newspaper and that apparently exists in the court record? Over what? Firm hope that Paul was a troubled genius? Why do you choose to assume that death threats are ‘probably overblown’? You seem to have just as much evidence as I yet your are spinning the sound bite in your own way; glass houses, my friend.

      • No, Sam, you’re not thinking for yourself. The very same article you point to as though it is some kind of evidence contains a description of the Grace Cathedral incident that is clearly, incontrovertibly overblown, so why would you think the rest of the article was reliable information? Answer: Because you made your mind up about Addis before you even read the article.

      • I dispute the validity of your logic. You are making a lot of declarations. Just because you find one part of the article to be overstated (“toting explosives” vs “had fireworks”) does not mean the rest of the article is outright fabrication. If you are going to cherry pick your information to fit your thesis you should start off the article with a disclaimer to that effect.

  46. I thought the first theme camp was Christmas Camp? I’m confused. I need the real answer for my BMan trivia game yo

  47. thanks Whatsblem The Pro for this excellent article – the first time I’ve really heard the full story of who this guy was and what he did. It’s sad that Paul couldn’t get the help he needed for his PTSD. To his credit, it seems that he tried not to let his arrest defeat him – he tried to bounce back with a stage show tied to his love of Hunter S Thompson. He will always be a figure who looms large in the history of Burning Man. Rest in Peace.

    • Addis was very luck to ONLY get two years in prison. If people had been hurt or killed by his arson he would have got a decade or three! FUCK ARSONISTS. apologists are fine with having someone elses propert destroyed. They’d be the first ones pressing charges if their own personal art or property was torched against their will. There are a small set of sadistically sociopath burners that don respect others that should be in jail. addis was one. There was a theme camp that inprisioned people as a joke. Another camp electrically shocked burners without warning to laugh at them. These kind of anti social no boundries douchetards should be in jail.

      • Nelson Mandela, ghandi, thearou, Martin Luther kind went to jail for their political beliefs. If you feel that’s what addis was, a civilly disobidient political prisioner, you should be fine with his being in such famous worthy company. If you don’t have faith in your convictions and beliefs, If you can’t do the time then DONT COMMIT THE CRIME!!

      • Sam,

        It’s not always as simple as all that.

        In terms of Burning Man itself, it grew out of a culture of people who did the very type of thing Paul did when he set the man on fire. I say this not to excuse Paul in any way shape or form, but perhaps to explain some of his possible motivation better. In the early days, it was very much a guerrilla event…flying under the radar….not particularly concerned about legality or safety….(drive by shooting gallery anyone?, shooting propane tanks out on the playa?). There is a contingent of burners and former burners who long for those more anarchic early days…and if you look at it from their perspective, Burning the Man early was something people have talked about doing FORever (at least since ’93 when I first became aware of the event) Had someone done that in 93 , 94, or ’95 many people might have looked at it far less in legal terms and more in Epic Prank terms….

        I’m pretty certain that Paul thought of it as an artistic act of ‘rage against the machine’ of what he viewed the event had become….he said to me about 12 hours before that the event was “too suburban….these suburbanites need to be shaken up”.

        And from what I’ve been told from those who were there…while yes, it was a dangerous act, to Paul and possibly others, but he did make effort to keep others from being hurt…(not saying they still couldn’t have been, just that he did) and nobody WAS hurt. The speed at which the man caught fire (note, this was BEFORE the man was scheduled to be filled with pyro for the Saturday night burn) gave any folks underneath significant amount of time to get out of harms way), I know that doesn’t remove the risk and maybe it doesn’t outweigh it, but then again, maybe it does.

        Whether Paul’s sentence was too long, short, or whatever, I know that many friends feel it was not the right call based on his state of being at the time, but ultimately that is why we have judges/juries etc….because not every case is the same, be it arson or otherwise


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