GQ once stood for “Gentlemen’s Quarterly”. Now it is a monthly, closely associated with metrosexuality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (although prissy hair-waxing male mani-pedi types might not enjoy the Playa dust so much).
They’ve just done a big story on Burning Man – “the world’s largest chemically enhanced self-expression festival” – not to be confused with their other big story on a burning man from the same magazine last year. This one’s about a guy going to Burning Man for the first time with his 69-year old father. Expect an influx of oldies and their RVs, you’re not a true hipster until you’ve had a hip replacement!
Here’s a few highlights of the 6-page masterpiece, it’s beautifully written and very entertaining – but if you’re the type of Burner who gets offended by nudity or comments about “getting to third base” with girls, you might want to give this a miss – it’s from a Men’s magazine, after all…
One would think we were pulling into this planet’s nearest simulation of hell, but if this were hell, we would not be driving this very comfortable recreational vehicle. Nor would there be a trio of young and merry nudists capering at our front bumper, demanding that we step out of the vehicle and join them. These people are checkpoint officials, and it is their duty to press their nakedness to us in the traditional gesture of welcome to the Burning Man festival, here in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert…
…My father and I are staid, abstracted East Coast types without much natural affinity for bohemian adventures. But we are here less for the festival itself than in service of an annual father-son ritual. Fourteen years ago, my father was diagnosed with an exotic lymphoma and given an outside prognosis of two years. When we both supposed he was dying, we made an adorable pledge—if he survived—to take a trip together every year. Thanks to medical science, we’ve now followed the tradition for a solid decade, journeying each summer to some arbitrarily selected far-flung destination: Greenland, Ecuador, Cyprus, etc. This year, we’ve retooled the concept and departed instead on a bit of domestic ethnography. We have joined the annual pilgrimage of many thousands who each year flee the square world for the Nevada desert to join what’s supposed to be humanity’s greatest countercultural folk festival/self-expression derby. Or it used to be, before people like my father and me started showing up.
Now I, too, am in the daylight, being hugged by a small, bearded Mr. Tumnus of a fellow, and also by a bespectacled lady-librarian type with a scrupulously mown vulva. “Welcome home,” they murmur in my ear. “Home” this is decidedly not. Whether it is good to be here, we shall discover in the coming week. Still, I reply, “Uh, it’s good to be home.”
At the adjacent welcome booth, dreadlockers, having been duly greeted, are trudging back to their hippie wagon. “I hope it doesn’t suck this year,” one of them says, eyeing our vast and foolish RV. “We’re surrounded by all these bougie people.”
“I’m so fucking stoned,”complains a bikini-clad girl wearing a fedora snugged over dreadlocks stout as table legs. “Man, I gotta focus. Gotta get ready for the Slut Olympics.”
We climb back aboard, tracking pounds of dust into the RV. My dad is enlivened. “What a nice greeting that was,” he says. “Did you know that woman didn’t have any trousers on? I was so focused on her breasts I didn’t notice she was naked until after the ceremony.”
Their first impressions?
Among the hundreds of visual extravagances in store this year: an actual-size replica of an eighteenth-century shipwreck, a diesel-powered cast-iron dinosaur, a snowstorm in the desert, plus a menagerie of flammable installations (a plywood cathedral, a multistory effigy of Wall Street) to be torched in celebration of life’s transience and other arty ideals. The whole thing defies expectations pretty spectacularly, especially if what you expected, as I did, was a Grateful Dead parking lot with no bands and more intense personal filth.
It is, in short, worth the lamentably expensive ticket price ($240 to $420, depending on when you buy). The ticketing system’s supposed to accommodate veteran Burners, but somehow things got screwed up this year, and a full third went to people like me and my dad—here, the old-timers fear, to party and gawk and score free shit but not to “contribute” to the festival in any real way.
These old timers Burned pretty hard, threw themselves into it. At the end, they got reflective…
“I don’t know that it’s religious,” says my father, gazing contemplatively at the Temple’s gold-lit steeple. “It’s just amazing the lengths people go to, to be thought of as special. I never imagined that a crew of folks could build a temple as elegant as this, only to burn it down.”
“I’m just trying to find the common theme, and the only common theme, I think, is that this could only happen in the United States,” says Dean the Canadian. “Both in its excesses and its excellence. Some people look at America as a nation of vulgarity and excess, and others think it’s the most creative country in the world. I think it’s both. Who else would burn a sculpture that took a year to build? But Ed, you and I know you can’t run an economy this way.”
“I don’t think it’s about running an economy,” says Cam. “It’s about freedom. It’s about celebrating creativity, the human spirit.”
“Yes,” says Dean. “But for most us, we’ve channeled our creativity into purchasing excessive camping supplies at Walmart.”
But Dean’s diagesis is halted by a sudden explosion. A fleur-de-lis of fireworks erupts across the playa, where one can see the sperm car chasing a vagina barge.
Love it – and their guide to shirtcockers and darktards.
Sparkleponies: Some come to the desert without much in the way of survival skills. They try to make up for that skill deficit by being basically naked most of the time. These are sparkleponies.
Black Rock rangers: They dress like sheriffs—wide brims, khakis, aviators—and act like the neighborhood watch.
Darktards: Burners who fail to wear enough reflective material and wind up on the business end of a bicycle or diesel-powered dinosaur.
Shirtcockers: Step one: Take off pants. Step two: Walk around with your li’l Burner peeking out.
Yahoos: Creatures whose participation is limited to consuming massive amounts of drugs and raving until said drugs wear off.